Euro | Varied Celluloid

Bay of Blood

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 9 - 2013

Bay of Blood (1971)
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, Sergio Canevari, Dardano Sacchetti, and Franco Barberi
Starring: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Laura Betti, and Claudio Camaso

The Plot: Our film begins, as all great stories do, with an elderly woman being strangled with a noose by her husband. Although this may seem cliche, A Bay of Blood isn’t afraid to switch things up! So, we then watch as the deceased woman’s husband is killed by a faceless assailant immediately after he finishes the job. This new killer then drags the murdering son, Fillipo, out to the bay that their home sits upon, leaving the police to find a forged suicide note that tries to explain the elderly woman’s death. Meanwhile, Fillipo’s body is not found during the investigation. Our film then skips forward in time and we meet four young teens who are hoping to spend their weekend partying by the bay, unfortunately they are instead hunted down and murdered one by one. In a very violent sequence of events that are not foreshadowed in great detail, the movie dispatches all four of the teens as they become part of the bodycount building up around this bay. We then meet real estate agent Frank and his wife Laura who are interested in some property by the bay, and as the film unfurls, through them we will witness why all of this undue carnage has been taking place.

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Posted by JoshSamford On October - 31 - 2012

Autopsy (1975)
Director: Armando Crispino
Writers: Armando Crispino and Lucio Battistrada
Starring: Mimsy Farmer, Barry Primus, and Ray Lovelock.

The Plot: Autopsy follows Simona Sana (Mimsy Farmer) who is a medical student in the process of writing her thesis on differentiating between actual suicides and simulated ones. While this goes on, Italy is being ravaged by a string of suicide deaths that have been brought upon by sun spots. When Simona runs into an American girl who turns up on her autopsy table the next day, dead from an apparent suicide, she finds herself wrapped up in a very large conspiracy that will have her questioning her own sanity and even investigating her own father.

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Posted by JoshSamford On January - 9 - 2012

Amer (2009)
Director: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Writers: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Starring: Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud and Marie Bos

The Plot: At the beginning of our film, Young Ana arrives with her family to their summer/winter home. As she settles in, she spots her mother berating the house maid through a keyhole. As the daughter snoops around, she overhears her mother speaking about the house maid as if she were a literal withc. When young Ana sneaks off into the house maid’s room, she finds an elderly man who has died, and she tries to pry a special necklace out of this dead man’s hands. Before long, she finds herself being strangled by the hands of the house maid, but luckily Ana manages to escape. When she stumbles upon her parents room, she discovers them in the midst of having sex, which then scars her for life. Not having the mental frame to absorb all of this at once, the young girl grows up with sexual infatuation that grows deeper and darker over time. We catch up with her at two more points in her life, and we see how her sexuality grows and transforms as she becomes an adult.

The Review
It wasn’t until recently, when I started seeing all of these “best films of the year” lists popping up, that I realized just how few “new” films I have seen within the past couple of years. With this in mind, I decided that it was long past due that I finally sat down with one of the critical darlings (and critical punching bags) from the past few years. Amer is a title that I have been aware of for quite some time. Originally featured on the Varied Celluloid forums (before they died and facebook took over all of our social networking) when it was still being promoted, I followed the film right up until the point where it seemed to be catching on with film fans. With so many older films grabbing my attention, it becomes difficult to place newer titles in the front. Amer is one of those that looks to evoke the atmosphere of genre-cinema from years gone by. For those of you who are unaware of this film and its reputation, Amer is a recent French film that is made to directly resemble a extreme flashy and stylistic gialli thriller. If you aren’t familiar with the giallo genre, it is a Italian version of the thriller that was popularized during the seventies. If you want a direct comparison, it is the Italian version of the slasher genre. Taking direct inspiration from the early work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, this is a blitz of wild and impressive visuals that will astound all audiences. I don’t care if you inevitably hate Amer, even its most ardent enemies must admit that this is a visually compelling piece of cinema. It is the parts that lay between all of the awesome visuals that unfortunately leaves Amer slightly cold.

