APES ON FILM: Hold that Tiger!

Posted on: Oct 4th, 2022 By:

By Chris Herzog
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems, and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD – 1961
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring
: Gordon Scott, Yoko Tani, Hélène Chanel
Director
: Riccardo Freda
Rated
: No rating
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region
: A
BRD Release Date: 8-16-2022
Audio Formats: English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio:  Widescreen (2.35:1)
Run Time: 98/76 Min.
Click Here to Order

 

For decades, the Italian Sword-and-Sandal film (aka the “peplum”) has been an object of frequent ridicule, even among cult cinema afficionados. This is largely because these ‘60s epics have been primarily seen in edited, panned-and-scanned U.S. television cuts with washed out color, damaged prints, and of course, ridiculous dialogue dubbing choices. Such critical external faults can also make internal issues like phony-looking monsters all the more detrimental. Happily, the digital home video era has provided more opportunity to see such films as they were meant to be viewed, in nice looking prints with proper widescreen aspect ratios and sometimes even in the original Italian. While such upgrades don’t exactly cure all of the ills inherent in low-budget fantasy flicks cranked out by the dozen, they can reduce the giggle factor considerably.

This is the case with SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, a 1961 saga helmed by Riccardo Freda, one of Italy’s most highly regarded genre directors. Freda had already enjoyed a 20-year career as a writer/director when he made SAMSON, and would soon go on to direct such favorite gothic horrors as THE GHOST (1963) and THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK (1962) with Barbara Steele. Just a few months prior, he had completed work on GIANTS OF THESSALY (1960), widely considered a top-tier peplum. SAMSON is also one of his better efforts, as Kino Lorber’s nice looking new Blu-Ray makes abundantly clear.

Our hero for this one (called “Maciste” in the original Italian version) is played by stoic-and-shredded Gordon Scott, star of arguably the best cycle of TARZAN films after the Johnny Weismuller MGM run. In fact, Scott looks as if he just walked over from the TARZAN set, loincloth-and-all, playing essentially the same character. The biggest differences, really, are that this picture is set in ancient China and that SAMSON has a degree of super strength, at least enough to do things like pushing trees over, tossing boulders around, and showing teams of horses who’s boss. In fact, Samson’s unnatural strength appears to be just about the only truly fantastic element in the picture, which may disappoint those viewers (like me) who prefer a high monster quotient in their pepla. The more papier-mâché dragons and ragged ape suits, the better, as far as I’m concerned. The closest we get here, however, is a wrestling match with a tiger, played by a stuffed tiger in close-ups and an alarmingly drugged tiger in the long shots. Nevertheless, SAMSON proves to be an entertaining experience on its own terms, as a colorful, action-packed historical epic with a smattering of super heroics.

The plot here is the very familiar mixture of court intrigue, evil despots, and enslaved populations that we find in most examples of the genre. Less familiar is the medieval Chinese setting, although it’s well-mounted and could occasionally pass for something the Shaw Brothers cooked up. Samson comes to town to help get rid of the evil Mongol warlord who has usurped the throne, hopefully restoring the rightful royal family to power in the process. Along the way, he fights the above-mentioned tiger, survives the perils of the warlord’s arena, engages in multiple battles and bar fights, and helps foment a revolution. You know the drill. There’s nothing particularly original or surprising here, but there is plenty of spectacle. This one at least looks like it has a higher budget than the average Hercules/Maciste picture, and that’s all that counts. Freda and his colleagues knew how to put every lira of the production budget on the screen, and this film is a great case in point.

Kino’s transfer looks great, with the often-opulent art direction really popping when it needs to and more realistic imagery like surfaces and skin tones registering naturally for the most part. The film is presented in two versions, the 98-minute original Italian cut and the 76-minute AIP cut which was the version commonly seen in the United States. Note that both cuts feature only English-language soundtracks. The chief extra is a commentary track from film historian Tim Lucas which accompanies the AIP cut. Lucas, of course, is a world-class authority on Italian genre cinema, and the track provides a wealth of production information and analysis. It’s difficult to imagine how this commentary could be any better. A sampling of trailers for other fantasy films available from Kino is also included.

 

 

When he’s not casually shuffling across dry creek beds, Chris Herzog is a writer, researcher, and teacher. His film criticism can also be found in Screem magazine and back issues of the late, lamented Video WatcH*Dog.

