Saturday, 23 May 2015

Spasmo (Umberto Lenzi, 1974)

A film about the deceptiveness of appearances, Spasmo sits apart in Umberto Lenzi's varied filmography. Set in a world of hedonistic rich people who seemingly do nothing but zoom around the sun-drenched coast, party on yachts and sleep around in picturesque clifftop villas, the film has a strong undercurrent of paranoia, greatly aided by Morricone's varied score. The busy, engaging story follows a bewildered rich industrialist (Robert Hoffmann) on the run after having accidentally murdered a stranger as he encounters a number of attractive women as well as figures from his own dark past. One may have trouble grasping the exact order of events, but vivid images stick in mind: Adolfo Lastretti as the black corduroy-clad thug, latex dolls hanging by their necks from trees surrounding the secluded motel where key events take place, the hero's atmospheric nocturnal excursions to the pier.

Even Lenzi's higher-budgeted films can often be disappointingly plain, with darting zooms as the sole stylistic device. Spasmo is proof the prolific director was capable of creating beauty, when given the means: the film boasts dazzling cinematography by the unsung visual hero of Italian genre cinema, Guglielmo Mancori (Manhattan Baby). Mancori's  use of mobile camera and masterfully-composed shots contributes greatly to the mood of this thriller.

Giallo regular Robert Hoffmann (Death Carries a Cane, Naked Girl Killed in the Park) gives perhaps his best performance here, aided by Lenzi's taut direction. Suzy Kendall (Torso, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) is given more to work with than in the other two giallo films she's appeared in and delivers a strong, emotional performance. While stilted, English dialogue does effectively convey the ambiguity between the characters. Spasmo has got to be one of Lenzi's better-written films, co-scripted by the esteemed poet and playwright Massimo Franciosa. The excellently edited finale where the characters' troubled past is revealed via projected old home movies is a triumph of visual storytelling.

Hard to believe this atmospheric, colourful mystery was directed by the same man as Cannibal Ferox. Combination of vibrant images and good storytelling make Spasmo the most satisfying thriller Lenzi has directed. Repeat viewings allow one to appreciate the richness of composition, nuances of Kendall's acting, complex plot architecture and Morricone's music. Well-acted, stylish and genuinely thrilling, Spasmo should be the film to remember Lenzi by.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

persona: Jason Impey

One of the  UK's most prolific no-budget filmmakers, Jason Impey first broke onto the scene with a VHS-shot slasher film Sick Bastard (2007), inspired by the Violent Shit films of Andreas Schnaas. This gritty, simplistic work was soon followed up by many similar exercises in homemade nastiness. Jason has been enjoying growing international exposure in recent years, with a number of his features distributed on home video in the US.

TFA: The last film of yours I've seen is Boys Behind Bars 3. Could you tell a few words about the trilogy , is BBB 3 the final chapter in Darrell's vile exploits?

JI: Boys Behind Bars was an idea I came up with alongside Wade Radford. Sharing our love of exploitation cinema and discussing the prison sub-genre, we decided to do a low/no-budget throwback to the 80's home video style piece homaging trash cinema. The shoot went great and we captured what we set out to do, little did I know what monster we gave birth to! The film went on to be one of my most popular sellers! Wade was quick to suggest co-directing the sequel he had come up with and bring in a new character - Mizz Alison Muncher played by the great Honey Bane. I loved the character, she is pure nuts and gave a whole new spin on the project. Wade had tapped into a niche market and we pushed the sexuality of the sequel quite far, I love being a risky filmmaker! By the time it came to the third installment we had covered a lot of taboo areas so felt we had to push even further! The result ended up being quite a terrifying ordeal, I actually disturbed myself sitting in the editing suite with the footage, so much so me and Wade decided to cut 30 seconds of pure nastiness out, it was getting a bit too much - even for us! The uncut version does exist, and some screeners have been leaked out. As for this being the final installment, well Wade does have more plans for the filthy, dirty Darrell!

TFA: Your films have always had a pronounced misogynistic bent, with women getting molested and killed by psychotic men. The only film of yours I can think of where female characters are active and intelligent and are not portrayed like complete victims or sluts is the first Sex Lives and Depravity film and also, perhaps, your early feature Troubled. How do you manage to approach and cast actresses for your projects when your films are known to be so unapologetically offensive?

