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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

I Have NoShame (Films): The Mombo Italiano

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Since appearing on the scene in 2005, NoShame Films has earned a reputation as a leader in independent DVD production, with praise coming from such prestigious sources as Premiere magazine and The New York Times. Like many indie labels, NoShame found success by focusing on a very specific niche. But instead of going the genre route like so many other studios, NoShame devotes its resources to a specific country: Italy.

At first glance, this mandate might seem limiting. Even labels like Tartan and Tai Seng that focus on Asian cinema allow themselves to pick from the output of several different countries. But upon further reflection, a label devoted solely to Italian cinema seems wholly appropriate. For decades, the Italian film industry has been one of the liveliest and most diverse in the world. Italian cinema means different things to different people, conjuring up images of spaghetti westerns, giallo thrillers, neo-realist dramas and ultra-gory horror fantasies, depending on your taste. Where else but Rome can you find a "city of cinema", that being the legendary Cinecittà film studios?

Even the most casual movie buff can probably name at least one internationally renowned Italian filmmaker. You can recognize them by surname alone. Fellini, De Sica, Bertolucci, Argento, Pasolini, Rossellini, many of whom are represented in the NoShame catalogue.

Of course, not every single movie produced in Italy is a classic any more than every American film is. Unless you're trying to learn the language or are preparing a doctoral thesis in the history of Italian cinema, odds are you aren't going to be interested in every disc NoShame releases. But given their track record so far, you can rest assured that those titles you are interested in will be given a quality presentation on disc. No matter what the genre or who the filmmaker is, every disc from the company that I've laid hands on has been molto bene, including these four recently released titles.

The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set

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The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set:
Death Walks on High Heels
Death Walks at Midnight

1971/1972 (2006) - Atlántida Films S.A./Cinecompany (NoShame)

If you're not already familiar with the type of films known as giallo, it's difficult to explain them, at least in a way that will have any kind of consensus behind it. More horrific than most crime thrillers but less interested in provoking actual terror than most horror films, gialli are really more of a style of film than a genre. They are distinctly Italian, they reached the height of their popularity in the early 1970s, and they're usually characterized by their distinct music, stylish visuals, and a liberal dose of gore and nudity. To paraphrase the famous saying, I may not be able to define giallo but I know it when I see it.

I'm not necessarily a huge giallo fan. I like my mystery/crime thrillers to make a little more sense than most giallo usually do. However, there are some things about the form that I do admire unreservedly. Almost every giallo I've ever seen has had at least half a dozen really good individual scenes or moments. Most of them have terrific musical scores. And some of the best movie titles of all time are from giallo. Almost every one of these qualities is on display in the two films collected in The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set.

In Death Walks on High Heels, a jewel thief is murdered by a masked assailant on a train. His daughter (played by Nieves Navarro under the anglicized pseudonym Susan Scott), a stripper in Paris, begins to receive threatening phone calls from the killer who believes that she's hiding some stolen diamonds for her dad. When she begins to suspect that her boyfriend is the killer, she tracks down an admirer who'd propositioned her backstage earlier and asks him to take her back to England with her. He hides her, posing as his wife, at his secluded seaside cottage but the danger is far from over.

Navarro/Scott returns in Death Walks at Midnight, this time playing a famous model who allows herself to be used as a guinea pig for a test of a hallucinogenic drug by a sleazy tabloid reporter. While under the influence, she thinks she sees a murder being committed by a mysterious man with a spiked iron glove in the empty apartment across from hers. After her psychotropic freak-out is made front page news, she's contacted by some people who believe her story. Only trouble is that she saw a different murder than the one they think she saw. The story gets a lot more convoluted before it begins to straighten itself out, believe me.

Of the pair, I give the slight edge to High Heels. Midnight has some brilliant moments, including that wicked looking spiked glove and some suspense-filled sequences that take full advantage of the 2.35:1 format, but most of those are in the first and last half hours. The mid-section rambles more than is necessary even for a movie like this, with characters dropping in and out of the storyline seemingly at random. High Heels isn't without slow patches itself but it does a slightly better job keeping you on your toes. Just as you think the story is settling into a familiar groove, Ercoli tosses not one but two big twists at you right in the middle that sets things going in a different direction. And while the whodunit aspect of giallo films is often fun to play along with, the reveal of the killer in High Heels is particularly amusing, featuring a twist of such absurdity you can't help but admire it. Both movies boast lush cinematography, super-groovy original music, and more than enough casual European nudity.

