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The Giallo Project #2: The Telephone (segment of Black Sabbath)


Alternative titles: Il Telefono; Director: Mario Bava; Starring: Michèle Mercier, Lidia Alfonsi, Milo Quesada (uncredited); Music: Roberto Nicolosi; Italian theatrical release date: August 17th, 1963

I hadn’t originally considered including The Telephone in this project, as I was originally planning on only covering feature-length gialli, but Marcus over at Dark Discussion suggested I give it a look. In the end, I’m still not completely sure that it should be included here, since I would only consider it to be a giallo in the broadest possible sense, but it has an important place in history nonetheless, since not only was it the first film of this sort to be shot in colour, not to mention having a profound influence on everything from Black Christmas to Scream in its use of the telephone as a device of dread, it also potentially marks the first instance of the iconic black gloves later to be donned by many a giallo killer!

The plot takes place entirely within a single location, focusing on the protracted terrorising of Rosy (Michèle Mercier) by phone by a voice claiming to be that of Frank Rainer (Milo Quesada), a man who, having been put away as a result of Rosy’s testimony, has now escaped from prison… only there’s more to this than meets the eye, as it turns out that the calls in fact originate from Mary (Lidia Alfonsi), Rosy’s former friend and (as is strongly implied) lover, as part of a bid to rekindle their friendship (and relationship). There is, however, a twist in the affair. Can you guess what it is?

The Telephone

Black Sabbath is introduced by host Boris Karloff as “three brief tales of the supernatural”, but, at least in the Italian version (the US edition, like The Girl Who Knew Too Much, features a radically different edit), there is nothing supernatural whatsoever about The Telephone. Rather, it’s a very straightforward thriller mixing that perennial giallo cocktail of sex and violence: the voice on the phone discusses killing Rosy in decidedly erotic terms, while a strangling by stocking only serves to underscore the manner in which the two are conflated. As the protagonist, Michèle Mercier is certainly easy on the eyes, and Bava seems to delight in tantalising the audience with the briefest flashes of bare shoulders and legs (of which the voice on the phone approves so much). However, despite looking the part, she lacks the pluckiness and spontaneity that made Letícia Román so appealing in The Girl Who Knew Too Much; she seems more like a forerunner for what would eventually end up becoming the Edwige Fenech role in later gialli of the harangued, attractive victim. Lidia Alfonsi, meanwhile, is rather more effective as the ice-cold femme fatale.

More psychological than most gialli, the horror of the situation comes not from sadistic violence (there isn’t any till the final few minutes) but from the fact that the speaker on the phone knows Rosy so intimately, while the room in which the entire segment takes place, despite being quite spacious, takes on an incredibly claustrophobic quality. The transition from black and white to colour, meanwhile, has not harmed Bava’s ability to make the most of light and shadow to create tension, while the richly saturated hues, especially on the excellent transfer provided on Anchor Bay’s recent DVD, at the same time provides a drastically different aesthetic (one can only dream of Blood and Black Lace looking this good on DVD). Roberto Nicolosi’s score, meanwhile, starts out with some of the jazzy lounge aesthetic of Bruno Nicolai’s contributions to later gialli, but quickly gives way to a more menacing, sinister tone.

In many ways, this is a minor entry in both Bava’s filmography and the history of the giallo - a sub-heading rather than a full chapter, if you like - but it shows many of the tropes that would be established in Blood and Black Lace in a smaller-scale, more rudimentary, form, and works rather well as a short, sharp exploration of mounting dread.

Next time, I’ll be looking at Mario Bava’s second feature-length giallo, Blood and Black Lace.

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2007 at 4:11 PM
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | The Giallo Project

The Giallo Project #1: The Girl Who Knew Too Much


Alternative titles: La ragazza che sapeva troppo; The Evil Eye (alternate US edit); Director: Mario Bava; Starring: Letícia Román, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Dante DiPaolo; Music: Roberto Nicolosi; Italian theatrical release date: February 10th, 1963

We all have to start somewhere, and I can think of no better film with which to begin this lengthy and probably foolhardy project than this 1963 offering from Mario Bava. While I doubt that you’d ever be able to find two people who completely agree on the definition of the word “giallo” and every single title that it encompasses, it’s more or less unanimously agreed that The Girl Who Knew Too Much was the film that launched its cinematic form (unless you count Luchino Visconti’s 1943 Obsession - Gary Needham, I’m looking at you!). It’s ironic, then, that the first true giallo film is one of the most tongue-in-cheek of the cycle. Almost a parody of thriller conventions, it sends up heroine Nora Davis’ (Letícia Román) obsession with paperback gialli and her less than accomplished attempts at amateur sleuthing.

