Sunday, December 6, 2015

Rosalba Neri News # 19 - New TOP SENSATION & AMUCK Blu Rays On The Way !!

      More Rosalba Goodliness In HD !!

     Over on their Facebook page, Shameless Screen Entertainment has revealed a future release of TOP SENSATION (aka THE SEDUCERS) on blu-ray at some point in the near future. A classic slice of Italian exploitation from 1969 starring BOTH Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech, this was previously released on DVD by Camera Obscura  in 2013.
     Originally released theatrically in 1969 the film played in several different versions depending on the country, with the U.S. version as distributed by Jerry Gross under the title THE SEDUCERS being the most explicit (this version was released years ago on VHS by Something Weird). Camera Obscura released the less explicit Italian cut only on DVD (which is now out of print) with the more explicit scenes as VHS sourced extras (along with an alternate German cut) as after an extensive search the materials what they found was less than pristine - although their DVD release was fine-looking and eons better than the murky bootlegs that proceeded it.
     With the Camera Obscura release now OOP, it'll be interesting to see what Shameless releases as far as version, running time and source. We can only hope that if not this release, then sometime in the future a pristine print of the Jerry Gross version will be unearthed.

      Speaking of Camera Obscura, their Facebook page reveled an upcoming release on blu ray & DVD of AMUCK (aka ALLA RICERCA PIACERE) with the positively giddy news that it will be sourced from the ORIGINAL (!) camera negative. This trippy and perverse 1972 Italian giallo contains one of Rosalba's finest performance and plus stars the always welcome Barbara Bouchet and a nice evilly smarmy performance by Farley Granger from Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Under its U.S. title of AMUCK this had a quasi-bootleg release on DVD years ago on the Eurovista label which featured a dead center transfer from a tape source that destroyed the film's widescreen compositions along with a sickly green/yellow tint. Last year Code Red issued a DVD under the alternate title MANSION OF MADNESS that featured a nice looking anamorphic widescreen transfer, that while being edited for running time (most likely for double & triple bills back in the day) did leave intact all the "best" sequences.
      Camera Obscura have also posted a lovely shot of Rosalba doing an interview for this upcoming release and plus they have confirmed this will contain the English dub as an option. If their past release of TOP SENSATION is any indication this is going to be an outstanding release both in terms of AV quality and packaging.


Friday, December 4, 2015


"Evil Grows Beyond The Door !"

   The release of William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST in 1973 was not only a major milestone in the history of horror cinema but even more entertaining (to me at least) was the tidal wave of knock-offs that soon began showing up on screens throughout the world. Combined with the earlier release in 1968 of ROSEMARY"S BABY it would seem the entire decade of the 70's cinema was awash in devil cults, demonic babies and possessed female victims.
   One of the first of these post EXORCIST homages came fittingly enough from Italy in the form of this 1974 devil possession slice of exploitation that features former NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR TV series star Juliet Mills spewing green bile and engaging in levitation and head rotations. Originally tilted CHEI SEI ? (WHO ARE YOU ?) in Italy, it was released in Europe under the title THE DEVIL WITHIN HER - which is not be confused with the 1975 film of the same name in which stripper Joan Collins begets a spawn of Beelzebub after refusing the advances of a satanically inclined dwarf with Joan being helped out by her sister (and fellow stripper) Caroline Monro.
    Directed and produced by Egyptian Ovidio G. Assonitis (who also shares the screenplay credit along with seven other writers !) BEYOND THE DOOR gives equal time to both ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST with Warner Brothers even going so far as to sue Assonitis for copyright infringement over THE EXORCIST. While the lawsuit itself was unsuccessful (although Assonites did payout some money) it generated heaps of publicity for BEYOND THE DOOR as it went on to gross upwards of $15,000,000 and spawn two in name only sequels. Much was also made of the former family-friendly TV show star Mills lead role, but she had already started to shed her "G" rating by appearing topless in Billy Wilder's AVANTI ! in 1972.