Both films look and sound terrific in this package. A replication problem on the High Heels disc apparently causes the disc to stop playing on some players but I had no problems with it (replacements are available if yours gives you a problem... visit their website for details). Both movies also offer Italian and English soundtracks with optional English subtitles. The High Heels disc offers the original Italian and English trailers and a poster/still gallery. Midnight also provides a gallery along with an alternate TV version of the film in English. It runs about three minutes longer but there's no indication what the differences might be (I assume some gore and nudity is cut out and replaced with alternate dialogue scenes but I could be wrong). The video and audio quality of this version is much, much worse and the movie itself isn't so fascinating that I felt compelled to watch another version of it. This is a great extra for completists but most folks would have probably preferred to just see the differences on their own without having to go searching for them.

Making this set a must-own for Eurocinema fans is the third disc, a bonus CD called The Sound of Love and Death. This is almost an hour of great film music by Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani. Oddly, none of his music from Death Walks on High Heels is included but what is here is terrific. This is one of the few bonus CDs from a DVD package that I'll be playing repeatedly. Rounding out this handsome set is a 15-page booklet with liner notes by the American Cinematheque's Chris D. and a pair of cool postcards decorated with lobby card images from the films.

Luciano Ercoli may not be a household name even in the most cinema-centric of households but the Death Box Set that bears his name makes for a fine introduction to his work. His two entries into the giallo cycle are stylish, entertaining and lurid, just as all the best gialli should be. And while this isn't NoShame's best work in terms of DVD extras, they make up for it with the inclusion of a terrific bonus CD. If you've got a taste for giallo, The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set should be part of your collection.

Film Ratings (High Heels/Midnight): B/B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B-

Uno Bianca

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Uno Bianca
2001 (2006) - Taodue Film S.r.l. (NoShame)

One of my favorite movies of the 1990s was Dellamorte Dellamore or Cemetery Man, as it was known in this country. Since that film's release in 1994, I'd always wondered whatever happened to its director, Michele Soavi. As far as I'm concerned, NoShame has earned its keep just for answering that question. Soavi left the film industry after Cemetery Man to focus on personal matters. When he was ready to return to work in 1999, the industry he'd left had all but vanished. Most of the jobs had gone to television, so Soavi did, too, switching from horror to crime thrillers including Uno Bianca, a two-part TV-movie from 2001.

Based on real events, Uno Bianca stars Kim Rossi Stuart as a cop in a quiet beachside community looking forward to some downtime with his partners now that the tourist season is over. Their plans are cancelled when one of their cases turns out to involve the Uno Bianca gang, a band of criminals so named for the white Uno they use as a getaway vehicle that's been terrorizing Italy for over a year. The case is way over their heads but Stuart and his partner (Dino Abbrescia) investigate it from a fresh angle, uncovering leads their predecessors never did. Part one of the film follows their investigation, culminating in their discovery of who's actually behind the Uno Bianca gang. Part two switches gears as Stuart tries to infiltrate the gang and bring them down from within.

Soavi handles both parts of the story with high style. The first part is an investigative mystery with occasional bursts of action and violence when the gang swings into action. Soavi does a great job focusing on the details of the investigation, weaving the steps together into an intricate whole. Part two is more action-packed but Soavi manages to keep the tension and paranoia high throughout. Uno Bianca is a smart, tough and stylish thriller with a top-flight cast. It kept me riveted throughout its over three hour running time. After part one, I couldn't switch discs fast enough to continue the story.

The film itself is letterboxed at about 1.66:1 though the disc is not 16x9 enhanced, a rarity for NoShame. It still looks pretty good and the Italian stereo soundtrack is very good. As for extras, disc one includes a number of new interviews with key creative personnel. How to Get Action into Truth is an informative 17-minute interview with screenwriter Luigi Montefiori, perhaps better known by his pseudonym George Eastman. Montefiori/Eastman has been an Italian film industry fixture since the 1970s, working as a writer, actor, director and producer, and this interview goes into both his work on Uno Bianca as well as his storied career. Producer Pietro Valsecchi chats about the film in a 4-minute interview as well as a brief introduction that plays before the film. Finally, cinematographer Gianni Mammolotti discusses his work in a 9-minute segment.

