Italian Crime Filmography 1968-1980 (2013)


Back in my early 20’s I really got into European horror films, especially those from Italy. Their films were more unhinged, had better soundtracks, pretty girls, and crazy violence in them. I purchased a copy of (now defunct) Film Fanaddict Magazine. In the back of one issue it stated there would be an article about poliziotteschi or Italian crime films. I had never heard of the genre before. I had no clue it even existed. Unfortunately that issue never came out and at the time there was little information available elsewhere. It was like a secret club of movie lovers were hoarding all the info and there I was on the outside looking in. In the past couple few years that has changed.

Blue Underground released a handful of Italian crime films around the same time they were releasing a big bundle of horror films. More recently RaroVideo has been pumping out Italian crime flicks here and there but still to this day many of them are unavailable in the states or scattered across many labels making finding them tough. Thanks to the doc Eurocrime, finally the films are getting attention again and now we have this fantastic film guide to help us through the genre. The book’s author Roberto Curti claims that the book is the most complete filmography of Italian Crime films in the English language. I don’t doubt it. The book is stacked with information lovingly researched and presented to us. Included are all the cast and crew that made the film, alternative titles, synopsis, a review and also included are quotes from various cast/writers/directors that made the films. He also writes about the historical context the films were made in. For instance some of the films were ripped from Italian headlines, slightly changed but basically commentary on what was going on at the time in Italy, something that we would have no knowledge of here in the states 40+ years after they happened. Also included are movie posters and stills from the films.

Reading this book you will become an expert on the genre. The reviews are well written, informative and interesting. The book sidesteps the dry reference guides you may be familiar with and instead reads like a history book of Italy and Italian cinema. It’s clear that the author is incredibly knowledgeable about his subject and that the films were researched very thoroughly. The book boggles my mind. I can’t believe how much information is provided. It’s a treasure trove of information and film recommendations.

If you have any interest in poliziotteschi, you need to have this book on your shelf. I’m so glad I have this book and I can’t wait to dig deeper into the genre with this book as my guide.

Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (2015)

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Paul Newman will be remembered by film fans as one of the greatest actors to have ever graced the silver screen. His filmography is chock full of fantastic films the nestle in the hearts of many cinephiles. He is also known for his philanthropy, we’ve all had a bottle of his salad dressing at some point in our lives. It wasn’t until a few years ago however, that I discovered his racing career.

Winning is a documentary about his prolific career as a race car driver. Starting in his late 40’s, an age when many race car drivers retire, he had a very long and very successful career as a driver. Winning documents his early racing experiences and interviews many of those who were there when he raced. We hear from his racing instructors, his competitors, his team mates, and fellow actors who moonlight as race car drivers. The documentary is well edited and the story is well told without becoming hyperbolic. It reveals the motivations, successes, and losses of the very private Newman. It’s as much a biography and character study as it is about racing.

The doc is an enjoyable ride that sheds light on Newman’s unique life and personality and his drive to win. Who knew Adam Carolla could direct such a fantastic film? I hope he sticks with it and continues to make films, even if they’re all about race car drivers. I’m game.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)


The second film in the deluxe boxed Black Cat set from Arrow Films is a giallo with a most wonderful title. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), might just be the longest title of a giallo that has ever existed. I’m not a scholar on the subject but it’s at least got to be in the running.

Loosely based on the Black Cat by Poe (that’s why it’s in the set), Your Vice is about an abusive novelist who hasn’t written in ages. This artistic impotence has turned him into a savage alcoholic and he spends his days boozing and abusing his wife both verbally and physically. The first scene in the film we find him holding court in his palatial home surrounded by hippies as he forces his wife to drink from a bowl filled with partially consumed drinks “donated” from around the room. This is a giallo so really no one cares much and after the debacle soon everyone is singing and one girl dances naked. It was the 70’s, what do you expect? Soon we find out that the husband has been cheating on the wife too and with any old strumpet lying around, but one particular strumpet is blackmailing him. She’s found dead and he doesn’t have an alibi and was blind drunk at the time and honestly can’t remember if he killed her or not. We don’t know either. From there the bodies start to pile up and the novelist is suspect #1. This is a giallo however and it couldn’t be that simple. To spoil the rest would be wrong but rest assured, this one is a hoot to watch.

