The Red Queen Kills Seven Times 1972 ****

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‘Even the police know I’m an incredible nymphomaniac!’ is a good sample line from Emilio Miraglia’s wonderfully overcooked giallo, which keeps one guessing by being so nutty that placing a bet on who-dunnit is all but impossible. Barbara Bouchet is Kitty, one of two sisters (Marina Malfatti is the other, Franziska) who have been brought up to fear a family curse that may lead to murder; a flashback reveals that Kitty already has reasons to feel guilt. The death of their grandfather promises a liquidation of finances and potential windfalls for all of the Wildenbrück family, but his will proves inconclusive. The action shifts to a successful fashion house which seems to be called Springe; Kitty is having an affair with the company’s boss Martin (Ugo Pagliali) whose wife is mentally ill. With various murders taking place, could the supernatural Red Queen be taking her revenge on the family, or is the solution something more practical? The real solution is so complicated that even several readings of the Wikipedia page fail to clarify exactly what happened, but it’s fun getting there; the costumes and décor are super-stylish, as are the Bavarian locations. This is a lively giallo, full of twists and turns, never boring and often intriguing; the great Sybill Danning also appears as a windfall bonus.

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Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key 1972 ****

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Also known as Gently Before She Dies, or Eye of the Black Cat aka Excite Me!, Sergio Martino’s giallo is an original and untypical affair that lifts elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Black Cat, but also has a unique angle of its own. A Cat Called Satan would be an accurate title, since a moggy with that name as a pivotal role here; genre favourites Edwige Fenech and Luigi Pistilli star here; he’s Oliviero, an author who hasn’t written a word for years and makes money by selling off the antique furniture in his country pile with his wife Irina (Anita Strinberg) who he likes to humiliate at their regular orgies. After one of his students his murdered, and then his maid, Oliviero becomes an obvious suspect, but is he gas-lighting his wife or vice versa? His niece Floriana (Fenech) picks an odd time for a social visit, and it proves the catalyst for all manner of sexual and violent behaviour, with Satan included in the domino effect of killings, mutilations and seductions. Cream seems to be a theme, and choice cream-related dialogue includes ‘Hey, hot potato, got any cream in your tricycle? ‘ and ‘Satan’s favourite meal is snake-eyes and cream!’; this is a wonderfully lurid, pervy and overheated melodrama that’s constantly surprising. The magic of streaming is that films like this used to be incredibly hard to find and see, often in poor condition. That a potentially huge audience can see this, at the cost of a couple of free subscriptions, promises that such outré fare might just make a mainstream impact again, for the first time since it was made. Viewed on the Arrow Video Channel.

True Story 2015 ***

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Perhaps it’s the banal title, but Rupert Goold’ s adaptation of Mike Finkel’s account of the murder trial of Christian Longo didn’t make many waves when initially released. Popping up on streaming years, later, it’s not immediately apparent what attracted such top talent; Brad Pitt produced, Jonah Hill and James Franco star, and Felicity Jones makes the best of a few scenes in support. But there are hidden strengths and weaknesses that a home-viewing audience might find worth their while; Finkel (Hill) is a New York Times reporter sacked for fabricating details of a story. When Christian Longo is accused or murdering his wife and children, Finkel is taken aback to discover than Longo used Finkel’s name and identity while on the run. Longo says it’s because he admires Finkel’s writing, but is the reporter being manipulated by a criminal, or is Longo hiding something else? The pay-off is something of an anti-climax, but until then, True Story plays engagingly with notions of identity and the weight of uncovering and expressing truth. Both Hill and Franco have what it takes, with Hill channelling some of his trademark exasperation and Franco artfully suggesting a darkness within. Jones has the best, most confrontational scene here, and one which gives True Story a late jump-start. Despite a few improbabilities in the way that Goold heightens the narrative, this is a slow-burn courtroom thriller that’s worth catching.

Pasolini 2014 ****

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The death of the brilliant Italian film director Pier Paulo Pasolini is something of a JFK moment in Italian culture; conspiracy theories about as to the circumstances that led to his body being found, murdered, apparently run over by his own car. Abel Ferrara is not a director knows for his sensitivity; films like Bad Lieutenant make a virtue of their brutality, but he shows considerable skill in marking out this sympathetic portrait of a creative mind at the end of its tether. As played with customary precision by Willem Dafoe, Pasolini is shown somewhat spent after the catharsis of making Salo in 1975, and one of the novelties of Ferrara’s film is that it evokes colourful scenes from a film Pasolini planned, but never got to make. The presence of some Pasolini regulars including Ninetto Davoli adds to the authenticity, and Pulp Fiction’s Maria de Mederios captures the elan of muse Laura Betti; perhaps this film aims for a niche audience, but that’s no bad thing. Rather than a biopic, Pasolini offers a concise portrait of the artist as a middle aged man, short of love, but still burning with questions that would not be answered in his too-short lifetime. It’s certainly a subject that brings the best out of both director and star.

Ma 2019 ***

maThe latest Blumhouse shocker has a striking casting coup up its sleeve, but not a great deal else to recommend it. The perennially sweet Octavia Spencer has presumably bored herself silly playing kindly, matronly ladies in films like Hidden Figures, or even playing God in The Shack; as executive producer, she’s fashioned a horror role for herself that runs very much contrary to the image she’s cultivated until now. A group of teenagers have nowhere to go in a small town, until local vets assistant they call Ma offers them her basement as a place to hang out. Ma’s gift, complete with booze and snacks, comes at a price; she’s got an ulterior motive, and means nothing but harm. A  remarkable supporting cast has been assembled, including Allison Janney, Luke Evans and Juliette Lewis, but they all take a back seat to Spencer’s Ma. Even when the action gets rather too sadistic for comfort, and there’s some nasty stuff here, Spencer relishes the task of taking her kindly features and seems to enjoy suggesting considerable malice lurking behind that familiar smile.

Foxcatcher 2014 ***

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Bennett Miller’s claustrophobic true story about athletics trainer John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his sinister input into the well-being of his charges is a cold, unlikable but intensely gripping drama. Channing Tatum sports some amusing late 80’s hairstyles as Mark Schwartz, a champion wrestler that Do Pont wants to prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but Mark’s brother David (Mark Ruffalo) has his suspicious about the millionaire’s methods. Tatum, Ruffalo and particularly Carell turn in darkly shaded performances, and the looming violence of the finale is handled in a calm and un-exploitative way. Carell is frequently off-screen for long periods of the film, but his physical transformation makes Do Pont into an unnerving and domineering creation.

Unman, Wittering and Zigo 1971 ***

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The unusual title comes from the last three names on a register called by idealistic teacher John Ebony (David Hemmings) in John Mackenzie’s adaptation of a play by Giles Cooper. Ebony takes up his post only to find the mood of the class is ugly; they hint at their collective responsibility for the death of Ebony’s predecessor, and it’s clear that Lower 5B have ominous plans for Ebony and his wife (Carolyn Seymour). Mackenzie’s film has a subversive feel for the mind-games of the pupils, and builds to some impressively tense scenes as Ebony’s dream job becomes a nightmare. There’s also a roll-call of British TV stars in support, from Barbara Lott (Ronnie Corbett’s mother in sitcom Sorry) to Tony Haygarth and Douglas Wilmer.