Saturday, September 07, 2019

Hurrah for Luigi Cozzi! HERCULES (1983) and the Mighty Coates Canon!

Luigi Cozzi is 72 years.... young today. Though he's not made a film in some time, how nice is it that he's lived to see his most fertile period become immortalized on disc and stream? His place in the pantheon of Italian genre auteurs assured thanks to the rise of cults like Alamo and boutiques like Arrow, Scorpion, Synapse, and Severin, Cozzi, out there behind the Profundo Rosso counter, can bask in cult glory of the sort denied to those who died too soon (like Ed Wood). Poor Ed, ignored by the mainstream, too poor to stay as drunk as he'd like, it was as if Ed's cult couldn't rise except like a no-so-virgin spring from his own self-despoiled corpse. Well, many of us debauched libertines would gladly die in anonymity if we were assured of posthumous immortality, even as a cult 'so-bad-it's-good' auteur like Wood. But Cozzi lives! He's still swinging. 

I've heard Cozzi wrestles with his "Italian Ed Wood" mantle, but I get the impression that, being a genre fan himself, he gets it's a term of endearment. Calling Cozzi or Wood 'bad' or 'inept' is like decrying Basquiat for bad spelling, or Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon for being anatomically incorrect. Whether or not these acclaimed artists did these deviations for an effect or just were bad at drawing and writing shouldn't matter in the least. If it does, doesn't that make you kind of a bourgeois snob? Cozzi should know that those of us who call him that love Ed Wood. We love Wood way better than, say, classical journeymen we only admire like Robert Wise, Fritz Lang, or Stanley Kramer. Better to be loved than respected. Better to rule the cult fest midnight revival hell than earn polite applause in bourgeois film snob heaven. And if you can be alive to see your cult cheer your name onscreen, even if its Anglicized  (as "Lewis Coates"), you know your work is going to span the ages in ways so many of your more critically-lauded peers will not. Plan Nine has a cult as big all outdoors. I've seen it myself probably 100 or more times and could watch it right now. But The Day the Earth Stood Still? That acclaimed 'smart' classic of the genre? I've seen it maybe twice. It's just too sanctimonious to make revisiting it over and over a pleasurable experience (Gort aside).

Today we see Cozzi himself a lot, drifting merrily through DVD extras, palling around with Quentin Tarantino and the rest. And hey, Cozzi's canon is completely on DVD and available to all mankind. So he's

I mention Ed Wood for a reason: like his Bride of the Monster, Plan Nine and Night of the Ghouls, Cozzi's most iconic work was released in a brief fertile period, approx. 1978-85--Stretching from Star Wars-influenced Starcrash in 1978 through to Alien-influenced Contamination in 1980, to the Conan-influenced Hercules in 1983 (and its sequel in 1985 - both below)And if, as with Wood, we laugh while watching, it's the best kind of laughter, a joyful realization Cozzi genuinely loves the genre, maybe more than he should for the good of the narrative. He aims for the stars and lets the small stuff melt into abstraction. We who love him cheer the way that--like Wood's-- his movies go racing through gonzo set-ups with clear love of the sources they borrow from (in addition to the Star Wars borrowings, Starcrash affectionately nods to Golden and Seventh Voyage(s) of Sinbad, and Flash Gordon), delivering all the things we remember and want to see again, regardless of whether he has to switch to analog video effects to achieve them. Like the Wood oeuvre, we can watch Cozzi's films, over and over in ways we may not be able to do with the originals they homage. Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts both drag with long, boring scenes of courtly intrigue). Cozzi skips all that because he knows what makes myth work, and we realize just how much imagination and archetypal resonance can override any alienation from the Brechtian meta-textual 'seams-showing' artistry. 

More than just rip-offs or homage, his films become like pagan idols, bowing to down to the celluloid image themselves. It's the kind of thing we see in the DIY recreations of blockbuster films in Michel Gondry's work, or that 1989 Mississippi homegrown student film Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Not to say Cozzi's work is amateur-ish, but rather it generates a feeling of reverential ceremonial mimetic magic. Unlike so many of his less cosmic-minded contemporaries, Cozzi would rather fail on a big stage than just show some fake-breasted frizzy-haired lady racing around a misty warehouse for 90 minutes like many of his contemporaries (I'm looking at you, Fragasso!) Cozzi's films never skimp on ideas nor do they waste time with long dialogue scenes or laborious set-ups, nor do they engage in 'filler' practices to eat up the time; they zip around from planet to planet, from labor to labor, climax to climax, packing their vignettes with savages, monsters, gods, demons, stop motion animation and video infinity effects and most of all... lovely women in strong roles. 