Director Sergio Martino has 67 directing credits on including Torso, 2019: After The Fall of New York, Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Hands of Steel among other genre favorite high notes and low notes. Fear not dear reader, Vice is not one of his hilarious stinkers but one of his triumphs. The film stars Italian favorites Ivan Rassimov (who was in the recently reviewed Contamination) and Edwige Fenech (whom we get to see in the buff) and features a very appropriate and mysterious soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai, who also did the music for a few Jess Franco movies and The Case of the Bloody Iris, All the Colors of the Dark, and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale among others.

Your Vice is a fun twisty giallo that hits all the hallmarks. Beautiful women, bloody deaths, a whodunit, great soundtrack, twists, and that eurohorror vibe that you can’t get anywhere else. Of the two films in the set, I feel that this is the more successful. Black Cat didn’t feel like Fulci was giving his all to the project but this film has Martino firing on all cylinders. The film itself looks fantastic and has never looked better. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Arrow. There’s an interview with Sergio Martino, a mini doc about his contributions to the giallo genre, trailers, optional italian and english tracks, and more stuffed into the package to make your day.

The Black Cat (1981)


The name Lucio Fulci looms large over the world of horror cinema. Images of incredibly gory deaths, fog, great music, and lots of make up effects jump to my mind when I hear the name. Director of horror classics like Zombie, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, not mention his forays into every other popular genre from sex comedy to western to crime to giallo and more. He’s a director that is loved my many, and honestly loathed by many. But those folks aren’t any fun so they don’t count. The Black Cat is a film that was made during his classic era of horror cinema, but one that for some reason I don’t believe I had ever seen. Thanks to Arrow, and this fantastic Blu set, I finally had a chance.

The Black Cat is a well known Poe story that has had numerous screen adaptations. In this version we meed an old curmudgeon who claims to have super natural powers and generally creeps everyone out. A black cat decides to take residence in his home, but this cat is like no other. It’s a killer evil cat with mysterious intelligence that it uses to trick folks into dying in terrible ways. These people are people that have mocked our curmudgeon and so of course he’s suspect #1 but he claims it’s the cat, not him. The trouble is the cat is no longer taking orders from him and is now an evil cat with no master. Trouble ensues.

The Black Cat has many of those Fulci hallmarks that we all hope for. It’s got fog. It’s got a good soundtrack. It’s got David Warbeck. It’s got some gore. It’s got atmosphere. It doesn’t have enough of any of them though for me. It’s still a good ride but a lesser film from the maestro for me. It’s never dull and features some great cinematography and framing but it doesn’t have the life and vibe of his more well known films. The movie feels like he did it for a paycheck and not because he was passionate about it like he clearly was about The Beyond or House by the Cemetery. Maybe he was burnt, he had made 3 films the previous year and in ’81 made three more. This feels like the one that got what was left of his time while making 6 films in two years. But that isn’t to say it’s a stinker. It isn’t. There’s a great performance from the always reliable Patrick Magee, playing the curmudgeon of course. There’s some decent gore on display and it all feels very Fulci. I just wouldn’t say that this would be a good staring off point with his filmography. This one is for Fulci fans who have seen a good chunk of his work. It’s good, not great.

The presentation is fantastic though and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Arrow. It looks truly beautiful as Fulci’s films were meant to look. The disc features a commentary by Chris Alexander (Fangoria), an interview with horror encyclopedia Stephen Thrower, an interview with Dagmar Lassander, an old interview with David Warbeck and a then and now look at the locations.

Check back here later for my review of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, also included in this set by Arrow.

