Color, 1972, 90 mins. 21 secs. / 88 mins. 18 secs.
Directed by Romano Scavolini
Starring Evelyn Stewart, Ivan Rassimov, Luigi Pistilli, Pilar Velazquez, Ezio Marano, Edilio Kim, Shawn Robinson, Gianni Dei
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Camera Obscura (Blu-ray & DVD) (Austria R0 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 1972, 94 mins. 56 secs.
Directed by Edoardo Mulargia & Giampaolo Lomi
Starring Anthony Steffen, Anita Strindberg, Gabriele Tinti, Umberto Raho, Alfio Nicolosi, Kathryn Witt
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Camera Obscura (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray) (France RB HD), Cinekult (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 1977, 91 mins. 36 secs.
Directed by Ferdinando Baldi
Starring Arthur Kennedy, John Richardson, Massimo Foschi, Sofia Dionisio, Dana Ghia, Venantino Venantini, Loretta Persichetti
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Camera Obscura (DVD) (Austria R2 PAL), Surf (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

For all the familiar giallo titles successfully Spirits of Deathexported to English-speaking countries in the 1970s from the likes of Dario Argento and Sergio Martino, it seems there were just as many Italian thrillers unfairly ignored and left to languish in obscurity. Some of these have resurfaced in the DVD and Blu-ray eras and earned a fan following, revealing a breadth and weirdness to the subgenre that still hasn't been fully appreciated. You won't find any of the heavy hitter names in Vinegar Syndrome's Forgotten Gialli: Volume 5 Blu-ray set, but you will get a trio of eccentric murder mysteries including two from the busiest year in giallo history, 1972. By this point the scenarios had really gone overboard ranging from death by cuckoo clock to sexual therapy by Satanic cult, and you can feel that go-for-broke approach throughout this entire set.

One particularly tantalizing title arrives first with A White Dress for Marialé (Un bianco vestito per Marialé), also shopped around to distributors as Spirits of Death, whose gorgeous music score (one of the best ever composed for a giallo) by composer Fiorenzo Carpi and arranger/conductor Bruno Nicolai has become far more well known that the film for which it was written. Horror fans also have reason to give this one a look since it was the first genre film from director Romano Scavolini, who went on to helm the notorious slasher film Nightmare nine years later. At the time Scavolini was only known for his early experimental art films like The Blind Fly and The Dress Rehearsal, and in later years he went on to say that White Dress was better forgotten and mainly a work for hire for him. It's actually a terrific film, the sort of outrageous fusion of horror tropes and flamboyant experimental techniques that resulted in some of the more memorable '70s shockers, and as anyone who's seen an interview with Scavolini can attest, his colorful opinions aren't necessarily the best point of reference. In any case, for some reason this film has been maddeningly difficult to see over the years with only a letterboxed Italian VHS transfer offering even a rough approximation of its original power; thankfully the 2013 release from one of the world's most fascinating genre labels, Camera Obscura, has corrected that situation and then some.

Our macabre tale begins with a young girl named Marialé experiencing the worst afternoon imaginable as her father drives her out to the woods and lets her watch as he pumps bullets into her unfaithful mother (giallo regular Stewart, aka Ida Galli) and her lover (Patrick Still Lives' Dei) before taking his own life. Flash forward to the adult Marialé, now played by Stewart as well, who lives in a Gothic castle with her domineering husband, Paolo (Bay of Blood's Pistilli). He keeps her inside at all times, much to her emotional distress, and apparently feels she's too unstable to mingle with the rest of society. However, Marialé decides to Spirits of Deathrebel by inviting a group of friends over for the evening without his consent, and when they show up, he begrudgingly goes along. Among the arrivals are her friend Massimo (All the Colors of the Dark's Rassimov), for whom she might feel a bit more than she's letting on, and other colorful characters like spitfire Mercedez (Velazquez) and a foot fetishist named Gustavo (Kim). They all decide to explore the castle and wind up in an underground chamber where they find some bedsheet-covered mannequins, one of them wearing the bloodied white dress worn by Marialé's mother at the time of her murder. Our heroine decides to wear it to dinner that night, which quickly turns into an orgy of face painting, psychedelic rock music, free love, and more than a couple of savage murders.

Giallo fans should get quite a kick out of this film which opened the same year as the somewhat similar Sergio Martino film, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, also featuring Pistilli as a controlling husband, a string of murders, and a naughty dinner bacchanal involving a black woman as the erotic centerpiece. In the case of this film, that role is played by singer Shawn Robinson (in her only film role), best known for crooning on several Piero Piccioni '70s soundtracks. Here she gets to run around the dining room mostly naked except for a strap-on, which isn't the most common way of breaking into show business. Significantly, Scavolini also served as his own cinematographer here, and the results are very impressive. It's a gorgeous film from start to finish with striking scope compositions throughout as well as vivid use of symbolic color, especially the all-important white and red along with bright splashes of blue.

