Cold Eyes of Fear
Color, 1970, 91 mins.
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Starring Giovanna Ralli, Frank Wolff, Fernando Rey, Gianni Garko, Julian Mateos, Karin Schubert / Music by Ennio Morricone
Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Mono - English

The Reincarnation of Isabel
Color, 1972, 98 mins.
Directed by Renato Polselli
Starring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Max Dorian, Consolata Moschera, Marcello Bonini / Cinematography by Ugo Brunelli / Music by Gianfranco Reverberi & Romolo Forlai
Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Mono - Italian with optional English subtitles

The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance
Color, 1975, 89 mins.
Directed by Alfredo Rizzo
Starring Femi Benussi, Giacomo Rossi Staurt, Krista Nell, Barbara Marzano, Mario de Rosa / Music by Marcello Giombini
Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Mono - English

The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine
Color, 1974, 93 mins.
Directed by Sergio Grieco
Starring Paolo Malco, Francoise Prevost, Jenny Tamburi, Franco Ressel, Corrado Gaipa / Music by Lalla Gori & Romolo Forlai
Letterboxed (2.35:1) / Mono - Italian with optional English subtitles

Clive Barker's Salome & The Forbidden
Color, 1998, 78 mins.
Directed by Clive Barker
Starring Doug Bradley, Clive Barker, Anne Taylor, Graham Bickley, Peter Atkins, Phil Rimmer / Music by Adrian Carson
Format: DVD / Laserdisc - Image / Redemption (MSRP $24.95 / $39.95 each)

Redemption Video, the British video label famous for resurrecting a number of obscure Eurotrash gems for the edification of an unsuspecting public, has finally made the leap to the digital format in the U.S. with some very eccentric titles. While we will have to wait and see how willing Yanks are to accept obscure, off the wall titles like this, it's pretty amazing to think of what gems could be unearthed if this is just a taste of things to come.

The most historically important and well-known of the new titles is the Belgian/Italian Gothic gem, The Devil's Nightmare, which has been circulating on video under so many titles and variant cuts that it would be impossible to list them all. The primary reason for the film's cult rests with the presence of sultry Erika Blanc, a drop-dead gorgeous '60's and '70's scream queen who really outdoes herself here as a scantily clad succubus. The wacko plot finds her decimating seven tourists (partially representatives of the seven deadly sins, which has led some folks to call this a precursor to David Fincher's Seven!). The murders themselves are pretty weak tea, with the bloodshed more in line with those old dark castle chillers like Castle of Terror, so the fun really lies in the film's giddy disregard for restraint and logic. Characters ogle each other, their food, money, and the castle setting with wild abandon, as the film's nominal hero, a priest, looks on oh so solemnly. Daniel Emilfork, one of Fellini's trademark oddball actors, makes an appearance as a sinister coachman, and Alessandro Alessandroni virtually steals the film with his insane, electric-guitar-tinged score that really deserves a CD release someday. The print quality (pleasingly letterboxed at about 1.66:1) is by far the best we'll see anytime soon; though some signs of wear show up during the main titles and around the reel changes, the picture quality and clarity are very satisfying. Furthermore, this print contains a hysterically prolonged, heated lesbian sequence that stops the film in its tracks early on. Though the packaging fails to note it, the DVD (and the earlier laser release) contains the original Italian soundtrack on the second audio channel. It's great fun, as this version contains a far more pronounced music score and some odd variations in the dubbing of dialogue. The film is followed by a brief U.S. theatrical trailer.

