December 20, 2016


A gorgeous and half nude blonde, a series of creepy phone calls, a mysterious man lurking in the shadows outside… Roberto Mauri's NIGHT OF VIOLENCE has the typical routine thriller set-up. That gorgeous blonde is named Carla, a well-off prostitute. After saying goodbye to one John, she's off to meet another. Along the way, she blows a tire, stranding her in the middle of nowhere. As she frets about on the side of the road, a man approaches, offering to fix her flat. Although they exchange some pleasantries, the encounter ends in violence.

We learn a few scenes later that the now-deceased Carla was the daughter of an ambassador. Naturally, this attracts the attention of the press and puts a good bit of pressure on the local police. What begins as a simple tale of tracking down a killer becomes much more complicated as multiple women (and a few cops) are attacked in the city, each attack seemingly the work of a different man. And then there's the whole prostitution ring. And the drug racket. And Carla's angry sister who decides to stop waiting for the police to break the case wide open and takes matters into her own hands.

NIGHT OF VIOLENCE has its fair share of triumphs. For starters, the film is beautifully shot with rich, Expressionistic black and white cinematography. It has a fantastic jazz score written by Aldo Piga. It boasts a top notch cast of tough guys and pretty faces. The climatic moments of the film are some of the best around. But what it is lacking the most is focus.

Ostensibly, this is a murder mystery film. After all, we start the story with a single woman who ends up dead. She turns out to be rich, her father an ambassador (which usually signals political intrigue in these kinds of films). We have a steadfast, determined police inspector on the case. That is a typical set-up, the kind that fuels many thrillers. But thrillers can't just bounce from A-B without complication, right? That would make things too simple. That's where the prostitution ring comes in. Could Carla's death have something to do with that?

As swiftly as the question is raised, it is answered. No, it does not. But then we learn that the man Carla was going off to meet, another man of wealth, is a drug runner. Maybe THAT has something to do with Carla's murder? Again, the possibility is brought up and then swiftly dealt with and again, the answer is no. We're about half way through the film before we return to what got us here in the first place. Women begin to be attacked, usually in public places. The attacker is always chased off, the women always surviving. The victims, all prostitutes and therefore all tied by vocation to Carla, all give different descriptions of their attacker to the police. But what these attacks get us here are a series of brief police interrogations and one visit to a film set. It isn't until the final 15 minutes of the film that Mauri gets his narrative back on track and NIGHT OF VIOLENCE finally becomes the thriller we were promised all along.

Put simply, we spend too much time dealing with side stories here and not enough time actually exploring the central mystery of the film. Many of these side stories are nothing but distractions anyway. We know that Carla's John-in-waiting didn't kill her so why are we to suddenly think he's a suspect? Well, Mauri wanted to include a subplot about a drug ring, that's why. We spend a bit of time with Linda, another prostitute, and her physically abusive pimp. They have a disagreement that leads to him slapping her around, telling her to remember “what happened to Carla Pratesi”. But again, we know he isn't the killer so what exactly are we doing spending time with these people? Linda's story is dropped, the drug ring goes nowhere, nothing at all is done about the prostitution ring… Worse, the questions we want answered, the plot threads we want to be explored, are ignored completely throughout the film. Why did Carla turn to prostitution at all? She's already wealthy with a respectable family so how did she end up turning tricks? Who was it that was calling her on the phone the night she died? I don't know. The film never tells us.

And that's a damn shame because when NIGHT OF VIOLENCE focuses on the mystery of Carla's murder, it's a damn good giallo (though with a police inspector as its lead, the film falls more into the realm of the poliziotteschi than the giallo). The reveal of the killer's identity is one of the films major strengths. It's weird, even by giallo standards, if only because it presents us with a killer that is neither someone within Carla's social circle (like in your typical Poisoned Past narrative) or someone who is known by the detective (as it would be in the Amateur Detective narrative). It's just some random stranger we only get to spend time with during the final confrontation.

The killer is revealed to be an Italian former athlete scarred by radiation when the Americans bombed Japan in the 1940s. He returned to Italy to find his home gone, turned into a market, and his family moved on. As he wandered Rome, depressed and lonely, he found an abandoned building filled with movie props, most notably the life casts of several Italian actors (diegetic actors, unfortunately; no real world actors). Carla's murder was a complete accident. He never meant to kill her, only rape her (which is disgusting enough, to be honest). His confrontation with Carla's sister in the final scenes of the film turn him into a sympathetic creature, if only because his motives are so pathetic. He eventually saves his captive's life before committing suicide, harmlessly firing shots into the air so the cops will fill him with bullets.

