Saturday, April 16, 2022

Delitto in Via Teulada (1980) (TV)

... aka: Crime in Via Teulada
... aka: Giallo a Striscio

Directed by:
Aldo Lado

Giallo aren't exactly known for their exemplary writing nor their logic, so I had even less hope than usual for this one after I researched its history. This apparently started life as a multi-episode TV bumper series called Giallo a Striscio, which ran right before the Variety program on RAI (Radiotelevisione italiana) in 1979. There were fifteen of these episodes in total, each running five minutes apiece, and someone came up with the idea of cutting that all together into one feature film, which was then released to theaters in February 1980. (It sure beats just disposing of this material altogether, I suppose!) Seeing how the total length of the combined episodes would be around 75 minutes and this one runs just 60, a lot of footage obviously had to be trimmed for this to try to make sense. Or at least fit the approximation of "sense" by Lado standards. 

Speaking of Lado, he's another reason I didn't get my hopes up too high. I've seen three of films thus far - the slow, dreary, poorly-written Who Saw Her Die? (1972), the likewise slow-moving and sometimes highly unpleasant Last House on the Left rip-off Late Night Trains (1974) and the awful (yet admittedly sometimes hilarious) Star Wars rip-off The Humanoid (1979) - and haven't especially liked any of them. But lets go ahead and wipe that slate of his clean and see how well he can glue together a bunch of fragmented scenes, shall we?

Actually filmed at the huge Rai production center (the "Via Teulada" of the title is apparently the street [or the plaza] where the studio is located), this opens with a film-within-a-film gag where an actress is stabbed in the back with a pair of scissors before we're given a behind-the-scenes look at all the crazy goings-on at the studio as all kinds of crew people and entertainers frantically shuffle to and fro doing their various jobs. 

In addition to the usual directors, writers, producers, costumers, make-up artists, set dressers, security guards and other behind-the-scenes employees, there are newscasters, hosts, singers and musicians (marching bands, a folk band, a rock band and even a full orchestra), dancers, magicians, clowns, various animals, you name it. So when studio employee Ely (Margherita Sestito) finds what she believes to be a real corpse in a room where film reels are stored, most of the people there aren't apt to believe her. After all, the studio is packed full of people, dummies, mannequins and all kinds of other props, so most of them assume she was just seeing things, especially since the body disappears before anyone else can see it.

Still, Ely is convinced the corpse she saw was real and enlists the aid of two friends; production assistant Sandro (Pietro Brambilla) and switchboard operator Lia (Auretta Gay), to try to get to the bottom of things. Seeing how Lia is blind, they've already got the odds stacked against them before they begin. Prior to being killed, initial victim Diamante (Mariarita Viaggi) passed along an envelope / note to her dancer friend Annie (Barbara D'Urso), who becomes victim #2 when she's strangled to death with a scarf. The killer (who's decked out in the usual black outfit, gloves and bowler hat) ties the scarf to the feed on an editing machine, which ends up being blamed for strangling her and causing her to have a heart attack (?!) Additional murders follow, including a clever bit where a girl is killed with hot steam and then turned into a silver statue.

Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed this for the most part! While it's not particularly well-written, plotted, directed OR acted, has an extremely silly killer reveal and is light on exploitation elements (there's just a little blood and a couple of topless scenes), it's stylish, the camerawork is pretty good and it's a lot more entertaining and pleasant to watch than the other films I've seen from this director.

Here, Lado makes outstanding use of his great shooting locations, which gives us an endless variety of sets, props and costumes. Some of these are used for intentional humor, while others are just of the random "Hey, why not throw this in since it's already here?" variety. Why have an actor walk across a room when you can have an actor walk across a room and pass by a man dressed as a sheikh leading a camel? And why have the killer chase our heroine around with a fire axe when he can chase her around with a fire axe in a warehouse with a giant fan blowing large sheets of blue fabric around? A long chase scene through the studio is enhanced with red lighting and the proposed victim entering a set with giant playing cards and spinning mirrors. It's these kind of touches that really elevate the production.

Aldo Sassi as director Leo, Attilio Duse as producer Giorgio, Lidia Biondi (HOTEL FEAR) as bitchy wardrobe lady Angelina and Branko Vatovec (a famous real-life astrologer in Italy) as Lia's overprotective brother Enrico are the co-stars. Actor Giuseppe Bambieri (playing himself) has a couple of amusing scenes and there's behind-the-scenes studio footage that includes comedian Renato Rascel (UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE), actress Corinne Clery, TV presenter Pippo Baudo, singer Domenico Modugno and other then-famous Italian celebs. The music by Fabio Frizzi recycles some of his score for CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980).

This has never been given a U.S. release in any form nor an official home video release in ANY country as far as I know. However, a number of bootleg sites sell this with English subs and, as of this writing at least, it's available to view on Youtube.


La cara del terror (1962)

... aka: Face of Terror

Directed by:
I.M. (Isidoro M.) Ferry
William J. Hole Jr. (credited on English print)

Very little info is available for this title online but there are a number of things we can figure out from what is available. For starters, there are two distinctly different versions of this one floating around. The first is the Spanish-language version La cara del terror, which was theatrically released in its home country in 1962, runs a little over 85 minutes and has I.M. Ferry credited as the director. The second version is the U.S. and UK release, which was released theatrically in 1964 with a running time of 79 minutes and is solely credited to William Hole Jr. This English-language version was also part of a syndication package sold to TV by AIP in 1965. As you can likely gouge from the run time discrepancies, the original Spanish version naturally has additional footage. However, I skimmed through it and it doesn't appear that anything of real significance (as far as the plot is concerned) was cut. The opening credits in the Spanish version are different, much longer, much cooler and feature an original song not heard in the U.S. version, plus the very first major scene (a board meeting) goes on for several more minutes in the longer cut, but that's mostly it. Many sources claim that the English version had new / different scenes filmed by Hole specifically for the U.S. release but a side-by-side comparison shows that to not actually be the case. The "new" stuff is limited to credits, dubbing and editing cuts.

