Film Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Also known as: 4 mosche di velluto grigio (original Italian title)
Release Date: December 17th, 1971 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Foglietti
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Francine Racette, Bud Spencer

Universal Productions France, Seda Spettacoli, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Exactly. You see before you a fully-fledged, highly-qualified private investigator with an extensive knowledge of modern science at his very fingertips. And, in spite of this, in three years of honest practice, I haven’t solved a single case.” – Gianni Arrosio

This is the one Dario Argento movie from the ’70s and ’80s that I had never seen and that has more to do with it never streaming anywhere. It’s been in my Prime Video queue for years and I check every month to see if it popped up on any of the services available on my Firestick. Well, it finally did!

It also irked me that it took me so long to see this because it is a part of the loose Animal Trilogy of films that Argento did back-to-back-to-back in less than two years from 1970-to-1971. This is the last of those films and the ones that predate it are The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Oddly, each film seems to be a slight step down with Crystal Plumage being my favorite of the trio.

That doesn’t mean that this one was bad, it just had two things working against it in comparison to the other two.

The first is that it was pretty predictable. My first hunch as to who the killer was, was correct. However, this could’ve just been due to only having the English language dub to watch, as the voice of the killer made it clear to me that it was probably a woman. I’m not sure how the voice came across in the original Italian language version and this giveaway could’ve just been due to a shit English dub.

The second thing that works against it, is that it was the least stylish and opulent looking of the three movies. It is nowhere near as vivid, cool and exquisite as Crystal Plumage and it also falls below Nine Tails, as well.

I did think the killer mask was creepy as hell and really cool, though. Like the other Argento giallo pictures, this plays like a proto-slasher flick. The slasher-y bits and the kills were all pretty good and the film wasn’t lacking in that regard.

I was also impressed with the end of the film, which features a slowed down, violent car crash.

Overall, this was a good giallo and a good movie in general. While it’s far from Argento’s best it’s still worth checking out if you are a fan of the man’s other work.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Hannibal Rising (2007)

Also known as: Hannibal 4, Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask, The Lecter Variations (working titles)
Release Date: February 7th, 2007 (France)
Directed by: Peter Webber
Written by: Thomas Harris
Based on: Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
Music by: Ilan Eshkeri, Shigeru Umebayashi
Cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans, Dominic West, Kevin McKidd, Richard Brake

Young Hannibal Productions, Carthago Films S.a.r.I., Dino De Laurentiis Company, The Weinstein Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Rudeness is an epidemic” – Hannibal Lecter

One of the Hannibal films has to be the worst and well, this is it.

I thought that it was incredibly boring and really, really underwhelming. So much so, I figured that there was no way that Hannibal Lecter’s creator, Thomas Harris, had anything to do with this. So I was a bit taken aback when I saw that Thomas Harris wrote this script, based off of his own novel.

In his defense, I don’t think that this is particularly bad but it just didn’t feel like it was the same Hannibal Lecter that I’ve now known for decades.

The acting in this was pretty middle of the road but Rhys Ifans was probably the best performer in this, as the story’s primary antagonist. Ifans is always damn good, though, so this should go without saying.

I guess after seeing this, I just realized that we didn’t need a Hannibal origin story. We know he’s fucked up and this actually takes some of the character’s mystery away. Okay, maybe it takes a lot of that mystery away. I liked his background just being casually hinted at and that we, the audience, had to fill in the blanks with our own mind.

I wasn’t a big fan of these characters, their motivations or any of this.

Ugh… there really just isn’t much else to say. This was boring with bland performances and it didn’t feel, at all, connected to the title character.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Also known as: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (original Italian title), Irene, Excite Me, Eye of the Black Cat, Gently Before She Dies (alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, Sauro Scavolini, Luciano Martino
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino

Lea Film, Titanus, 97 Minutes

Review:

Sergio Martino did this film a year before his most famous one, Torso.

While he’s not my favorite giallo director, he has done some really memorable work that probably deserves its place alongside the giallo masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Many giallo aficionados seem to like this one too and while I do enjoy the first act of the movie, it drags on and falls kind of flat for me. Although, I do like the ending, as it homages Edgar Allan Poe quite nicely and in the most Italian way possible.

I enjoyed the three main actors in this and seeing Luigi Pistilli was kind of cool in that his character is truly the antithesis of what I think is his most famous role as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The other two leads are Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, who both put in believable performances even when the story calls for some over the top antics.

My main issue with this film is the pacing. It’s only 97 minutes but those 97 minutes felt like two hours. There are some minor side characters and side plots that simply existed to give the killer more kills. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a slasher-esque giallo but most of this just felt like soulless filler in a movie that could’ve been more fine-tuned in dealing with the core actors and their dynamic.