There's a whiff of something in NIGHT OF VIOLENCE, the hint of some forgotten bit of subtext. There's flirtations with the idea that wealth requires the abandonment of virtue, and that society turns a blind eye to the crimes of the wealthy and the famous, especially if those crimes are against women. The pimp that smacks Linda around is incarcerated not because he beat her up, but because he recently robbed a store, an act he already served time for committing. When the inspector and his men arrive to a film set to interview an actor identified by a victim, the cops treat him with respect, apologizing for having to question him at all. Scenes like that lead me to believe that what Mauri and his co-writer planned NIGHT OF VIOLENCE to be was something more serious minded and narratively complex. Unfortunately, at some point all of that was gutted and what we got instead were pointless drug rackets and fisticuffs.

(La notti della violenza)

Director: Roberto Mauri
Writer: Roberto Mauri, Edoardo Mulargia
Starring: Alberto Lupo, Marilu Tolo, Lisa Gastoni, Helene Chanel
Italy; DMC Cinematografica
1965, 91 minutes

Narrative Variety: Poliziotteschi-giallo
Murderer(s): 1 male
Murderer(s) Role: Ex-athlete, no ties to anyone in the film
Murderer(s) Motive: Loneliness, murder was accidental
Victims: female (suffocated off-screen)
Murderer(s) Death: Shot by the police

December 14, 2016


Michael and Roberta Findlay didn't invent the roughie (that nasty slice of exploitation cinema that primarily focuses on sexual violence towards women) but they sure did refine it. It's tempting to think of all the films produced by the couple as loosely autobiographical. The Findlays didn't enjoy a happy marriage and they certainly didn't produce happy films. They were full of sexual longing and sexual repressions. Even the sex scenes, usually of the softcore variety, were rarely without an element of brutish violence. The lives lived by their characters were lonely, damaged and falling apart, often racked with psychological agony. Compared to their roughie forebears, David Friedman and Joseph Mawra, the films created by the Findlays often felt like a walk though a very personal hell rather than simple tawdry exercises in cheap sleaze.

Their most famous creation no longer bears their names. Their low budget, shot in Argentina exploitation film SLAUGHTER, loosely based on the Manson Family murders, was shelved for a number of years after its completion in 1971. It wouldn't see the light of day until 1976. Reedited and released with a newly filmed ending, SLAUGHTER would be repackaged by exploitation distributor Allen Shackleton as SNUFF, raking in the dough thanks to its controversial “is it real?” ending detailing a young woman's painful on-screen mutilation.

By the time SNUFF was released, the marriage between Michael and Roberta Findlay had ended messily. Neither stopped working, but their output definitely suffered as a result of their separation. Michael managed to complete a few porno flicks after the release of SNUFF before dying in a helicopter accident in 1977. Roberta began to work almost exclusively in porn, writing, directing and photographing a stream of films, some of them interesting, many of them not. In the mid-80s, Roberta dropped out of porn and ran straight into the cheap horror market with mixed results.

I've been meaning to review some of the Findlay films, especially their earliest output. The wonderfully disturbing late 60s triptych of THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH, THE CURSE OF HER FLESH and THE KISS OF HER FLESH are required viewing for anyone interested in the roughie and THE ULTIMATE DEGENERATE ranks up there with James Bryan's THE DIRTIEST GAME IN THE WORLD on the scale of pure sexploitation weirdness. But alas, here I am, a victim of my own To Watch pile. The film I need to review is one of the last of Roberta Findlay's films, the one nobody remembers, sandwiched between the far superior (but still not great) TENEMENT and PRIME EVIL. The film I need to review today is BLOOD SISTERS.

On the surface, this tale of a group of sorority sisters forced to spend the night in a supposedly haunted home feels like a quasi-remake of the Linda Blair vehicle HELL NIGHT. But upon further inspection, it's even more of a mess than that loathsome film. The similarities don't just end with the premise. Both films feature a handful of crack-ups hiding plastic Halloween props and tape recorders around the house prior to our antagonist's arrival. Both films then devote an ungodly amount of time to our characters wandering around the house, investigating and debunking all the juvenile scares left for them to discover. It was a horrible waste of time in HELL NIGHT and it's a horrible waste of time here. It isn't a narrative or a story. It's filler. We know the spooky noises are only a tape recorded prank. There's no fun or scares to be had in watching people discover what we already know. 