The first official release of this film in decades, the Camera Obscura DVD looks terrific and up to their usual transfer standards. Spirits of DeathThere's really nothing to complain about here; the film elements have been kept in spotless shape, and the quality here is light years beyond the old VHS version fans have had to put up with for years. The Italian 2.0 mono track also sounds very good, especially when it comes to Carpi's score, and optional subtitles are included in both English and German. There's also a fine audio commentary (in German with English subtitles) by label regular Christian Kessler and Marcus Stiglegger, who immediately refute Scavolini's dismissal of the film and cover the ins and out of the cast and crew while observing its often jolting visual flair. The rest of the extras are worthwhile as well, highlighted by a 36m42s interview featurette with Scavolini entitled "Esoteric & Cryptic" (whose meaning only becomes clear at the very end). He's very gregarious here and covers several decades in his career from his early avant garde work (including some technical film snafus) to his stint as a Vietnam war photographer, though obviously most of the time is focused on this film. He clarifies his previous disparaging comments, saying he thinks it should only be forgotten as part of his filmography, and explains how he only took the assignment under the condition that he extensively rewrite the script. Apparently the original version was more of a straightforward gory horror film, so Scavolini added the surreal banquet and orgy and made it more of an exercise in twisted psychology. (Don't worry, there are still several gruesome murders in the last act.) He also goes into the techniques he used to shoot the film in the comparatively limited Techniscope format but make it look like a much richer Panavision production, and yes, he briefly touches on Nightmare as well. He also lavishes praise on the Carpi score (including a cue he requested to sound as much like "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" as possible) and reveals that the film's lyrical theme was used to launch maiden voyages of the Concorde! Also included are the Italian trailer, the French trailer (under the title Exorcisme Tragique!), a 5m2s reel of minor deleted scenes, a photo gallery of stills and video art, and an English and German liner notes booklet containing a very involved scholarly breakdown of the film by Kai Naumann, who traces its Spirits of DeathGothic influences and symbolic elements. An exceptional release and a major cause for celebration for Italian horror aficionados.

The 2022 Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray sports a new 4K scan, as with its companion features, and reveals that the prior Camera Obscura disc was still running at PAL speed despite being in HD (clocking in two minutes longer here). That earlier scan was already excellent, but this one outdoes it looking a notch brighter with more depth and detail in the darker scenes than before. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track sounds excellent and features optional English subtitles. A new, different interview with Scavolini, "Forget This Movie" (20m20s), offers another overview of the production as he was approached early in his career on the heels of a prestigious award to helm a commercial project that was pretty much set by the time he got the "humiliating" shooting script he had to overhaul. In "A White Dress for Evelyn" (55m3s), Galli/Stewart offers a thorough, affectionate look back at her career from her upbringing through her entry into acting including her tenure as a giallo icon. An audio essay by Rachael Nisbet (16m37s) does a very solid job of analyzing this as a subset of the Gothic giallo with touches of psychology, classical tragedy, and Christie thrown into the mix. Also included are the deleted scenes reel and the subtitled Italian and French trailers.

Even by the outlandish standards of Tropic of Cancer1972 gialli, the second film in the Vinegar Syndrome set, Tropic of Cancer, is one seriously nutty film; it's little Tropic of Cancerwonder most distributors passed on it when they couldn't figure out how to even begin selling it to the public. Of course, it's that same genre-mashing battiness that makes it a potential cult classic now ripe for rediscovery. Our tale of tropical treachery begins when married couple Grace (Lizard in a Woman's Skin's Strindberg) and Fred (Tinti, aka Mr. Laura Gemser) arrive in Haiti to heal their broken marriage, but complications arise when they connect with Fred's friend, Dr. Williams (Steffen), who's created an in-demand new formula that sounds an awful lot like a forerunner to Viagra. Soon bodies start piling up on the island, and Grace finds herself succumbing to the lure of native flesh around her. Who will wind up in bed with whom, and how high will the body count go in between Grace's erotic acid trips?