From the very start, director/writers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani look to evoke the purely visual style that many of the better giallo films of the past had. Although there were few that went to the lengths that Cattet and Forzani’s film does, it is wholly apparent what they were going for with his movie. Every aspect of the film seems to have a custom touch, and this is part of what I loved so much about the Italian way of doing things during the seventies. These were films that didn’t seem entirely interested in developing a realistic portrayal of modern life, but instead they were more about creating a ideal vision of what the filmmakers viewed as the Italian artistic or bourgeois society to be. So, sets were always well decorated even on the most elementary of genre films. The set-decoration side of cinema was treated as if it were the most important aspect on any title, whether it be base-level or high art. Every wall in Amer is beautifully decorated with fantastic wallpaper or insane patterns, every floor is decorated with texturized paint, and the lighting is at all times stunning. There are moments where red lighting fills up the screen on one side, but then a clashing royal blue is illuminated out of a bedside lamp. Does it make any sense at all? No, but when did that ever stop the Italians?

The film delves even further into the bizarre than the Giallo films that it takes its inspiration from. Similar to Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg, Amer casually refers back and forth to a state of dream logic that defies linear storytelling. So, as the movie presses along it becomes harder to decipher what is actually happening in “real time” and what seems to be happening in this dream state that our lead character falls into. This basically leads into one of the biggest flaws of he film. The style over substance debate, which is prevalent in any review for Amer. While I have no questions that the directors have very deep and earnest things that they want to say with their film, there are times where it seems that this dedication to recreating the idealized version of the “giallo” seems to take precedence over telling a engaging narrative. While there were numerous highly stylized Italian films made during the seventies that one could look to for inspiration, there are none that come to my mind that are wholly dedicated to their style insofar as they were willing to sacrifice their pacing in order to create interesting visuals. That is precisely what Amer does, as unfortunate as that may be. There are numerous times throughout the course of the movie where the story may slow down to a snail’s pace in order for the camera to make a slow pan of a neat looking visual. Closeups are used in a nearly fetishistic manner, to the point where the film becomes difficult to understand due to the insane number of times characters are introduced only via their eyes. While these are interesting, and dare I say “cool,” ideas on behalf of the filmmaker, in reality they slow the film down to a highly boring pace where the images start to lose their meaning.

There are moments where Amer is highly affective in every little emotional inkling it wants to demand from you. When it wants to be scary, it actually manages to do so. When the film looks to be sexy, it is downright arousing. It is in the small moments, where the audience is completely enamored by a particular scene, that Amer inevitably finds its greatest strengths. During the introduction, which follows around the youngest version of our lead character, we are lead on a rather frightening cat and mouse chase between this young girl and a hidden assailant. Filled to the brim with dark visuals and dangers that are just out of visual to the viewer, this particular scene is one of the most effective throughout the movie. As far as sensuality goes, the movie is spread more evenly. From scenes of brushing skin on subway trains to light glances at a short skirt, the movie manages to excite its audience without being overly profane. These small moments are truly what makes the movie as effective as it is. In a true case of “the sum not being as good as the parts,” Amer is a film that may very well have a brilliant piece of cinema hiding somewhere just below the surface.

The Conclusion
Amer has all the promise in the world. It features an amazing style that delivers something that is as purely visual as cinema can possibly get, but unfortunately it doesn’t prove to be the most absorbing watch you will come across. I like the film, but it certainly has a great deal of problems. It gets a solid three out of five from me, but I am desperate to see what these filmmakers do next.

Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story

Posted by JoshSamford On January - 26 - 2010
The Plot: Catherine Miles is a young English girl (who speaks with an American accent) who now finds herself on trial for a double homicide in the amazon. She had come to the Amazon in order to vacation with her mother and father. They rent a large boat in order to make it to another part of the jungle where they will be staying, but they are cut off by a tribe of natives. These natives aren’t the friendly kind who want to share either, these are the kind who kill without thinking. They slaughter Catherine’s parents and poison her with a dart that makes her immobile. She is then carried back to their village and sold at an auction where she then becomes slave to the highest bidder. The young warrior who actually killed Catherine’s parents offers to trade all of his weapons as well as his own freedom in order to own Catherine, but he is denied and another owner is chosen. This other owner tries to force himself on Catherine, who resists but is then beaten into submission. When the young warrior sees this, he challenges her owner to a battle and the two fight to the death. This young warrior wins and finally owns Catherine, but she refuses to give herself to him because of what he did to her parents. What happened to put young Catherine Miles on trial and what will become of her?

