It’s that time of year again. How to decide what’s “best” out of the six-hundred-plus movies I watched in 2020? It’s an impossible task, so here’s a fairly random selection of things which may not be best, but certainly appealed to me and stuck in my memory.
Minor Euro-horror gets the deluxe treatment in several releases from Blue Underground, Grindhouse Films and Severin; three features by Dutch director Dick Maas – De Lift (1983), Amsterdamned (1988) and Down (2001) – and three from Lucio Fulci – Cat in the Brain (1990), Aenigma (1987) and Demonia (1990) – along with Simone Scafidi’s Fulci for Fake (2019), an illuminating documentary about Fulci.
Unhappy with her career in Hollywood, actress Carroll Baker moved to Italy in the mid-’60s where she starred in a number of genre movies, including four erotic thrillers by Umberto Lenzi which bridge the gap between classic women-in-peril mysteries and the giallo. All four are collected together by Severin in their lavish The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection Blu-ray box set.
In popular culture, and exploitation movies, cannibals are the disreputable cousins of the zombie; they have the embarrassing habit of eating unsuspecting people without any supernatural justification. There’s a distinct difference, though, between American and Italian cannibal movies – the former adhering to tropes related to serial killer stories, while the latter draw on anthropological ideas to provide a gloss of realism to graphic exploitation imagery. The contrast can be seen clearly between Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring (2009), Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ (2019) and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981).
Francesco Rosi’s most emotionally resonant film, a four-part adaptation of the memoir of painter Carlo Levi, who was exiled by the Fascist government in 1935 to a remote corner of Italy, is a rich, contemplative study of a Leftist intellectual who comes to empathize with the harsh lives of peasants left behind by the modernization of Italy. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition serves the striking imagery well and provides substantial supportive supplements which provide historical context and situate the film in Rosi’s politically informed filmography.
Shameless is a British label dedicated to exploitation movies (with a mission statement emphasizing sleaze and outrage) which has been issuing mostly Italian genre titles for more than a decade with mixed results in terms of quality; thanks to a recent on-line sale, I just binged some of their releases which cover the spectrum in terms of quality (both technical and creative).