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Spirits of the Dead  
France/Italy | 1968
Directed by: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini
Written by: Pascal Cousin, Bernardino Zapponi, Clement Biddle Wood
Starring: Jane Fonda, Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Terence Stamp
| 121 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

22 years before horror heavyweights Dario Argento and George A. Romero collaborated on an anthology film adapting the works of Edgar Allan Poe, French film studio Les Films Marceau gathered together 3 visionary directors that you generally wouldn’t associate with horror tales and had them do the same, the result being the ethereal Spirits of the Dead. The first segment, Metzengerstein, comes courtesy of Roger Vadim (Barbarella, Blood and Roses) and tells the story of Contessa Frederique de Metzengerstein (Jane Fonda), a corrupt ruler who revels in sexual excess and unheard of cruelty (including target practice that involves hanging a young man for her amusement). She mocks her lowly cousins, who are hard working farmers, yet when she finds herself ensnared in a fox trap, it’s her cousin Baron Wilhelm Berlifitzing that rescues her. She finds herself intrigued by the man to the point that she begins to desire him, but her advances are ignored. Her cruel nature rears its ugly head and she sends a member of her court to burn down Wilhelm’s beloved stables. What she couldn’t have accounted for was him risking his life to rescue his prized horse and dying in the process. Yet as the fires burn, a black stallion shows up on her doorstep, that can be tamed only by her.

Metzengerstein is an extremely mysterious tale, one that moves along very slowly almost as if you’re floating through the ether along with every character in the segment. They all crave excess, from having pet cheetahs to insatiable orgies and feasts, yet none of them seem to be accomplishing a damn thing in life and seem quite unhappy. They all seem doomed to some fate or another, and because of that the story feels quite glum and low-key. Still, it’s pretty intriguing and beautifully shot, not to mention Jane Fonda is almost unbearably sexy in the piece, which pairs perfectly with the “face of an angel, heart of a demon” character she’s playing. It’s also a nice little touch that Jane’s brother, the awesome Peter Fonda, plays Baron Wilhelm, giving the already incestuous desires an even creepier feel. While certainly the weakest of the lot, it sets the atmospheric, unearthly theme of the overall film nicely.

Next up we’re treated to William Wilson, directed by Louis Malle (Elevator to the Gallows, Au Revoir les Enfants) and starring the great Alain Delon as the title character, who’s a pitiless, entitled rich kid that through the years has tortured, cheated, and manipulated anyone he’s damn well pleased. Starting early in grade school though, he’s been followed, haunted actually, by his doppelganger whose only defining difference is his will to do the right thing. Unlike the previous segment (and the one still to come), William Wilson is a character-drive piece where you’re never quite sure whether his rival is real or you’re watching a man battling his own conscience. It’s a haunting tale and fits in perfectly with the bookends of the film, and you certainly can’t go wrong with Brigitte Bardot and a double-dose of Delon. Having the majority of the story told in flashbacks via Wilson’s confessions, your head will undoubtedly be swimming trying to discern where reality stops and fantasy begins.

Saving the best for last, master auteur Federico Fellini serves up Toby Dammit, a modern retelling of Poe’s story “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”. Terence Stamp takes on the role of Toby Dammit (it should be noted that “Toby” was a slang term for ass in Poe’s era, which makes the title amazingly appropriate), a miserable, alcoholic English actor whose come to Rome to headline a film, the first-ever Catholic Spaghetti Western. His only reason for taking the role is because he’s being paid in something he craves passionately: a brand-new Ferrari. After enduring one of the most decadent and ridiculous award ceremonies in history, he’s given the keys to his new baby. Drunk and delirious, he speeds through the winding streets of Rome while being haunted by the visage of a young girl and her bouncing ball.

On its own, Toby Dammit is a flawless masterpiece, not only of the short form but of film period. While Fellini certainly borrows themes of madness and hallucination from his back catalog of films such as and La Dolce Vita, the atmosphere and sense of dementia at work here rivals that of anything Mario Bava or Dario Argento did in their prime. The cinematography and use of lighting and color are awe-inspiring, the editing and fast-cuts evoke the same type of confusion and hysteria the protagonist is experiencing, and the glances of the enigmatic young girl elicit the proper feelings of unease to convey the danger she truly presents. Stamp is simply amazing in his role, complete with ghostly, pale make-up that will have you wondering if this is more than just acting excellence we're witnessing. In an interesting aside, Orson Welles was originally tapped to be the third director for the trilogy, adapting a totally different story. While Welles is not a director to sneeze at, I think it was definitely for the best that things didn't work out. An artistic, nightmarish feast for the eyes and ears, Toby Dammit is not to be missed by any self-respecting fan of film, and together with William Wilson and to a lesser-extent Metzengerstein, Spirits of the Dead is the perfect avant-garde horror anthology for a cold winter evening in which you’re looking for something just a bit different.

