Friday 22 May 2015

The Sister of Ursula (Enzo Milioni, 1978) DVD Review

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“Terrible things are going to happen, I see blood.” The 1970s were the swinging heyday of Italian 'giallo' cinema with a veritable glut of gruesome and sexy thrillers filling silver screens far and wide. However, by 1978 gialli were becoming a bit worn out – but meanwhile the market for adult entertainment was exploding – and while many of Italy's pulp thrillers flirted with sexuality and eroticism, few straddled the line this side of full-blown flesh flicks quite like Enzo Milioni's The Sister of Ursula...

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“It feels as if you could reach out for the sky.” Dagmar Beyne (Stefania D'Amario, Zombi) and her curious sister Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi, Suspiria) check in to a hotel on the beautiful Amalfi coast, somewhere down the line in the search for their absent mother. Sitting pretty on Daddy's fortune, inherited after his untimely death, the sisters' relationship is a close – but fractious – one. Dagmar is casual and confident in her sexuality, while Ursula is timid and extremely possessive over her personal things. Indeed, while Dagmar wastes little time (a mere three minutes) before stripping off completely, her sister – seemingly sensitive to psychic goings on – is ready to leave immediately, and no doubt fire off an arsey review on Trip Advisor.

“You could have had a good shag, rather than just looking.” Dragged to the hotel's night club, Ursula is forced to mingle with the various denizens of the swanky establishment. Owner and Operator Roberto Delleri (Vanni Materassi), sultry singer Stella Shining (Yvonne Harlow), embittered Mrs Vanessa Delleri (Anna Zinnemann) and, much to Ursula's distaste, skirt-chasing junkie Filippo (Marc Porel, Don't Torture A Duckling). With his cocksure attitude, brooding eyes, and Saturday Night Fever style shirt, he's soon courting the attention of Dagmar.

“No, it wasn't a nightmare, it was worse than that.” So far so groovy, but a voyeuristic killer is stalking the area. Content to watch paid couples get their softcore thing on first (nuzzled nether regions and smooth saxophones ahoy), the looming (and curiously rising) shadow of doom inevitably follows – and the first of several grizzly discoveries gets local tongues waggling. The event sets Ursula's strange senses tingling and quickly she's adamant that Felippo is the ne'er do well suspect number one, sure to tear them apart from one another. Drug running, open relationships, and a pile of bodies follow – but who's wielding that bizarre bludgeon, and why?

“It was just another crime of passion.” Milioni's The Sister of Ursula (aka The Curse of Ursula) skimps when it comes to crimson chaos – viewers will yearn for Argento style torrents of blood – but engorges itself on young, firm flesh. Boobs, butts, willies and bush, it's all frequently on-show here, as Mimi Uva's score practically creates a Pavlovian response – smooth jazz? Time for tits. Sinister stabs? Time for … well, not an awful lot unfortunately.

“When you lose someone you love it's like losing your own life.” Aside from a few splashes of the sanguineous stuff post-mortem, albeit revealing a disturbing modus operandi, the film is a bit soft when it comes to thrills. Clearly Milioni's focus is centred much more on bodies than blood, psychic mysteries and hidden secrets instead of who-dunnit red herrings (see The Case of the Bloody Iris for a wonderful collection of potential killers). Still though, the classic image of a leather-gloved, hat-wearing killer in black – a mainstay of the giallo movement – remains, albeit in fleeting glances.

“So what's left to us other than our blind eyes that lead us astray?” Shameless Screen Entertainment's 45th DVD release comes in the Italian language with English subtitles, and boasts a clean 2.0 audio and 16x9 video presentation for the most part. The credits exhibit particular grain, and the film has a few scratches and splotches throughout, but ultimately it's a solid effort. The release comes with trailers, and a thirty minute 2008 interview with Milioni (from Severin Films), which proves to be an informative, candid, and heartfelt watch. Among other topics, the Writer/Director discusses how the film came to be, and the tragic story of Marc Porel who was – at the time of filming – Barbara Magnolfi's partner. This particular release is limited to 2,000 copies, with each edition numbered (mine is #1901), and a choice of covers – an original, as well as a brand new piece by the hugely talented Graham Humphreys (his rendering perfectly captures Magnolfi's arresting gaze).

“I earned your money, don't you think?” Light on violence, but loaded with sex, Enzo Milioni's film trades sinister shocks for lush locations (captured to full effect by Vittorio Bernini). It's not up there with the best that gialli has to offer, but it lounges comfortably somewhere in the middle of the pack with its knickers off and a mysterious smile on its face.

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