Bava and his five co-writers use the “foreign tourist in Rome” framework that would become so popular with other filmmakers as the giallo gained popularity, placing the wide-eyed Nora against the backdrop of a series of killings known as the Alphabet Murders (actually the title of a Poirot novel and a very self-conscious reference to the giallo’s roots in Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace and Mickey Spillane novels - all of whom are referred to by name in this film) and forcing her to team up with the charming Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon) to solve the mystery herself when she is met with the same disdain and disbelief that The Establishment would dole out to so many other giallo leading ladies. A rather likeable heroine, Nora is a bit silly and possesses an over-active imagination, not to mention a tendency to faint when things get a bit too much, but a lot more independently-minded than many an Edwige Fenech or Suzy Kendall. It also helps that Román has a decent sense of comic timing, playing the slapstick romance scenes between her and Saxon well and not afraid to make a fool of herself when the script calls for it. Indeed, the banter of the pair in many ways prefigures that of David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in Deep Red, while the running gag of one or the other continually causing injuries to Marcello is a good one and helps lighten the tension.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Indeed, this is a decidedly light-hearted giallo, with its tongue firmly in its cheek at all times. The Italian version (the American version, released under the title of The Evil Eye, is substantially different, featuring a number of alternative scenes and a different music score) features a male narrator continually commenting on Nora’s plight which, in addition to providing a lot of humorous moments also serves to highlight the genre’s literary origins. On the other hand, the manner in which it is shot is anything but frivolous: one of the few gialli to be shot in black and white, Bava, who was also the cinematographer, makes superb use of his monochromatic palette to create a world of great foreboding, foregrounding extremes in light and shadow and turning many of the familiar Roman tourist traps, including, most famously, the Spanish Steps (which provides the film with its key set-piece), into places of mystery and dread. Bava takes the Rome of picture postcards and rips open its seedy underbelly, and Marcello’s insistence that the Rome of bright sunshine and milling tourists is the “real” one never quite ring true.

This is clearly a very prototypical giallo, and while some elements are already in place, others are either not yet fully formed or else absent entirely. There is no hidden, black-gloved villain - all the potential suspects are unmasked - and the outlandish murder set-pieces that would later become the format’s hallmark are nowhere to be found. “One moment and it’s all over,” the killer promises Nora when finally unmasked, a far cry from the protracted stalk-and-slash scenes that would later delight audiences. There are only a handful of murders, and they are largely committed off-screen, with the body count aesthetic that would emerge in Bava’s next giallo, Blood and Black Lace, not yet established.

Of all the Bava films I’ve seen so far, this is actually the one that I enjoy the most, and in fact I would put it ahead of Blood and Black Lace, for reasons that I’ll explain when I get round to discussing that film. It lacks both the depth of a Deep Red and the camp sleaze of a Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, but it got the giallo movement off to an impressive start, and it holds up today as a thoroughly enjoyable stand-alone film.

Next time, I’ll be looking at Mario Bava’s second giallo, Blood and Black Lace.

Update, August 17th, 2007 03:35 PM: At the recommendation of Marcus, the next title to be covered will now be The Telephone segment of Black Sabbath rather than Blood and Black Lace.

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 4:32 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | The Giallo Project

Blu-ray review: The Rock

A solid catalogue release from Disney, The Rock holds up well in high definition, and indeed compares favourably to many HD releases of more recent films. While the missing audio commentary is a shame, at the end of the day the impressive (albeit not flawless) audio-visual presentation means that those who already own the film on DVD are highly advised to pick up a copy of the Blu-ray release.

It’s got explosions, it’s got car chases, and it’s got Nicolas Cage doing his “I’m a loveable dope” shtick. Yep, sounds like the perfect HD release. I’ve reviewed Disney’s recent French Blu-ray release of The Rock.

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2007 at 4:07 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

High definition vermin


Source: High-Def Digest

Disney have confirmed that they intend to release Pixar’s latest film, Ratatouille, on Blu-ray on November 6th, the same day as Cars and the Pixar Short Film Collection. In addition to the ubiquitous 1080p transfer and PCM 5.1 audio, this release will also feature “a new documentary on the making of the film, deleted scenes and the short film ‘Your Friend the Rat.’ ” In addition, the Blu-ray version will include an exclusive game (yawn) and a “Cine-Explore” mode, which, according to Disney, is “the ultimate behind-the-scenes innovative experience”. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what this means in practice - I’m hoping for something along the lines of a picture-in-picture commentary feature, but in reality it could well be nothing more than text-based factoids.