I do like the look of the movie, even if it isn’t as opulent and vivid as the work of the better giallo filmmakers.

Ultimately, this was okay but it’s not Martino’s best work and with that, it’s not anywhere near the upper echelon of ’70s giallo.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Cliffhanger (1993)

Release Date: May 20th, 1993 (Cannes)
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Michael France, Sylvester Stallone, John Long (premise)
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, Bruce McGill

Pioneer, Canal+, Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Kill a few people, they call you a murderer. Kill a million and you’re a conqueror.” – Eric Qualen

This is one of my least favorite Sylvester Stallone films from his legendary run from the early ’80s through the mid-’90s. However, I still enjoy it because it’s Stallone and he has John Lithgow and Michael Rooker to work with in this.

The story is about a team of people that rescue mountain climbers. The two men on the team had a terrible falling out when one of them couldn’t save the other’s girlfriend and she fell to her death. However, they have to learn to work together again when a group of criminals crashes a plane and loses the money they stole in the mountain wilderness.

The two heroes are forced into being the criminals’ guides but once the money is located, the criminals try to take out Stallone. Stallone gets pissed and decides he needs to rescue the other guide, his former buddy, and to take out these criminals before they hurt more people.

The stunts in this are pretty impressive, especially considering the terrain and the environment. Sure, there are shots where it’s obviously not a real mountainside but they still had to get certain shots to make the film feel as real as possible.

There’s also a good amount of decent helicopter work in the film and the finale with the helicopter crashing and getting wrapped up by a cable ladder is pretty good.

Overall, this is exactly what you’d expect from a movie with Stallone on snowy mountain caps. It’s basically Die Hard on a mountain and that’s fine, as Die Hard created a formula that the action genre still tries to emulate.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: City of the Living Dead (1980)

Also known as: The Gates of Hell, Twilight of the Dead (US alternative titles), Fear in the City of the Living Dead (literal English title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Janet Argen, Michele Soavi, Lucio Fulci

National Cinematografica, Medusa Distribuzione, Dania Film, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Mr. Bell, if those gates are left open, it could mean the end of humanity. We’ve got to get them shut again. At midnight on Monday, we go into All Saint’s Day. The night of the dead begins. If the portholes of hell aren’t shut before, no dead body will ever rest in peace. The dead will rise up all over the world and take over the Earth! You must get to Dunwich, Mr. Bell. You must reclose those gates!” – Theresa

Lucio Fulci made a trilogy of similar themed films after he had a hit with Zombi 2. I’ve already reviewed the other two parts of this trilogy but I oddly left the first one for last, as I didn’t know that these were considered a loose trilogy until recently and even though I’ve seen all three, they kind of merged together in my brain.

The thing that links these three movies together is the concept of a gate to Hell opening up and spelling doom for Earth. The good people in all these films work towards trying to close these gates in an effort to vanquish evil but as these things go, many of the characters die very painful, extremely violent deaths.

This is Italian horror, though, and while Fulci’s movies don’t have the vivid giallo look, they still fit well within that Italian subgenre of horror. They’re like giallo’s dark, ugly, gritty, more realistic corner in the back of the vibrantly lit room.

Fulci pulls no punches with this one and no one should ever expect him to. However, I would say that this one is the tamest of the three films. I think Fulci kept trying to go for bigger, grosser and more fucked up with each chapter and since this was the first, the other two pushed the bar just a bit further.

This stars American character actor Christopher George and it was filmed in New York City, even if it was a very Italian production. George is pretty good in this but the acting in general is often times derailed by some shoddy English dubbing over the actors who were on set speaking Italian. This is pretty normal stuff for Italian horror flicks but it’s really noticeable and jarring in this one.

I thought that the special effects were as good as they could be and they do hold up well, presenting some really terrifying demonic threats.

Out of the three films in The Gates of Hell Trilogy, I’d say that this one is my favorite. It felt more grounded and the effects were effective. I think it’s also made better by Fulci not trying to top his previous work and just focusing on making a fucked up demon zombie movie. 

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Also known as: The Demon Planet (US TV title), Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror In Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned (alternative titles) 
Release Date: September 15th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ib Melchior
Based on: One Night of 21 Hours by Renato Pestriniero
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr.
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Italian International Film, Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, American International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll tell you this, if there are any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.” – Capt. Mark Markary

While Mario Bava is mostly known for his horror and giallo pictures, I really liked when he did more ambitious, larger scale things like this and Danger: Diabolik.

Bava was really good at making Italian blockbusters that looked more epic in scale and production cost than a typical ghost story or murder mystery. But I guess he was just a superb director all around because even his misses are still enjoyable and have enough positives to make them worthwhile.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this specific Bava film. So long in fact, that when I had seen it previously, I didn’t really know who Bava was and I certainly wasn’t as acclimated to his work, as I am now.

