• The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: July 7th, 2020.
    Director: Umberto Lenzi
    Cast: Carroll Baker, Lou Castel, Colette Descombes, Tino Carraro, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Erika Blanc, Horst Frank, Helga Liné, Jean Sorel, Luis Dávila, Marina Coffa, Alan Scott, Evelyn Stewart, Eduardo Fajardo
    Year: 1969/1969/1970/1972
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection – Movie Review:

    Severin Films’ The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection collects the four films that Italian filmmaker made with glamourous American actress Carroll Baker between the years of 1969 and 1972. Here’s a look at what’s contained in this four-disc Blu-ray boxed set release.

    Orgasmo:

    First up is 1969’s Orgasmo, also known as Paranoia, wherein Baker plays a wealthy widow named Kathryn West. Her husband having recently passed away, she is now living in a reasonably massive Italian mansion while the dearly departed’s lawyer, Brian (Tino Carraro), looks into selling off her late husband’s assets, hoping to cash in on a few million dollars’ worth of stores, television stations and other businesses that the man was in charge of.

    Kathryn doesn’t keep a lot of company at the home, but she is looked after by her maid, Teresa (Lilla Brignone), and her deaf handyman Martino (Franco Pesce). When a man named Peter (Lou Castel) has car problems nearby, he comes to the home for help. The attraction between average Joe Peter and the wealthy woman of the house is instant, and they begin a torrid romance that involves a series of kinky sex games. Soon enough, Peter has not only moved into the house but he’s bought his sister Eva (Colette Descombes) along as well. The three of them fall into a whirlwind of kink, substance abuse and swanky outfits but Kathryn’s fur gets up when she discovers Peter and Eva in bed together, without having had the courtesy to ask her to join in. Before you know it, Peter and Eva are coercing Kathryn to do away with the hired help, plying her with drugs and unleashing a torrent of strange mental and emotionally abusive mind games against her, clearly intending to swindle as much of her fortune from her as they possibly can, and with plenty of photograph of their collective escapades to use as blackmail should she decide she doesn’t want to go along with this.

    Released here in Lenzi’s ‘director’s cut’ version, Orgamso is a pretty twisted psychosexual thriller with some interesting twists, some excellent cinematography from Guglielmo Mancori and a rousing score from Piero Umiliani. It’s a pretty lurid film, but executed well enough that the more sensationalist aspects of its narrative don’t necessarily overshadow the plot itself. The narrative here is pretty strong, the script with Lenzi co-wrote with Ugo Moretti and Marie Claire Solleville proving more than capable of holding the audience’s attention, liberally dosed with enough kink and suspense to keep us interested for the direction of the film.

    Baker, the top draw in the film, is very good here. She’s more than capable of carrying the film, her good looks and screen presence certainly an asset to Lenzi’s picture. Lou Castel and Colette Descombes are also strong here, and if we know they’re up to no good before we probably should, they’re quite fun to watch. Tino Carraro, Franco Pesce and Lilla Brignone do just fine in their respective supporting roles.

    So Sweet… So Perverse:

    This second Lenzi/Baker collaboration from 1969 is essentially a remake of Diabolique. The story is set in Paris where we meet Jean (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a wealthy businessman and man about town. He’s married to the lovely Danielle (Erika Blanc) but their marriage is no great shakes, the spark seemingly gone out some time ago. When a woman named Nicole (Carroll Baker) moves into the apartment above their own, it isn’t long before Jean is intrigued and once he’s become intrigued, he and Nicole begin carrying on an affair. Nicole, however, is quite troubled, sure that a man named Klaus (Horst Frank) is out to get her.

    Jean soon learns that Klaus’ real reason for hanging about is to assassinate him, and it sure seems like Nicole is being used as bait to make that happen. Armed with this knowledge, Jean and Nicole take it upon themselves to try and figure out who it is that could possibly want Jean dead and why, but of course, there are a few interesting twists and turns to unravel once they start heading down that path.

    Set to a fantastic score by Riz Ortolani (complete with an original vocal number) and once again beautifully shot by Guglielmo Mancori, more seasoned genre fans might figure out where this one is headed before the movie takes us there, but it’s a fun ride regardless. This isn’t the most suspenseful picture that Lenzi ever made and it plays out more as a standard thriller than a typical giallo might, but it’s good stuff. Produced by Sergio Martino and written by Ernesto Gastaldi, the movie benefits from solid pacing and strong production values. The Parisian locations are beautifully photographed and the sixties fashions (at one point Trintignant sports what looks to be a gold corduroy suit and an ascot!) and furnishings make for a film that really is just loaded up with wild color schemes and beautifully garish backdrops – perfect for a thriller like this to play off of.

    Lenzi makes good use of a great cast. Jean-Louis Trintignant is dashing and charismatic, a great leading man looking every bit the part. He has good chemistry with the lovely Carroll Baker, who is also very good in her role here, relaying, initially at least, Nicole’s fear quite effectively. Erika Blanc has been better in other movies but she’s more than solid in her turn as Trintignant’s somewhat put upon wife, doing an impressive job of conveying some believable emotion once she finds out what’s happening. Supporting work from Helga Liné is appreciated and hey, check out Beryl Cunningham in a small role as a wonky black stripper at a high society party.