Also, we celebrate Cozzi today because his films score big on the Bechdel. There might be cleavage involved, but his camera seldom stoops to leering. Stylish costumes clothe capable characters whose Bechdel scores outpace any of his more acclaimed blockbusters (ala Tolkien, Harry Potter and Star Wars). Far ahead of the curve on that aspect, Cozzi gives us a bevy of heroines and villainesses and those who could be either. Rather than just bland princesses, flirty secretaries. or imperiled doormats, Cozzi's women are space pilots, CDC colonels, witches, queens (not mere princesses), goddesses, and agents of chaos magic - most of whom never try to seduce or be seduced. Love scenes don't really exist in Cozzi land, we're wayyy past that. Look at his casts and they're almost all (or at least equally) women, everyone of them playing a strong female character. 

So here's wishing you the best of birthdays, Luigi Cozzi! And to celebrate, a round-up of past reviews of plus a deep look into one of my recent and most cherished recent discoveries, an unfairly ignored and forgotten relic from Cannon films, made in the wake of the post-CONAN sword and sorcery craze 

 HERCULES (1983)

When your only takable umbrage with a Cannon neo-peplum is a tacky corset worn by Sybil Danning (top) as the evil princess Adriana, then you know you are blessed by the refreshingly primitivist and un-tacky Lewis Coates (Cozzi's Americanized alias) once again.  File it, as I did, in my emergency reserves, right next to Plan Nine or Mesa of the Lost Women, something to bring on your laptop over Xmas when you need a break from your brother's loud shouting at Alexa. Most Hercules films are unpleasant to see once, let alone often but I can see Cozzi's Hercules over and over until the end of time. To get to the perfect 'all-flaw' gem facets of lovely classics like  The Car, The Devil's Rain, and Ghosts of Mars a sword-and-sandal film needs to have a wild imagination and a love of movies that overrides limitations. Cozzi would rather try for a time lapse change from an old witch face to a lovely enchantress than to just cheat it out with cut-to another character's surprised reaction shot the way lesser directors would (no matter if it works or not), and better to have a hydra --even if it only has three heads, none of which move, except to slightly raise or lower the necks to breathe fire--than to have no hydra at all. Better to have Hercules stand semi-transparently in the middle of outer space, flexing his mighty biceps, then to just see him rolling around in the De Paolis dust. In each of his 'effects' Cozzi all but salutes some older movie he's clearly in awe of. Like Tarantino, he's a true fan of the genre/s. And if you have fond memories of making movies as a kid (or now) and love seeing the seams, ala Ed Wood (like a magic show where the wires are visible), then you love Cozzi. 

And he clearly loves you.

Mirella D'Angelo (Tenebrae) as Circe, the witch
disciple of Athena who helps Hercules
See, Hercules isn't just about a muscle-head smashing foes, there's also lessons in astronomy and of the everlasting battle between science and chaos vs. the forces of the gods: we learn the planets were formed from broken shards of Pandora's water jar; we learn how the constellations got their names and shapes (Hercules threw monsters into deep space, like a bear who became Ursus Major, etc.); and that the four elements that comprise the universe are: night, day, matter, and air. (Never mind how day and night are measured before the formation of a spinning Earth). We learn that the gods were the first beings, fashioned on the Earth, and they settled on the moon to better observe and judge the tests of mankind, dressed in the high art gowns, crowns and shawls that were the divine fusion or art deco and Italian disco. We spend quite a while out there in the forming universe, for this is a Hercules that never loses sight not only of the gods but of higher representatives of magic like 'fire' (the imprisoned firebird, never seen except as orange light) and chaos (whose spirit manifests in Eva Robbins, in a bat-winged gold lamé skullcap and a gold codpiece (carrying weird echoes of her 'heel'-work in the flashback sequences of the previous year's Tenebrae).