Another thing that seems likely (yet a bit odd at the same time!) is that this has an almost entirely Spanish-speaking cast (aside from the American leading lady), yet most of the primary actors appear to be speaking English. Credits match the theory that this was at least partially filmed in English as most of the actors have been dubbed in the Spanish version, while only a few (most noticeably the policemen) appear to have been dubbed in the English one. Also supporting this theory is the fact both versions of the film credit Monroe Manning (a U.S. TV writer) with the screenplay, which was almost certainly written in English. I'm just guessing here, but I'd say the main stars were all speaking English and the Spanish actors filling the less significant parts were not.

Dr. Charles Taylor (Fernando Rey) shows up at the Institute of Neuro-Science to discuss his "new approach to plastic surgery." Taylor has developed a process involving heat-impervious, moldable plastic that adheres perfectly to human flesh, which will not only result in a more complete and lifelike reconstruction but can also be done in a fraction of the time it would take to perform regular surgery. He hopes to use the institute's facilities (and one of their patients) to conduct his first transplant, but is rejected by Dr. Chambers (Gérard Tichy) and most the rest of the board on ethical grounds once he reveals he plans on patenting his technique in order to personally profit from it. Outside at an opening window, one of the patients is listening...

Norma Borden (Lisa Gaye), the asylum patient in question, sneaks into the back of Taylor's car and hides out until he arrives home. After his lab assistant / girlfriend Alma Woods (Concha Cuetos) leaves for the evening, Norma finally makes her presence and intent known. Four years earlier, an oil lamp exploded in her face, hideously scarring her. Norma conceals the fact she's a patient from the doctor, instead claiming she's simply too poor to afford plastic surgery. When Dr. Taylor tries to explain a series of tests must be performed before the operation and it will take some time, Norma threatens suicide if he doesn't work on her right then and there. Taylor relents. Norma heals amazing quickly and the operation is a success... or at least it appears that way at first.

Meanwhile, at the institution, Dr. Chambers and Dr. Reich (Carlos Casaravilla) discover that Norma has escaped and reveal that she's unstable, prone to violence and considered extremely dangerous. After being admitted by her own mother, Norma was diagnosed as a manic depressive with paranoid tendencies and a major persecution complex. Dr. Chambers calls up police detectives Mandel (Eduardo Sancho) and Alec (Pepe Martín) to help, but lies to them and tells them Norma is harmless and walked away from a minimum security wing of the hospital. They don't exactly buy his story, but they get a photo and start searching, soon joined in their investigation by Inspector Hopkins (Emilio Rodríguez).

After Dr. Taylor discovers who Norma really is and threatens to send her back to the hospital, Norma breaks a bottle over his head, steals some money, his car and a special moisturizer needed to keep her new plastic grafts from drying out and deteriorating and heads for the city. Her first stop is a boutique to buy clothes and make-up, and then a beauty parlor for a fashionable new hair cut. With her transformation now complete, she's a beauty that turns heads everywhere she goes. Knowing the police will be out looking for her, she answers a classified ad and takes a bus to a resort hotel twenty miles out of town, where she's able to easily secure work as a waitress.

Now going by the name "Nora Black," Norma quickly attracts the attention of several men, starting with her sleazebag boss, Mr. Polack (Jacinto San Emeterio), who comes on to her in none-too-subtle fashion and then tries to blackmail her into a friends-with-benefits type scenario. Much more useful to her is Matt Wilder (Virgilio Teixeira); a thrice-divorced playboy whose bad reputation proceeds him, but he also happens to be good looking, filthy rich and willing to marry her. When the cops show up at the resort and start snooping around, Norma takes Matt up on his offer of marriage, with hopes of running off to Paris with him. Things don't go quite as planned and several murders follow.

Interestingly, this was released the same year as Jess Franco's THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF; often considered the first pure Spanish horror film (which I suppose would make this the second pure Spanish horror film), and both obviously used the same source; Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960), as inspiration. While this is miles away from the quality of Eyes, it's also not the schlock-fest I was anticipating either. Spotty dubbing and a little time padding (namely a musical number and flamenco dancing) aside, this is fairly well-made for what it is. 

While the story is entertaining and well-paced, and the make-up is surprisingly good, the real star here is the talented leading lady. Thanks to Gaye's excellent and emotive performance, and some thoughtful moments in the script, the Norma character never comes off as an over-the-top cartoon loon or a one-dimensional evil seductress. As both a victim of the medical community in her "monster" form and a victim of self-involved men who view her as little more than a disposable object of lust as the beauty underneath all the scarring, we're given an unexpectedly well-rounded and sympathetic anti-heroine in the central role.

This sat out much of the VHS era and has not been well-serviced on DVD either. The only legitimate English release I'm aware of is from Sinister Cinema. A decent-quality, widescreen version also exists, but the only one I could find was with Spanish audio.

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