Turkey Shoot (1982)


I love Severin Films. They are a unique small label that is willing to take risks when it comes to their releases. Everything they release they personally love and it resonates every time they get something out. Turkey Shoot is a rare Australian flick that’s over 30 years old that doesn’t have a huge following here in the U.S. Most companies would say no, especially if they were a relatively small label. Severin says yes with gusto.

Turkey Shoot, made during the golden age of Australian exploitation is an obvious riff on The Most Dangerous Game. In the future, the country is controlled by a vicious police state where defectors and law breakers are sent to slave camps to work until they’ve been re-educated. Our hero, played by Steve Railsback, can’t be broken. The character is obviously modeled after Paul Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke, which for this reviewer is just fine. If you’re going to rip something off, why not rip off the best? Our hero, along with a few other inmates are chosen to participate in the Turkey Shoot, where rich politicians hunt the inmates. If they survive, they get sent back to the world, their records expunged. If they don’t, well…obviously they die.

This was the second time I had seen Turkey Shoot, first time in HD. What a hoot the film is! Rampant nudity, cartoonish bad guys, a man beast in a top hat, a generous amount of gore, this one hits all the marks for a good exploitation film. Never dull, always propulsive and fun, the movie starts with a bang (and a whip!), and ends with one too. This belongs in every cult film fan’s hands. It’s cheesy, violent, and a bit of sleaze for good measure.

The film looks great, though I wouldn’t expect anything less from Severin. They always put out a quality product and this one is no different. We get some solid special features, including a fascinating roundtable interview with director Brian Trenchard-Smith, Antony I. Ginnane, and Vincent Monton, an interview with actors  in the film, another interview with Brian Trenchard-Smith, extended interviews with cast/crew from Turkey Shoot that were filmed for Not Quite Hollywood, Audio Commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith and more. This thing is stacked and packed for behind the scenes hounds.

Turkey Shoot is a blast and this is a fantastic presentation of the film filled with oodles and oodles of info. This one is a winner.

Eaten Alive (1977)


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that looms large over the horror genre and in the hearts/minds of horror fans. It’s a film that spawned a plethora of sequels and imitators. It’s a nasty, mean, cruel, sweaty, and visceral film. So if you’re Tobe Hooper and you have an unexpected runaway hit, what do you do for a follow up? The guy created a genre icon that still permeates the cinematic landscape to this day on his first try. Talk about a tough position to be in. It seems that no matter what directors do for a follow up it’s near impossible to live up to your own hype. Just ask James Wan, genre heavy weight director who first made Saw ($55 million domestic)  and went on to direct cash machines The Conjuring ($137 million) , Insidious ($54 million) , and Furious 7 ($350 million). His next two films after Saw, Dead Silence and Death Sentence, lost big bucks at the domestic box office. (-$4 million and -$11 million respectively).

Hooper chose Eaten Alive as his follow up and it’s a worthy successor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre if not as successful monetarily or thematically. Eaten Alive is about a strange man who runs an inn. He has a pathetic zoo at the inn, including a crocodile right outside the door in a pool. Seemingly harmless when the innkeeper is crossed or upset, bodies start finding their way into the pool to be devoured.

Loosely based on a true story of sorts, though the film barely resembles it, Eaten Alive is a nasty strange flick. Neville Brand who plays the innkeeper does a fantastic job of being a creepy older guy who really seems off his rocker. His performance is totally unhinged and believable if not realistic. The movie is filmed entirely at the inn which helps give the film a claustrophobic feel. The grounds are covered in smoke and garish monochromatic lighting which i really loved. The whole film has an E.C. Comics vibe and the striking colors help complete the package. Nearly every actor in the film gives a different but bizarre performance giving the film a madhouse type feel. I felt at times that the film was being made by a pack of escapees from the loony bin. I say that as a compliment. The film is sweaty and grimy, dirty and uncomfortable. The film feels like you’re riding on a bus and the guy three seats down was picking his nose while talking to himself and you lock eyes with him, suddenly afraid he’s going to lash out at you for invading his personal nose picking space.