Either way, this is a must-have. I had the opportunity to see the film recently and, while it’s neither Pixar nor Brad Bird’s best (that would probably be Toy Story and The Incredibles respectively), it’s definitely very enjoyable and surprised me on more than a couple of occasions.

Shame about the cover.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2007 at 5:55 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema

“Mum, it’s no good - the picture’s all funny!”


In a completely unexpected move, Entertainment In Video appears to have become the first studio to enable the Image Constraint Token for high definition content. This flag, when checked, only allows content to be output at its full resolution via a secure HDCP-compliant HDMI or DVI connection: in other words, those watching their HD material via component, VGA or non-HDCP DVI will end up seeing a downscaled 960x540 resolution image - in other words only slightly mor horizontal resolution than standard definition, and less vertical resolution than standard definition PAL. I can see the headlines already: “EIV’s HD transfers as bad as their packaging!”, “EIV begins producing HD content… but only some of you can watch it!”, and so on.

The Hollywood studios purportedly agreed not to enable the ICT flag until 2012, effectively giving audiences a “good grace” period in which to make the transition to HDCP-compliant hardware. Unfortunately, not being a Hollywood studio, it would appear that EIV are not bound by this agreement. The only title currently confirmed to be affected is their recent Blu-ray release of The Crow, but I’d put money on reports similar to this one pouring in for their other titles before long. Oh, and they’re also coded for Region B only.

EIV, eh? You gotta love ‘em.

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2007 at 5:37 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

The gates of Hell open on Halloween


This Halloween looks set to be something very special. Not only does Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears launch in cinemas in Italy on that day, it has now been confirmed that Flagship Studios’ launch title, Hellgate: London, will also be seeing the light of day on October 31st. Online games retailer Gamestop have put both the regular and Collector’s Edition versions up for pre-order, including a sneak preview of what we can expect to find inside the latter:

- Special Packaging and Art Design
- Hellgate: London Game 2 DVDs
- Hellgate: London Map Poster
- 106 page Dark Horse Graphic Novel
- Unique in-game pet – Mantawraith
- Bonus Disc containing:
— “Making of Hellgate: London”
— Official Game Soundtrack

Now, as pointed out at the fansite, this information has not been confirmed by anyone at Flagship, so these details should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, they are specific enough to give me hope that this is indeed the final list of extras rather than something dreamed up by a Gamestop employee in order to shift copies. In any event, it’s only $10 more expensive than the regular edition, so I’ve plumped for it… although, given past experiences with Gamestop on the Diablo II and Warcraft III Collector’s Editions, I’ll no doubt incur a heavy customs charge on it.

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007 at 4:15 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Games | Halloween

The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie

At the beginning of The Simpsons Movie, the world’s most famous yellow family are at the local theatre watching the latest exploits of cat and mouse duo Itchy and Scratchy. Homer, unable to understand why anyone would pay to see on the big screen what they can get for free on TV, chastises the audience for being suckers. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is a reference to those viewers and critics who will say exactly the same thing about The Simpsons Movie - the message being, presumably, that the film does offer more than an extended episode of the TV series. Unfortunately, that’s really all it is, and, depending on how you feel about the series, this is either a good or a bad thing. Personally, I would have been more than happy if it had captured the tone of the early seasons, back when the show was still good. Unfortunately, despite being in the making for four years and featuring the combined talents of many of the writers responsible for the best episodes of the early seasons, The Simpsons Movie definitely feels more like the tired, unimaginative dreck that Fox has been shovelling out for the past few years.

Its biggest problem, and a pretty major one for what is meant to be a comedy, is that it isn’t funny. In 85 minutes I laughed out loud twice, and one of these was at a joke that has already been used at least three times in the show. Seriously, it took eleven writers and 158 drafts to come up with this? (Then again, maybe that’s the problem: too many cooks continually refining it until the whole thing has been completely watered down.) Instead, all we get is the Simpsons shoehorned into a generic adventure story with a hefty dose of fake pathos injected in an attempt to give some semblance of sincerity.

The Simpsons Movie

Even the animation is more or less the same as the TV show. Despite a supposed budget of $65 million, it still has that lame, farmed out to Korea appearance (and yes, it seems that the bulk of the animation was indeed outsourced, to regular Simpsons sausage factory Akom), with only a handful of scenes showing anything more than the bare essentials. Yes, the colour palette is richer, and some soft shadows have been applied to the characters, but it still looks third-rate. The celebrity cameos, meanwhile, while taking up comparatively less screen time than they tend to on the show itself, are still incredibly annoying in the “Hi, I’m…” vein. One can only assume that it was them, and the regular cast, rather than the animation crew, that received the bulk of the aforementioned $65 million.