HELL NIGHT had its characters fall prey to the last surviving member of a degenerate family, a monstrosity in overalls that has been hiding in the house for decades. BLOOD SISTERS goes the more familiar slasher route. We see a flashback early on, a young boy stomping his feet when a young girl refuses to show him her 7 year old breasts. We then see someone shotgun a prostitute and her john to death in a brothel. The house our characters are staying in is, surprise, the brothel, long since converted into just another abandoned house. The place is supposedly haunted by the spirits of the prostitutes that were shot to death that night. To our surprise (and theirs), the place actually IS haunted. Periodically throughout the film, a poorly superimposed ghost will manifest in a hallway before walking through a wall. And what exactly does that have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing. No one ever interacts with these ghosts. No one is acknowledged by them. They just wander down a hallway every once and awhile.

By the 45 minute mark of this less-than-90-minute movie, you might just start wondering what this film was supposed to be about in the first place. Then a killer shows up, wobbly fake knife in hand, and you remember. That's right! This is supposed to be a slasher film! And just like that, everyone begins to die in a rushed fashion. We spend so much time on the early game Scooby Doo bullshit and the tacked on ghosts that when the film actually begins to act like a slasher film, we have to do all the stabbing, shooting and choking at warp speed. No stalking sequences, no carefully choreographed set pieces, no suspense… It needs to happen and it needs to happen fast.

Thankfully, the stabby bits are bloody and cruel, and are often prefaced by a bit of nudity. But unfortunately, it's all for naught because I didn't give one solitary shit about the people on the receiving end of the violence. For all the films flaws, the performances are the chief offender here. They are completely incongruous with the way the characters are written. The smart-aleck character comes off as needlessly sarcastic, the serious minded character comes off as bitchy and the comic relief character is played completely straight. You get the sense that Findlay was trying to create a self aware kinda-sorta campy spoof but no one else got the joke (or Findlay didn't explain it well enough). I can look past the sorority pledges all being in the mid-30s. I cannot look past tone deaf performances. They simply sap all the energy out of a film already on life support.

This really should not have been the first Roberta Findlay film I reviewed for this site. Her filmography is packed with far more interesting, much more subversive films that this. But as I said, I have a To Watch pile to get through. BLOOD SISTERS was next on that pile so it was next to be reviewed. I'll correct this horrible tragedy at some point, I'm sure. All I can say is this, don't read this review and think BLOOD SISTERS was the norm for Findlay. It isn't. It's just an example of how badly an exploitation maverick can stumble when they're forced to play safe.

December 8, 2016


Until THE CRYING GAME came around, SLEEPAWAY CAMP laid claim to the single most shocking pickle shot in all of cinema. The wholly unexpected penis cameo during the final 90 seconds has kept the film floating around in the pop culture aether for over 30 years. Were it not for that dick, no one would remember it at all. Hell, I barely remembered anything about it and I've seen it multiple times as a kid. As hard as I tried, I couldn't wrangle up any other memories of it. All I could think of was that dick.

So what is this film about? It's about Ricky and his cousin Angela. They've been sent to summer camp by Ricky's possibly mentally unstable mother. While Ricky fits right in (he's a regular), Angela has a tougher time. She's quiet, shy, weighs about 60 pounds and is 75% eyes. She just sits and stares, those doe eyes taking in everything around her. This naturally pisses off her bunk mates, specifically Judy, Ricky's ex-summer camp fling-turned-bitchy prima donna, and Meg, one of the counselors. The boys don't treat her any better, constantly teasing her, chucking water balloons at her, etc. Except for Paul, that is. He takes a shining to Angela and Angela soon takes a shining to him. 

Unfortunately, everyone's fun is about to be ruined. As Angela takes more and more abuse, people begin dying. At first, it's just the pedophile chef. After the fat sleazeball tries whipping his junk out in front of Angela, he's horrifically scalded by a pot full of boiling water. Later, one of the boys taunting Angela is found drowned. Another is locked in a bathroom stall and killed after someone unseen tosses a swarming beehive through the window. But it couldn't possibly be Angela could it? She's so innocent and clearly the hands we see during the murder scenes are a boy's hands. So is it Ricky? 

I'm sure you already know who the killer is because the ending of SLEEPAWAY CAMP has become one of the most iconic final scenes in all of horror. It's a whopper of a twist, that is for damn sure, even if it's absolutely ridiculous and, to be honest, completely unnecessary. But what about the rest of the film? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's pretty great. Not for the reasons you might expect though. In terms of graphic violence, SLEEPAWAY CAMP is nothing special (though a single death, a fatal rape via curling iron, goes a bit too far for my tastes). The deaths are somewhat memorable for being a bit campy and absurd, but graphic they most certainly are not. The film isn't especially spooky either.