The film also features a very young Robert Englund sporting some curly gold locks which is also a bonus to me. The overall strange and grating vibe of the film feel very much like the more bizarre parts of TCM and in that way it is a direct decedent of that film. It certainly feels like the same guy did it, unlike Hooper’s later films like Invaders from Mars.

The Blu looks fantastic, smooth and sharp. It’s a solid upgrade to the dvd put out by Dark Sky more than a decade ago. Many of the features from that dvd are ported over to this one and new interviews are included on the disc as well. It’s a packed blu and I’d expect nothing less from the always fantastic Arrow Video.

The Dinosaur Filmography (2002)


When I was a kid dinosaurs loomed large in my imagination. I loved anything with the giants in them. Godzilla was a favorite, of course, and I was always on the lookout for other dino related movies. They were a gateway into the world of horror, a world that I’m now very well versed in. I still love a good animatronic or claymation dinosaur though but honestly there’s a lot of boring stuff out there. Thankfully the Dinosaur Filmography can help me sort the good from the bad, the fun from the boring.

This massive book (nearly 500 pages!) exhaustively catalogs ever single movie with a dinosaur in it ever made. I’ll admit there was at least one movie with a dino that wasn’t listed (Tammy and the T-Rex, though it could have been omitted due to the fact that the dino was a robot), but every other movie I tried to find was covered here. Each film is given a thorough listing of the cast/crew the made the film, the year and country of production, a lengthy synopsis, and an in-depth review. Some last paragraphs, others are pages long and many include behind the scenes information that you won’t find anywhere else. Mark Berry did a tremendous amount of work putting this book together and it shows on every page.

The Dinosaur Filmography is an exhaustive reference guide that was obviously a tremendous labor of love compiled by a guy who loves dinos more than Hammond in Jurassic Park. My only gripe is that the book was published in 2002 and I’d love an updated version covering movies from then to today. It’s a small gripe considering the hundreds of films that I can now track down and enjoy thanks to this book. If you love dino movies, you gotta pick this up.

The New Poverty Row (1991)

the new poverty row

Among cinephiles with a large love of cheese, Fred Olen Ray is a revered name. He has made dozens of super cheap, super fun flicks over his long career and makes no bones about it. He knows what his films are and wants us to enjoy them to the hilt. Films like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Bad Girls From Mars, Scalps, Evil Toons, etc. He’s still cranking out cheese even today. I recently discovered that in the early 90’s he wrote a book. I knew I had to read it.

The New Poverty Row is about independent film makers who became independent distributors in the the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Each chapter covers a specific person or company and we get a full history lesson about them. We learn about their humble beginnings and how they tried to put their mark on film distribution whether it was super cheap jack productions that insulted their audience or super cheap jack productions that tried to entertain their audience. Roger Corman, Jerry Warren, and the man himself Fred Olen Ray are represented here among others. Ray’s research was deep and personal and a treasure trove of information and funny anecdotes fill this book. The overall tone of the book is what you might expect from Fred: Intelligent but very funny. He makes no mistake about the overall quality of the films these guys distributed and pokes fun at them constantly. It’s this jovial tone that makes what could be a dry and dull book into a pleasure to read.

It seems that this is the only book written by Ray and that’s  a shame. It’s a fun read. I’d love to read an autobiography from him someday. I’m sure after making 139 movies (!) he has enough outrageous stories to fill several books.

The New Poverty Row isn’t a sexy subject but Ray does his best to spice it up and because of it, it’s an enjoyable read for those interested in independent distribution or Ray himself.

Cheap Scares: Low Budget Horror Filmmakers Share Their Secrets (2008)


I always wanted to make a film. Being a film obsessed youth I would daydream about it all the time. I went to film school, graduated and went to work for small companies doing video production work. As of yet I still haven’t made a feature. I still want to, not to make money, but to rid myself of this creative urge. Author Gregory Lamberson has made films, and written novels. He’s climbed that mountain and Cheap Scares is his manual on how to do the deed.