    Mills plays housewife Jessica Barrett who resides in San Francisco along with her music producer husband Robert (Gabriele Lavia from Argento's DEEP RED and INFERNO) and their two bizarre children Gail and Ken. Robert's current record in progress is the funky "Bargain With The Devil" and it also provides itself as the title song for the movie. In addition, the two children would seem to already under some sort of possession as they both constantly mouth expletives (to which Mom and Dad find amusing) and while Gail reads constantly from Eric Segal's Love Story (while carrying around about a dozen copies) the boy drinks constantly from cans of Campbell's pea soup (!) and also has a large Andy Warhol-like poster of a can above his bed.
     In a seemingly non-sensical prologue, Jessica was shown observing a nude woman lying upon a table surrounded by candles while a grim bearded man (Richard Johnson from THE HAUNTING and ZOMBIE) looks on. Jessica flees through the darkened space while next Richard Johnson is shown crashing his car over a cliffside road.
    Getting back to the present plotline Jessica discovers that she's pregnant, which causes some tension between her and Robert. However, most alarming of all the baby begins to grow at a prodigious rate while Jessica is compelled to strange acts such as picking up a rotted banana peel off the sidewalk and then eating it, along with causing her husband's aquarium to explode and erotically kissing her son open-mouthed. Lurking about on the sidelines is the above mentioned Richard Johnson, who we now know as Dimitri and who previously had a relationship with Jessica and now as a minion of the devil is working to procure the upcoming newborn for his evil overlord.

     As various people including husband Robert, a doctor friend and Dimitri drift in and out of the Barrett's apartment (which is decorated with every piece of 70's kitsch imaginable) the by now bedridden Jessica begins slipping more and more into full Linda Blair mode as her complexion goes all to hell along with spitting up green bile (which appears to be creamed spinach) and growling out expletives in a guttural voice. The make-up effects are quite good on Mills making her out to be quite repulsive and grungy (you can almost smell the rank BO wafting off her) and levitation shot with her floating upright across the room and the requisite head-turning both come off extremely well.
    There's really no concerted effort to cure Jessica and it's interesting to note that unlike THE EXORCIST the church/religion angle is completely ignored with the doctor giving more time to playing detective in order to track down the origins of the mysterious Dimitri. (although in a nifty scene they hook her up to ones of those brain scanner gizmos). It's around this point that plot does get a bit repetitious with various characters walking about in sunny San Fran while we alternately cut back to Jessica doing demonic things and the same various characters discuss things in the living room.
    Although all the interiors were filmed in a Rome studio the film makes great use of the San Francisco locations with quite a lot of outdoor shooting and the cinematography of Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli is quite colorful & sharp. That along with the sincere and highly serious performances from both Mills and Johnson (who both seem to approach this material with the solemnity of a Royal Shakespearean Theatre performance) all lend a touch of class to the otherwise sometimes bizarre and ludicrous proceedings.
    However what with cans of pea soup prominently on display and rotten banana peel eating, this all leaves thought to what the filmmakers true intent was. Before its ambiguous ending the film does try its best to tie all the weird plot points and out of left field bits into a semi-cohesive package. With the film being full of strange little random asides such as the doctor constantly arranging his menthol drops, a dancing street band with a nose flutist that follow Robert about and Jessica transporting her eyeball into a martini glass, all of which leads one to wonder how seriously we're suppose to take all this.

     Always to be counted to add a touch of class to whatever he was in, with this credit British actor Richard Johnson here began his association with Italian horror as in the upcoming decade he would appear in THE NIGHT CHILD (1975), SCREAMERS (aka ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN 1979) and most memorably in Luci Fulci's ZOMBIE in 1980 ("The boat can leave now.....").  Although quite a number of British actors in the early 60's could say that they were "almost James Bond", Johnson could rightly claim that that he was "going to be James Bond". He was producer Albert Broccoli's first choice for DR. NO, but turned it down as he didn't want to commit to a series.
   The Code Red DVD contains the longer European cut (bearing THE DEVIL WITHIN HER title) and contains a wealth of extras including a commentary and introduction from Juliet Mills who seems to be an excellent sport concerning the proceedings here, as one wonders what she thought of this after the her role in Wilder's prestigious AVANTI. She says that she always wanted to do a horror film (making sure of a strict no nudity clause in her contract) and relates some interesting stories which include taking her 10 year old son to the premier at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (!). In 1977 Mario Bava's SHOCK was retitled BEYOND THE DOOR II for a bit of non-related sequel cash-in and even more bizarrely 12 years later AMOK TRAIN was trotted out on unsuspecting patrons as BEYOND THE DOOR III in 1989.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy Birthday Margaret Markov !! BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA 1973

Shackled together Margaret and Pam kick and claw their way
thru the Filipino jungles in this sweaty 70's drive-in classic !

"Chicks in chains...on the lam from a prison hell - 
manacled together by hate and the strange ideas 
a woman gets after 1000 nights without a man !!"

"Nothing behind but prison bars....Nothing ahead but trouble !"