I can’t say that my expectations were all that high, and yet I was still incredibly disappointed by this. I never for a minute kidded myself that I was going to see a masterpiece, but I had at least expected to be entertained and get a few decent laughs out of it. Sadly, it couldn’t even manage that. 4/10.

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007 at 1:19 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema

Super mega DVD extravagant announcement extravaganza


There were quite a few exciting announcements on the DVD front during my period in the wilderness, so, to make things simple, I’ve decided to summarise them all in one post. The first of these is Season 5 of Spooks, due for release on September 10th 2007 in the UK from Contender Home Entertainment, presumably to roughly coincide with the launch of Season 6 on BBC1. Personally, I felt that Season 5 was a bit of a step down from Season 4, sacrificing some of its realism in favour of increasingly large-scale and preposterous situations (the opening two-parter featuring a hostile takeover of the British government and an attempt to kidnap the Prime Minister’s son), but it was still hugely enjoyable and remains, for me, one of the best things on TV. As with previous DVD releases, the ten episodes will be spread across five discs, although extras seem to be fairly limited this time round, with only two commentaries, interviews, trailers and a video diary preview for Season 6.

On the Italian front, we now have confirmation of the release date and contents of Starz Home Entertainment’s next Mario Bava box set. Due out on October 23rd, The Mario Bava Collection: Volume 2 will feature new versions of Baron Blood, Lisa and the Devil, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, Four Times That Night, Bay of Blood and 5 Dolls for an August Moon. This is a definite must-have for me, and includes three titles that I’ve never seen. Speaking of which, I really need to get round to watching Kill, Baby… Kill! and Black Sabbath in Volume 1…

Keeping things Roman, Severin Films have also announced that they intend to bring Lucio Fulci’s little-seen Seven Notes in Black to DVD on October 30th, under the considerably less classy American title of The Psychic. Bonus materials will include “a never-before-published interview with Fulci as well as interviews with cast and crew”. I already own two copies of this title - the (ahem) unauthorised Alfa Digital release, which is in fact a pirate copy of the initial French DVD with an English track attached to it, and the more recent French 2-disc special edition from Neo Publishing. I always felt rather guilty about paying for a bootleg copy that allowed Alfa Digital to take money for other people’s hard work, but I desperately needed a copy in English. Now it looks as if I can finally bin it and pick up this authorised version.

Finally, it looks as if Alex Infascelli’s most recent film, H2Odio (a.k.a. Hate2O), will be coming out on DVD in the US on November 20th. It’s from Tartan Video, so a UK release is also a strong possibility. This is another disc that I’ll definitely be picking up, given how much I enjoyed Infascelli’s 2000 giallo, Almost Blue (his 2004 offering, The Vanity Serum, was less impressive but still interesting).

Oh, and it seems that Dario Argento’s Inferno is finally being released on DVD in Italy, making this only the second DVD release of this film in the world (unless you count that bootleg German DVD with the weird cover art). The artwork chosen for it couldn’t be worse, and no English audio or subtitle options appear to be forthcoming, but I’m somewhat tempted to pick it up, (a) to see what it plays like in Italian and (b) on the off-chance that it has a superior transfer to the Anchor Bay release.

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007 at 2:01 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV

O Hannibal, where art thou?

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. The HD DVD release of Hannibal, scheduled to come out in France on August 1st, has not materialised. None of the online French DVD stores I know of are currently shipping it, and I’ve yet to find a single person who has a copy of it. Furthermore, lists it as “Actuellement indisponible. Nous ne savons pas quand cet article sera de nouveau approvisionné ni s’il le sera.” Basically, it’s not available and we don’t know whether it ever will be.

First the Blu-ray release yanked from the schedule and now this. I’m beginning to wonder if this title is cursed. It’s too bad, as it was one of my most anticipated high definition releases. Oh, well, the months ahead are likely to be pretty expensive for me anyway when it comes to HD releases, so perhaps it’s for the best from my point of view that at least one of them has, so far, failed to materialise.

Update, August 13th, 2007 07:17 PM: According to this list, it’s been put back to October 5th.

