11/16/09

The 1978 Italian Double Feature: Damned In Venice and Blazing Bullets

Hey folks. It's the beginning of the week, and that means another dose of Italian cinema. This week I've got a pair of features for you that both made their way to the screen 31 years ago in 1978. First up, Dammned in Venice manages to rip off The Omen and still come out on top. Then all the fast and furious Fiats you could want in Blazing Bullets. So comb your mustaches, pour a double shot of J&B Whiskey, and enjoy this pair of films brought to you by The Bugg and Once Upon a Time in Italy.

Damned in Venice (1978) [Italian: Nero veneziano] starring Renato Cestie, Rena Niehaus, and Yorgo Voyagis. Directed by Ugo Liberatore.

A young blind boy, Mark (Renato Cestie) begins to have visions of death and tragedy as he and his sister Christine (Rena Niehaus) go to live in a boarding house in Venice. His sister ignores his warning of a dark force that seeks to invade their lives even as people around them start to die. After Dan (Yorgo Voyagis), who Mark has seen in his visions, takes a room in the house, Christine soon becomes pregnant with what Mark believes is the child of Satan. Unable to find any help, and perhaps even being a pawn in the game, Mark is helpless to prevent the birth of the Antichrist and the coming Apocalypse.

Damned in Venice was not the first, or the last, of the Omen/Rosemary’s Baby clones released in Italy in the late seventies, but for my money, it may well be nearly the best. Other than the plot revolving around the birth of the Antichrist, there is little to the that seems unoriginal. While the pacing of the movie is a bit slow, the twists and turns of the plot will leave even the most studious of watchers guessing right up until the very last scenes. I’m no fan of remakes, but I would love to see this forgotten film get a retelling.

I even have to give it up for young Ronato Cestie for a pretty fine performance as Mark. Child actors in low budget features are usually not very adept at their roles, but Cestie gets high marks from me. He not only does a good job selling his blindness, but he also gives a fine performance as he helplessly watches his sister overwhelmed by the powers of darkness. Cestie was no stranger to the screen by this point having had roles in Fulci’s The Return of White Fang, Martino’s Torso, and Mario Bava’s classic Twitch of a Death Nerve.

The other performances that ground the film are quite good as well. Rena Niehaus transitions Christine quite well from innocent young girl to the “Mary” of Satan’s evil plot. Yorgo Voyagis (Pavlo in the classic Zorba the Greek) provides the necessary amount of menace as the carrier of Satan’s seed, and Fabio Gamma, playing the man who weds Christine even though she is already with child, is fabulous. His performance as the tortured husband, and the only one who accepts Mark’s visions, is the emotional linchpin of the piece. Also watch out for a brief appearance by Greek actress Olga Karlatos who would go on to star in Fulci’s Murder Rock and play Prince’s mom in the film Purple Rain.

For anyone who is a fan of films like Beyond the Door or Carpi’s Ring of Darkness, you’ll find a lot to like here. The supernatural elements are kept pretty low key, and mostly they are relegated to within Mark’s eerie visions. This gives the film a tone that almost combines the supernatural with a giallo. It is difficult to see where the film is headed, but by the time you get to the destination it is a conclusion that will leave you with chills running down your spine.

Bugg Rating

Blazing Bullets (a.k.a Blazing Flowers) starring Marc Porel, George Hilton, Al Cliver, and Mario Novelli. Directed by Gianni Martucci.

Pino (Porel) is a nice young man who just happens to be getting out of jail after a 6 year stint for armed robbery. Pino Scalise is also a heck of a driver, but those days are behind him. As he leaves the jail in Sicily, he heads out for a new life with his uncle in Milan. He even gets a job driving, but just loads of flowers this time. Pino begins to settle in to his new life, and his uncle sends him out for a night on the town. Running into an old underworld friend, Pino spends a night in a high class brothel with a beautiful woman. It’s not until later he discovers the woman, Firoella, is actually his cousin Mariana. Furious that his cousin is being kept as a prostitute, he makes connections to get her freedom with the head of the local mafia, Don Chicco. A deal is struck, and Pino must take the wheel for one last job.

The original Italian title to this film, Milano... difendersi o moirĂ©, is roughly translated to mean “Milan to defend themselves or to die”. I think this gives a better picture to what the movie is than the American or UK re-titles. This is the age old tale of a criminal trying to stay on the straight and narrow, and being forced back into crime for noble reasons. Some would say I left a giant hole in my synopsis when I failed to bring in George Hilton’s hard edged cop, Inspector Morani. While I enjoyed Hilton’s performance, the film really takes its cues and center from the story of Pino Scalise.

Writer/Director Gianni Martucci has only five credits in his directing career with the last being 1988’s The Red Monk produced by Lucio Fulci. I bring this up because there is a strong Fulci connection throughout this film. Lead actor Marc Porel appeared in The Psychic and Don’t Torture a Duckling, George Hilton in Massacre Time, Al Cliver of Zombi 2 shows up here as a smooth criminal, and The New Gladiators’ Mario Novelli rounds it out as the hood who gets Pino back in the life. Even cinematographer Gianni Ferrio has a Fulci connection as he was the shooter for the Fulci/Lenzi mess of a film Zombi 3, but don’t hold that against him. Here he provides some amazing shots which showcase the actors and the beauty of Milan perfectly.

This is the kind of Euro-Crime flick that I like. There’s a good main story, and lots of nice subplots. There are beautiful women and the screen oozes with style from both of the sexes. It’s got fistfights, shootouts, and car crashes a plenty. It’s got criminals with cool names like Nosey and Domino. Then there’s the evocative soundtrack of Gianni Ferrio which comes across more like the soundtrack to a film noir, and gives Blazing Bullets a sense of grandness. This feeling juxtaposes the mundane life Pino craves with the criminal life he must bear. I would be remiss if I did not mention this. There’s the most amazing cigarette dispenser I’ve ever seen about thirty minutes into the film. So if you like action, Euro-crime, or Poliziotteschi flicks, check this one out.

Bugg Rating

Unfortunately, neither of these gems have any trailers of clips I can offer you. But you can pick up both of these through Cinema de Bizarre. So head on over, pick them up, and make sure you tell them T.L. sent ya.


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