For Italian film fans, this film features an impressive roster of giallo royalty led by the always interesting Strindberg, who gets to do some feverish scenes reminiscent of but even kinkier than her earlier ones in Lizard. She doesn't really get to stretch her acting muscles here as much as she did for Sergio Martino, but she handles what she's given quite well. Then you have the late Tinti, who was about to embark on a huge career with his wife after an aborted attempt at Hollywood stardom, and the always shady Steffen, a onetime spaghetti western hero who had just lost his marbles on screen in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. However, the biggest scene stealer here might be Alfio Nicolosi, earlier seen uncredited in Goodbye Uncle Tom as a portly plantation owner, here playing a degenerate local mover and shaker named Peacock (complete with a harem of naked male servants). Tropic of CancerFor some reason prints of this film tend to Tropic of Cancergive it the subtitle of Peacock's Palace, and it's not hard to see why. Also noteworthy is the score by Piero Umiliani (commissioned at the last minute after an earlier one was rejected), which piles on the smooth grooves along with a few familiar quotations from some of his earlier work. Strangely, neither of the directors had any other involvement with gialli (or mondo films for that matter, which this film briefly turns into on a couple of memorably nasty occasions). Giampaolo Lomi only directed one other (obscure) film, while Mulargia specialized mainly in westerns before turning to the notorious women-in-prison film Escape from Hell (also starring Steffen.

Though it made the rounds on the trading circuit in terrible, dupey VHS condition, Tropic of Cancer has been a film far more mentioned than actually seen for decades. It finally made its official DVD debut in Italy in 2011, but there were no English-friendly options at all. Fortunately the Camera Obscura DVD from 2012 picked up the slack and then some; the transfer looks gorgeous throughout, and the Italian and German language tracks are included with optional subtitles in English or German. (Also, gotta love that German title: Inferno unter heisser Sonne.) Though the packaging carries a Region 2 logo, the disc itself actually appears to be region free. On the extras front, the biggest is an interview with Lomi called "Shot in Haiti" (31m51s) in which he talks about coming to the country after the notoriously epic shoot there for Goodbye Uncle Tom, casting the film, the origin of the film's title and its slightly different Italian one (Al tropico del Cancero, a slight variation on the Tropic of Cancername of the famous Henry Miller novel), and even later running into Nicolosi, a serious food lover who Tropic of Cancerbecame a chef. Film writer Antonio Bruschini, a familiar face from previous Camera Obscura releases, gets a separate video piece called "Bruschini's Place" (11m59s) in which he offers a rundown of the film's status and serious manipulation within the giallo format and gives quick biographical sketches of the major players. The disc then closes out with the German trailer and a photo gallery of posters and lobby cards, while Christian Kessler offers a fun liner notes essay called "At the Tropic of the Black Gloves."

A French Blu-ray from Le Chat Qui Fume popped up for sale briefly but was gone before most folks even knew it existed, so the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray will probably be the first time at bat for most viewers. The new 4K scan looks superb here, retaining the naturally grainy look along with the ultra vibrant, sun-drenched golden look of the film. Color timing is pretty close to the earlier presentation apart from tamping down a bit on the heavy blues that popped up during the night scenes. The usual Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is here and sounds excellent with optional translated English subtitles, but a big incentive to upgrade here is the ultra-rare English-language track (with optional English SDH subtitles). The film was actually shot in English with the actors looped later (as usual for the time), and it's a far more comfortable viewing experience that way. A new interview with Lomi, "Sex, Voodoo and Dictatorship" (32m57s), goes into his desire to shoot his own film in Haiti, his interactions with President Duvalier, his rapport with the Brazilian-born Steffen, the rest of the casting process, and thoughts on his co-director. A video essay by Nisbet (18m9s) examines the film as a cross-pollination with the mondo movie as well as a curio in the shadow of Goodbye Uncle Tom. Also included are a reel of outtakes (2m40s), the English Peacock Place main and end titles, and the English and Italian trailers.

Finally Nine Guests for a Crimewe get to 1977's Nine Guests for a Crime, one of the later twists on the whole "group of people getting knocked Nine Guests for a Crimeoff in a beautiful location" formula, churned out as the genre was getting sleazier and cheaper in the latter half of the '70s. This one is the handiwork of the late Ferdinando Baldi, a director best known for his spaghetti westerns like Blindman and Comin' at Ya! However, as he proved with the ultra-sleazy Terror Express, he could splash around in sleazy waters as well as anyone, and this one definitely fits in that category.