 

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith

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RETRO REVIEW: Giallo Magnifique: Dario Argento’s DEEP RED in Rare Italian Cut Screens Saturday at Buried Alive Film Festival

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2015 By:

Profondo_Rosso_posterBuried Alive Film Festival and Splatter Cinema Presents the rare Italian original cut of DEEP RED (1975); Dir. Dario Argento; Starring David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi; Saturday, November 14 @ 10:00 p.m.; Synchronicity Theater; Tickets $10 (or included with a $50 festival pass) here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of the Buried Alive Film Festival, Splatter Cinema will be hosting a 40th anniversary screening at Synchronicity Theater of what is, quite simply, one of the greatest thrillers ever made: Dario Argento’s groundbreaking giallo DEEP RED. To miss this in its rare Italian original cut (22 minutes longer than the US version), would be to offend the very gods of cinema, so it would be best to play it safe and plan to attend.

From the late 1920s forward in Italy, a series of cheap paperback editions of murder mysteries featuring eye-catching artwork was issued by the publishing group Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. The success of these editions led to other publshers to also release mysteries under their own banners while imitating Mondadori’s cover designs. The common design element? The color yellow used as a background. As a result, over time all murder mysteries in Italy would come to be called “yellow.” Or, in Italian, giallo.

Mario Bava set in stone the tropes and archetypes of the cinematic giallo in the early 1960s with films such as THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. The wild success of these films—and their blending of brutal violence with stylish camerawork and set design, all set to equally stylish musical scores—led to a whole host of other filmmakers jumping on the giallo bandwagon and establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the Italian film industry. Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi, Riccardo Freda…all dipped their toes into the waters of the giallo and built careers off their early successes. But none of them took the genre to new extremes like one particular filmmaker: Dario Argento.

schultz-figueroa-web2Beginning with his “Animal Trilogy” (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O’ NINE TAILS and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), Argento took Bava’s sense of visual style to a whole other level. Deep focus, graceful camera movements, exquisitely detailed set design and carefully crafted compositions were the hallmarks of his aesthetic. His impossibly twisty plots and outstanding soundtracks worked hand-in-hand with his visual style and led him to be regarded as the Italian Hitchcock. But his work on the Animal Trilogy was merely a prelude to his masterpiece: DEEP RED (aka PROFONDO ROSSO).

Jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses a woman’s murder, and decides to investigate the case himself after realizing that a painting he saw in her apartment is now missing. Accompanied by reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), he tries to tie together the loose clues he has assembled and the one detail he cannot quite remember, while other women across the city are being murdered and he himself is targeted.

All of the elements are in play here. The black-gloved killer. The half-remembered detail. The outsider protagonist dismissed by the police as a troublemaker. The meddling reporter. The brutal violence. But Argento assembles these key tropes into something wholly new and original. Visually, Argento uses art in general, and painting in particular, as a recurring thematic element. Beyond a painting holding a key detail that is needed to solve the mystery, key plot points are revealed via artwork. Argento even gives us a life-size, live-action depiction of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks early on to establish the importance of the visual arts and their accompanying artifice in the film’s world. In a word, the visual style is audacious.

But not as audacious, perhaps, as the film’s musical score. After having worked with the celebrated Italian film composer Ennio Morricone on the Animal Trilogy, Argento wanted something contemporary. He initially turned to jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini for the film’s music, but was unhappy with the results. Instead, he decided to go in a progressive rock direction and eventually found kindred spirits in local band Goblin. Their remarkable score winds up being incredibly catchy, complex, sinister, subtle and bombastic—somehow all at the same time. Their music ended up being the perfect complement to Argento’s visuals, managing to capture the essence of one medium in another. The reception to their breakthrough work was so intense, and the pairing of group and filmmaker so perfect, that Goblin (or the band’s leader, Claudio Simonetti) would continue to work on-and-off with Argento through the decades up to his latest film, DRACULA 3D.

Argento would return to the giallo again several times over the course of his career, most notably in films like TENEBRE and OPERA, but none of his work within the genre comes close to this masterpiece. It’s nearly flawless. The only complaint that I have with it is that the humorous and romantic scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi tend to dissipate the building tension felt throughout the film. But that is such a slight complaint in comparison to the riches on offer in this brutal but beautiful movie. To see it at all is a rare treat. To see it in its original Italian cut on the big screen is a thing that should not be missed by anyone interested in seeing a director firing on all cylinders, at the top of his game, regardless of genre.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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