Catching Up With: Arrow Video

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-10-12 02:15

When Arrow Video finally decided to cross the pond and distribute its releases in America, it all but confirmed that we’re in the middle of a second cult home video Renaissance. Just five short years ago, it seemed like the scene had reached an inevitable and irreversible slowdown, leaving enthusiasts to subsist on scraps. I never could have guessed that multiple labels would spring up and practically overwhelm us, and Arrow has become one of the most prolific during the last 18 months. Quite frankly, I can’t keep up with the deluge—hence this little bit of catch-up with some of their most noteworthy titles. This particular set is especially worthwhile for Eurohorror enthusiasts looking to settle in for a night of sex, sleaze, and violence—all of which goes down just a little bit more easily with a bottle of J&B, of course.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

History (rightfully) insists that the first “true” giallo—Bava’s own The Girl Who Knew Too Much, itself a take-off of the era’s German krimi films—arrived a year before this effort, yet one could easily make the argument that Blood and Black Lace is much more recognizably the alpha point of this genre. Having grown disinterested with contemporary, formulaic murder mysteries, Bava decided to unleash his—and, perhaps everyone’s—bloodthirsty id with a film that refuses to shy away from its gratuitous violence. Its setup is both familiar and prescient all at once: the world surrounding an Italian fashion house is rocked when one of its models is brutally murdered, marking the beginning of a heinous killing spree that grows increasingly lurid and gory.

Despite the familiar setup, Blood and Black Lace looks and feels unlike any film that preceded it; while it cannot stake its claim as the first splatter movie or body count film, it’s the first to blend a serpentine plot, explicit bloodshed, and the dreamy, fluorescent aesthetic that would more or less serve as the Eurohorror template for decades. Without Blood and Black Lace, it’s arguable that the giallo film would not exist as we currently know it, and who knows what Dario Argento’s career would have even looked like. It is perhaps impossible to overstate the importance not only of Blood and Black Lace but also Bava himself: of all the Eurohorror masters, his career was arguably the most crucial, and this effort was another stop on a path that saw him continually poking and prodding this genre. Say what you want about Bava, but none of his slasher/giallo efforts are very much alike, and Blood and Black Lace is among his very finest moments.

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)

Gialli are practically renowned for their general sketchiness: over four decades removed from its prime, we look back on them now and especially see just how gross and disreputable they are—which is exactly what makes them interesting, of course. Sure, you could dismiss them under the blanket of being “problematic,” but that’s too easy. If you have the stomach for it’s much more productive to confront something like What Have You Done to Solange?, one of the absolute sickest, nastiest dispatches from this era. If you are of a certain persuasion (and I assume you are), that’s a hell of an endorsement.

Every corner of Massimo Dallimaro’s twisted giallo is caked in grime and sleaze. Not only is protagonist Enrico Rosseni carrying on an affair, but he’s doing so with his 16-year-old gymnastics student. He is literally introduced trying to get into her pants (our hero, ladies and gentlemen!), only to be thwarted when Elizabeth (Christine Galbo) claims to witness a murder. Naturally, sleazebag Rosseni tries to brush it off and dismiss it as her attempt to keep her virginity intact (!), but it soon becomes clear that Elizabeth actually did see a masked man butcher a classmate by ramming a knife right through her vagina. Clearly, this is not the go-to film to argue against the inherent misogyny of this particular genre, and the film is continuously unrepentant in this regard. Teenage girls are casually hacked up as Massimo ungracefully trudges through the mystery surrounding the titular Solange, who doesn’t show up until the third act (Camille Keaton in a legitimately haunting performance).

Unlike some of its more elegant contemporaries (including many of the films in this article), What Have You Done to Solange? isn’t concerned with atmosphere or crafting a feverish sense of unreality: rather, it’s a stark, queasy tale that revels in uncomfortable, squirm-inducing moments. It might have to ungracefully talk its way through untangling its loopy plot, but, ultimately, it’s the searing images that linger.

