Thursday, 24 December 2015

Arrow Video Review: What Have You Done to Solange? (1972, dir: Massimo Dallamano)

(1972, dir: Massimo Dallamano)
  Enrico Rossini (Fabio Testi, Heroin Busters) is a teacher who is a bit of a naughty boy. Whilst trying to get down on a row boat (of all places) with young student Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue), their extra curricular activities come to a halt when Elizabeth claims that she has just witnessed the murder of a young girl. Dismissing this is as Elizabeth not wanting to seal the deal, it's not until Enrico is back home with his wife Herta (Karin Baal, Lola) that he hears about the murder on the radio. What starts out as an unfortunate isolated case, soon becomes the first of many gruesome murders. The only connection; all the victims are students at the Catholic girls school in which Enrico works. With the reputation that he has with his students, it's not long until Enrico becomes prime suspect. However, when Elizabeth is continually haunted by visions of a priest and becomes a victim of the sadistic killer, Enrico is soon deemed innocent. With his nubile plaything and career in tatters, he's on the case to solve the mystery once and for all. His marriage? Well, thanks to Elizabeth's frigidity, the pair never actually had sex and that's fine by Herta apparently! The plot thickens when Enrico becomes aware of a mysterious young girl named Solange (Camile Keaton, I Spit on Your Grave). What does she have to do with recent slayings? What exactly happened to Solange?
  What Have You Done to Solange? Is nothing short of a giallo masterpiece. What we have here is a solidly written murder mystery very loosely based on Edgar Wallace's The Clue of the New Pin. Alongside Dallamano we have Bruno Di Geronimo (Flavia the Heretic) and Peter M. Thouet (The Legend of Tim Tyler) on writing duty. Their screenplay goes from sleazy to violent, but is always atmospheric and consistent. There are red herrings a plenty to be found, but thankfully, they actually work and don't feel too forced or ambiguous. Morally however, I do believe it's confused at points. Some may find real problems with our amateur sleuth being what we would now call a sexual predator. Just like Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling and Bido's The Bloodstained Shadow, there's a real sense of distrust to Catholicism here. It would be morally corrupt (HA!) of me to go in to detail, so I will just say that wether the killer is indeed a priest or not, the fact that a character would don the disguise of a priest says a lot. There have been much more eloquent writers who have covered the aspect of Catholicism in cinema, Shelley F. O'Brien's essay Killer Priests: The Last Taboo makes for interesting reading! Moving away from that, what really struck me about Solange was how aesthetically satisfying the experience is. It's no surprise that Morricone's (Do I really need to name drop here?) score is amazing as always with so much range, but quintessentially Morricone. Chances are, you heard extracts of the score before even being aware of the film itself. That combined with some fantastic cinematography from Joe D'Amato (Porno Holocaust), who also has a fun cameo in the film, makes London feel melancholy, yet beautiful and ultimately mysterious. I'm reminded of the empty morning streets found in Bido's Watch Me When I Kill as I watched.
  I said that the film goes from sleazy to violent, that's true. That being said, aside from some genuinely nasty sexualised deaths, the gore is somewhat restrained and often fuels the imagination of the viewer. Those looking for flesh will be very happy with this as there is plenty of schoolgirl action throughout (especially some innocent, yet seductive shower fun). There are plenty of sleazy characters about too. The film is a great example of having some sinister themes and overall nasty moments without it being trivialised by being too exploitative. Plenty of directors could have just gone for all out gore and overly graphic sex. There's a real sense of maturity throughout. Considering that is a somewhat early example of the gialli, I really found this film to be quite a head of its time. We all know that Mario Bava drew up the plans and Dario Argento began building on the foundations, but as much as I have heard many great things about this film, I don't think this film gets the overall credit it deserves. Of course, it's not classically considered a perfect film and even I almost cringed at some of the British dubbing, so many silly accents. All in all, this is an entertaining, often shocking thriller that has to be seen.
Thankfully, the film is presented beautifully both in terms of picture and sound. We have a 2k restoration that is pretty much flawless. Both Italian and English dubs are included with the Italian being the better quality of the two. In terms of on disc special features this is a fantastic release. First of all we have newly edited interviews with Fabio Testi and producer Fulvio Lucsiano from 2006, a new interview with Karin Baal, in which she has some interesting things to say about the film, a fantastic video essay from Michael Mackenzie that looks at Dallamano's “Schoolgirls in Peril” Trilogy, a trailer and to top it off an audio commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman.
Of course, Arrow have included a booklet with writings from Howard Hughes and Art Ettinger and reversible artwork with a fantastic piece of art from Malleus. Overall, this is a must buy for fans and newcomers. If you are yet to dip your toe in to the world of the gialli, this is a great place to start! For the people who had to buy that cheap cardboard sleeved version on Amazon (you know who you are!), you can throw that version away now!