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007 at 11:27 AM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD

Trafficking in illicit gialli


Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? is one of my favourite gialli - in fact, it’s probably my all-time favourite non-Argento entry in the genre. His loose follow-up, What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, is also enjoyable, although not on the same level (and it’s more of a cop thriller than a dyed-in-the-wool giallo anyway). Dallamano died in 1976 while he was still prepping the third instalment in this so-called “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, and, although it finally did see the light of day, under the title of Enigma Rosso (or [Red] Rings of Fear for English speakers), this Alberto Negrin-helmed conclusion is generally considered to be a pale shadow of its predecessors. I’ve never seen it, but have wanted to for some time, and not long ago, to my considerable surprise, Spanish DVD distributor Filmax put out a fully letterboxed (2.35:1) release, which I immediately snapped up. The image quality isn’t really up to snuff (it’s non-anamorphic, soft, and exhibits the tell-tale signs of a bad attempt to noise reduce the artefacts of an analogue master), but it’s streets ahead of, say, New Entertainment World’s The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire. The problem? The only included audio track is a Spanish dub.

That’s actually not as much of a problem as you might think, the reason being that I’ve managed to get my hands on an English-language version sourced from an old 80s VHS tape. The sound quality, unsurprisingly, is pretty ropey, but they both seem to feature the same cut of the film (it was a co-production between Italy, Spain and West Germany, with several different edits prepared for the various markets), so splicing my own version together shouldn’t require too much work.

From various sources, I’ve also managed to get my hands on a variety of other gialli that I haven’t seen yet. Many of these were never released on DVD, and as a result the copies I have look pretty shocking, but it’ll be nice to actually sit down and watch some completely new (to me) gialli:

Naked You Die (Antonio Margheriti, 1968)
The Sweet Body of Deborah (Romolo Guerrieri, 1968)
The Frightened Woman (Piero Schivazappa, 1969)
In the Folds of the Flesh (Sergio Bergonzelli, 1970)
Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Mario Bava, 1970)
Cross Current (Tonino Ricci, 1971)
My Dear Killer (Tonino Valerii, 1972)
Eye in the Labyrinth (Mario Caiano, 1972)
Naked Girl Killed in Park (Alfonso Brescia, 1972)
French Sex Murders (Ferdinando Merighi, 1972)
The Killer Must Kill Again (Luigi Cozzi, 1975)
Eyeball (Umberto Lenzi, 1975)
Giallo a Venezia (Mario Landi, 1979)
A Blade in the Dark (Lamberto Bava, 1983)
Midnight Ripper (Lamberto Bava, 1986)
The Devil’s Honey (Lucio Fulci, 1986)

Seems like enough to be getting on with, at any rate, although I won’t be sitting down to watch them yet. My plan is to go through every giallo I own in as near to possible as chronological order - a rather daunting task, but one that I hope will get me thinking about appropriate topics for my PhD. I’ll be going by the original Italian theatrical release dates (as per IMDB), if available, but in certain cases I’ll only have the year of release to go by. I’ve done a brief recky and have made some interesting discoveries - did you know that The Black Belly of the Tarantula, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, Cross Current, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire and The Fifth Cord were all released one after the other, with no more than four days between each? There truly does seem to have been a time when a new giallo was coming out every week. In any event, a conservative estimate tells me that I have more than 80 titles to get through. Wish me luck!

Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007 at 7:27 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | PhD

Remember me?


No updates in over a week! You thought I’d forgotten about you, didn’t you? Nothing could be further from the truth, as it happens. I did forewarn you that updates might be scarce until I’d got past my unusually busy work period, but I never for a moment thought that I wouldn’t post anything at all. As it happens, though, this ended up being the best solution, because it meant that I wasn’t forcing myself to make half-hearted posts in my state of perpetual weariness. I now have Thursday and Friday waiting ahead of my completely free, so you can expect a variety of posts on all sorts of exciting subjects, including the latest information on Starcraft II and Hellgate: London, a review of Episode 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s eighth season, news on some exciting upcoming DVD and HD releases, an overview of Casualty’s recently-finished twenty-first series, some of the rare gialli I’ve managed to get my hands on, and much more.

First things first, though, the employment front. I started my new job at the Gallery of Modern Art library on Wednesday August 1st, but I didn’t actually finish working with the NHS until yesterday. I thankfully managed to wrangle a few days of paid holiday, covering the days during which the two jobs would overlap (and Thursday and Friday this week, as it happens - yay!), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my plate full recently. I really am absolutely shattered, with the past three weeks having felt like a blur of early starts and late finishes, thanks to my parents leaving me and Lyris in charge of the dogs for a week when they went on holiday, seguing immediately into my moonlighting fiasco. Even last Sunday wasn’t much of a reprieve, as we went on a family outing to watch my cousin’s first child being forcibly inducted into a weird cult called Christianity, when I just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. I got there in the end, though, and I got a nice send-off from the NHS, with two lunches out an impromptu party complete with carrot cake!