Thus, there on the surface of the moon, do we find Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli) refereeing a bout betwixt the astringent Hera (Rossana Podesta) and the compassionate Athena (Delia Boccardo) over Hercules' fate, sending in their respective servants on earth to aid or abet him on his epic quest, sometimes speaking directly to the audience before appearing in a crude overlay on earth to eye laser-zap some serpent or other into existence to aid or abet mighty Hercules. With his huge jaw set against the world, Lou "TV's Hulk" Ferrigno (well-dubbed by familiar voice artist Marc Smith) may get a lot of flak for his limited range, but he does have a gift, a way with seeming deep inside himself, unfazed by threats or challenges, but then reacting to stimulus with the sudden reckless energy of a five year-old, eyes squinting to indicate focus on some magical spectacle and they widen when roused to sudden violence. When he hears his father has been slain by a bear he drops his harness (he's ploughing a field by yoking himself to a Carnac-like row of massive stones) and shouts "WHAT?" It's like he just saw his car getting a ticket from across the street. He goes racing across the fields with these little but super fast steps, like a six year-old might run from a barking dog. He reacts fast in fights, like a bantam weight prize fighter as opposed to a heavy pro wrestler. In short, he is the perfect choice for the mighty Hercules! He has that rare gift where he's not a good enough actor to hide his real self from us--there's no duplicity in him or his Hercules. We can see Lou is trying hard, giving it his all, but wisely he's not trying so hard he casts a dour pall over things. It's a delicate balance that makes a perfect fusion with Cozzi's innate cosmic primitivism.

As Herc's romantic lead/ princess-in-distress, Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson) spends most of her scenes in sexy hanging white linens, first wearing a veil over her face then, after Herc lifts the veil and gives her a kiss, she's abducted and next time we see her she's wearing a trippy golden crown, natural breasts tastefully cupped by scallop shells (no leering by the camera, but beautiful side views). Made "sweet and submissive" thanks to the 'black lotus' (mmmm!) waiting to be burned alive as "a bride" of Minos' captured firebird/phoenix, she becomes a kind of dormant anima to Hercules, keeping him pure so that he resists the come-ons of both his benefactor witch friend Circe (Mirella D'Angelo). But both evil (agent of Hera) Adriana (Sybil Danning) and good (agent of Athena) D'Angelo are very much active in Hercules' life, as is, indirectly, Eva Robins as a glam chaos agent named Daedalus (above, left), with the ability to raise up giant monsters from an erector set series of toys atop her giant waxy head in the land between time and space.its suitable that Daedalus, representing "chaos in the name of science! Science in the name of chaos!" collapses sexual boundaries while staying all the time beguilingly pretty, alighting the eyes of evil king Minos (William Berger) with the macabre delights of her monsters. As Daedalus tells him, time and space are relative, so that miniature erector set monsters made dsiplayed by a lady in a codpiece and batwing skullcap atop a giant skull candle can still grow as large as houses once 'subject' to the atmosphere of Earth. Compared to all this, the ponderous posturing of Laurence Olivier and Vanessa Redgrave in the overlong Clash of the Titans is like sitting through math class vs. sneaking out to play video games at Space Port. 

Though Cozzi stacks his decks with strong female characters there are also some cool characters on the male side, though their faces are often obscured by unconvincing beards: Gianni (Sartana!) Garko shows up in a crazy red and gold-winged refurbished centurion costume with a helmet ridge that look like a giant fan paint brush; William Berger (5 Dolls of an August Moon) is the evil Minos; Cassinelli should be familiar to Italian crime genre fans (though with his droopy white beard as Zeus he carries a kind of Linus Roche-ness); and Bobby Rhodes (the pimp in Demons) is the King of Northern Africa, who shows up on a rocky beach for one scene (but has a languid white chick drooped at his side, and a coterie of all-white hipsters carrying his litter) after being called forth by Circe: Hercules will build his people a waterway in exchange for the magic chariot stashed in yonder cave ("and that's how, with the help of the Gods, Hercules created the great continents," intones the chorus-like narrator, adding the right measure of rock-straight dignity to the film's Pecos Bill/Paul Bunyon-style tall tale mythos, "by separating Europe from Africa"). Rhodes has a pretty cool elephant skeleton litter, but Cozzi's budget couldn't swing a Pegasus, so mighty Hercules has to throw a big temple boulder out of orbit and have Circe fashion a magic rope to tie it to the chariot (there's a great stop motion bit where the rope ties itself into a very cool sailor's knot, seriously, that is some wild-ass knot). Soon Circe and Hercules are soaring across the solar system, completely out of our planetary orbit, being pulled along in an open air chariot by a giant.... rock ("the winged horses are lost in infinity!") Lesser directors would never even dare try to get away with that, or using erector sets to make stop motion monsters. Cozzi never says 'never.' And if you listen closely to all the magic spells, a whole uniquely fractured cosmology bends and weaves into a new sort of physics, right before your ears. 