The Review
Although I consider myself to be a cannibal movie aficionado at this point, having seen almost everything the genre has to offer – I put off this unofficial sequel to Rugerro Deodatto’s classic Cannibal Holocaust for many years. That is no doubt due to a few bad reviews I read for it which accused it of being a cannibal movie in name only. So, for some reason I assumed this picture was just going to be a jungle survivor type of movie. Maybe the equivalent to a weak Jungle Holocaust. Well, after finally taking the plunge I’m happy to report that this sequel/ripoff actually delivers in the cannibal conventions. Far more than I could have hoped for. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all that good. It simply means it deserves its place amongst other cannibal flicks such as Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Terror and Eaten Alive. The definition of ”Good” in terms of Italian cannibal flicks is about as subjective a thing as you can possibly get though. Truthfully, I don’t know of any other Italian cannibal film I could recommend as a piece of quality filmmaking that isn’t named Cannibal Holocaust. They all appeal to the lowest common denominator in terms of their exploitation and some are so unbearable with the amount of violence and animal cruelty, that it’s kind of mind blowing that they were ever so popular with a mainstream audience. Apparently they were, otherwise we wouldn’t have twenty or so of them to slog through. When you go into a movie of this type, there are only a few things that you can hope for to make the viewing experience worthwhile. Such as a story that doesn’t steal tremendously from other films in the genre. Some sets that actually look like they are on location. A few interesting conventions, such as neat cinematography or a decent score. Brutal violence that doesn’t look too cheap. You’re picking at straws, but these are the things that actually make the majority of this subgenre worthwhile. Catherine Miles… is a cannibal picture that actually delivers on a few of these promises and marks one of the better outings in the genre that I’ve discovered in a while.

Although it isn’t the bloodiest or goriest Cannibal flick I have had the chance to witness, there’s some fairly surprising gore in the early goings of Amazonia. The initial slaughter sequence is pretty brutal and the inevitable animal stock footage is enough to send any card carrying PETA member running for the exit. Although at one time I too had a great deal of resentment for animal death scenes in these movies, at this point I actually see it as a true staple of the genre. If there’s no stock footage of animals being eaten or killed, it really doesn’t pack that Italian cannibal film kind of vibe. Amazonia, for those who care, at least doesn’t feature humans slaughtering any animal prey. It’s all your basic stock footage kind of thing you might find on the Discovery Channel, so if you can handle that then I don’t think Amazonia is going to damage your psyche in too extreme of a manner. If you can get past the animal violence, Amazonia actually manages to pack a relatively interesting little story into it. It’s fairly clever the way it is written and turns out to be one of the more respectful entries in the genre. Respectful in that it’s competently made, has an interesting story structure and isn’t all murder, mayhem and sheer stupidity. Granted the story is a bit conventional and predictable at times, but believe it or not that’s actually better than what you can say for the majority of this subgenre. Amazonia is also one of the few cannibal flicks that apparently had a large enough budget that it could be shot on location instead of just a set, so the backdrops here actually look like the jungle which adds so much to the movie.

I’m sure the portrayal of the natives are insensitive and offensive to someone out there, after all the tribe is shown to be in amazement at Catherine for showing them how to make a splint. I’m sure in the many years that they’ve been alone in the jungle they might have figured as much for curing their broken bones – but what do I know of native tribes? Still, there’s at least some respect shown to these characters. They don’t ALL speak broken English, with some actual tribal speak thrown around throughout the duration of the movie. They also aren’t really shown to be complete butchers as at first it seems like they would be. It’s an interesting turn that some of the acts which come off as torturous at first are explained as simply rituals within their culture and thus not played up as sadistic. There’s even a rape scene that is interrupted due to our lead character being a virgin and that in their culture it’s taboo to take the virginity of a girl. Now, I won’t guarantee that everyone will feel the same but I thought the way the natives were shown was a fresh concept. Certainly for this genre and the culture that these movies were made in. At the end of the day though, I concede, this is just an exploitation movie. However, it isn’t entertaining to watch just for the gore and insanity.

The Conclusion
If you’re wondering about that secondary title you may have seen tossed around, Cannibal Holocaust II, it’s just a marketing ploy. The two movies really couldn’t be more different, but I will say that this movie certainly seems inspired by Deodato’s work. The way in which that film used the “found footage” to tell its story is very similar to this one in how it chooses to use Catherine Miles’ court testimony as a catalyst for the story. Believe it or not, the court scenes really aren’t pulled off that bad either. They’re a little shaky at first, due to so much dialogue taking place off screen, but I think they actually make the sequence of events stronger – unlike in Cannibal Holocaust where you’re always waiting for the New York scenes to just finish up. All told, Amazonia isn’t really anything mind blowing. It’s a decently made Cannibal flick, which is actually a surprise for the genre, but it probably won’t impress newcomers. I have to give it a three out of five. It’s solid and somewhat inspired, but still fairly ordinary in comparison to the grand-father of these movies: Cannibal Holocaust.

