In addition to the last ode to Valerie Leon, anyone who has any interest in perhaps the great living example of the ultimate English rose might be interested in seeing her giving an illustrated talk about her career:
Of all the beautiful film actresses associated with cult films (or any films for that matter) my very favourite of all time has always been Valerie Leon. I first saw her in a Carry On film, and ever since that point I have been in love. I just wish she had appeared in more films. Anyhow less talk, and more homage to the incredible beauty that is Valerie Leon…
As Pentagram once sang… forever my queen. She’s still pretty gorgeous today at 64.
Here’s a wonderful recent-ish interview with her
Creepy is the word you would use most to describe this strange horror/giallo mix from 1965 which is also known by the name The Embalmer but Monster Of Venice is much closer to the original Italian name of Il Mostro di Venezia.
This low-budget film owes an awful lot to the story of the Phantom of the Opera, except here we have a crazy mortician who stalks beautiful women in the canals and catacombs of Venice. He does this by hiding in the water of the canals in full scuba gear, and grabbing them to take down to his subterranean lair. There he changes into a monk’s cassock and a skeletal deathmask, then embalms and stuffs the women to add to his collection.
Sounds pretty grim right?
It’s actually an excellent idea for a film, and themes from this were explored again in other films such as Amsterdamned (1988) and Don’t Look Now (1973). Films based in cities that are composed of many canals are eerie, it’s now a proven fact.
The film itself was written and directed by Dino Tavella, who went onto do precisely nothing after this film. You can kind of see why. Although the film has a brilliant premise, the execution can be extremely lackluster. The characters are either highly annoying, or pretty vacuous. The script is pretty terrible, and doesn’t pull you into the proceedings much. The cast is full of people that didn’t pop up much, if at all again in other films. There are comedy characters that just don’t work, and the women just aren’t beautiful enough to be part of a Giallo.
Where the film does excel is creating eerie foreboding atmosphere that peaks in the underground lair of the killer. It’s a rotten place of death, filled with the skeletal remains of dead monks from seems to be an ancient subterranean sect. The Embalmer’s victims are displayed in his trophy cabinet, as he stalks around in the dark kicking skulls from his path.
Tavella excels in some great camerawork, and maybe this is where his real strength lay. It’s a shame that this film didn’t have any involvement from a strong scriptwriter such as Gastaldi, or even a great director such as Bava who really could have made this into a macabre masterpiece of cinema.
As such it’s still an entertaining film that can drag in places, and border on the ridiculous in others. There are moments of brief flashes of genius, especially near the climax where the killer disguises himself by hiding among the corpses of the long dead monks to surprise a potential victim.
There is a decent version of this on DVD from Retromedia/Image Entertainment, but unfortunately the DVD version I own is in the wrong aspect ratio. As you can see from the screenshots it’s 4:3 stretched to 16:9, and therefore everything looks squashed. However it’s a fine print with little damage, and strong blacks so you can easily make out what lurks in the shadows of the catacombs beneath the streets and canals of Venice.
Worth searching out if only to see the creepy climax.
This was to be the legendary scriptwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s first foray into the world of Giallo, and here he actually gets behind the camera and directs this early Giallo under the alias of Julian Berry. He actually co-directed this with Victor Storff aka Vittorio Salerno. The script was written by Gastaldi’s wife Mara Maryl, who also is one of the four main stars of the film, the others being Giancarlo Gianni, Luciano Pigozzi (here as Alan Collins), and Dominique Boschero.
This was also the first Giallo to bring up the much used theme in the Giallo genre of a primal scene (thanks Freud), where something that happened to one of the main characters in their childhood goes on to have a big significance in the film.
In this case, our main protagonist is Christian (Giancarlo Gianni) who as a young boy witnesses his sexually depraved father murdering his mistress in his secret sex room full of mirrors. His father then apparently committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs into the sea at the family home… although his body was never found.
We then find ourselves back to present day 20 years later (well the mid-60s here) and we have our 4 main characters driving towards the cliff-top mansion of Christian. We have Christian’s fiancee Eileen (Boschero), his best friend and legal guardian Paul, and Paul’s girlfriend Brigitte (Maryl). In the years after Christian’s father killed himself, Paul has taken guardianship of the estate and looked after the interests of Christian. As they head towards the mansion, we find out that Paul has arranged it so that Christian can finally claim his inheritance including the mansion.
Cue the worst camel toe ever in a Giallo!
Once we arrive at the house, the trauma of the past events starts to haunt Christian, and his friends start to get dragged into a vortex of sleaze and violence. Can Christian overcome his demons?
The plot is pretty simplistic compared to later Gialli but you have to remember that this was one of the first films to treat this ground, and it does so very well. Gianni perhaps overcooks his acting a bit with a wild and frenzied performance, but the real stars here are the two lady leads. Maryl does the blonde but mysterious role excellently, and the beautiful Boschero is both lovely and tragic.