This time out, a prologue involving man getting attacked and buried in the sand while still alive sets the tone for this sun and surf slasher film in which rich, older businessman Ubaldo (Living Dead at Manchester Morgue's Kennedy) hauls his family to an isolated villa on a rocky island. On the boat ride over they swap observations like "My dear, why don't you think about all the times you betrayed your husband," just the first of many catty, sex-obsessed exchanges during the running time. Once they arrive the squabbling escalates, the blouses start falling off, and important pistols get tucked away for safety in metal boxes we just know will come in handy later. Then a killer in a scuba outfit pops up to to fire a flare gun into one of the family's nameless sailors and stashes the yacht out of sight, leaving everyone stranded on the island to swim, fish, and die. Meanwhile one of Ubaldo's sons, Michele (Jungle Holocaust's Foschi), keeps making the movies on his dad's sexy new wife (Persichetti) while his own "frigid" and "stupid" spouse (Emmanuelle 2's Laurence) turns a blind eye. Michele's two brothers, Lorenzo (Torso's Richardson) and Walter (City of the Living Dead's Venantini), have their own domestic issues to deal with, but that all falls by the wayside when the bodies start piling up (and disappearing at random). Nine Guests for a CrimeThen the survivors stumble on a literal skeleton in their closet connected to Ubaldo's spinster Nine Guests for a Crimesister, Elizabeth (Ghia), and all hell really breaks loose.

Though too formulaic to be a classic, Nine Guests for a Crime is a lively and entertaining offering crammed with some surprisingly vicious murder scenes (one character getting wrapped in a net and set ablaze is particularly harrowing). The ridiculously overqualified cast easily elevates the script by Fabio Pittorru, the scribe behind the very similar The Weekend Murders as well as other gialli like The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, while composer Carlo Savina drapes it all in a slinky score complete with liberal quotations from his work on Lisa and the Devil. Basically imagine a much raunchier, bloodier remake of Mario Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon, and you'll get the idea.

Again coming to the salvation of a title long unavailable in a decent edition (most widely seen in fan subbed bootlegs of the improperly flagged Italian DVD), Camera Obscura decked this film out with a deluxe DVD edition in 2014 starting with a very impressive transfer of the main feature itself. The opening is shot with intentionally distressed contrast and a gauzy fabric over the camera to create a hazy atmosphere, but don' t be alarmed; after that everything is sharp and quite visually satisfying, though the film itself has a very bright, gritty texture throughout. As usual, the mono audio is presented in the original Italian and German dubbed with optional subtitles in English and German. (Apart from Kennedy, pretty much everyone appears to be speaking Italian so that track works quite well.) There's a fine audio commentary in German (with optional English subs) by Christian Kessler and Marcus Stiglegger, who go into exhaustive detail about the actors, run through the ins and outs of Baldi's strange filmography, and in the most hilarious detour, discuss their own contrasting preferences in women by comparing the actresses in the film. As for the rest, the major video extra is "Nine Little Indians" (26m4s) with Foschi (speaking in Italian with optional English or German subs) sketching out the basics of his career beginnings and chatting about shooting in Sardinia, working with the "paternalistic" Kennedy, espousing the virtues of living in Tuscany, and the only gory scene he ever shot that he felt was really necessary. As a bonus, you also get the really crazy (textless) Italian trailer, a gallery of stills and poster art, and a liner notes booklet containing an essay by Kai Naumann (who charts the Nine Guests for a Crimeinfluence of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians on this and the thriller format in general) and a text interview with production Nine Guests for a Crimedesigner Giovanni Licheri, who covers his collaboration with Baldi and shares a particularly funny anecdote about the victim in the film's opening scene.

As good as that DVD was, the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray surpasses it handily with a rich 4K remaster that looks absolutely gorgeous (apart from that intentionally ragged opening scene). In addition to the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Italian track with English translated subtitles, this one launches into essential territory with the addition of the very elusive English track. It's actually a more enjoyable viewing experience that way as you get Kennedy's distinctive original voice here and some familiar dubbing artists filling in the rest of the cast (who were speaking a hodgepodge of Italian and English based on their lip movements). Optional English SDH subs are provided for that track as well. A different Foschi interview, "Giallo in Sardinia" (26m52s), covers his memories of the industry including his work as a dubbing artist, his experiences with Baldi after missing out on an earlier film together, and his thoughts on the cast. Nisbet returns again for a third video essay, this time looking at the body count giallo in more detail, Baldi's unusual one shot at the subgenre, and the ways this strays from the traditions of the time. The Italian trailer (this time with text cards) is also included.

A WHITE DRESS FOR MARIALE: Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)

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A WHITE DRESS FOR MARIALE: Camera Obscura (Blu-ray)

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TROPIC OF CANCER: Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)

Tropic of Cancer Tropic of Cancer Tropic of Cancer Tropic of Cancer Tropic of Cancer

TROPIC OF CANCER: Camera Obscura (DVD)

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NINE GUESTS FOR A CRIME: Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)

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Nine Guests for a Crime Nine Guests for a Crime Nine Guests for a Crime Nine Guests for a Crime Nine Guests for a CrimeReviewed on August 20, 2022