• Ecco / The Forbidden (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: January 29th, 2019.
    Directed by: Gianni Proia/R. Lee Frost, Benjamin Andrews
    Cast: George Sanders, Alexander, Maria Ansaldi, Baby Bubbles, Bod Cresse
    Year: 1963/1966
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    Ecco / The Forbidden – Movie Reviews:

    When Mondo Cane turned out to be box office gold in theaters around the world in 1962, it went to reason that knock offs would follow. While very few of these imitators could match the skill behind Jacopetti and Prosperi’s original shockumentary, there were a few that came close. The two Mondo movies that Severin Films, with some help from Something Weird Video, have teamed up on this double feature are, unfortunately, from the first category but while they’re not particularly good in the traditional sense, they’re not without merit. Ecco in particular has some really inspired moments while The Forbidden works well as the kind of trash movie that co-director R. Lee Frost is often associated with.


    Made only a year after the success of Mondo Cane by director Gianni Proia (who seems to have done very little outside of the Mondo genre), Ecco is actually the third entry in the Mondo Di Notte series and was also released in North America as This Shocking World.

    Opening narration from George Sanders encourages us to relax and enjoy, as the camera is about to show us all manner of oddities. Unfortunately, most of the oddities we do see are fairly tame by Mondo movie standards, and far too many of them involve strippers or burlesque shows. While strippers are certainly fun to look at, age has certainly diminished their impact as a cinematic oddity, just as it’s rendered what was once probably considered an exotic display of karate into little more than a really simple look at the most common of martial arts. Aside from the strippers, both male and female, the film does give us a glimpse inside the world-famous Grande Guignol Theater in Paris. While we see only fleeting seconds of what we’re told is the last performance, we do get a few nice shots on the interior of the building which is interesting to see given the historical significance of what occurred there. At one point we see a daredevil ride a bike over a high wire and then later some monks travel to a remote monastery in a rather unorthodox manner. Rowdy Brazilians dance like crazy and Nigerian girls perform without tops on in native ‘attire’ and then later party down at a more western nightclub.

    Despite the fact that much of Ecco’s running time is made up of less exotic oddities than fans would probably hope to see, the movie does work. It is well shot with quite a bit of obvious care and thought put into the cinematography. This results in a very good-looking movie that takes full advantage of its widescreen aspect ratio. The film isn’t all that revelatory or educational and you’re not going to take a whole lot away from a screening but it does show how careful photography can make a less inspired picture seem more interesting than it really is.

    A huge part of what makes Ecco work is the narration from George Sanders, best known for his Oscar winning performance in All About Eve. Sanders delivers his comments with class and plenty of condescending wit, so that even during the slower parts of the movie the film is still at least marginally entertaining. Condescending narration has always been a long-standing part of the Mondo experience, be it from someone like Boris Karloff in Mondo Bizarro or Francis B. Gross in Faces Of Death, and Sanders proves quite adept at handling the subtleties of delivering an appropriately snooty performance with no small amount of style. In short, he’s fun to listen to and that goes a long way towards the success of the picture. Bob Cresse (writer and producer of Love Camp 7 and plenty of other trash movies), who scripted the English version of the movie, also deserves credit for working in the odd play on words and double entendre, again adding to the intentionally humorous slant of a few key scenes. If Sanders is guilty of poking fun at other cultures and the movie comes off as far less than politically correct at times, it does need to be understood that again, this is simply part of the Mondo experience. Setting all of this nonsense to a rather pleasing score courtesy of Riz Ortolani doesn’t hurt things in the least either.

    The most famous scene in the film is that where a man pieces his own body with some long needles. This was used in the advertising art for the picture and was represented on the cover of the original DVD release from Something Weird Video as well (Severin have opted to use different imagery for this Blu-ray but that’s still him on the left side there). It’s a fairly disturbing sequence, as it does appear to be real as does a scene where a woman castrates a male deer with her teeth (though really, we don’t see much actually happen on screen here). Those sensitive to animal violence won’t like this scene, which takes place in Lapland, nor will they like the all too real footage of some Portuguese whalers plying their trade. This is made up for with a long sequence where we see some Swedish ‘Teddy Boys’ drink and drive and footage at a French club where members choose the finest derriere on display. More scandalous than that? Why, in America young women engage in… roller derby! The black mass that is included in the film is laughable and it feels more like a high school Halloween play with a bit of blood and T&A thrown in than the real thing. But it makes for interesting contrast to an Italian wedding ceremony where a bride is made to crawl on her knees up the stairs to an ornate church in hopes of gaining a more fertile womb.