As he did with Starcrash, Cozzi somehow even manages to get an A-list composer to deliver a dynamite full-bodied score to something that would normally be subject to "library" tracks. He got John Barry to outdo John Williams in intergalactic bombast with Starcrash. Here he gets the legendary Pino Donaggio to deliver a prime mythic, hugely entertaining, even more bombastic score, full of Rocky-style coliseum brass and moody deep string ominousness. Did Cozzi prevent him Donaggio from seeing the movie during his composing, like he famously did with John Barry? I'd almost wager... Otherwise they would have, at the very least, lightened the heroic mood. But it's just that heroic mood that makes it all work. A single Les Baxter-style wink and the whole thing would deflate like a soufflé.

The dubbing too is all first-rate too, even the minor characters get professional well-recorded treatment, with Donaggio giving every absurd action the benefit of the doubt. This is a film never tries to be realistic, it gets that it is myth in its purest form, and evoking the gods is seldom far from any characters' lips, as it would be in any Greek tragedy (the Gods sometimes even seem to address the camera directly) and the lengthiest monologues are all incantations.  as if this pre-ordained saga, reflected in macro and micro dimensions as surely as any archetypal myth. This approach explodes the barriers between accidental Brechtianism, pure escapist mythmaking, and a child showing off his toy collection. Cozzi throws everything he has in the box at us, including Zeus-knows-what kind of filters and pieces of rainbow-reflective mylar held over the lens, mismatched matte paintings overlaid with multi-colored stars (white, red, blue, yellow, green, even purple). It's never too much; it is, in its sublime perfection, the very nature of magic. 

Then the sequel in 1985: Lots of light effects, overlays, fan art inspiration, clips from the last film, and everything a-nice.


Sixteen viewings in and I'm still trying to stay awake through it all, and I don't mean that as a negative. For me, it's like falling into a peaceful dream, one punctuated by occasionally druggy reveries, mythic parallels and name-that-influence excitement, like you'd get from a child proudly waving his tracing paper drawing of the Sinbad cyclops, rousing you from a languid nap. My only caveats: the terrible bangs on the overly-layered, super square wigs of all the female characters (they're so bad they have a 'my mama did the costumes for the high-school version of Phaedra); and the tired look of surprise in the 'Colin Ferrell as an old queen trying one last time to get into Studio 54'-red feather glam of the evil priest (Ventatino Ventinini), his red eye shadow barely visible against his ravaged face (but his red feather coat is dreamy). But all is forgiven when a fire monster animation comes out and, in grand Cozzi homage fashion, it's rotoscoped from Forbidden Planet's Monster from the Id! Another monster looks like a shaggy dog on two feet, and when Hercules sends in his electric outline to battle King Minos (back from beyond), they become rotoscoped outlines of the ('33) King Kong fighting the T-rex and the snake (and Minos' goofy spinning sword fighting style is back from the first film); there's also a (fairly primitive but nonetheless badass) claymation Medusa / giant scorpion hybrid (mixing two Clash of the Titans monsters into one); plenty of Tron-like light video game effects (the funniesT being when Herc punch-bounces a ball of light around a canyon), and an Excalibur-referencing forest of hanging souls ruled by a white knight. The Nino Rota coliseum theme music is back, and still great, but the dubbing is badly mixed; Lou Ferrigno gets to keep the great Marc Smith doing his, thank goodness, and he stays refreshingly deadpan, but there's a different guy doing Minos's voice and he mispronounces 'Daedalus'! And he's kind of a jerk.

One other caveat: all the costumes have grown so layered, overstuffed and bulky it's as if their trying to sneak out of their hotel without paying. And the choices in wigs and headwear are appalling: Zeus is still played by Claudio Cassinelli but instead of his simple tiara and droopy-bit-distinguished white beard, he's given a big 'Santa Clause performs a christening' robe with a weird crown that's like a cross between a yarmulke and a mixing bowl. 

