From Italian Crime to Greek Horror

MILANO_2D_BD-228x228 MILANO CALIBRO 9, Fernando Di Leo, director/Arrow  In my Euro Noir, I covered a memorable Italian crime genre, the violent and kinetic ‘poliziotteschi’ The genre began as series of crude simulacra of American models (as so often in the magpie culture of Italian popular cinema), but parleyed the elements borrowed from such US models as Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry and William Friedkin’s The French Connection into something different, sometimes injecting indirect social criticism into their borrowed raiment. Italian actors such as Franco Nero were employed, but past-their-best American stars were also hired. In non-Italian territories, poliziotteschi were only available in crudely English-dubbed versions, which did such films as Sergio Martino’s The Violent Professionals (1973) no favours whatsoever. One director, Fernando Di Leo, managed to incorporate a personal vision (and a frenetic hand-held camera) into a quartet of lively poliziotteschi, the first two based on the writings of Giorgio Scerbanenco, Calibre 9/Milano Calibro 9 (1972) and The Italian Connection (1972, with Mario Adorf channelling Joe Pasic’s terrifying violence in Goodfellas), while The Boss (1973) and Rulers of the City (1976) are snapshots of the 1970s ‘years of lead’ in which church, state and criminal hierarchies are inextricably intertwined. Arrow have released of the first part of Di Leo’s Milieu trilogy, Milano Calibro 9, a gritty, violent piece, spruced up on Blu-ray, but now looking less sophisticated than recent Italian TV crime such as Gomorrah (several performance are very broad, in particular Mario Adorf, who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed). Boasting a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, the disc is loaded with bonus content, such as the documentary, Fernando Di Leo: The Genesis of the Genre which looks back at the filmmaker’s career and includes an interview with Di Leo himself. Released after a three-year term in prison for a bungled robbery, Ugo Piazza plans to lead the straight life for a while. But no sooner is he back on the street than he’s picked up by a bunch of hoodlums under the employ of his former boss, ‘the Americano’ – among them, the psychopathic Rocco (Adorf) – who are convinced that Ugo has stolen $300,000 from them. The gang forces Ugo to resume working for them in the hope that he’ll eventually lead them to their missing loot. With its political overtones Milano Calibro 9 presents a more ambitious stance than other poliziotteschi – although Di Leo is not averse to beatings, gunfights and lingering shots of Barbara Bouchet.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3, Tom Six, director/Eureka Blu-ray  There are those who will simply never watch any of the films in this notoriously graphic sequence, and they will probably not even get as far as the end of this sentence. For those less easily shocked, this final Tom Six film is, like its predecessors, a frantic, over-the-top black comedy which — for all its gruesome effects (such as a convincing castration) does not really expect to be taken seriously. Particularly when the performance of one of the two madmen here (played by Dieter Laser) is pitched at something like end-of-the-pier intensity. It’s exhausting by the end of the film, but Laser is the least jawdropping thing in the film. Part 3 re-unites the stars of the first two films (as a kind of Laurel and Hardy of the horror film), Laser and the diminutive Laurence R. Harvey; the short, fat Harvey is quite some distance from his late, good-looking namesake.

A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL, Eugenio Martin, director/Odeon  This lurid psychosexual drama is a real oddity, and commands the attention throughout its fevered length. Setting the British actress Judy Geeson against the larger-than-life Latin performances of her co-stars Aura Bautista and Esperanza Roy (the latter frequently topless, unlike Geeson), it’s a heady drama of repressed sexuality and murder — and has been restored with some attention by Odeon.  THE MAGNET and HUE AND CRY, various directors, DVD, Blu-Ray and EST/Studio Canal  You may well be familiar with such celebrated Ealing classics as Kind Hearts and Coronets, but these new Blu-rays showcase some lesser-known Ealing films, giving a welcome opportunity to see just how entertaining the studio’s product was. What’s more, Hue and Cry has a double historical interest: it’s the studio’s first full-fledged comedy, and has a wonderfully detailed picture of London immediately post-war. The films have undergone a full digital restoration to restore them to pristine quality. Both are released individually, along with brand new extras. The Magnet, featuring the first film appearance of a young James Fox, joins Hue and Cry, both highly diverting. Subsequently, to celebrate its 60th anniversary, the company is issuing Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers. Ealing’s greatest comedies captured the essence of post-war Britain, both in their evocation of a land once blighted by war but now rising doggedly and optimistically again from the ashes, and in their mordant yet graceful humour. They portray a country with an antiquated class system whose crumbling conventions are being undermined by a new spirit of individual opportunism.