Cheap Scares: Low Budget Horror Filmmakers Share Their Secrets is a how-to guide on low budget film making. It covers pretty much every aspect of the film making process, from script writing to pre-production, production to post production, to distribution. It’s all here. He has also grabbed folks from varying areas of the process from screenwriters, directors, post production, distribution and even a lawyer. The book is filled with first hand advice and stories from people that have actually done it. It is not a deep guide however. Each area is touched on well, but let’s face it: you can buy dozens of books dedicated to script writing alone, two dozen more on directing and so on. The book isn’t really a step by step guide as much as it is a great overview with nuggets of advice from people who have been successful. The book feels like being a fly on the wall in a room of professionals talking. He reveals real numbers on how much each of his films costs and how much he made. He talks about issues that arose and what he did to fix them and so on.

Cheap Scares is not an exhaustively researched massive tome on making a movie. It’s a book written by a guy that’s done it that wants to offer you sound advice on how to make decisions in your film making efforts. He’s not going to tell you what camera to use or how to use it. He’s not going to tell you what to write about or how to write it. He’s going to give you advice on the theory behind it and how to try to turn a buck. The book lets you pick his brain along with other film makers including Brett Piper, J.R. Bookwater, Larry Fessenden, Roy Frumkes and others. Buy the book because you like the film makers and want to hear what they have to say. Don’t by the book if you need the author to dish out the nuts and bolts on the subject.

Cub (2015)


Deformed Killer in the Woods. It’s a genre that has endured for decades within the horror world and has never fully gone away. There’s something primal about something or someone hunting you in the wilderness. It’s a good trope that has more often than not been treated terribly. We’ve all watched far too many films of this ilk, and many of them fail for a variety of reasons though usually it boils down to totally unlikable characters. Normally I steer clear of killer in the woods flicks, especially those made outside of the 80s, because it’s difficult to do it right. Or at least it’s easy to do them wrong. Being released by Artsploitation however I figured this one would be solid if it was good enough for them to release. It is.

Cub is a Belgian film about a group of boy scouts out for a weekend of roughing it in the woods. The leaders of the cub group are far younger than their American counter parts, the three “adults” look like they had just passed their teenage years by maybe one or two times around the sun. Sam, the lead character among the children, is an outcast. He’s always late, and always in trouble. The other kids don’t like him much but he’s the only who has seen Kai, a killer child in the woods. No one believes him of course and the hunt begins.

There are so many ways this movie could have stunk. The lead adults could have been totally unrelateable and unwatchable. They aren’t. I’m not going to say they’re fully fleshed out and 3 dimensional, none of the characters are, but they are believable and understandable. They don’t bicker constantly, but to argue in moments that call for it. They really seem like young people with too much responsibility, over their heads taking care of a large group of adolescent boys. The children themselves could have been unbearable but again, they act like kids act. Sure they have squabbles but they aren’t needlessly cruel. I’m not particularly scared by children so the idea of a killer kid doesn’t scare me but the kid does a good job of being creepy and dangerous. The killers are nothing out of the ordinary for films like this, but that also is what makes the move entertaining. I was expecting the film to be really extreme, and in places it delivers the grisly grue, but it isn’t “beat you over the head with savagery” extreme. This isn’t a torture porn flick.

The soundtrack, provided by Steve Moore (1/2 of the duo that forms the instrumental goblin-esque band Zombi), is really killer and synthy. It really sets the mood and adds a lot to the film. The cinematography is lush and moodily lit. Visually the film looks much better than most killer in the woods flicks. The film also has a short run time, about 85 minutes, so it doesn’t waste time either.

Cub gave me what I was looking for. A 100% pure horror film, that makes no missteps, and delivers the goods exactly as they should be. Another solid release by Artsploitation.