Ferrigno however stays shirtless; he's totally shredded. The sets have painted on features so they resemble Dubuffet sculptures. But there are free standing parks and ruins they visit include a tangle with the slime people at the ever-eerie Parco dei Mostri in Bornazo, with the stone monsters' eyes glowing purple and red.

The plot has the gods basically divided, as a cabal of rebels try to overthrow Zeus by stealing and hiding his six thunderbolts! Most of the rest of the cast is back, though not all.  The lady playing evil Hera is different and suddenly we get Laura Lenzi (the cute mom in Manhattan Baby) as another evil goddess, Flora (?), who thinks it's a good idea to revive the evil Minos via that old upside down blood donor trick from Hammer's Dracula, Prince of Darkness ("Minos..... not again" groans Hercules). Berger flashes his best maniac grin once he's imbued with the power of "cunning, connivance, and chaos" thanks to Daedalus (again played by Eva Robbins) and given an ice sword forged by Cronus. Lots of other overdressed rebel gods zap in and out of the dimensions of time and space, or stand on giant surrealist mesas above bubbling matte paintings and below rainbow-starred outer space, evoking the weird trans-dimensional zones of 60s Jack Kirby comics. 

In short, I could watch this movie endlessly on repeat. There's not a single dull moment. Cozzi may not be the best director in the world, but he knows how to bundle mythic influences together in such a way as to make a movie endlessly fascinating, and as relaxing. He unerringly zones in on the things that make our favorite genre movies so re-watchable. In Herc's case you can tell what movies were on his mind, but it's one thing to ape the Olympus scenes in Crash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts and another to have a sexy agent of Chaos in the zone beyond time and space help the evil king kill all the gods in the nwme if science. When mortal characters step outside space and time to consult the gods they wave their arms around to give off trippy trails, supporting my theory on where the many arms of Hindu deities come from (see my post on Dvinorum Psychonauticus). 

And even more important is what is missing, those boring stretches of comic relief that other films seem to think is so important. No Bobo the owls or little cabin boys hoping to be a-plus captain one day, or little boy genies, or klutzy disciples holding onto the horses. 

I haven't even mentioned the lasers, sexy mermaids communicating via telepathy (ala Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women?), the crazy painted/scratched-on lightning, or that the cast consists of at least 3/4 women and none of them either sexually objectified or maternally consoling. A horny Amazon queen might turn out to be a giant spider, but that's to be expected.  

Sure, it's still a step down for the mighty Cozzi after the 'heights' of the previous film/s, but priceless lines abound: "Quick! Step inside the stone mouth!"; "Mother, give me the kiss of death." ; "Didn't you say the little people always spoke in truth?" ; "Your death shall free the souls!" ; "Be careful of the queen, Hercules, she is the most evil of all!"and Zeus raising his arms up high "Grow, Hercules! Growww!" If Cozzi's the Italian Ed Wood, this is clearly his Night of the Ghouls and that's a high compliment. Look fast for a shot of the rock-pulled chariot from the first film pulling into view from behind the moon during one of the many astral zip-arounds. 

Is it merely a sign Cozzi is using the same footage from the first film, or is Hercules truly outside of time and space, so the past and future exist simultaneously? 

Both? BOTH, i.e. the source of myth, time and space itself! It is here that Cozzi reigns. 