This was a favorite late night film of mine, as a kid, though. I remember it being on late night cable quite a bit when late night cable was still really fucking cool when you weren’t going down the rabbit hole of infomercials.

I always loved the look and style of this film and I didn’t even realize it was Italian/Spanish back then. While it looked like your typical ’50s and early ’60s sci-fi epic, it was a lot more colorful and vibrant. I think it’s visual allure is what drew me to it and it’s that visual allure that would eventually become the visual style of giallo.

Beyond that, though, I loved the costumes of the crew, I loved the design of the ships, the simple but unique and stylized sets, as well as the look of the planet and all its weirdness.

The scene where we see a giant alien skeleton was so ominous and cool that it asked more questions than it answered and I’ve always kind of felt like it might have inspired the “Space Jockey” from Alien.

Planet of the Vampires is just a really cool, great, old school sci-fi/horror thriller. It’s one of my favorite Mario Bava pictures and honestly, it’s something I should revisit more often.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Torso (1973)

Also known as: I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (original Italian title), The Bodies Show Traces of Carnal Violence (literal English title)
Release Date: January 4th, 1973 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Martino, Ernesto Gastaldi
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco, Ernesto Colli, Luciano Bartoli, Luciano De Ambrosis

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death is the keeper of secrets.” – Franz

Torso is a pretty well-respected giallo picture not directed by Dario Argento or a Bava. I even knew about it as a kid when I had no idea what a giallo picture was. I remember the VHS box art sitting on the shelf in the horror section of just about every video store I visited on the regular.

I ended up watching it in my teens but it’s been that long since I’ve seen it, so I figured I’d revisit it. Plus, I have a much richer understanding of what giallo is now.

Overall, this one is kind of mediocre. Although, I do like the look of the killer a lot and I can see where this specific picture was probably instrumental in inspiring a lot of the American and Canadian slasher films that would follow a decade later.

If you’ve seen a lot of giallo already, this one isn’t going to shock or surprise you. However, it’s filled with enough gorgeous women to make the movie more than palatable. And that’s a quality I loved about Italian horror, especially the ’70s stuff.

The killer stalks these beautiful girls, as they mainly hang around this mansion atop the cliff that overlooks the town below. This sets up a really cool finale where the final girl, ankle broken, is trapped in the house trying to signal to the citizens far below. It’s an effective scene in the movie and it help builds up the tension and intensity of the story’s final moments.

All in all, Torso wasn’t a classic in the same vein as Argento and the elder Bava’s work. Although, some fans of this style of film do hold it in much higher regard than I do. That doesn’t mean their wrong, I just feel like this is pretty standard giallo fare.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: The Day of the Beast (1995)

Also known as: El día de la bestia (original Spanish title)
Release Date: September 4th, 1995 (Venice Film Festival – Italy)
Directed by: Álex de la Iglesia
Written by: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Álex de la Iglesia
Music by: Battista Lena
Cast: Álex Angulo, Armando De Razza, Santiago Segura, Maria Grazia Cucinotta

Canal+ España, Iberoamericana Films Producción, M.G. S.R.L, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s fundamental. lt inspired me to see the Apocalypse not as an allegory but as an equation. Each letter has its own number. So, for example… Daleth is worth four, and Synn is worth three hundred, so we can…” – Cura

El Día de la Bestia a.k.a. The Day of the Beast is a film that never popped up on my radar until Joe Bob Briggs featured it on a third season episode of The Last Drive-In. I’m glad he did show it, though, as it was a pretty cool occult horror picture from Spain.

Being that I worked in video stores in the ’90s, I’m surprised that I never came across this. If I did, I may have easily dismissed it due to it being foreign and having VHS box art that didn’t catch my eye.

This is a damn cool movie and it fits well with the rise of biblical and occult horror pictures of the mid-to-late ’90s, which I think was born out of people’s strange fear of approaching the new millennium.

The story is about a priest that believes that Satan is coming, so to take the Devil out, he decides to commit every sin imaginable to earn Satan’s trust and thus, kill him… I guess? The story is a bit nonsensical and deciding to become a sinner with about 24 hours on the clock probably isn’t a great plan.

However, the plan does work in that the priest and his overweight, heavy metal sidekick are able to attract some serious dark power into their lives. There’s a pretty cool scene where an occult ritual delivers a creepy presence but I don’t want to spoil the film.

While you do have to suspend a lot of disbelief due to the wonky story, the film still delivers and is entertaining as hell. Furthermore, all the core characters are really damn good and watching this all play out was a blast.

There isn’t a dull moment in the film and it flies by pretty quickly.

In the end, this has made me want to check out more from director Álex de la Iglesia.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other “raise the devil” or biblical horror movies of the ’90s, as well as the other films directed by Álex de la Iglesia.