15 September, 2007


Riccardo Freda (1909-1999) does a slow burn as Dr. Hichcock [below] prepares his drugged wife for the evening's entertainment. Freda also directed under the names Robert Hampton, Willy Pareto and George Lincoln.

I'm still waiting for the R1 SE DVD of Riccardo Freda's 1962 L'ORRIBLE SEGRETO DEL DR HICHCOCK, the ne plus ultra of Italian gothic cinema, also released in the English language variants, THE TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK (UK version) and THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK (US version). I would prefer the presentation include the Italian version (with English subtitles), the reworked shorter US version and the longer UK version, in original aspect ratio. It would be a seminar on the variations between the three key versions of my favorite Italian horror film. I have numerous versions of this on tape and DVD R, including an Australian TV print of the Italian which is the best looking of the bunch. I also remember an odd US TV print seen on cable in the 1980s which repeated one brief scene between Harriet White and Robert Flemyng. The look of this film is everything, since it's really about conflicting layers of reality and how appearances condition what we believe and how we think, act and react to other people and situations. It's also pure cinema which works in any language and the best scenes (the evocative funeral in the rain; Steele's nocturnal explorations of the villa's complex of corridors) bring to mind the classics of Silent Cinema where emotion was creating through camera position, tinting, pacing, movement, gesture and music. Freda's masterwork achieves its optimal performance without dialogue.

I have had an irregular correspondence with the film's writer, the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, for the last decade and recently once again shared my appreciation with him for what Freda did with his script. Given that Freda cut the script Ernesto still admires the director and film and agreed Freda remains an underrated figure. Freda's feature film directing career (1942-1980) brackets Mario Bava's and is barely represented on R 1 DVD outside of I VAMPIRI, THE GHOST, various poor fullscreen versions of THE WHITE WARRIOR, unsatisfactory discs of his ultra stylish, imaginative pepla THE GIANTS OF THESSALY, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, MACISTE IN HELL, and no R1 presentations of his excellent gialli DOUBLE FACE (1969), THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE (1971), or his final horror epic film, the hallucinatory MURDER OBSESSION/FEAR (1980). And that's not even factoring in dozens of 40s and 50s historical epics and his mid 60s Eurospy films, all of which, despite various flaws in script, production and acting, reveal an extraordinary visual artist capable of an almost Wagnerian aesthetic synthesis. I know there are European DVDS of some of the titles listed above, and if anyone can report on them please do so. I'm also aware of the complicated rights issues. I understand CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) is coming, but that is pretty much a Mario Bava film in its end product.

HICHCOCK, though rushed through production, is rich in visual allusions to 19th Century Gothic literature and art, post Freudian psychosexual theory, the ouevre of Alfred Hitchcock (and not just in terms of the title), classical sculpture (Freda was a sculptor and art critic before becoming a director) and Romantic opera. And it has the iconic Barbara Steele in her ultimate victim role. The lighting and camerawork of Raffaele Masciocchi enables a threadbare production to look lavish, detailed with gorgeous pools of colored lighted illuminating the period sets while expressing the main character's fetishistic mindset. L'ORRIBLE SEGRETO DEL DR. HICHCOCK is still strikingly daring in its unblinking detailing of the dynamics of necrophilia. I don't think any presentation has yet given the film's flamboyant mise en scene its due. Some reference sources cite a scope OAR, but it was more likely shot in a nonanamorphic widescreen ratio. Try watching this on a double bill with Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT and witness its obvious influence on another great cinema virtuoso. THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK played on a popular double bill in US theatrical venues with Jess Franco's equally subversive and influential surgical horror, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (GRITOS EN LA NOCHE).

(c) Robert Monell, 2007


Bill Todd said...

The absence of this vitally important title on R1 DVD is inexcusable. L'ORRIBLE SEGRETO DEL DR. HICHCOCK went places that no previous film had dared to go and, in so doing, opened up whole new issues for film makers throughout the world. How can such an important and influential film continue to be ignored?
I also agree that the rest of Freda's work needs to be made available to R1 DVD viewers. There are many real treasures among his work.

Robert Monell said...

Bill: It is a very fascinating film and has indeed been highly influential and still remains shocking. It's absence must have to do mainly with rights issues and the price being asked by the rights holder. I remember having separate conversations about this with Tim Lucas and Synapse Exec Don May almost 15 years ago. Don mentioned that he was checking out the rights at that time. Thanks for your feedback.

Michael said...

Hi Robert:

Nice post on Freda's Horrible Dr. Hichcock! That's one I've been dying to see. I caught The Ghost on a bad DVD a while back, the quality was so awful I couldn't enjoy it. If you haven't read it, Glenn Erickson has a great article on Hichcock at his indespensible DVDSavant website here: http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s363hichcock.html.

I've been meaning to ask you, do you know of any plans for a good R1 release of Franco's Possedees du Diable/Lorna Exorcist? Would you consider writing a bit about that one on your site? The descriptions that I've read, many of which conflict with each other, make Lorna sound like a seminal Franco work.


Robert Monell said...

Michael: thanks for the feedback. There's really no other film quite like HICHCOCK and it's a must for all fans of Italian horror and horror in general. I have the Retromedia DVD of THE GHOST, which is watchable but not an optimal presentation. I haven't seen Glenn's article, I'll check it out. Thanks for the link.

Yes, I'll be posting on LORNA in the future. The rights for this film are being investigated at this moment and hopefully they can be secured, along with decent elements, with a R1 release plan. It's always there on my ever changing 10 best JF list and Jess himself told me he considers it one of his most personal and best works.

Cinebeats said...

I couldn't agree more! I would really love to see more of Riccardo Freda's work on DVD and those crappy Alpha Video DVDs are not doing the man's films any justice.

Whatever happened to the Dark Sky release of Tragic Ceremony on DVD? I was really looking forward to that release.

Robert Monell said...

Cinebeats: Yes, there a number of mediocre to poor R1 DVDs of Freda's films. I forgot to mention that VCI's double bill of SINS OF ROME and GIANTS OF THESSALY have good video quality but SINS is the cut US version and GIANTS is not properly letterboxed at 2.35:1, and his use of that ratio in this and his other scope films is stunning. He was really a master of that format. The DVD of TRAGIC seems to have be postponed indefinitely or cancelled. It may be rights issues again. For the time being one has to search the internet for a number of good R2 DVDs of RF titles. Maybe Tim's Bava book will create more interest here among fans and DVDs companies. Thanks for the feedback.

Baron Byron von Humbug said...

If anyone is interested in seeing a 35mm print of this on the big screen, and lives in the pacific northwest, you owe it to yourself to check out Olympia Film Festival's ALL FREAKIN NIGHT!!! program. This year 3 out of the 5 films are eurohorror classics! www.olyfilm.org

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for that information and welcome to the blog; wish I could be there to see this in 35mm!