This is a highly recommended essential early Giallo, and as such must be seen by all fans of the genre. Unfortunately it’s one of those classic titles that still languishes without any DVD release, and the only versions that seem to exist are very ropey hard subtitled VHS rips (as you can see from the screenshots). These are also badly cropped from the original aspect ratio, and are missing the sides of the picture.
It’s criminal that it hasn’t had a proper release yet, and I can only hope that someone who will do it a lot of justice will get hold of a good source and give it the release it deserves.
Oops. I do apologise for going AWOL. My computer took a lot longer to build than I intially thought, but I now have a power house Home Theatre PC (HTPC) that has every single one of my films all stored on the hard disks in lovely uncompressed format. It’s a thing of beauty.
Expect normal service to resume soon with more Giallithon reviews, and other news.
Sorry for the lack of updates recently. My computer that I do all the hard work on has died, and I am in the process of building a new ultra home cinema/gaming PC. The Giallithon is still continuing though, so expect a load of reviews to come all at once!
There are no two ways about it… Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964) is a genre defining classic. Not only did it lay much of the groundwork for many giallo films to come, it upped the ante and included the kind of savagery that came to characterise these films over and above thrillers that were being made in the USA. It also laid the groundwork for a new genre of films, that wouldn’t actually really take off until the late 70s and early 80s… stalk’n’slash, or slashers as they are affectionately known by fans. This was the first film to feature a seemingly unstoppable killer who lurked in all the shadows that stalked and murdered victims in a brutal and vicious way. Bava then further cemented the genre with the excellent Bay Of Blood (1971) taking things a step even further. It was also the first film where the director started to employ point of view (POV) shots from the eyes of the killer, to further bring the audience into the film and help them identify with the killer. Lastly, another of the big giallo genre staples was the killer being dressed all in black, with a black fedora, and black leather gloves. The giallo killer’s favourite weapon was also introduced… the cut throat straight razor.
The story follows a seemingly pretty simply premise. Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) run the exclusive Christian haute coutre fashion house populated with beautiful models and fashion designers. One stormy night the model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is murdered on her way into work at the fashion house and is discovered dead in a cupboard. Soon Isabella’s diary is found, which highlights some seedy corrupt goings on at the fashion house. Soon each model that comes into contact with the diary, or seemingly knowns more about what’s going on… are murdered in various gruesome ways. Only Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) can discover the truth…
What ensues is an exhilirating mix of brutal violence, highly stylised visuals, beautiful women, numerous red herrings, and the required unexpected twist (or two). Bava directs with so much gusto and beligerance against the usual standards of the thrillers coming out of the USA, or even the Wallace inspired Krimi films. He deliberately focus on everything that is visceral in the World that his characters inhabit, and fills it with sleaze, violence, drugs, and sex.
When pivotal plot devices are introduced, such as the discovery of Isabella’s diary, he deliberately uses the camera to make everyone look like a suspect. Each character gives uneasy looks, as if they are all hiding some terrible secret. Bava wants his audience to question every little detail he throws in front of them, and to keep them guessing right up to the big reveal (which is only about 3/4 of the way through this film!).
Bava was advised to shoot the film in black and white, as he did with his previous The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). Being Mario Bava, he filmed this film in glorious Technicolor and deliberately filled the screen with as many bright styles and fashions as he could cram on. From the highly stylised opening sequence where we are introduced to each character as the cool jazzy soundtrack from Carlo Rustichelli indignantly blasts forth, to the extremely visceral killings.
All the lead performances are very strong, particularly from Mitchell and Bartok. Reinher’s Inspector Sylvester never appears to be ahead of the killer, and always on his heels… and as such he is a much more minor character than you would probably expect. We don’t even really have a main character who is pivotal in the investigation… Bava is quite content to just let things play out in their own inexplicably macabre manner.
There’s not really much that can be said about this film that has not already been said. It is a true classic in every sense of the word, and possibly one of the most influential films of all time. It’s a shame that it’s not heralded a true classic in the Citizen Kane (1941) sense of the word, as it’s every bit as important as that film or even Hitchock’s Psycho (1960).
The version under review here is the truly excellent Hande Weg German DVD (as Blutige Seida). This is by far the best transfer of the film available in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 presented here anamorphically. Every visceral detail is presented with stunning colour, and great clarity. It’s certainly an improvement from the VCI releases of the film. There are also some great extras including a comparison of the murders from the censored version of the film and the complete uncut version. It also has 11 great trailers of other classic Mario Bava films. Highly recommended if you can find it, but unfortunately out of print and commanding high prices on such sites as eBay.
Essential viewing for every giallo fan.