What Have You Done to Solange? Is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo from Arrow Video.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Vinegar Syndrome Review: Demonoid (1980, dir: Alfredo Zacarias)

(1980, dir: Alfredo Zacarias)
“Up from the depths of hell comes the ultimate horror!”
  Samantha Eggar (The Brood) stars as Jennifer Baines a woman who is visiting her wealthy industrialist husband Mark (Roy Jenson, Soylent Green) in the small city of Guanajuato, Mexico. Mark is currently planning to reopen a mine which is is rich in silver. Unfortunately for him, his workforce is comprised of superstitious locals who refuse to go deep in to the mine. To prove everything is fine, Jennifer suggests that the pair go deep down in to the mine, but they get more than what they bargained for; a severed hand. “The Devil's Hand” to be precise, with their workforce even more terrified, things surely can't get any worse can they? Yes. Yes indeed! It becomes infinitely (and fatally) worse! You see, the severed hand has the power to not only posses the left hand of its victim, but the person themselves. Eventually turning them in to a bloodthirsty, super strong killing machine. After Mark is taken over by the demonic force, he kills himself in the hopes of stopping the curse. With her husband dead, Jennifer travels back home to L.A where he is buried only to find he has risen from the grave and the demonic force is on the loose. With the help of Father Cunningham (Stuart Whitman, Night of the Lepus), the priest whose cemetery Mark was buried in, Jennifer begins her quest to conquer over evil and put an end to demonic forces once and for all. Let the obscene battle between good and evil begin!

First things first. What you just read was an abridged version of what happens in this film. I'm not one of those reviewers who gives a play by play record of events because what's the point if you know too much? With a film like this, you will thank for me for being somewhat vague. If you thought the basic plot for this film was absurd, just you wait until you actually watch the film. To say there are some obscene moments would be an understatement. Get ready for wonderful deaths, some absurd moments and twists that will do nothing but please. A film like this naturally has some wonderful acting on display and the script; penned by four separate writers, will have you balling. Yeah, this is a film that's to be taken as seriously as a clowns' funeral! How the heck the likes of Samantha Eggar got involved in a film like this is beyond me, but I am very thankful for it! Aesthetically, the film isn't anything to shout about. It's pretty much by the numbers in terms of cinematography, not one of Alex Phillips Jr's (King Solomon's Mines) most memorable efforts. Editing from Sandy Nervig (Pocahontas) serves it purpose, but what does stand out is the fantastic score composed by Richard Gillis (The Bees) and the effects from Robert A. Burns (The Hills Have Eyes) and Chubby Cordero (their only credit). Both of these aspects add so much charm and could be argued as the most accomplished aspects of the production. The score and effects range from being charmingly simple to outright imaginative and well executed. Overall, this is a hokey sort of film that should be experienced even by the exploitation fan who has seen everything.I think this would be a great film to watch alongside Raw Force! I should also mention that Russ Meyer fans will appreciate seeing the lovely Haji (Supervixens) make an appearance!
 Overall, Vinegar Syndrome have done a great job with the restoration and presentation of the film. Of course, it's not perfect due to either the condition of the negatives used or the actual cinematography itself (I hope I don't sound like I'm shitting on a guy like Alex Phillips Jr!). That being said, it's no issue at all because hey, this is the first official DVD / Blu-ray release of this film! In terms of extras you also get the complete international cut of the film; Macabra. This is a completely different and extended experience. It loses some of the gore as well as the intro and replaces it with more dialogue, story and an extended ending. The score is also different in places. It's a great extra to have and has gone under the same high quality restoration and presentation processes.Not only that, but you get the option of French or English dubs, with subtitles of course. Alongside that there is an insightful interview from the director himself as well as a selection of trailers, a TV spot and reversible artwork. All in all, it's a great package for a film that surprised and entertained this jaded horror fan. It's a great upgrade to that bootleg you used to own as well as being a great release for someone experiencing the film for the first time.

