Cult of the Arachnids

By the mid-1980s the Italian film industry was in a state of major decline. The glory years of the fifties and sixties were now fondly remembered footnotes in the history of world cinema and even the popular film genres – giallo, poliziotteschi, spaghetti western and horror – were near the end of their heyday. There were still a few determined stragglers such as Tinto Brass with his fetish based erotica (The Key, Miranda, Snack Bar Budapest) and Enzo G. Castellari, who soldiered on with formulaic hybrids like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior and Striker. But the horror genre, in particular, was suffering with masters of the macabre Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento trying but failing to top past high water marks like The Beyond (1981) and Suspiria (1977). It was during this downward trend that Gianfranco Giagni made his directorial debut with The Spider Labyrinth (Italian title: Il Nido del Ragno, 1988).  Continue reading

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Ernesto Gastaldi’s Seminal Giallo

With a tumultuous background of waves crashing against a rocky coast, a descriptive statement from Sigmund Freud on the meaning of libido scrolls down the screen. Part of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s quotation defines libido as “the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude… of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love.’” But the film that follows is not about love but rather the perversion of it starting with an opening sequence in which a child witnesses the aftermath of his father’s violent S&M session with a female companion, an incident that scars him for life.     Continue reading

Hunted and Haunted

Klaus Kinski plays an escaped mental patient in the German psychological drama/thriller, Der Rote Rausch (1962).

Klaus Kinski plays an escaped mental patient in the German psychological drama/thriller, Der Rote Rausch (1962).

When did Klaus Kinski first burst upon the international film world? The evidence points to his portrayal of the obsessive Spanish expedition leader Don Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in 1973. He followed that with other critically praised performances in Andrzej Zulawski’s The Most Important Thing: Love (1975), Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) and even appeared in mainstream commercial fare like Billy Wilder’s Buddy, Buddy (1981) and George Roy Hill’s The Little Drummer Girl (1984). But most of Kinski’s early work from 1955’s Morituri (in an uncredited bit part) up to the ‘70s were supporting roles; some were breakout parts such as 1955’s costume drama Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende wines Konigs (he was nominated for best supporting actor in the German Film Awards) or superior genre efforts like Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western The Great Silence (1968). Still, leading roles were a rarity for Kinski but one of the early exceptions was Der Rote Rausch (1962), directed by Wolfgang Schleif.    Continue reading

Satanic Sisterhood

(from left to right) Haydee Politoff, Ida Galli and Silvia Monti in Queens of Evil (aka La Regine, 1970)

(from left to right) Haydee Politoff, Ida Galli and Silvia Monti in Queens of Evil (aka La Regine, 1970)

Tales of the Devil seducing and destroying man have been a popular theme in cinema since the silent era but Queens of Evil (aka La Regine,1970) puts a new spin on the concept which departs from the more familiar treatments we’ve seen in Faust (1926), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) or Rosemary’s Baby (1968). It’s weird, dreamlike, sexy, ominous, often unpredictable and unintentionally funny at times (in the English dubbed version). Though often lumped in the Italian horror category, Queens of Evil, directed by Tonino Cervi, is closer to a gothic fairy tale for adults or a cautionary allegory for its era about young idealists who reject the status quo but are susceptible to corruption when their innermost desires are unleashed.    Continue reading