Disc two has less to offer apart from the conclusion of the film itself, of course. There's a 3-minute Behind the Scenes segment, a longer 7-minute version of the same thing, and a still gallery. Rounding out the package is an 11-page booklet with bios of the principals by Video Watchdog's Richard Harland Smith and a brief summary of the real case by Italian journalist Sergio Nazzaro. You can also make your own white Fiat Uno out of cardboard if that kind of thing floats your boat.

If it weren't for NoShame, I would never have even heard of this film. For that alone, they deserve praise. Uno Bianca is a taut thriller that certainly wouldn't be out of place alongside the original programming on HBO or Showtime. It's a real discovery and I, for one, am glad to see that Michele Soavi hasn't lost his touch.

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B+/C+

Double Game

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Double Game
Tony: Another Double Game

1977/1980 (2006) - Lark Cinematografica (NoShame)

Almost as beloved as giallo by Italian film fans is the poliziotteschi cycle. Italian cop movies marries the pounding music and ultraviolence of the giallo to hard-boiled crime stories focusing on the mean streets of Rome and Napoli. With Double Game, director Carlo Ausino places the action in his hometown of Turin, casting mega-Eurocult star George Hilton as a jaded detective who's sick of his department's inability to stop crime. So he decides to pull a Bronson, hitting the streets by night as "The Avenger", a ruthless killer who answers to no law.

Quite honestly, Double Game was a disappointment. For one thing, George Hilton looks a little too much like Ron Burgundy from Anchorman to take altogether seriously as an admired detective, much less a stone-cold vigilante. Even more detrimental is the movie's pace. I'm not expecting much from an Italian Death Wish rip-off but at the very least, I'd like for it to move. Double Game is far too leisurely and when the action does come, it's more restrained than you might expect. Still, the music is good and there's a couple inspired moments here and there.

NoShame has paired Double Game with the first-ever release of Ausino's follow-up, Tony: Another Double Game. Emanuel Cannarsa, who played Hilton's straight-arrow partner in the original, now plays Tony, a lone wolf who finds himself embroiled in a kidnapping scheme and stuck between the cops and the criminals. This movie is even less exciting than the first. Cannarsa was an OK supporting player but he doesn't have the charisma to carry a film, especially one where he's supposed to be morally ambiguous. Even if you find yourself enjoying Double Game, you'll probably tune out on Tony after the first half hour.

NoShame has lavished a surprising amount of care on these two obscure films. The original Double Game looks aged but decent, while Tony is in much worse shape (hardly surprising considering how rare the film is). Both sound about average with both Italian and English listening options.

Disc one offers an introduction by Carlo Ausino and a 22-minute interview with him on the making of the film, interesting but hardly illuminating. The original Italian trailer is here, as is a poster and still gallery. Most unusual is the inclusion of three of Ausino's short films with the director providing a brief video intro to each one. None of them are particularly great. Christmas Tale is a simple story about a girl saved from suicide by a homeless man (played by Ausino himself) stretched out to about twice as long as is necessary. The Trailer is Ausino's tribute to John Carpenter's Christine, apparently made for a film festival where Carpenter was scheduled to appear. Finally, A Modern Fairy Tale is downright peculiar, a 23-minute semi-documentary about a model that Ausino discovered and cast in an unfinished film. The second disc includes still more rarities, including TV footage filmed by Ausino of a department store fire in 1974, the trailer for Sahara Killing (the unfinished film referenced in A Modern Fairy Tale), and a trailer for Ausino's latest project, Killer's Playlist. Another lengthy booklet includes liner notes by Richard Harland Smith and a timeline of Turin's cinematic history.

This is altogether one of the strangest DVDs I've reviewed in a long time. Fans of Carlo Ausino will be thrilled by such a complete package. No offense to Mr. Ausino but I'm guessing that nine out of ten people reading this column will be asking, "Who is Carlo Ausino?" I know I was before playing this disc. If you're curious, this package will answer all your questions. If you're a die-hard fan of Italian crime flicks, Double Game might keep your interest. Others can probably give this one a miss.