Demonoid is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray dual format release from Vinegar Syndrome and can be streamed on

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Severin Review: Vampyros Lesbos (1970, dir: Jess Franco)

(1970, dir: Jess Franco)
“Psycho-Sexadelic Horror Freakout!”

Young lawyer Linda (Ewa Strömberg, She Killed in Ecstasy) is haunted by an erotic recurring dream involving herself and her lover Omar (Andrea Montchal, Eugenie de Sade). The dream involves herself and Omar enjoying a stage show involving a young and beautiful seductress (Soledad Miranda, Count Dracula). After the show, Linda is beckoned, seduced and killed by the mysterious nubile. Her therapist, Dr. Seward (Dennis Price, Son of Dracula) seems to think that the recurring dream is down to Linda needing a new sexual partner. Fair enough! Unfortunately, there's no time for that as Linda is assigned to visit a woman by the name of Countess Nadine Carody, who has recently inherited property from none other than Count Dracula! Once she has arrived and settled in, it's on to business. Before she can get the Countess's signature and realise who she's dealing with, she is drugged, seduced and then bitten by the bloodthirsty Countess. As if it wasn't bad enough, Linda then finds herself with a case of amnesia and under the care of Dr. Steiner (Paul Muller, Lady Frankenstein). It's her lucky day however, as Steiner is more than just a doctor, he's also a vampire hunter. With the help of the doctor and Omar, Linda must put an end to Countess Carody's bloodthirsty reign. It's not going to be easy, but it sure is going to be bloody!
Where do you start with a film like Vampyros Lesbos? Jess Franco is one of my all time favourite directors and even though I find his back catalogue to be very hit and miss (with a filmography that size, it's understandable), I can safely say I enjoyed this greatly. Right off the bat, you can tell this is a Franco film. From the cinematography to the way the action is staged and played out. Some may find his overuse of the zoom to be annoying and the snobs out there will turn the nose up at the occasional out of focus shot, but these tiny things all play in to my compassion for Jess Franco. There's some absolutely gorgeous locations used here and the set design as well as the costumes are second to none. As cheaply made as this film is, Jess definitely has a good eye for style and working around budget constraints. You sometimes find yourself scratching your head when trying to follow the plot of a Franco film, but Franco with the help of Jaime Chávarri (To an Unknown God) and Anne Settimó (Jungle of Fear) have scribed a cohesive, yet abstract enough to stand out feminine retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, even if Chávarri now distances himself from the film. There's a real sense of atmosphere throughout that often makes the film feel almost dreamlike. The score from Sigi Schwab (The Devil Came From Akasava) and Manfred Hübler (Intercontinental Express) adds to that dreamlike atmosphere, but also ranges from haunting to out right funky. It's up there with one of Franco's best film scores and worth looking in to if you like jazz. The star of the show (both literally and metaphorically) is the Countess herself, Soledad Miranda. All she has to do is look directly in to the camera and the audience is eating out of her hands. Her performance is subtle, yet effective and fundamentally sensual. Right from the first few seconds where she is beckoning the viewer. This is her film. Don't get me wrong, everyone else puts in a good turn for the most part, even Franco himself appears as a somewhat mentally challenged and sleazy island local with his own secret, but the focus is on Miranda, even if this may not be her most demanding role. It's clear that if she hadn't had met her untimely demise, she would have made even greater waves in the film industry. Of course, those looking for bare flesh and blood will be very happy I'm sure as there is a good amount of that thrown in too. That being said, this is more classy than pure schlock or sleaze. A perfect film for the turtleneck wearing Franco fan!
  In terms of sound and picture quality, the film has been beautifully restored and presented here. Of course, being that this is a Franco film and the source material may have not been preserved at the most optimal of levels, there are some focus issues and the sound can get a bit questionable, it shouldn't be an issue at all. Those wanting special features will be very happy in my opinion. There's an interview with Franco himself talking about the film, his relationship with producer Artur Brauner and of course Soledad. Is it just me or is it like watching your granddad telling you stories when you watch a Franco interview? Sticking with Soledad, there's an interview with Amy Brown, founder of the official Soledad Miranda website, that goes in to the life, career and death of Soledad. The final major feature is an interview with Franco scholar Stephen Thrower which gives a bit more insight in to the film. Not only that, but we also get an extra clip of Franco talking about his experience with Stuart Freeborn (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope)
and his true inspiration behind the look of Yoda, original German opening title sequence and of course, the German trailer. As if that weren’t enough, the film is packaged up with some gorgeous newly-commissioned art from Wes Benscoter. All in all, this is a must own for UK lovers of Jess Franco, Soledad Miranda and of course; Vampyros Lesbos. This would also make a great starting point for newcomers!