    The Forbidden:

    Not nearly as well made but rather entertaining in its own right is the second feature on this disc, The Forbidden. Those familiar with the output of Lee Frost will have at least have a faint idea of what to expect from this truly trashy cash in on the popularity of the shockumentary at the time this was made.

    The focus of this documentary is on taboo relations, the carnal, the physical – in short, it’s a look at weird sex. We get a look at portable nudie bar that serves government employees who work inside the restricted boundaries of Area 51, and we see a woman teach some rather matronly students how to shake it for their men. Strippers from Deutschland bump and grind while a visage of Adolf Hitler looks on. But it’s the opening sequence that really takes the cake -here, we’re told, we’re seeing a film within a film as footage unspools showing us two attractive women disrobing. This, we’re told, is a film that men are forbidden to see – it’s actually a film made by women for women in hopes that they’ll see what happens here and decide to learn… karate! In reality, it’s an excuse to show off some naked ladies, but hey, it probably seemed like a good idea on paper.

    Again, none of this is going to blow your mind. There’s nothing really shocking or revealing here, just a lot of flesh to ogle – but ogling flesh can still make for a good time, particularly when it’s done with all of the goofy, low rent charm that it’s done with here. It’s not as good as either Mondo Bizarro or the more interesting Mondo Freudo and it feels like it was put together using left over bits and pieces from other pictures (given the fact that the movie contains both color and black and white sequences, this could very well be the case) but it is plenty entertaining. Bob Cresse handled the script for this one as well so there are some amusing jabs in the narration here. Frost does manage to keep things moving quickly, never spending too much time on one trashy subject before moving on to the next. To the film’s credit some of the period photography of both Los Angeles and ‘London, England’ (there’s some serious doubt as to what was actually filmed overseas and what was shot in California and made to look like it was shot overseas) is nice to see in a time capsule sort of way. Like the other Mondo films that Frost was involved in, The Forbidden is full of unintentionally funny moments and plenty of off the wall bits that give the dated film oodles of enjoyable camp value.

    Ecco / The Forbidden – Blu-ray Review:

    Both films are presented on the same 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Ecco is framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and “scanned in 4k from the original inter-negative” while The Forbidden is framed at 1.66.1 widescreen “newly-transferred from the only known 35mm print in existence.” The quality of the picture is, obviously, at the mercy of the elements available and it’s clear that these were not in perfect of shape. As such, expect print damage, emulsion spots and even visible water damage here and there as well as some color fading. Still, for those accustomed to watching more obscure exploitation pictures like these, it’s easy to notice the improvements over the DVD release from some years back. The screen caps below do a pretty good job of telling the story. The transfers show no problems with compression artifacts and retain plenty of film-like qualities throughout.

    Audio options are offered in English DTS-HD Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Again, we’re at the mercy of the source material available so expect some hiss and the occasional pop. Thankfully the levels are properly balanced and the narration comes through clearly for the most part.

    Extras start off with The Bandit - Producer David Goldstein remembers Bob Cresse. Here, over the course of fifteen-minutes, Goldstein talks about how he came to work with Cresse and then shares some pretty great stories about him. Examples? Well, how about how he managed to get a look at his Japanese girlfriend going down on him despite having a sizable gut blocking his few, his penchant for carrying a loaded gun with him (and how that got him into some crazy trouble) and more. Along the way we learn about Cresse’s relationship with Lee Frost and some of the movies that they made together. It’s seriously interesting stuff – someone should make a documentary about Cresse and Frost!

    Also found on this disc is I Want More, a collection of odds and ends that look like they were rescued from an editor’s garbage can way back when, now assembled into one half hour miniature version of its former feature length self. It’s not particularly well put together but the campy narration and the fact that it deals with random sexual deviants in typically condescending fashion makes it worth a look for the curious.

    Aside from that, we get a trailer for Ecco, menus and chapter selection.

    Ecco/The Forbidden – The Final Word:

    An interesting double feature, this release will definitely appeal to Mondo fans looking to add to their collections. Ecco is an excellent example of an earlier Mondo Cane knock off done well, while The Forbidden is amusing and serves to show how bad the genre could get when everyone and their brother started to cash in on it. Severin’s Blu-ray release does the best it can with some iffy materials and includes some fun extras as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Ecco / The Forbidden Blu-ray screen caps!