Arrow Films presents Spirits of the Dead on region-free Blu-Ray in the UK and as far as I’m concerned, the picture quality is jaw-droppingly amazing. The 1.85:1 1080p anamorphic transfer is flawless to my eyes. Yes, there are moments of softness that crop up now and again, but the colors are lush, definition is amazingly crisp, and you can pick out every detail in things such as greenery, crumbling castles, and cobblestone streets. This is without a doubt a benchmark for how 40+ year old films should look on the format. The original DTS-HD audio track, presented in lossless mono (at 2.3Mpbs!), is free of any issues and sounds great. The majority of extras included are mostly in the audio area. You can watch Metzengerstein in French instead of English, William Wilson in English instead of French, and Toby Dammit in French instead of the more desirable English/Italian. All of these are treated to DTS-HD lossless mono tracks. Also included on-disc is an alternate opening and ending that features Vincent Price commentary courtesy of AIP’s US release, and the film’s original theatrical trailer. All extras are in 1080p. The retail release also includes a 60-page booklet which reprints all 3 Poe stories that inspired the film plus two essays. I can’t comment on these as I only received a screener. Notwithstanding, this release comes highly recommended.

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Dead Space poster  
USA | 1991
Directed by: Fred Gallo
Written by: Catherine Cyran
Starring: Marc Singer, Laura Tate, Bryan Cranston, Judith Chapman
| 72 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

After receiving a distress signal from the research facility Phaebon, Commander Kreiger (Marc Singer) and his sidekick robot Tinpan hyperspace on over to the space station. Once there he receives mixed signals as to whether there really is a problem (even though there is a dead guy on board), but he’s forced to stay regardless due to his ship suffering some damage in a space fight. It’s a good thing, as they’ll certainly need him shortly. The scientists, lead by Professor Darden (Bryan Cranston), are attempting to find a cure for a deadly illness called Delta-5. Unfortunately, the anti-virus they created has begun to grow sentient, and is very quickly growing into a killer beast that takes great pleasure in picking off the crew members one by one.

Dead Space is a film that will have you scratching your head over its mere existence. If the synopsis sounded familiar to you, there’s good reason: this is a remake of Forbidden World, a film made less than 10 years before this was greenlit. As a Corman fan, we all know the man has little shame, but to cannibalize his own studio's work reeks of desperation. I actually had no clue what the film was about going in (monster attacks space station, what more did I need?), but it didn't take long for me to start experiencing some pretty oppressive déjà vu. You’ll get a lone galaxy jumper that cruises around with his robot pal, an S.O.S. that puts things into motion, a research lab that’s looking for a cure for a deadly virus, a monster that grows out of said cure (and lacks all the charm of the monster from its inspiration), a trip outside of the facility to track the monster on a rocky outcropping (which must be completed in 20 minutes, otherwise the air will cause delirium and a sense of euphoria that will kill…did this leave ANY element of the original out?!), and actual lines of dialogue ripped straight from Forbidden World. Hell, the ending is even the same! Dead Space is honestly the shitty sci-fi equivalent to Van Sant’s Psycho.

The one plus Dead Space has going for it is its short runtime. At only 72 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome nor does it waste much time getting to the action. Sadly, it’s all stuff anyone that’s seen Forbidden World has seen before and it's all done better there. Sure, all of these post-1980 monster-in-space films owe it all to Alien, but a remake of a rip-off? That’s spreading things damn thin. Why watch this when you could just watch the superior Forbidden World again? Shout! Factory pairs Dead Space on a double feature release with The Terror Within (which is another Alien rip-off, but is actually schlocky fun) and presents the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It looks surprisingly good and there’s little to complain about considering its no-budget, DTV roots. The 2.0 Dolby Digital track sounds just fine with no issues to report. Director Fred Gallo actually contributes a commentary for the film (you can never question Shout!’s dedication, that’s for sure), and he provides some good tidbits on getting your first film made and how Corman works (a week before production, there wasn’t a script; not surprising then that they just borrowed one from the archives). There are some trailers on board as well, and both films can be watched back-to-back using a “Grindhouse Experience” option. I also wanted to make a small note that while this still gets the same keepcase treatment the entire collection has received (clear case with artwork on the reverse side, an insert), this is the first to come in one of those lame eco-friendly cases with the recycle symbol cut out which more times than not ripples the cover (which in this instance it did). Shout!’s release of Not of This Earth (which came out the same day) still has a normal case with all plastic intact, so hopefully this was just a trial run and not a sign of things to come.

