Monday 13 November 2017

Cold Blooded Beast (Fernando Di Leo, 1971) Blu-Ray Review

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“How nice to be sent to a famous loony bin!” Straddling the lines between the gialli thrillers and softcore romps that were so popular with mainstream audiences in Italy during the 1970s, Fernando (Milano Calibro 9) Di Leo's skin 'n' kills movie Cold Blooded Beast (otherwise known as Slaughter Hotel) features a bevy of beautiful women inflagranti and in peril, as well as Werner Herzog's notorious performer Klaus Kinski…

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“You'll have to admit it's a beautiful part of the country and I believe that'll help you recover quickly – you've got to give it a chance.” In a mental facility nestled away in the quiet of the countryside a roster of lonely housewives and rich men's isolated daughters, exhibiting bourgeois malaise and suicidal flirtations, are being stalked by a shadowy, cloaked figure who roams the halls of the old villa, plucking all manner of medieval instruments of death from the display cabinets. Evidently talk therapy and shiatsu aren't on the menu, and the patients are about to find themselves up shit creek.

“Killing me is one thing, but why commit suicide?” The patients of this palatial booby hatch include Anne (Rosalba Neri, Amuck!) – what would have then been classified a 'nymphomaniac', battling a warped history of incest; Cheryl (Margaret Lee, Venus In Furs) – the controlling partner in a family business; and the agoraphobic Mara (Jane Garret) – whose new nurse Helen (Monica Strebel) has assumed a very particular interest in her treatment. Some of them may be hard to control – especially Anne, who is pathologically compelled to rattle the bones of any male staff members – but the head shrinkers aren't much better. Klaus Kinski (Aguirre Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo) plays Dr Francis Clay; deemed 'over cautious' by his more laissez faire colleagues in this 'rest home resort' with 'few regulations', he remains tight-lipped and brooding while subtly flirting with his patients (never mind that searing Kinski gaze).

“I'm not getting better, because nothing is the matter. They should know it by now. They all assume that everyone has a mental illness.” What unfolds is a procession of vice in vaguely connected scenes as the kills (escalating to nine in the frenzied climax) and the nookie (occurring with metronomic regularity) go toe-to-toe. The fleeting murders, including a head being lopped off with swift precision by a garden scythe, generally lack suspense while the splatter is limited in the heat of the moment, but with the sheer volume of bared flesh on offer it is clear to see where Di Leo's attention was most drawn. From the cheesy titillation of Mara and Helen's encounters, to the more bizarre sensory attack of Anne cooling off in an omni-directional, white-tiled shower (resembling some kind of decontamination chamber), the sleaze scale soars – particularly with a few fervent, gynaecological close ups that were performed by body doubles drafted-in for extra shooting once the main actresses had clocked off for the day! Indeed, this was a common practise at the time, the intention being to sate the appetites of more liberal-minded foreign markets.

“I'm not one of those mad people who need you – I just want to make love. Make love, that's all!” Written by Fernando Di Leo and Nino Latino, the depth of the screenplay rarely extends beyond the surface, doing the bare minimum to justify all the boobs 'n' blood that is paraded across the screen. It's a shame, because there are some provocative elements that would have benefited from further exploration. Anne's sordid back story promises dark acts and emotional revelations to come, but somewhat sputters to a middling climax. Similarly, Helen's predatory use of her position amounts to little more than a secret sin. The film cries out for a sub-plot exploring the ignorance (intended or otherwise) of the clinical staff to Helen's abuse of trust, but instead we get nothing more than cheap T&A.

“What's the difference between a new love and a new life?” More interesting, though, is how Cold Blooded Beast is presented. At times the film seems to suffer the occasional psychotic break of its own, as we suddenly cut from from one dutch angle to the next in the midst of an otherwise quiet and controlled sequence. Moreover, on three occasions we are plunged into strange plot-recollecting montages which take on the role of fever dreams suffered by a handful of the patients as they writhe in their beds (naturally, their sweaty, contorted motions reveal them to be nude sleepers). Accompanied by Silvano Spadaccino's atonal score – all clangs and haunting echoes – these sequences simultaneously act as flashes of the characters' madness, but generally feel like padding in the absence of a stronger and more detailed story.

“Father and Mother were never tender with me – you were the only one.” Certainly not left wanting for prurient interests, Cold Blooded Beast lurches into the middle ground of giallo cinema. Doing the bare minimum to qualify for the genre, it occasionally shows flashes of inspired intensity such as the fast-cutting murder-a-thon climax, which is riddled with wide-eyed and sweaty-faced close ups machine-gunning themselves across your retinas. While few of the cast have much to sink their teeth into, disciples of beautiful European actresses of the era will find enough to enjoy themselves. It is an average effort, lacking the tense set pieces orchestrated by masters of the genre such as Dario Argento and Sergio Martino, but Cold Blooded Beast at least makes up for its mediocre plot with an excessive amount of laughably gratuitous nudity and the occasional moment of genuine nastiness.

“This is the work of a psychopath, a cold blooded beast, and he's still at large!” The 32nd entry in 88 Films' “Italian Collection” features a HD restoration of the film from its original (and uncensored) negative, although certain elements briefly display variable image quality on occasion. The audio, meanwhile, is a solid presentation in English or Italian with optional subtitles, but do note that a few short sections of the film are presented with subtitles as English tracks were missing for some fragments.

Special Features include a 13 minute interview with Rosalba Neri from 2017 in which she talks about nudity, Fernando Di Leo, Klaus Kinski, and Margaret Lee; a 16 minute interview with Silvia Petroni, who was a script supervisor on many Italian genre films of the time; and there's also an audio commentary, trailer, and English credits sequence. There's nothing to get too thrilled about, but there are a few interesting tidbits to glean from them – mind you, a bit of judicious editing (and trimming down the credit sequences) would help inject a bit more zip and tidiness into the interviews.

A similar level of attention to detail would have benefited the reversible cover art: who is “Leonardo Di Leo”? Since when was “Cheryl Hume” (one of the character names) a famed Italian actress? And when did Klaus Kinski appear in the 80's slasher flick X-Ray?! You'd be wise not to look too closely at the screenshots on the reversible sleeve, too – spoiler city, much? 88 Films do good work, but they are shelling these releases out at a hell of a rate, and a recent price hike in their standard launch price feels a smidge unearned when you compare their releases to the consistently more generous packages provided by Arrow Video.

N.B. Screenshots are not sourced from the disc itself, so excuse their relative low quality (I don't have a Blu-Ray drive from which to snapshot them).

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