Cold Eyes of Fear will probably leave newcomers to Eurotrash scratching their heads in bewilderment. The impossibly convoluted tale (ostensibly an entry in the era's "giallos," or thrillers) involves the usual brutality, nudity, and a madman causing mayhem in London, so the very Italian-looking cast is dubbed with highly improbable, phony British accents. Gianni Garko, best known for his spaghetti western role as "Sartana" and his turn in Lucio Fulci's The Psychic, is the innocent protagonist, while Euro-sex veteran Frank Wolff (as the maniac out for vengeance) and Luis Bunuel favorite Fernando Rey (who spends the bulk of his part sitting at a desk) wallow around in the depravity like seasoned pros. Enzo G. Castellari, best known for his low-budget sci-fi and Fabio Testi gangster movies, does a fine job of sewing all of the necessary exploitation elements together while understandably failing to fret about such things as rationality and coherence. In fact, the film often feels more like an off-kilter crime film than a real giallo, a fact borne out by some oddball Castellari touches like a lengthy gang fight thrown into the middle of the film for no apparent reason. The free-form Ennio Morricone music adds appreciably to the film's off-kilter sleaze ambience (though a number of cues were lifted wholesale from his other scores of the period). Overall the print looks much better than most other films of its vintage, with punchy colors, fine detail, and no noticeable compression defects. Of course, the occasional print flaw pops up here and there, and this version does display a few strange quirks (no opening title card, for instance, and the final shot looks like it was culled from a totally different, third-generation video source). While the audio is clear, the dialogue sound elements seem to have suffered with age and sound like they were recorded on old vinyl. The original ads boasted this was filmed in "70 mm Techniscope," but the 1.85:1 letterboxing looks about right (notwithstanding some slight grazing on the side of the credits). The trailer, apparently designed for an abortive U.S. release under the title Desperate Moments (apparently a nod to the film's more than passing resemblance to The Desperate Hours), follows the feature.

Sooner or later, Redemption was bound to discover Italian sleazemeister Renato Polselli, whose recently growing cult following has embraced such grindhouse gems as The Vampire and the Ballerina and the wacked-out psycho trip Delirium, starring the ex-Mr. Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay. However, Polselli and Hargitay also joined forces on another film, Riti, Magie Nere e Segrete Orge nel Trecento (Black Magic Rites and Secret Orgies in the 1300s), which was presumed lost until it appeared in a partially resurrected, one hour form on the underground video circuit as The Ghastly Orgies of Count Dracula (a fate somewhat similar to Ed Wood's satanic-sex feast, Necromania). Somehow the folks at Redemption have found a complete, virtually immaculate prnit of this long-lost chunk of 1970s excess, which will delight Polselli worshipers and leave non-Eurotrash fanatics completely befuddled by its lack of restraint or a coherent linear narrative.

Hargitay spends most of the film looking dapper yet befuddled as he has flashbacks to the (seemingly endless) staking and burning of his love, Isabel(la), who is in the process of being revived by a group of devil worshipers in red tights (which should no doubt also cause flashbacks among viewers to Hargitay's similarly fashion-oriented Bloody Pit of Horror). The flashbacks are sort of a hyper-sleazy twist on Mario Bava's Black Sunday, but the bulk of the film resembles nothing else in the Italian film canon. Funky psychedelic lighting, bizarre stream of consciousness editing, and weird lapses into comic relief (thanks to an irritating actress who keeps trying to dance and leap around for no discernable reason) indicate that controlled substances may have ruled supreme on the set of this baby. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is its experimental, effective score by Gianfranco Reverberi and Romolo Forlai, which starts out with sort of a giallo-funk sound but winds up covering every musical base you can think of before the 98 minutes are up. The print, letterboxed at about 1:1.70, looks extremely good and smooth, with no noticeable artifacts or compression problems.

If the title of The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance may lead you to expect a Gothic, Anne Rice-style fangfest, you may be in for a disappointment, but Eurosleaze fans will find plenty to chew on with this irredeemably silly and depraved babes-in-a-castle yarn (previously released in the U.S. during the glory days of Media's Private Screenings label as The Passion of Evelyn). Seasoned exploitation pro Alfredo Rizzo appeared to be in a very laid back mood here, as he's content to explore aging castle walls and Italian actresses' undraped forms with equal glee. Besides, you've got to admire a European film set in "Ireland 1902" where the actors aren't all saddled with goofy fake accents. Gorgeous giallo staple Femi Benussi and stalwart Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Kill Baby, Kill!) head up a game cast going through the motions of what plays like a particularly perverted Scooby Doo episode, replete with red herrings, gratuitous sex scenes, and a dash of blood here and there to justify the title (including a nasty head in the bed homage to Hitchcock's Under Capricorn). The prolonged final explanation manages to put Agatha Christie to shame for sheer wordiness and convoluted twists; you'll need a scorecard by the time it's all over. As with the other Redemption titles, picture quality is amazingly good considering the film's vintage, despite a few signs of wear and tear at the reel changes. The beautiful color and fine detail make this one of the most visually pleasing of this batch, and the image is letterboxed at 1.85:1. Contrary to the promises on the packaging, this does not feature a fanged Count with a bad complexion and the disposition of Pol Pot!