Film Ratings (Double Game/Tony): C/D+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/C/B+

The Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set

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The Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
The Red Queen Kills 7 Times

1971/1972 (2006) - Phoenix Cinematografica (NoShame)

We return to the world of giallo now because there's always room for more giallo. (Sorry... I tried so hard not to use that joke but I'm weak! Weak, I tells ya!) I said earlier that giallo films boast some of the best titles of all time. Well, this is the kind of thing I was talking about. I mean, come on... who can resist a movie called The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave? Well, OK, probably quite a few people. But those who are unable to resist will find themselves in the company of one of the strangest and most perverse films in the entire giallo cycle.

Anthony Steffen stars as Lord Cunningham, still struggling with the death of his wife Evelyn, whom he caught in the arms of another man. His method of coping with grief involves luring strippers and/or hookers to his decaying mansion, whipping and torturing them to death in his dungeon, and hiding the bodies. His concerned cousin sets him up with a girl at a party. They fall in love, marry, and he brings her back to S&M Manor. At this point, the movie turns into a kinky variation on Rebecca, with a wheelchair-bound aunt, a small army of French maids dressed in huge, identical blonde wigs, and spectral visits from the deceased Evelyn. I don't want to give away too much, since much of the fun here is not knowing where the story's headed. Suffice it to say that by the finale, the whip-crazy Lord Cunningham is one of the good guys.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is just about as bonkers as a movie can get. Even by the sordid standards of the genre, Evelyn has a lot of nudity and bizarre set-pieces that seem to come out of nowhere. Sure, Death Walks at Midnight has that cool spiked glove but Evelyn has a woman being devoured by a skulk of foxes. Yep. Foxes. Betcha haven't seen that one before.

Almost as out there is Evelyn's co-feature, The Red Queen Kills 7 Times. As children, Kitty and Evelyn (no relation to the previous film's Evelyn) are told a legend by their grandfather about a family curse that causes sisters to kill each other every hundred years (seems like an odd story to tell two sisters who hate each other's guts but I'm not here to tell anybody how to raise their kids). Fourteen years later, as the century mark rolls around, Evelyn is dead, a secret shared only by Kitty and another sister, Franziska. The grandfather dies, leaving instructions that no one will inherit his estate until the cursed year has passed. Right about then, a woman in a blood-red cape begins to appear, killing people off left and right, always with a chilling tell-tale laugh... even when nobody else is around to hear it except the dead person, for some reason.

The Red Queen Kills 7 Times makes precious little sense. It's hard to keep track of how many sisters Kitty has and who they all are, since they keep changing throughout the film. The movie has enough characters in it for about three ordinary films, including family members, cops, lovers, co-workers (Kitty's a fashion photographer), and on and on. But the movie pulls itself together when it counts, with some enthusiastic bloodletting and a finale involving rats in a crypt that's almost guaranteed to make you say "ew" at least once.

NoShame's work on these films is once again top-notch. Both films are presented in their uncut versions for the first time in America in excellent new transfers. Italian and English audio options are provided, with the English choice providing plenty of additional laughs in Evelyn.

As for extras, well... obviously the big one is staring you right in the face. This limited edition box set comes with a Red Queen action figure (more of a statue, really) which might serve no purpose whatsoever but is still, let's face it, pretty cool. As for DVD extras, disc one includes a very good 21-minute interview with the still lovely Erica Blanc, talking about Evelyn and her other performances in classic giallo films. Production designer Lorenzo Baraldi gives the first of two interviews here, a 23-minute discussion of how he broke into the business with Evelyn. There are also English and Italian trailers and a poster/still gallery. Disc two has more with Baraldi, focusing almost exclusively on Red Queen. Actor Marino Masé provides an 18-minute interview which probably could have been cut down a bit, since he doesn't remember too much that was all that unusual about the making of Red Queen. Blanc, Baraldi and Masé all answer the question If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today, and actress Barbara Bouchet is shown in a quick, on-the-fly interview that appears to have been shot at a film festival or convention where they were screening Red Queen. A brief alternate opening to Red Queen and another poster/still gallery round out the second disc. Finally, the package includes two lobby card reproductions and another excellent booklet written by Chris D. and Richard Harland Smith.

The Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set shows NoShame at its best. Two terrific, obscure films have been rescued and restored, presented to American audiences for the first time the way they were meant to be seen. The extras demonstrate a knowledge of the subject and an affection for the genre often lacking in packages from bigger studios. With an eclectic lineup of films and a commitment to creating the best DVDs possible for them, NoShame is definitely a studio to watch.

Film Ratings (Evelyn/Red Queen): B+/B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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