Your Vice is a Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

One of the most ridiculous, infamous, and plain badass giallo titles ever, Sergio Martino’s fourth effort in the genre more than lives up to its bizarre nomenclature. For starters, it’s one of the wildest, most lurid stories ever spun in a giallo, one that centers on Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), a failed writer turned successful drunk who lives out his day in a decrepit mansion with his wife (Anita Strindberg) and a cat named Satan. His decadent gatherings attract all sorts of amoral riff-raff, he still harbors some disturbing mommy issues, and he’s banging his former student. This is sleazy as hell before a masked murderer arrives and starts knocking off women, including the Rouvignys’ maid. Naturally, this makes Oliviero the prime suspect and the first of several red herrings that are nestled within each other in a topsy-turvy narrative that continually upends itself.

In many ways, nearly every plot development is a red herring, from the arrival of Rouvigny’s impudent niece (Edwidge Fenech, goddamn amazing) to the “discovery” of the murderer halfway through the film. Fenech is something of the lynchpin as the incredible Floriana, a self-admitted tart who doesn’t let a little thing like incest taboo hinder her sexual urges. Her presence is alluring and disorienting all at once: much like Satan, the slinking, hell-raising feline, she’s a sly, almost coy interloper whose true intentions are slippery as hell. Also slippery: an incredible story that’s somehow as convoluted and absurd as the title itself. Remarkably, Martino oversees the proceedings with grace, countering each zig and zag with a steady, restrained camera that renders a ghastly display of amorality into a slick, dazzling masterwork.

The Black Cat (1981)

Fulci’s weird outlier from an era that had him typically preoccupied with the undead emerging from the gates of hell, The Black Cat nonetheless offers some of the best evidence of his considerable skills as a director. Whereas his more prominent films from this period saw him leaning on sensory-shattering gore effects and irresistibly cool mythologies, this curious little effort is downright restrained in comparison. “Freely adapted” from Poe’s short story bearing the same title, its flimsy premise is nonetheless intriguing: in a small English village, a series of gruesome “accidental” deaths has rocked the locals and befuddled authorities. Unbeknownst to them, a black cat mysteriously lurks at every scene before skittering off to terrorize another potential victim.

It follows that Fulci’s entry in the 1981 slasher free-for-all would be a totally goddamn strange one involving a cat as the antagonist. Of course, there’s still a mystery to be uncovered because, hey, somehow, it’s a damn cat committing the murders. That Fulci even pulls this off at all is all the proof you need that he was an absolute master; moreover, The Black Cat is a terrific example that shows him flexing his filmmaking chops. His signature gore outbursts are on display, but they’re more like accents here since Fulci is more concerned with crafting an atmospheric mystery via suspense and character work. Patrick Magee delivers one of the best performances in a Fulci film as Robert Miles, a shifty, supposedly clairvoyant professor attempting to communicate with the dead. An enigmatic presence, Magee proves to elusive, thanks to both his own cagey performance and Fulci’s frequent close-up shots of the actor’s eyes, a tactic that makes it difficult to determine if he’s manic, desperate, or perhaps a bit of both. Despite the very (very) loose nature of this adaptation, Poe himself would likely approve this descent into madness and the wicked, black-hearted climax that accompanies it.

Crimes of Passion (1984)

You have to wonder if Ken Russell didn’t binge on a few Brian De Palma movies before declaring “let me give that a shot” when he decided to helm Crimes of Passion, an exquisitely schizophrenic slice melodramatic, psychosexual neon-noir trash bullshit. Naturally, this is all a compliment, as this is a pretty delirious piece of work headlined by Kathleen Turner’s turn as China Blue, an alluring prostitute who spits quick-witted dialogue as if he were a femme fatale plucked from the 1940s. During the course of the film, she draws several men into her orbit, including a psychotic street preacher (Anthony Perkins) and a suburbanite disenchanted with his marriage (John Laughlin).

Where the former stalks her in an attempt to “save her” (a sub-plot heightened by Perkins’s manic performance), the latter has fantasies of leaving his wife and children so the two can fuck in perpetuity. Part 80s excess satire (there’s a television commercial interlude that kills), part scummy stalk-and-slash exercise, Crimes of Passion is compulsively watchable junk buoyed by Rick Wakeman’s evocative synth score and Russell’s indelible images (seriously, he shoots what might be the most artful sex scene in a movie that also features Anthony Perkins going nuts on a blow-up doll). As messy as the eventual collision is, it’s certainly a hoot, one that Russell is most certainly in on, as evidenced by its killer final line, which confirms that, in the end, it all comes down to fucking.
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