    Featuring two of the most beautiful women ever to flicker across a drive-in screen and one of the true highlights of the Filipino exploitation genre this low budget homage to Stanley Kramer's 1958 classic THE DEFIANT ONES was directed by the ubiquitous Eddie Romero and produced by John Ashley who was both behind many films from the "wild east". Released by A.I.P., who were venturing into Roger Corman's New World milieu, it was based upon a story by Jonathan (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) Demme who would later work for New World as a writer and/or director on ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME (1971), THE HOT BOX (1972 - also with Margaret), CAGED HEAT (1974), CRAZY MAMA (1975) and FIGHTING MAD (1975).
    Most often lumped in with the blacksploitation genre (MGM released it on DVD as part of their "Soul Cinema" line), BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA is more closely aligned with the woman in prison (WIP) flicks that New World was cranking out at the time. Starring both Margaret and Pam Grier as a pair of mismatched inmates who find themselves shackled together and on the run through the usual nameless New World-type tropical hellhole (i.e. The Philippines). All the while they're being perused by various pimps, drug dealers and revolutionaries along with other assorted bad-asses including grungy rapists and a sadistic prison matron played by the wonderful Lynn Borden from FROGS and DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY.
    Clocking in at 87 minutes and containing what would seem to be a much too convoluted plot BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA literally packs every woman behind bars cliche into its first 20 minutes of running time and sets up a large cast of intertwined characters and their minions (which after a while you just give up trying to sort out).

    Opening with a pair of new inmates at women's prison (or as its called here "Women's Rehabilitation Center") we're introduced to Karen Brent (Margaret) a political prisoner who's closely aligned with a ragtag group of militants looking to overthrow the government and Lee Daniels (Pam) a prostitute and drug runner for big-time baddie Vic Ching (the ever-present Vic Diaz). Sent immediately to the showers (!!), the prisoners are overseen by Matron Densmore (Lynn Borden) who enjoys inviting the girls up to her office for some sexual favors and spying on them through a peephole as they wash down.
   Lee wants nothing to do with her, but Karen cozies up to her, which causes a rift between the two inmates which later cumulates in a fight during mealtime. The two are manacled together and thrown in the hotbox and later while being transferred to a maximum-security prison an attack by some of Karen's brothers in arms allows the pair to escape, Unfortunately, they become separated from the rebels during the battle and still manacled together attempt their escape cross country.

   Immediately finding themselves at odds on their destination with Karen wanting to go to a prearranged meeting with some gun runners to purchase arms for the revolution while Lee has designs on heading to a boat where she has $40,000 waiting for her that she absconded from Vic. They stop long enough for a most excellent catfight and later appropriate some nun outfits as a disguise while along the way coming across a veritable who's who list of Filipino character actors.
   The police captain perusing them (Eddie Garcia from The Blood Island movies) hires local bandit and fashion nightmare Ruben (a typically deranged Sid Haig from THE BIG DOLLHOUSE - whose look here ranges from psychedelic pimp to urban cowboy) to capture the pair. Garcia is more interested in Karen for her rebel connections while at the same time you have rotund pimp/drug dealer (and nude massage & pedicure fetish fan) Vic Diaz chasing Lee for the theft of his money and thirdly there's the rebel leader tracking the duo and hoping to catch up with Karen.

     One of the more entertaining entries in the Filipino exploitation genre BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA delivers what you'd expect with gusto serving up heaps of nudity and a satisfyingly bloody and downbeat ending. Margaret and Pam have wonderful chemistry together and watching them run up & down hills, roll around in the dirt while kicking & clawing, beating the crap out of and/or killing various lowlifes and authority figures is a highlight of 70's drive-in cinema (and what better way to celebrate Margaret's birthday !)
     Born in 1948 in Stockton, Ca. Margaret Markov with her long blonde hair and legs that seem to go on forever was a striking figure in 70's exploitation cinema. She appeared in only a handful of films and few TV appearances but made a lasting impression in all of her roles.
     Along with BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA, she also appeared in the Filipino lensed THE HOT BOX along with the quirky PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, the biker flick RUN ANGEL RUN (1969) and New World's WIP motif transferred to ancient Rome THE ARENA from 1974 (with Rosalba Neri and Pam Grier !!).
    On the set of THE ARENA she met producer Mark Damon (THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT) and they were later married (and remain so to this day). Her last acting appearance was a small part in an episode of DAYS OF OUR LIVES in 1997. She showed up in interview footage in the documentary MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED where she now sports short hair (and still looks very beautiful).