20 January, 2008


Death in Venice, but you can't see it...

"The woman then, twixt the Brute and the Superman..."

SUMMER, 1972: I'm sitting in a loud, dark, hot bar on The Westcott Nation with Nick Ray, who is in town to visit the Everson Museum in between working on his multi format student film/experimental epic as a visiting Professor at a downstate college. I write for a weekly local and have been introduced to Nick, who doesn't look well at all, by a college Professor friend. As we sip our beers and try talk over the blaring rock music Nick keeps saying over and over again, as if in mourning, "I heard that Farley died in Italy..." He's talking about the actor Farley Granger, who had been the male lead in Nick's 1948 Film Noir THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. But that was a quarter century ago and Nick was no longer a viable Hollywood director. In a sense, Farley Granger, once the popular star of stage and screen, HAD died in Italy. Although Nick didn't know it, the actor was busy filming a series of sex and violence filled Italian giallo-thrillers which would eventually appear in the US under titles like THE SLASHER IS A SEX MANIAC, SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK, and AMUCK...

THE INTERNET, 2008: I've just been informed that Dario Argento is preparing a new project, to be filmed in Turin, titled GIALLO. I would be surprised if the title sticks, but good for him. He was a prime mover of the genre, an innovator. I think he's getting kind of a raw deal from American fans and critics on the internet right now over his most recent release, LA TERZA MADRE, which opened in Italy in late October 2007 to very mixed reviews and steadily decreasing box office. Now, it's one thing for writers who have seen the feature in Italy or at a fest showing to cover it. But it hasn't opened in the US and is not out on Italian DVD as of yet. I've been reading a lot of similarly worded pans, trashing the film and the director. They claim it's not up to SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, the first two elements in the trilogy of terror. It doesn't have the bright colors, the pacing, the verve, and it has bad CGI and awkward dialogue. I'm not talking about people who saw it theatrically here. How have these US based commentators seen this film? Apparently it can be downloaded with fan created subtitles and there may be a bootleg or two going around. I just don't think it's really fair to savage the film and director based on this type of viewing. If you've seen it on the big screen, then have at it... . This is the downside of the internet. Making a product available in a compromised, not quite authorized fashion, so everyone and anyone can be a critic before it has a legit theatrical/home video release here. This is much worse than bootlegging an older film, since this is still in play for possible N. American theatrical/video venues.

The main problem these people are having is that Argento has dared to evolve away from the flashy aesthetics of SUSPIRIA, which I liked when I saw it theatrically in 1977 and still like. He has taken risks. The director who once made DEEP RED was also heavily criticized for his 1996 giallo THE STENDHAL SYNDROME. It wasn't as colorful or stylish as DEEP RED. Nothing that Argento can do and will do can ever be properly evaluated since it will always be compared to a preexisting model. He still makes occult horror and gialli, but in a very different style and with a new tone. I can't think of any other living director whose always much anticipated new work is so consistently and eagerly trashed. I happen to think THE STENDHAL SYNDROME is his most mature and fascinating work, and I wasn't expecting it to look like DEEP RED, a film made two decades before! I wanted it to be new and daring, and it was. I'm not going to download LA TERZA MADRE and I'm not going to read anymore internet reviews which even mention SUSPIRIA and INFERNO. I will eventually see it and judge it on its own terms. End of Rant.

AMUCK: Released in Italy 21 March 1972 as ALLA RICERA DEL PIACERE and in the USA June 1978, a friend who lives in Los Angeles claims he aaw it under the title MANIAC MANSION, AMUCK is also known as Hot Bed of Sex, UK; Leather and Whips USA [78m cut]
Replica di un delitto Italy. I have it under the title AMUCK, from the vintage prerecord [98m). This fullscreen version is basically unwatchable, destroying each and every composition, and the 2.35:1 LEATHER AND WHIPS (SWV) is missing at least 20 minutes of footage. So you can't see this film both complete and in its OAR. And it's one of the best giallo films of the 1970s. Too bad. I don't know if a delirious Nick Ray would have approved of AMUCK, he probably never knew it existed.