Lou Ferrigno is back in Cozzi country with a stop-over in Castellari-land, for this dopey-but impossible to dislike entry in the pre-CGI fantasy genre. The great Marc Richards isn't doing his dubbing this time, and his hair makes him seem like a juiced-up Eric Bogosian (with earrings), but he's OK; the main voice problem is an nearly omnipresent narration by a a dubbed Daria Nicolodi (if Daria got to read her own lines in Italian or English if she speaks it, it would probably rock), reading to her little daughter to override the no doubt uncompleted audio tracks (Italians shoot MOS, as we know). Sigh, you can adjust to those little caveats, the hair and the voice, it's typically looney-tunes Cozzi/Castellari, nonstop weird fun action, strong female characters (including a bodybuilder with an odd pitch-shifted voice), and a total lack of bad vibes. Apparently it was set to be an the production was set in motion by Cozzi, but Cannon for some reason decided it was so good it should be a series, but he couldn't do a series as he had prior engagements, so they whisked him away and replaced with him with Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors and Warriors of the Wasteland) which turned out to be a bad decision as he went over budget before giving up on it after shooting three hours of basically worthless footage. So Cozzi stepped back in to clean up the mess by adding narration to minimize how many scenes needed to be dubbed and--as he is wont to do--inserted many shots, masks, set pieces, and effects from his earlier films (including the mask from Paganini Horror, the cool red skull island miniature with the swirling fog from Hercules.My guess: Enzo completed the earlier (relatively) ornate village and palace scenes, but our dear "Coates" took over around the 1/3 way point, which is when it gets awesome as continuity is thrown to the wind for a series of awesome monster fights. As with the Hercules films and Starcrash, Cozzi's genius at trimming off every frame of boring exposition, filler, or 'normal' continuity, keeping only the cool stuff, yet somehow making it never feel rushed, disjointed, or shrill thanks to our innate love of myth. 

 The boilerplate Thief or Baghdad adventure (Jafar--John Steiner hypnotizing the king, throwing Sinbad and his crew in jail, and making plays for his comely daughter) suddenly skips ahead to a Adventures of Hercules, style redux where each monster has a thunderbolt or magic rock or something inside him or her that Ferrigno needs to reclaim. The fey evil Jaffar (John Steiner) can't quite match the 'science for the sake of science' happy King Minos in the Herc films, but when he throws a bunch of  gems or something all around the world and whisks Sinbad onto a wild fractured voyage to liberate various gems from inside various monsters, all is well.

The drawbacks are there: the mom dub, the pouffy hair, and Steiner is wayy too campy, as in telling his pitch-shift-voiced female bodybuilder ally Soukra (Teagan Clive): "you're really spoiling my biorhythm!" (she snaps later "have you taken your medications this morning?" sigh), but at least he seems to having a good time doing very little but tottering around a giant weird red geodesic set while watching Sinbad's adventures via crystal ball while the gorgeous princess Alina (Alessandra Martines) lays tied up and helpless below. In perhaps a nod to Jess Franco, there's mysterious blood-red liquid pulsing in the tubes above her attempting some kind of torturous mind control never elaborated on. He seems to really camp up his hetero-normative yen for her - and we can see why, she's de-gorgeous, but there's something missing there. And so we know Cozzi probably oversaw the set (it evokes the weird zones occupied by the gods and Deadalus' weird Kirby-esque chaos realms of the Hercules films) but Castellari did the filming and maybe the A-list dubbing artists were clearly too busy. 

But hey, Ferrigno gets to do lots of flexing, as when he wrestles with an animated bird cage (a very long sequence in which Ferrigno gives his all) or knocks heads off rock monsters or pulls out beating hearts with faces on them. He has the habit of throwing his sword away at the first sign of trouble, just so he can use his fists (though he can't be punching hard, as the foes just bounce back up and attack again with no loss of vigor). In the justifiably famous climax, he fights himself --which side won? We did! In prime TV wrestling style, after winning a fight he points at Jafar as if sensing the camera eye watching him from the crystal ball screen above the princess' geodesic prison and declares he's next. "I'm coming for you next, Ja-Farr!"

The cast includes--as usual for Cozzi--plenty of strong women, like a bunch of Amazons, whose queen (Melonee Rogers) makes men fall in love with her through her evil dances. Sinbad gets his own girl, Kyra (Stefania Goodwin - Bronx Warriors), the fun and capable daughter (with refreshingly endearing, natural-voiced dubbing) of a terribly overacting Depp-x-Mike Meyers-ish wizard with zee ridiculous mustache. It's worth it as Sinbad's new love is wondrous in her chill realness: fun, relaxed, not afraid to deliver some serious punches and kicks in the battle with the gooey lepers. here's some great footage shot from inside the basket of what must be an actual balloon floating over the water towards an actual ship, while Sinbad blows into the balloon to keep them all from sinking. It's silly but it's clearly real people down there on a real slim period boat, filmed from a real balloon, with the real actors in it. Did I mention the amazons? Cozzi forever!!!!  