Anyway, I think I’m going to like working at the library. It’s surprisingly tiring work, since I’m basically on my feet all day, but time passes much more quickly at the NHS, the work is more varies, and, hey, it’s only two days a week! The breaks are also extremely generous, with 20 minutes in the morning, an hour for lunch, and a further 20 minutes in the afternoon. I suspect my “weekend” will end up being Sunday and Monday once I get started on my PhD, since I’m working Wednesdays and Saturdays, and intend to make myself adhere fairly strictly to a five-day week.

Anyway, it’s good to be back.

Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007 at 6:51 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DVD | Games | General | Gialli | HD DVD | PhD | TV | Web

DVDs I bought or received in the month of July

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • Arrivederci Amore, Ciao (R3 Thailand, DVD)
  • Being John Malkovich (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Black Snake Moan (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Blood Diamond (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Bourne Identity (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Crank (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Fifth Element (remastered) (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • La Haine (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Layer Cake (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Paprika (R0 France, Blu-ray)
  • The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition (R1 USA, DVD)
  • The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (R1 USA, DVD)
  • The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Syriana (R0 UK, HD DVD)

PS. I know I said I wouldn’t be posting much at all over the course of the next week and a half, but I felt the need to acknowledge that we have lost to cinematic visionaries, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, in the space of 24 hours. Shockingly, I haven’t seen a single Bergman film, but this news has made me feel an intense need to rectify this problem immediately.

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 9:04 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD

There’s no need to adjust your television set


You can expect posts on this site to be extremely scarce until the middle of next week. Why? Because I’ll be working two jobs simultaneously, and am going to have much less time (and energy) for posting than usual. Worry not, however, for, by the end of August 8th, I’ll only be working two days a week, and will be able to dedicate some more time to news, reviews and so on. Of course, at some point in September, I’ll be embarking on my PhD, so it’s not as if I’ll just be putting my feet up for the other five days of the week, but hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the process with you via this site. In particular, I intend to undertake a mammoth giallo-watching project, for the purposes of which I’ve been acquiring some rare titles to add to my collection. Stay tuned for a full list of titles and details as to the format and schedule of the project.

Oh, and, mindful of the fact that my lack of posting will quite possibly cause the front page to be virtually devoid of content, given that Movable Type is set to display news posts for the last seven days only, I’ve changed the configuration to show a set number of posts instead (25).

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007 at 8:25 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | General | Gialli | PhD | Web

Pixar shorts coming to Blu-ray

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

The Man Room is reporting that a Blu-ray release of Pixar’s various short films is scheduled to come out on November 6th, the same day as the Blu-ray release of Cars. Called, appropriately enough, the Pixar Short Film Collection, a generous 13 segments will be featured, with an RRP of $34.99:

One of the shorts, ‘Mater and the Ghost Light,’ should also be available on Buena Vista’s upcoming ‘Cars’ Blu-ray Disc release. The other shorts include ‘The Adventures of Andre & Wally B,’ ‘Luxo Jr.,’ ‘Red’s Dream,’ ‘Tin Toy,’ ‘Knick Knack,’ ‘Geri’s Game,’ ‘For the Birds,’ ‘Mike’s New Car,’ ‘Boundin’,’ ‘Jack-Jack Attack,’ ‘One Man Band,’ and ‘Lifted.’

This announcement comes as a complete surprise, at least to me, but you can definitely sign me up for a copy. I suppose it’s just too much to hope for an uncut copy of Knick Knack.

Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2007 at 7:14 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema

Random HD update

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

There have been several big announcements in HD-land over the last couple of days, and, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve summarised them all in one post.

First up, Warner have unveiled special editions of several Stanley Kubrick films, due to debut on both HD DVD and Blu-ray on October 23rd. Released separately rather than as a box set, the titles on offer are 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, and a new deluxe edition (presumably with a non-bobbed transfer) of Full Metal Jacket.

All titles have been restored and remastered and will offer both archive and new bonus features. Exact specs are to be confirmed, but initial details suggest all titles will use dual-layer BD50 and HD30 discs (potentially 2xHD30s on A Clockwork Orange if the early details are correct) and boast 1080P Widescreen transfers, English Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround audio on both formats (though the Blu-ray Disc listing for 2001 suggests Blu-ray owners will get a PCM 5.1 offering instead) and of course regular Dolby Digital/Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish languages.