Vampyros Lesbos is available on DVD & Blu-Ray from Severin.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Vinegar Syndrome Review: Frightmare (1981, dir: Norman Thaddeus Vane)


(1981, Norman Thaddeus Vane)

“There was Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, and Conrad Ragzoff! They were all stars who lived and died. But only one returned...”

  Fandom  takes on a whole new meaning when a group of film loving college students decide to pay the ultimate respects to their favourite horror icon, the recently deceased Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne, Barry Lyndon). How do they do this? Hold a memorial? Have a Radzoff horror marathon? Nope, they decide to steal his freshly buried body and give hime the ultimate farewell house party back in their mansion! Like most cases however, this is one of those instances were one of your heroes is actually an arsehole (Cough-Tom Savini-Cough!). You see, Radzoff had an often fatal temper. Not even a cameo from Leon Askin (The Robe) is safe! To make matters infinitely worse for our group of corpse stealing cinephiles, Mayne decides to carry on his bloody streak from beyond the grave. One by one, the students learn a valuable lesson; let sleeping corpses lie (see what I did there?, especially if they happen to be a bloodthirsty prima-donna!
  Frightmare is a somewhat unique experience. A supernatural slasher that although rather straight-faced, is still fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. That being said, in between Radzoff dying and him picking off the students, the film does plod a little. It's still a very solidly directed and written film however. There's some solid cinematography that utilises light perfectly from Joel King (The Mighty Ducks) and an atmospheric score from Jerry Mosely (Blood Tide) who should have gone on to do greater things as the score seems to take reference and pay homage to many horror film scores of yesteryear, as well as being contemporary with some fantastic synth work. All in all, aesthetically the film ticks all the boxes. The deaths, although not too graphic are staged and executed solidly thanks to the work of Jill Rockow (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Chuck E. Stewart (Con Air). The star of the show is of course Ferdy Mayne. Sure, he can be campy as hell in his performance, but it works perfectly within the context of the film. A role intended for Christopher Lee (Dracula: Prince of Darkness), Mayne fills the boots perfectly and even though we see clips of young Ragzoff, it takes a minute to realise it's actually footage of a young Christopher Lee. Although a despicable character, it's so satisfying to see him kill the group of unlikeable students. This isn't because of bad writing, it's because they are complete douchebags. Within the group of students we have performances from a young Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) and Luca Bercovici (Drop Zone). The film is really well cast and everyone puts in a great performance, no matter how significant their role is.
  If you're a fan of horror cinema that deals with horror cinema, this is a film you must watch. Thanks to film historian David Del Valle, the film itself is littered with actual props and memorabilia. From the poster of Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters to the decapitated head of Frank Zito from Maniac. There is so much to ingest in that regard. Not only that, but there are typical horror tropes and references throughout for the seasoned horror fans out there to discover. All in all, I enjoyed Frightmare more than expected. Sure, it won't change your perception of the slasher genre, but it has enough there to warrant repeat viewings. In terms of the release, I can't say I've seen the previous Troma release, but from my research, Vinegar Syndrome have done a great job upgrading this film in both a visual and audible sense. Don't get me wrong, it's not Vinegar Syndrome's greatest effort, but it's still a lot more than most labels would do. On the disc we have two commentary tracks; one from The Hysteria Continues and one from David Del Valle and David DeCoteau. There's an archival audio interview from Vane himself prior to his death, an interview with cinematographer Joel King, original theatrical trailer and reversible artwork showcasing The Horror Star artwork. It's a great release for both fans and newcomers.
Frightmare is available as a DVD & Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome and available to stream on