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Shock-O-Rama: Getting Filthy with Blue Underground
Exploitation has never looked so good
By Chuck Francisco
September 01, 2012
Back in the late 90's, those of the cult horror persuasion worshiped at the altar of Anchor Bay. From Argento classics like Suspiria, to genre monolith Evil Dead 2, their hands made busy putting out quality home releases. Most importantly, they specialized in making sure lesser known slashers like Prom Night, or seldom seen kill vehicle flicks like 1977's The Car (which I believe was their first DVD release) got to see the light of day. Sadly, like all cars which are ridden too hard without proper maintenance, the wheels came off of the Anchor Bay-mobile in the early 2000's (they weren't too cherry). In the time since then, a number of specialist companies have grown, feeding the insatiable Sarlacc-ian maw of genre buffs. I won't stand here today and proclaim one is better than another, because we're lucky to have so many streams of schlock on which to gorge ourselves. However, one company has been going to extraordinary lengths to bring the most pristine home viewing experience possible to us.
Blue Underground came into being in 2002, when director/producer William Lustig (probably best know for directing Maniac) left Anchor Bay to create his own company. In the ensuing time, they've amassed a release list longer than Ron Jeremy's weapon; over 160 discs in all, include some person favorites of mine like: Dead and Buried, Deep Red, Shock Waves and Circle of Iron. I own a good number of these thanks to the pains Blue Underground has taken, but they've come to shine brighter since moving on to high definition Blu-Ray, around four years ago. Finally possessed of a medium which really exhibits the hard work behind their high quality restorations, these films looks way better than they have any right to.
Ah, but we know better! Your very reading of Shock-o-Rama means you know that these films have more to offer than their grind house origins would let on. Blue Underground knows this, and so they've dedicated themselves to diligently massaging these transfers into the absolute best picture possible. Going this extra mile is both welcome and necessary in a world of infinite home releases. Here are a few choice selections, dripping with sleazy exploitation goodness, to get you going (and coming, and going!).
Torso (1973, dir. Sergio Martino)
Mania Grade: B
Torso is a giallo classic. It's a can't miss blend of masochism, mystery and madness. As is true with many of these films, the vicious killer's drive stems from sexual depravity that occurred as a child. Of course, the real fun of this film comes with puzzling out the mad man's identity. Torso does a impressive job of throwing up smokescreens to obfuscate the truth. We follow a group of college beauties, who retreat to a secluded villa, in the wake of several grisly murders on campus. Of course the isolated locale does the opposite of keeping them safe. It offers the killer much more leeway in carving up these delicate debutants.
All of the suspense and slashing are presented in 1080p, in the original Italian as well as the English dub. Three full minutes of grisly violence (cut from the American theatrical release) has been added back for this release, which used the original negative for the HD transfer. Since those three minutes where never dubbed into English, you can easily spot the restored footage; it's in Italian with subtitles. Torso is the kind of standard operating language that belongs in every horror fan's vocabulary. It's also a great place to dip your toes into the Italian Giallo subgenre waters.
Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975, dir. Andrea Bianchi)
Mania Grade: B-
If Torso is the perfect place to dip your toe, acclimatizing yourself to the 70's sleazy slowly, Strip Nude For Your Killer throws you into a boiling cauldron of steamy slasher violence. Burial Ground director Andrea Bianchi brings to your screen the full realization of depravity from the very first frame; the back of a head positioned directly in the naughty bits of a spread eagle fashion model. She dies undergoing an illegal abortion, and soon everyone involved with the situation (including her fellow models) are being brutally murder by a cycle helmeted psycho. Bianchi's depravity probably knows no bounds, as is very famously on display in the mother/zombie-son relationship from Burial Ground (if you're unfamiliar with this zombie delight, discover more HERE.
The screaming sexual sizzle will be burned into your brain, like an old CRT TV left on for a week. Another amazing looking 1080p transfer from the original camera negative makes me wonder how fans could possibly settle for anything less. This version is uncut, delivering all the uncensored goodies which were denied to American audiences back in 1975. This might not best place to jump into the subgenre, but it's certainly worth getting to once you're suitably prepared.
Killer Nun (1979, dir. Giulio Berruti)
Mania Grade: A
This is my unabashed favorite from among the Blue Underground Blu-Ray releases! Sultry Anita Ekberg, with her piercing blue eyes, stars as Sister Gertrude, head charge of an infirm ward who is also addicted to drugs, sex and perhaps murder. Will she turn her lustful glances upon fellow nun Paola Morra? (Rrrrrr) Scandalous! The tagline, which implies that the story was ripped from the secret files of the Vatican, isn't the whole truth, but it is based on a true story which shares a headline with the film's title. The real murderous nun was Belgian, rather than Italian. What compulsions grip sister Gertrude and why does she continue to murder the patients under her care? This is a great film that delivers on more notes than modern fare bothers to even strive for.
This Italian nunsploitation flick is restored from the original camera negative and offers all content cut for the American release. If you're feeling adventurous, watch with the original Italian audio (with English subs). Whichever language you decide on, don't skip out on From the Secret Files of the Vatican, an illuminating interview with Killer Nun director Giulio Berruti. His insights add to the experience. I loved hearing first hand about the casting considerations (which, no exaggeration, shaped the film), and about how the Vatican itself suppressed this film only three weeks after release! Pay particular attention to Joe Dallesandro, in a great turn as young replacement doctor, Roland. He's excellent here. If you like him, check out Andy Warhol's Trash (1970). Honestly genre fans, you can't miss this flick, especially in a release this pretty.
You can check out the whole list of Blue Underground Blu-rays Right HERE. They've also released a number of collected bundles under the banner of Midnight Movies. Volume Five (Contamination and Shape of Things to Come), Volume Six (Cannonball and Fast Company), and Volume Seven (Revolver and Grandslam) all released this past week on August 28th, but are only available for a limited time HERE. I've gotten you off on the right foot. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some eyeballs that need searing.
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).
Netflix - Black Sabbath - Horror (1963)
Hulu - The Toxic Avenger - Action/Horror/Comedy (1984)
YouTube - Dementia 13 - Horror (1963) - This one's watchable in HD HERE! And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.