Unfortunately, it would seem that the version of Eyes Wide Shut being released is the American R-rated cut, complete with superimposed CGI figures to obscure some of the more intimate details of the orgy scene. As such, you can probably guess that I won’t be buying it. Instead, I’ll be holding out for a non-American, uncut release.

Warner have also announced Blade Runner: The Final Cut for release on both formats on December 18th. With specs suggesting that this release will topple The Ultimate Matrix Collection from its “most feature-packed HD release” throne, this deluxe set will feature a whopping five discs, and will feature four different cuts of the film, including the all-new “final cut” and the fabled work-print version. For the true obsessive, an Ultimate Collector’s Edition will also be available:

The Ultimate Collector’s Edition will be presented in a unique 5-disc digi-package with handle which is a stylish version of Rick Deckard’s own briefcase, in addition each briefcase will be individually numbered and in limited supply. Included is a lenticular motion film clip from the original feature, miniature origami unicorn figurine, miniature replica spinner car, collector’s photographs as well as a signed personal letter from Sir Ridley Scott.

See a picture of the goodies here.

Finally, Highlight will be releasing the director’s cut of Zhang Yimou’s Hero on HD DVD in Germany on October 11th. No word yet on the specs (I’m a little worried that English subtitles won’t be in the offing), but I’ll definitely be keeping track of this one, especially as there currently isn’t anything approaching a half-decent release of the director’s cut on DVD.

Update, July 27st, 2007 07:10 PM: A Warner representative has just confirmed that the Eyes Wide Shut HD DVD and Blu-ray releases will include both the censored R-rated and uncut unrated versions. Thank god for that!

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:45 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD

The ten highest-rated gialli


According to IMDB

1. Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
2. Eye in the Labyrinth (Mario Caiano, 1972)
3. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
4. What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Massimo Dallamano, 1974)
5. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (Sergio Martino, 1971)
6. Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982)
7. The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Francesco Barilli, 1974)
8. Don’t Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, 1972)
9. Opera (Dario Argento, 1987)
10. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970)

Ignoring the presence of The Perfume of the Lady in Black, which I don’t consider to be a giallo in the first place, this is a pretty interesting list. Deep Red’s Number 1 status is hardly unexpected, as is the general favouring of Argento’s output - 40% of the titles are his (although this probably has a lot to do with the fact that his gialli are likely to be the most widely known). Naturally, I disagree with most of the list, but I suppose that’s what you get when you turn to the IMDB for guidance!

So, what do other people’s Top 10 lists look like?

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 9:19 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli

You must try harder

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

The “remastered” Blu-ray release of The Fifth Element and the HD DVD of The Bourne Identity both arrived yesterday. I’ll discuss the former first, since I’ve watched it from beginning to end, and it’s also the more significant of the two releases, albeit not for positive reasons. As you probably know, The Fifth Element was one of Sony’s launch titles when the Blu-ray format first lifted off last summer. You probably also know, therefore, that many of Sony’s initial Blu-ray discs were mercilessly derided - some unfairly (Silent Hill is still a fine-looking disc in spite of its compression problems), but others most definitely fairly. The Fifth Element, judging by the screenshots I’ve seen, fell into the latter category: lacking in fine detail, horribly compressed and viciously noise reduced, a certain comparison which quickly circulated around all the best home entertainment forums showed there to be surprisingly little difference between it and the standard definition Superbit release.


At the time, it looked as if Sony’s lax quality control could actually end up costing them the format war. The tides now seem to have turned, and Sony’s desire to improve Blu-ray’s image has been realised in a new “remastered” version of The Fifth Element, released on July 17th. As a gesture of goodwill, they event set up an exchange programme so those who were gypped on the original release can trade in their copies for the new edition. The original release has been discontinued, and Sony’s plan is clearly to make the transition from old to new as discrete as possible, given that the packaging of the new version is almost identical to the previous one, the only giveaways being the copyright date, the presence of Dolby TrueHD in the audio specifications, and some other minor changes.

Anyway, on to the image quality itself. My verdict would be “good, but not great”. Lyris does a pretty good job of summing up the pros and cons, so I’ll keep this brief and simply say that, broadly speaking, it seems to be an improvement over its predecessor in terms of compression (the move from MPEG2 to AVC, and from a BD25 to a BD50, is definitely appreciated), but much of the supposed increase in detail that certain reviewers have pointed out is really little more than edge enhancement. Obviously, not having seen the original release in motion, it’s hard to offer a definitive review, but I’d peg this as a low 7/10. The effects shots look considerably less detailed and exhibit more ringing than the non-effects shots, and that’s something that can’t be helped, but that doesn’t change the fact that the edge enhancement is rather pronounced, and the tell-tale signs of a 1080i to 1080p conversion rear their head on occasions in the form of combing artefacts (Lyris noticed them within a couple of minutes, and once we knew they were there, they became extremely difficult to ignore). I’ve no idea if the previous release also shows these (to date we seem to be the only people to have posted about them on either release - then again, we seem also to be the only people to have noticed that the Blu-ray District B13 is also a 1080i to 1080p conversion (and a bad one at that) - but my message to Sony is ultimately: “So near and yet so far.”