Among the short-lived Italian movie crazes of the 1970s, sandwiched somewhere in between the sexy Nazi epics and cannibal gorefests, the naughty nun subgenre must be one of the weirdest. Inspired almost entirely by Ken Russell’s hyperactive sex and gore convent romp, The Devils, pasta cinema experienced a few years where women slipping out of their habits popped up onscreen more often than Pam Grier in hotpants. The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine is a very obscure and, truth be told, pretty timid entry in the nunsploitation cycle; it’s basically your standard costume bodice-ripper, complete with swordfights, but embellished with a couple of mild lesbian gropings and giallo-style murders thrown in for good measure. Not surprisingly, the orgiastic finale of Russell’s film is also aped with a sequence in which the sisters are walled into an antechamber and, driven insane, start engaging in various forms of debauchery. Most of the film centers on the misadventures of hero Paolo Malco (a Lucio Fulci regular, here sporting a funny bleach blond, Trey Parker hairdo) in his quest to run off with his true love, one of the young nuns. The story is, according to the credits, freely adapted from Victor Hugo play (contrary to the liner notes, which claim an adaptation of The Devils of Loudon), but the real basis for the narrative is pretty clear. The print is in extremely good shape, attractively letterboxed at 2:35:1, and features an unearthly, blue-tinged appearance which may or may not have been intentional but serves to make the proceedings even more austere than usual. Since a complete English version apparently never existed, this is in Italian with optional English subtitles and includes the original Italian-language theatrical trailer.

Something of an anomaly in the Redemption catalog, their restoration of two Clive Barker short films will be of primary interest to the mercurial writer/director's legions of fans who yearn to see what he was up to before penning the Books of Blood series. While anyone unaccustomed to the lack of linear plotting and zero-budget production values of student films will run for cover after five minutes of Salome, the visual antecedents of Barker's films found in these early works make this a must own for horror completists.

Salome (1973) is yet another variation on the Biblical story, this time filtered through the sensibilities of Oscar Wilde's scandalous play of the same name. Filmed in deep pools of black and white, this silent mood piece is a brief, elusive taste of Barker's dark visual style as he depicts the young Salome demanding the head of John the Baptist as punishment for her unrequited love. =More on Barker's current plane, however, is The Forbidden (1975-78), a startling dry run for Hellraiser in which a man is tormented, drawn upon, seduced, and ultimately flayed alive to satisfy the aesthetic curiosity of a series of demons. Barker's fascination with puzzles, visual patterns, and S&M; appears with great abundance here, and in what has to be a literary first, he also appears in the film, hopping around naked and fully aroused. (Incidentally, Image has included an explicit frontal shot from this scene in the DVD packaging, so don't expect this on Blockbuster's shelves anytime soon!) This film was also shot silent and in black and white, this time mostly in negative, which produces some bizarre visual results. Ultimately it feels like more of a film student's experimental stunt than a polished product, but when viewed in context of the cinematic work which followed it, The Forbidden takes on innumerable layers of meaning. Also, watch quickly for Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley, in both films. Redemption has also supplemented this curio with interview footage of Barker and Bradley in which they discuss their early days struggling in England's artistic underground.

Redemption fans may also get a kick out of the incredibly gaudy intros for these films, which feature heavy doses of naked woman and stage blood while a raven-winged hostess prattles on about the recurring motifs of cannibals and cats in European horror. They don't have much to do with the movies themselves, but these tidbits are guaranteed to leave party guests slack-jawed with disbelief.

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