Aside from the tiresome anachronistic banter between Soukra and Jaffar, the general air is compassionate. Little person Cork Hubbert is a comic relief member and--though forced into some ridiculous contrivances--is at least treated with relative dignity; the crew is a little too 'colorful' for their own good though, each trying hard in costume and facial hair to make sure you get that this one is a Viking or Asian or Scottish, like some international Village People, but hey, they all fight with rollicking good cheer and relative skill (were they stuntmen?) and they don't get in the way when its time for Ferrigno to do some wild feat, like break chains, run and/or swim in slow motion, knock a horse to the ground, climb up a ladder made of snakes, fight an empty suit of armor that shoots lasers out of its eyes, or resist the temptation of the Amazons! You can do it, Sinbad! ("You chose the wrong side... Dorita!")

 As with Starcrash (also with amazons, come to think of it. so is The Adventures of Hercules), the Achilles' heel del Cozzi is in full effect, namely a badly-mixed English dub that makes everyone sound like they're right up close to the microphone (i.e. voices not mixed in relation to character's distance) and clearly lacking a good English speaking dialogue director like we'd get with, say, Lucio Fulci. On the other hand, the cinematography is great, giving it a far more expensive patina than one would expect; and that two-tier, red metal-banded supervillain play pen set is pretty wild, and, hair or no, Ferrigno is impossible to dislike. His romance with Kyra is a late-inning highlight that's just so strangely right it makes me feel young and invested again. So just get over the overpoweringly banal narration and the sometimes wearying bitchiness of Soukra and Jaffar. There is much indeed to savor the Cozzi-llari Sinbadness while ye may.


A music video shoot for an all-girl rock band goes down at the historic landmark home of infamous violin virtuoso Paganini. It all goes awry when the all-girl rock band start disappearing during the breaks. Seems a masked ghost ala the Phantom of the Opera is stabbing them with a bladed violin after luring them forth via candles and typical horror-rock fantasy settings. Cool as that all is, it's plenty clear something or someone prevented Cozzi's full vision from being realized; a producer somewhere along the line nixed the kind of lunatic touches that would have made the film distinctly late-80s Cozzi. (I hear there's a German version that includes a prologue showing planetary movements, a celestial hourglass or scales or something indicating the cosmic balance). This naysaying producer clearly wanted this to be a gory slasher movie and to the devil with Cozzi's cosmic fatalism.

See, Italy had a kind of film subject future's market of bandwagon jumping --which meant they would find out what big new film was in the works, then make a smaller, quicker riff on the same subject, to kind of ride free on someone else's publicity budget. But to make sure the quick cash-in film was released at the same time, before, or right after with titles and a big budget you had to start production before said bigger budget film was even released, hence the gamble. So this big budget Paganini biopic was coming out, and there was already a rip-off version in the works at other studios. Hence Paganini Horror. BUT then the epic main movie tanked out, so Cozzi lost the high art tentpole he probably planed to use in defense of the high weirdness going on and the quick easy buck of the slasher took over. 

The final compromise involves a booby trap-rigged house, steeped in occult ritual thanks to Paganini's horrible history--that Daria Nicolodi rents out to a video shoot run by a Dario Argento-style horror maven who can't quite figure out how to keep shooting when the (very cool) all girl 80s Euro-rock band starts disappearing (he solves it by making use of the copious available mannequins). The only way to survive is to master Paganini's final score (copped from Donald Pleasance in a back alley of Venice) well enough to play it backwards before the maestro's masked spirit kills again!

The worst part of it all actually is that Donald Pleasance is dubbed by someone else!! What's the point? His voice is everything! Still, as with the best Cozzis (above and below) what saves it all and makes it a true gem is the real palpable love and respect for the genre, and for strong women, that suffuses everything. When they gaze into camera for the video, you can read deep into the girl band's souls and they seem to be having a high old time making this film. The cinematography is lovely, captured in burnished oranges and browns, with lots of candles, and --alas--it's all too short, with a hyper-ironic, if unsatisfying, ending. Maestro! Did you have to kill the cute bassist chick first! Aye shalom! (full review of Blu-ray here)

Earlier COZZI CANON (previously covered)