JI: It can be a challenge to find the right actresses, the parts are certainly not everyone's cup of tea. I try to find actresses who have a passion for the genre and enjoy and appreciate grindhouse/exploitation cinema. I have been lucky to work with some great performers over the years who are very passionate and get stuck right into the project, but I've also had my fair share of divas and awkward people who have made my shoots nearly unbearable! They've challenged me on content and shied away last minute knowing full well the film they were participating in. I'm always up front about any project I'm doing. It can be very annoying as I then do not get the footage I wanted to and set out to get. In the long run it can result in my film not being what my original vision was and ultimately being ruined. I am certainly quite selective on who I approach for certain roles, especially to more explicit, extreme and demanding parts as I know how tough they can be, and most people start to feel out of their comfort zone. As you stated, due to some of the characters in my films being portrayed in not the best of light I have resorted to using adult performers at times so I can push the content that bit further, which I enjoy. You can have a lot of fun being a risky filmmaker and I love exploring the taboos of society and challenging my audience. I think it's great to get emotion out of film, especially your own and I go out of my way to push my audience's buttons!

TFA: Are there any contemporary true indie no-budget filmmakers whose work you enjoy and follow?

JI: Contemporary indie filmmakers whose work very much intrigues me are James Bell, his films are absolutely crazy which is what I love, complete raw fun filmmaking and, of course, Andreas Schnaas who has been a great influence over my early filmmaking days, I admire his DIY approach to filmmaking he had in the day.

TFA: Name a few recent releases that have made you happy? Do you have a favourite DVD label ?

JI: Arrow Video are amazing, every release they do has had such care and attention paid to it, and they just keep going from strength to strength with their releases. Arrow Video's recent release of Society is absolutely amazing, I have pre-ordered their upcoming release of Videodrome, it looks spectacular and I have been enjoying the recent ABCs of Death movies.

TFA: What are you working on at the moment ? Is there more exploitation goodness on the horizon?

JI: I have been very busy making short films as segments for the upcoming anthologies Grindsploitation 1 and and Virus of the Dead: Uploaded. I have just completed two of them: Necrophilliac Boy, which follows a lonely man into a spiral of madness as he shares his life with a corpse and Escaped the Bitch which follows me on the way to a survival camp to flee a zombie outbreak. I’m in post-production with Impotent Killer - a true sexploitation slasher that follows Eli, who gets caught out cheating and ends up castrated, turning him into a brutal woman killer! I am also about to shoot two new features, The Lustful Dead & Fluid Boy, the first film being a shockumentary starring Wade Radford who lets the audience into his world of necrophilia. The second film Fluid Boy is a hard-hitting snuff movie featuring Samantha Keller and Wade Radford, there will be plenty of disgusting goings-on in this one!  

Monday, 11 May 2015

Snakewoman (Jess Franco, 2005)

Snakewoman for Franco of the 2000's is what Macumba Sexual was for him in the 80's and Vampyros Lesbos in the 70's - a fragmented, trippy riff on the Dracula story.

Actress and filmmaker Fata Morgana headlines the cast, with Franco muse Lina Romay (who does have a suppoting role as Dr. Van Helsing) mainly employed behind the camera. Antonio Mayans makes a very welcome return to the Franco universe after a decade-long absence (his previous collaboration with the Madrid-born filmmaker dating back to 1994 with Downtown Heat).

Photographed by Emilio Schargorodsky (a relative of Sergei Eisenstein who in 2012 would go on to make one of Spain's most outstanding recent horror films with Dracula 0.9) amid the lush greenery of Malaga, Snakewoman seems comfortable with it's own homemade origins and delivers some memorable visuals. As is often the case with Jess, he's more daring and painterly when left with a skeleton crew and practically no money. Few of his more prestigious productions (Erwin C. Dietrich period, I'm looking at you) had the same free flow of poetic visuals.

With only three show-stopping protracted simulated lesbian groping sequences, Snakewoman is among the most coherent films to come from Jess Franco's One Shot Productions period. We're given just enough info to not lose our way amid the sapphic asides and lengthy cutway shots threatening to become self-contained episodes. Like Mari-Cookie (1998), Snakewoman feels self-conscious, at times trying too hard to be vulgar  Nevertheless it constututes an importan piece in the Franco puzzle, sharing certain visual motifs with his final works Paula-Paula and Alligator Ladies.

While some say Snakewoman is mere shadow of Jess' original idea, it's undoubtedly one of his more accessible latter-day works.
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