Maybe when Pathé release it on HD DVD (whenever that happens), they’ll get it right.


For The Bourne Identity, fortunately, the case seems to be somewhat more clear-cut. What we basically have is a nice-looking transfer that isn’t perfect by any means but it still rather better than most of Universal’s recent catalogue releases. Whereas The Bourne Supremacy’s HD DVD was derived from a digital intermediate, The Bourne Supremacy is film-sourced, and (probably as a result) appears slightly less defined, and with a (naturally) rougher texture. There are also some signs of mild ringing, but all in all I’m happy with what I’m seeing. It won’t find its way into any “best of” lists, but I doubt that too many people will be disappointed by it.

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 9:14 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology

Life after Mother of Tears


Mother of Tears may not have been released yet, but, according to the Profondo Rosso shop web site, Dario Argento is already giving thought to his next project. Desertrain at Dark Discussion has kindly offered an English-language summary of what the post conveys:

At they say that Dario is already thinking about his next project that should be a horror diptych…they say he still doesnt have the right idea but that’s what he wants to do: 2 films strictly connected and dedicated to the same facts…

A diptych, according to Wikipedia, is “any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge”, and “the term is also used figuratively for a thematically-linked sequence of two books”. This sounds like a very interesting prospect, although I had half-expected his next film to be a giallo rather than more horror.

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 8:40 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento

HD DVD debacle


The HD DVD release of Being John Malkovich arrived yesterday from Amazon. Knowing that the most recent Universal catalogue titles generally haven’t looked all that hot, and having read some rather critical reports from individuals known to be - let’s say - less than discerning, my expectations weren’t exactly all that high. In fact, I was partly fearing a 480i upconvert à la Traffic, so I was actually somewhat relieved to discover that it doesn’t look all that bad. No, I wouldn’t call it good as such - there is some fairly obvious DVNR and also quite a bit of edge enhancement - but it’s far from the worst HD transfer I’ve ever seen. I’d put it on about the same level as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which, coincidentally, shares the same writer, Charlie Kaufman, and the same studio, Universal) - a low to mid 6/10.


This morning, Blood Diamond, which I must confess I’d actually forgotten I’d ordered, arrived from DVD Pacific. It came out on Blu-ray more than a month ago, but, given that, thanks to the incomplete status of the BD-Java spec, that release lacked the picture-in-picture In-Movie Experience feature, so I decided to just wait and get the more complete package. I haven’t had a chance to watch it from beginning to end yet, but I’ve taken a look at the transfer and it seems to be pretty decent. I was initially concerned that it looked a little diffuse, but a quick look at its technical specifications on IMDB reveals it to have been shot using an anamorphic process called Hawk Scope. I’ve been tending to notice that anamorphic films tend to look a little soft at 1920x1080, presumably as a result of the short focal range of the lenses, and, looked at in that light, my guess is that Blood Diamond’s slight softness is inherent in the source material rather than as a result of digital tampering. Certainly, there is no ringing or clumpy grain to suggest filtering.

By the way, I’m aware that I haven’t posted an updated HD Image Quality Rankings list for some time. I’ve got a handful of titles that I haven’t looked at closely enough to rate with any certainty yet (La Haine, Layer Cake and Syriana), so I’ll leave it till I’ve had a chance to watch them from beginning to end. My current (35 and a half hours per week) job ends in just over a fortnight, so my lighter load come mid-August should afford me ample opportunity to engage in some much-missed movie-watching.

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2007 at 9:32 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

Mother of teasers

Mother of Tears

A higher quality version of the Italian teaser trailer for Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears has surfaced at Yahoo. It’s still fairly low resolution, but all the same it’s a massive step up from the camcorded version that showed up on YouTube recently. In particular, the colours are much purer, and a couple of brief shots even show that some of the old Suspiria and Inferno primary colour magic is on offer.

Credit for discovering this goes to Guillaume (Mannfan) at Dark Discussion.

Update, July 21st, 2007 11:20 AM: A downloadable version is now available here.

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 7:58 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento

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