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Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection poster  
Japan | 2010
Directed by: N/A
Written by: N/A
Starring: N/A
| 61 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

While over the past two years that Infini-Tropolis has been spreading the awesome over the world wide web, we’ve tried to restrict reviews to movies and complete TV series/seasons only. However more and more compilation-like releases have been seeing the light of day, and I personally couldn’t think of a better release to get a proper review here first; a trailer compilation for a genre near and dear to my heart: Pink films! More specifically, Roman Porno, which for those not in the know, is just the name given to Japanese studio Nikkatsu’s line of Pink cinema. Synapse Films’ erotica label Impulse Pictures has a slate of over twenty-five of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno line set for release (much to my squealing delight!) and to introduce them to the world at large, they’ve put together the Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection. The collection features 38 trailers, so sadly not every one of the titles will see a proper release (although good sales could change that, I’m sure), but something tells me the majority of the most striking will be among the crop of planned releases over the next few years.

Even if you’re checking this collection out as a fan (because English subbed trailers of these rarities is a real treat) and not just to see what Synapse has on the horizon, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how all-encompassing this compilation is. It truly covers nearly every facet of not just Nikkatsu’s roster of Pink films, but the state of the genre as a whole in the 70’s and 80’s. You’ll get everything from the depraved (Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon, Zoom In: Rape Apartments, and Yasuharu Hasebe’s classic Rape!), the perverse-yet-artistic (Nurse Diary: Beastly Afternoon, Sex Hunter, Love Hotel), the fetishistic (Debauchery, Zoom Up: Beaver Book Girl), action (Race Across the Drenched Wasteland, She Cat), comedy (New Company Girls: 9 to 5, Nurses Gone Wild!), period pieces (Confidential Report: Prostitute Torture Hell, directed by genre legend Noboru Tanaka), the drifter genre (The Lovers Are Wet, Wet Lips), the oft-overlooked Ama Glamour girl diver genre (Nympho Diver: G-String Festival, Pearl Divers: Tight Shellfish), the taboo breaking (Oh! Women: Dirty Songs, Painful Bliss! A Surprise Twist, I Love it from Behind!), and the simply over-the-top ridiculous (Sex Fiend, which I might add I need NOW!) For those not well-versed in the Pink genre, those titles may very well have you rolling on the floor with laughter and wondering how in the hell film’s like this were given a budget, shot professionally, and released theatrically, but that’s the entire appeal and charm of these films. They go against everything a Westerner has ever perceived porn to be, yet between all of the curve balls they toss at you, they’re more than happy to deliver exactly what you would expect from this sort of cinema.

The trailers are all quite entertaining, and having them subbed hammers home the hilarity of the marketing campaigns these film’s had. With taglines such as “A g-string shock is about to assail your senses!” and “Wives are treated like female dogs!”, you really have to adore the audaciousness of these marketing campaigns. And at the behest of good taste I must mention that one of the trailers included is for a film titled Nurses’ Dormitory: Assy Fingers. Can’t wait to see that spine sitting on my shelf! All of the trailers are in anamorphic widescreen (the scope varies from film to film) and in fantastic quality. It almost makes you sad that smaller studios don’t treat the masters of their Pink films nearly as well, as this is proof that when you’re not left with a DAT backup, these films look incredible. The Dolby Digital mono is what you’d expect. In addition to the 61 minutes of trailers, Synapse has included a bonus short film, Ryoko’s Lesbian Flight. From 1983 and directed by Hidehiro Ito (Debauchery), the short is full-frame and shot on video, giving it a look much like the early Guinea Pig films. It’s a pretty meager offering with little story, but the sex scenes are pretty hot (sadly with some blurring of genitalia, which in a genre that generally avoids this stuff skillfully with creative camera angles, seems pretty lazily directed by Ito). Even though in the grand scheme of things the film is pretty forgettable, it’s a nice little obscure piece of Pink cinema for hardcore fans and a good incentive for those on the fence about shelling out cash for a collection of trailers. If you are one of those people, I wholeheartedly recommend this one, especially if you just want to get a taste of Roman Porno and the Pink genre, as this is as good a jumping off point as there ever has been. I for one cannot wait to get my hands on these films once Synapse starts rolling them out (and please, don’t save Sex Fiend for last!)