Beast With A Gun

Posted by JoshSamford On August - 8 - 2008

The Plot: Ninna Vitali (Helmut Berger) is a small time hood with plans to go bigger. After pulling off a big heist, he and his crew go on a rampage. Stealing cars, kidnapping a man and a woman, killing several gasstation employees – Vitali is a wild man with no care for anyone other than himself. After killing his male kidnapping victim, he rapes the female and begins to brainwash her into his gang. She is a little stronger willed than he believes, and once back in the city is able to meet with officer Sartini (Richard Harrison) who she tells everything to. Including the next big job being planned by Vitali. After the job is busted by the police, Vitali makes a getaway but his crew are apprehended. Vitali now has the choice to either run away, or come back for revenge against the girl who ratted him out. Well, let me put it like this, Vitali isn’t the type to let an vengeance go. Now he’s out to kill the girl, and officer Santini is out to protect her. These two are on a pathway to destruction.

The Review: I simply love crime films. I love the drama of them, the fantasy of these wild situations and the cool characters who owe no allegiance to anyone as they run from the law. The Italians, like many genres, had their own unique take on this catalog of films. The way that Spaghetti Westerns were always a little darker, a little grimier than your average Hollywood production – the Italian crime film is so drastically different from pretty much every marketplace that deals in the genre. The best way for me to describe the subgenre is in one word: action. Not John Woo flipping-over-a-barrel-while-shooting type of action – but a constant breakneck pace in almost all of these films. You start off with the setup, usually a crime being committed of some sort – then you’re off and running as the police try and track down the culprits and the criminals stay as vicious as possible. There are of course films in the subgenre that don’t follow this definition, but it’s just an observation of what most of these films feel like. Beast With A Gun is just that sort of flick. A pot boiler action yarn that takes off with a blast and continues to pick up steam throughout the course of the film. The movie just strikes you in the eyes and takes off running, and this is probably my favorite thing about it. There are timees where the story seems to slow a bit, but only for a moment before we’re right back in the thick of the action. Around every corner is either a new twist, some wild violence or a new action sequence. It is a film that simply never stops moving in its pace to tell the story and I enjoy that. You don’t ever really get inside the head of officer Santini or even the lunatic Vitali – but it’s all part of the films charm.

Richard Harrison as officer Santini is great in his role as a fair and honest cop who just wants bring these crooks to justice. He oozes charisma in the role and seems like he was born to play these sorts of hard boiled detectives, much more than the gladiators he portrayed in the 1960’s that made him famous. Helmut Berger, the flip side of the coin for Harrison’s honest cop, plays the psychotic mass murdering criminal Ninna Vitali in simply superb fashion. He is so over the top and yet believable in his role, the performance is stunning and it seems so rare that you get to see such an obviously evil character in such total power. Truthfully, and I hate to bring up such a recent and beloved film, I was reminded of The Dark Knight in terms of how the the character of Vitali is shown. “I don’t give a damn about the money, or whether I get away. As a matter of fact, all I care about is the pleasure of killing you.” This line perfectly demonstrates the mindframe of the Vitali character and Berger lets loose with every frame he is in. The film points out that Vitali would be nothing without his gun, but I think the character demonstrates easily that with or without a gun; the most dangerous thing about a man like Ninna Vitali is simply his mind. The two characters, Vitali and Santini, rarely ever spend any screentime with one another (much like Heat) but the film is all about the grand buildup to the ultimate explosion that is likely when these two get within fighting range. Watching the film like this and anticipating these two unstoppable men and their culminating battle, it is the sort of film you bite your nails through. The sort of flick that once you’re hooked, you absolutely have to finish it. I know I definitely enjoyed myself, and can’t help but pass along all of those feelings.

Beast With A Gun, Mad Dog, it doesn’t matter what you call it – it is most definitely one of the better Italian crime films you can start with. The anticipation, the action… just an all around entertaining and exciting crime film. I won’t say it is perfect, there are a few loose ends that I can’t go into without spoiling the film – but regardless of the few storylines with almost no conclusion to them; the way in which everything is ultimately resolved and set to the fantastic musical score in those final few minutes – I can barely even remember any complaints while watching. I highly recommend it and for those new to the whole Poliziotteschi genre – this is as great a place to start as any!




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.