Granger is the Superman, a Hemingwayesque novelist living im a remote swamp villa outside of Venice with his partner in crime Eleanora (Rosalba Neri). Into this hot bed of sex comes Greta (Barbara Bouchet)the new personal assistant to Granger, she's actually gathering information on the disappearance of a childhood friend at the estate. There are some very cleverly engineered plot twists, excellent literate dialogue (Granger dubs himself), a woman-hunt out of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, a slow motion sex scene between Neri and Bouchet, an orgy which turns into an attempted rape and murder and an hauntingly tacky score by Teo Usuelli "quoted" in THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

Venice is really the main character here and there is an sequence which lingers on the reflections of the sinking buildings on the polluted canals which is very evocative. Granger's character loves the dying, submerged city and it becomes a metaphor for his decadence. There are numerous sex parties throughout, complete with stag films and full frontal nudity from Ms. Bouchet and Neri, or their body doubles.
Granger is very effective as the outwardly charming writer who has as his goal the perfect murder and Bouchet is the ripe victim in his master plan. Rosalba Neri (JUSTINE, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE) is bathed in ambiguity throughout and meets a fitting end at the hands of the Brute and her own insane lust. Amadio had a minor career in the Italian genre cinema from the 1950s to the 1980s. His other 1972 giallo SMILE BEFORE DEATH, also with Neri, is worth seeking out. Farley Granger later returned to the US to continue his acting career.

Thanks to Greg Hillabrand for helping me see LEATHER AND WHIPS.

(C) Robert Monell, 2008


Anonymous said...

Terrific appreciation of AMUCK!, Robert. The Eurovista disc is truly dire, the one postive thing to be said for it is the interviews with Bouchet and Neri (who were apparently neighbors at the time - what a neighborhood!). I bought the Beat Records release of the soundtrack based on the well-known 'Piacere Sequence', a familiar track from compilations, the rest of the score is very different but absolutely hypnotic. This film and SMILE BEFORE DEATH are two of my top wants for a quality dvd presentation. The soundtrack for the latter would be most welcome too.

I agree with your sentiments regarding GIALLO as well, it sometimes seems as if savaging a new Argento film is a prerequisite for message board coolness. I`m avoiding any downloads and will give the film a look when it (hopefully) opens here.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for your kind words about the GIALLO blog, Andrew. I think the DVD may be just the vintage video slammed onto a disc. And this really does need to be seen in OAR. After seeing LEATHER AND WHIPS I couldn't believe how much is cropped offscreen! And yes, I guess it's become the in thing to do to slam Dario for not doing the same things over and over and over and over. But I'm an extreme nonconformist so I don't go along with popular trends very much...

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Really love AMUCK and it was great to hear your thoughts on it.

Definately wanted to tell you I appreciate your words on Argento and they mirror my thoughts completely. I am looking forward to seeing THE THIRD MOTHER when it gets a legitimate release and making up my own mind about it, and am already getting excited about GIALLO.
I always feel like I need to apologize for really liking late period Argento, so this post was a pleasure.
I also agree with your thoughts on STENDAHL. Criminally undervalued production...great post all the way around.

Robert Monell said...

Glad to hear you feel the same way about AMUCK and the Argento matter, Jeremy. I guess you can't stop people from downloading it and human nature might dicatate that if something is forbidden then it becomes even more seductive. People obviously want to see this movie and see it now. I also am anxious to see it because I'm very interested in occult horror and appreciate the first two, but seeing it on a computer download is not my idea of a movie experience, or a first one. I never watch movies on a computer. But I guess downloading is the wave of the future and may be much more the issue than HD vs Blu-ray. Some things which are totally unavailable any other way you may want to download and get onto a disc and watch on your player through your TV if possible. All of Argento's films are interesting because he's an important filmmaker. Poe wrote detective stories and occult horror tales. For me, Hitchcock's TOPAZ is interesting because of its differences in genre and style for some of his much more highly praised work.

Decadesman said...

I got a good version of Amuck from Trash Palace.

I definitely don't think there are body doubles for Neri and Bouchet. It is obvious they did the nude scenes themselves, thank god.

Thanks for the story and background info on this video.