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The Swamp of the Ravens poster  
Ecuador | 1974
Directed by: Manuel Caño
Written by: Santiago Moncada
Starring: Ramiro Oliveros, Marcia Bichette, Fernando Sancho, Toni Mas
| 88 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

After being denied money and specimens for his work on overcoming death and controlling his subjects via mind-control, Dr. Frosta takes his act underground, setting up shop in a shack that sits next to a raven-infested swamp. He regularly swipes bodies by paying off local morticians, coming to pick them up before they reach the morgue. Unfortunately for him, he can’t seem to duplicate his one success: a brain-dead servant that works for him that happily does his bidding and dumps all of the doctor’s failed experiments in the backyard swamp. Adding to his frustration is his girlfriend Simone, who is starting to become annoyed with the lack of attention she’s receiving, and her old boyfriend is back in town to tempt her. Dr. Frosta isn’t too worried though, as if he can’t have her in life, he’ll certainly have her in death. But it’s all starting to mount up for the doc, as he’s becoming sloppy while his mind is on other things, and a local police inspector is determined to crack the case. Oh yeah, and he might want to pay a bit more attention to those “failed” experiments he had tossed in the swamp; they’re starting to come back…

The Swamp of the Ravens is easily one of the oddest films I’ve come across in some time. Right from the outset, the film stands out as being one of only a handful of Ecuadorian horror films ever made, and it’s certainly the first that I’ve seen. Yet thanks to a cast that should be recognizable to Euro cult fans, such as Ramiro Oliveros (Cannibal Apocalypse, The Pajama Girl Case) and Fernando Sancho (The Big Gundown, Return of the Evil Dead), it all feels a bit more familiar that one might expect. But what really sets the film apart is every "prop" used in the film is real. When the first severed hand turned up, I was impressed at how good it looked, giving props to the FX of a film that likely had a very small budget. But then came something I never could have imagined: an actual autopsy, on film, with actors (including Sancho!) right there watching it! Apparently you can get away with some crazy shit in Ecuador, as after doing a little research, not just this scene, but all body parts and even the blood in the film is all real. Pretty neat stuff, and myself being an organ donor, if I could check a box that said my body would be used for film instead of science and medicine, I’d definitely do so!

The whole atmosphere of the film is bizarre, to say the least. The swamp setting is extremely effective, giving off an eerie vibe every time it’s used. But beyond that, the entire film feels like some weird fever dream, as the narrative jumps around and the script leaves certain things out in favor of moving things along at a quicker pace. Why show a certain character making a deal with the police officers when we can just show the reaction shot of the doctor finding out? Surely that’ll cut down on silly things like plot development and give more time to creepy swamp shots and dead body worship! And then there’s the score, which has to be among the most inappropriate I’ve encountered in a horror film. The majority of it sounds more suited for a 70s British Counter-Culture flick than a film about re-animation; not sure what the composer was thinking, but considering how ridiculous (wouldn’t getting a note from a supposed reputable doctor that had the word “tonight” misspelled tip you off to stay far, far away?) and left-of-center everything else on display is (the final speech from Dr. Frosta is just mind-boggling), it probably fits just perfectly with the weird, ethereal world that is The Swamp of the Ravens. VCI presents the film (in double feature form with Del Tenny’s Zombie, better known by its lurid alternate title I Eat Your Skin) via a pleasant 2.35:1 anamorphic print. This is the longest known cut of the film and also features the complete ending that was chopped on the previous Something Weird release. There is some print damage to be sure, but overall the quality is quite acceptable, with decent colors and black levels. It should be noted that the encode is interlaced, however it’s not extreme and your mileage may vary depending on your equipment; I didn’t notice it whatsoever on my PS3. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track (in English only) is just fine, with only a few instances of background distortion, although no dialogue is ever lost or muddied. There are no extras on the disc.

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