ADRIANO OLIVETTI, Michele Soavi, director/Odyssey  If you think you know the work of the writer and director of this piece, you may need to think again. Luca Zingaretti is best known in the UK for his charismatic TV turn as Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano, but he here gives an authoritative performance in the title role of the miniseries describing the life and achievements of Olivetti, the Italian entrepreneur whose eventful life seemed designed to be made into a drama. His nuanced performance could not be further from Montalbano, and similarly, the director Michele Soavi is perhaps best known as the creative force behind some ingenious Italian gialli, the colourful Italian horror/crime films which enjoyed such international success in the 1970s and 1980s. But clearly there is more to him than that, as this striking miniseries proves.  ISLAND OF DEATH, Nico Mastorakis, director/Arrow  Beautifully shot, often maladroit, poorly acted, but always fascinatingly gruesome and erotic, Island of Death is here given the deluxe Arrow Blu-Ray treatment. Curiously, the pinprick clarity of the new Blu-ray reduces some of the subversive charge of the original grainy, panned-and-scanned VHS versions of the film, but that may be due to the effect of exposing some of the legerdemain of the gruesome special effects; much stage blood is spilt. Welcome to Mykonos, the holiday destination of choice for sun, sea and slaughter! From cult director Nico Mastorakis, Island of Death is a travelogue of atrocities with scenes so strong that it was banned during the “video nasty” hysteria. Arriving on the idyllic Greek island, Christopher and Celia appear to be every inch the perfect, handsome young couple. Little do the welcoming locals realise that they are in fact a pair of murderous degenerates, determined to spread their own particular brand of perversion across the island. DIY crucifixions, opportunistic bestiality, sexual peeing and murder by all conceivable forms ensue – including death by makeshift blowtorch, samurai sword, dump truck and more! Shocking, brutal and totally politically incorrect in its outlook, Island of Death was devised by director Mastorakis to out-do the excesses of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which he was inspired by. Now fully uncut and newly-restored from the original negative, fans can enjoy Island of Death in all its sleazy, lurid glory.  SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, Alexander Mackendrick, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Looking better than it has ever done in this Blu-ray incarnation, Alexander Mackendrick’s blistering, beautifully-shot 1950s classic looks more relevant than ever in its caustic examination of the publicity game. Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster give career-best performances, and Elmer Bernstein’s jazz-based score is as impressive as the one he wrote for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm.  A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, director/Eureka Blu-Ray  The director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was a specialist in delivering intelligently, written sophisticated film entertainments, and this is one of his most pleasurable, a beguiling examination of the domestic problems of three couples and a woman whose influence threatens all the marriages. Casting and writing are impeccable, and the film looks particularly good in this Blu-ray version. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, Takashi Miike, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  Those on the wavelength of the eccentric director Takashi Miike will find this a truly bizarre curiosity; but it’s unlikely to win Miike any new admirers. Miike’ musical horror-comedy, The Happiness of the Katakuris, has been described as The Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead; this wacky Japanese cult item debuts on Blu-ray and proves to be a super-production by Japanese star standards. Taking a small Korean horror comedy as its inspiration (which Miike claims he watched on a poor quality VHS without subtitles), the renegade filmmaker re-made the film in his inimitable style, with the addition of music numbers for a truly odd concoction of genres. The grotesque mugging didn’t work for this writer, a Miike fan; you may, however, be more indulgent.