But what the film does right is that it gives us likeable characters. There are no 21-playing-16 actors here. The characters are largely kids played by actual kids. They talk like kids, behave like kids… It's one of those rare slasher movies where the characters feel like individuals rather than simple, babbling stereotypes (even if some of them are, like snarling, bitchy Judy). It reminds me a bit of THE BURNING, another summer camp slasher film filled with dozens of characters, all of whom are distinct entities. The film suffers a bit when we need to spend time with the adults at the camp. Mike Kellin's Mel, the guy in charge, is a gruff bore who quickly descends into almost incomprehensible paranoia as the film goes on. Many of the counselor characters are interchangeable personality vacuums that are never developed. The single most despicable character in the entire film is the sleazeball chef who refers to all the young girls as “baldies”, your typical movie pervert. But the time away from the young cast is relatively brief and that is to the films great, great benefit.

But the single best thing about SLEEPAWAY CAMP is Felissa Rose. Her portrayal of Angela is spot on, just wide eyes and an unblinking gaze. She pulls off creepy well, but she also pulls off unbearably sweet perfectly. Look, if you've ever seen a slasher film before, you know full well that Angela will be revealed as the films killer. It's too obvious, so obvious in fact that the films writer/director Robert Hiltzik must have felt compelled to double down on the reveal. You see, Angela wasn't always Angela. She used to be Peter. When her father and sister were killed in a (completely unconvincing) boating accident, Peter was sent to live with his aunt, Ricky's mother. Abandoned by her husband, Ricky's mother went a little nuts, dressing Peter up as a girl and calling her Angela. How Ricky never found out about this (or does he know?) is not explained. In fact, nothing about the final reveal is ever explained. It doesn't fit at all with the rest of the film in any satisfactory way. Sure, it's jaw dropping and interesting, but it hurts the character of Angela much more than it helps.

It also makes the subtext of the film a mess. As Angela is making out with Paul, she has a flashback to the time she and her brother watched their father lying in bed with his male lover. In an ordinary slasher film, this would have been some kind of traumatic shock. But what we see are the two siblings chuckling, confused maybe but certainly not traumatized. With the final reveal of the film in mind (Angela is found naked near the lake, cradling Paul's severed head in her arms. She stands up and… well, dick), what are we to make of that flashback? What are we to make of anything really? Is the film suggesting that homosexuality is responsible for the killings, that Angela's young childhood with two gay parents somehow traumatized her (that would be an odd angle for this particular film to take as it is rife with deliberate homoeroticism)? She clearly has feelings for Paul, so are we to assume that Angela, who is really a boy, is somehow driven to kill Paul because of some internal conflict with her sexual orientation? Or are we to look at the film in the same way we look at Dario Argento's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, another film about a child raised as a different gender, a trauma that has led to a violent revolt against the opposite sex? Who knows? I sure don't.

The final reveal just does not feel congruous with the rest of the film. Of course, that's only really a problem if you care about such things and honestly, in a slasher film, I don't. There's more than enough nonsense going on in the film that I can take the twist ending as just another bit of WTF? fluff. I mean, twist endings are particularly tough to pull off right in any genre. If you think about it, Bruce Willis would have sussed out that he's dead well before meeting Haley Joel Osment. The final twist in THE VILLAGE only works if you ignore the fact that it makes more sense for one of the elders of the village, all of whom know the whole thing is sham, to go wandering into the woods instead of sending a blind girl who may or may not ever return with the medicine desperately needed to save Joaquin Phoenix's life. The twist at the end of THE USUAL SUSPECTS renders the entire film moot and the twist at the end of HIGH TENSION renders that film completely impossible. But hey, they're neat endings (some more than others) so whatever.

What I care most about with my slasher films is this: are they entertaining? Do they deliver the experience I enjoy? SLEEPAWAY CAMP earns a solid “yes” on both counts. If you want to spend some time with the story of a psychopath suffering from a gender identity crisis who kills some kids, this film is a far more enjoyable way to indulge yourself than, say, reading The Wasp Factory. But if you're looking for explicit gore and nudity, look elsewhere. Just put the film on, kick off your shoes and enjoy one of the best early 80s slasher films around. Soak up the charm and the weirdness of the whole thing. Trust me, you'll like it. And if you don't? 

Well, don't blame me. I didn't make it.