Starcrash moves so fast from cliffhanger to cliffhanger it has less to do with its obvious 'inspiration' and more in common with one of those compressed feature film versions of the 1936 serial Flash Gordon (right down the helmets, and the hero's escaping his/her stint shoveling fuel into the enemy blast furnace) crossed with the Golden and 7th Sinbad Voyages. And it has even less to do with actual science, which is a relief. The John Barry score is far better than John Williams' score for Star Wars; the sets, guns, and costumes are all super kinky and wild; outer space is laden with lava lamp overlays and stars as varied in color and size as a drunk Xmas tree. Christopher Plummer--decked out in a kind of Versace sci-fi hallucination-- gets to shout out to a far off space ship that he will now "freeze time itself!" and as his son, David Hasselhof has never looked prettier. Clearly Cozzi lavished attention on weird details like kinky cool costumes, crazy sets, and wild giddy imagination, but left choices for the clunky English dub, and editing, in less wondrous hands. The cast is great but only half of them, since the extra value they would have brought doing their own voices is lost. (Plummer keeps his though). There's also the issue of Marjoe Gortner who comes off like a tooth-whitened Vegas magician crossed with an over-caffeinated animatronic Peter Pan (and his hair is curly). Stella has a lot of sexy and slick outfits though, with wide Vampirella collars. The diaper/chastity belt thing is not a good look however. Released in America by New World Pictures, so as with their other films, it has to clock in at under 90 minutes irregardless of how many sets and action set pieces are going on, leading to a giddy rushed feel (Star Wars lest Roger forget, clocked in at a healthy 2+ hours)  (full review here)


This Italian ALIEN-inspired sci-fi adventure gets a bad rap in some circles but I adore it. Rather than just have some amok alien eating crew members, this keeps itself on Earth in the present, and decides to focus in on the pod-to-stomach-stage, with rows of ugly watermelon slime pods that explode when ripe and cause instant explosions in the stomach of everyone in horseshoe vicinity. I dig the obvious phone book size padding under the victim's shirts before the explosions; I dig the traumatic Freudian-cave-on-Mars flashbacks; the unearthly humming whale-ish noise the pods make when they're fixing to blow. I dig the vibe between the NYC cop who discovers the initial shipment (Marino Mase), the female colonel (!) of the Army's special disease control unit (Louise Marleau) and the traumatized astronaut (Ian McCulloch). The three team up in a sexy 'gentleman's agreement' synergy and head down to Colombia where they're soon ensnared up in a big slimy alien's world domination plan, ala It Conquered the World. 

Louise Marleau's heroine finds a worth opposite number in lovely blonde Gisela Hahn as the evil mastermind's right hand, and I love the alien itself, especially that bicycle reflector eye and the glistening artichoke coloring. Lastly, what really earns my goofball admiration is the Goblin soundtrack. That late-70s-80s European prog rock style has aged well. I don't know what else you need to make you love this dumbass film the way that I do. Whatever's missing, you don't need it.

AKA Demons 6: De Profundus  (1989)

A parallel program to the Argento-Bava-Soavi school, this unofficial metatextual sequel to Argento's Suspiria (and sixth in the catch-all Demons series) factors in post-modern self-reflexivity to keep you guessing, including the Mater Suspiriorum  source of sources (Thomas de Quincey's Confession of an Opium Eater). Argento is name-checked and there's even some familiar Goblin cues from Suspiria.Screenwriter Marc (Urbano Barberini) writes a treatment for the story of a witch named Lavania. He thought he made the name up. But there was a witch by that name, and she's rising from her grave a little farther every time the word 'Lavania' is spoken. Her face and hands are grotesque pustules (ala Lamberto's first two films), but she begins to take over the mind of Marc's wife, Anne (Florence Guérin) and causes her to hallucinate guts flying out of the TV. A hot local psychic encourages Marc to change the character's name to something else, but he won't.  Meanwhile, without even knowing the story he's writing, new mom Ann starts to demand to play the role, saying she "is" Lavania. How would she know? But what about sexy Caroline Munro, who starts luring Marc into the sack for the Lavania part? Michele Soavi plays the director. I didn't even have time to mention the undead financial backer! Confused? Join the club. Still I'd rather go on a Cozzi ride-- even if its bumpy, and dangerously near collapsing--than play it safe on some competent piece of junk like Lost Souls or Stigmata -hai capito? (full review here). 

Cozzi's GODZILLA Remix (1977)

“I urge you to look at bad films, they are so often sublime.”– Ado Kyrou

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