    A Quiet Place To Kill:

    Baker’s third collaboration with Lenzi, also known as Paranoia (but which shouldn’t be confused with Orgasmo, which is also known as Paranoia!), the blonde bombshell plays a flashy race car driver named Helen. When she gets into an accident, her car bursting into flames, her ex-husband Maurice Sauvage (Jean Sorel) reaches out to her and invites her to come to his remote villa on the coast of Spain to recuperate.

    Helen accepts the offer, the fact that she once tried to kill him before they split not really seeming to play into her decision at all. Upon her arrival meets Maurice’s current wife, ultra-wealthy Constance (Anna Proclemer), who wastes no time in offering Helen a big stack of cold, hard cash if she’ll kill Maurice, who just can’t seem to keep his pants on when around other women! In fact, it was Constance who invited Helen here in the first place, not Maurice, knowing full well that her beau isn’t exactly over his curvy ex-wife. Things get… complicated from here on out, with quite a few interesting plot twists, the arrival of Maurice’s daughter Susan (Marina Coffa) back from school at just the right time to get involved in all of those as well as some nosy friends.

    Shot by Guglielmo Mancori with some help from Aristide Massaccesi (or Joe D’Amato, if you prefer), A Quiet Place To Kill (which we don’t want to confuse with Lezni’s 1971 picture An Ideal Place To Kill!), is plenty entertaining. Not only does it look fantastic and come loaded with style, but it’s reasonably tense towards its conclusion and if offer up some pretty solid acting. Baker is, once again, in fine form and both Jean Sorel and Anna Proclemer are just as good. The three all deliver believable enough work in the film and they all look great doing it.

    Like the other films in the set, this picture is loaded with colorful and crazy fashions of the day and this lends the film a lot of visual ‘pop’ that makes it easy on the eyes. The seaside settings give things a somewhat exotic vibe, and while this picture never gets as exploitative as a lot of other giallo films do, it works as a more playful example of the genre.

    Knife Of Ice:

    In this final film, Baker plays Martha Caldwell, who, as a young girl, saw her parents killed in a train station. Since then, she’s been mute, and periodically has flashbacks to the event. Obviously she is still very much traumatized by what she witnessed in her younger days.

    We’re introduced to her as she, now an adult, is on her way to live with her Uncle Ralph (Georges Rigaud of Case Of The Bloody Iris and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin) and her cousin Jenny (Ida Galli of The Whip And The Body) in the countryside, where things should be nice and peaceful. Unfortunately, soon after Martha’s arrival, Jenny is found stabbed to death in the garage of the mansion.

    As it turns out, there is a sex maniac with an affliction for the occult running around the countryside, or at least it seems that way, as another pretty young girl turns up dead shortly after. The police think that Martha might be next on the killer’s list, but once they arrest the English hippy that they though was guilty, they realize the mistake they’ve made. Clearly, the murders haven’t stopped and Martha is obviously more involved than she or anyone else could have possibly imagined.

    With this picture, Lenzi certainly crafts a slick and classy giallo that scores high points for its excellent visuals and lush style. Still, this picture ultimately fails to deliver much in the way of shocks, suspense, or mystery. The cinematography is pretty impressive, with some nice use of shadow through, and it captures some of the unusual locations used in the film very effectively, but the film, outside of that, was strictly a PG rated, mediocre thriller. It’s surprisingly un-sleazy for a giallo. For a genre so often associated with gratuitous sex and violence, Knife Of Ice delivers very little of either, save for some very minor bloodshed in a couple of scenes, and an all too real scene involving an unfortunate bull who ends up on the receiving end of a matador’s sword at a bullfight (those who are understandably upset by actual animal violence have been forewarned). Not to say that a good giallo must require sex and violence to succeed, but seeing as Lenzi is, a lot of the time, associated with these elements makes this worth noting.

    That said, the film is far from terrible. To her credit, Baker puts in a sympathetic and believable performance as the mute Martha Caldwell, and the supporting cast includes a nice assortment of Euro-Horror regulars who also turn in reasonably good work as well. But without much of a mystery (I personally found this one pretty predictable, story-wise), it may prove her for some go get as into this one as they might hope, no matter how good it looks and despite the decent acting.

    The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of the four films in this set is given its own 50GB disc, with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition.

    Orgasmo: 25.8GBS of space, framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, scanned from the internegative.

    So Sweet… So Perverse: 25.2GBS of space, framed at 2.35.1 widescreen 2.35.1, restored in 2k from the original negative, restored in 2k from the original 35mm negative.

    A Quiet Place To Kill: 25.2GBS of space, 2.35.1 framed at 2.35.1 widescreen 2.35.1, scanned from the original negative.

    Knife Of Ice: framed at 24.6GBS of space, 2.35.1 widescreen 2.35.1, scanned in 2k from the original negative.

    As to the actual pictures quality, Orgasmo looks a bit softer and flatter than the other three films in the for some reason but it’s certainly the best that it’s looked on home video so far in its history (unless there’s another Blu-ray out there I’m not aware of?). So Sweet… has as bit of print damage in the first minute or two but settles down and looks very good after that, while both A Quiet Place To Kill and Knife Of Ice look very strong from start to finish, leaving little room for complaint about their presentations. Colors are generally reproduced quite well and, in the later three films, detail tends to be pretty strong. The elements used were pretty clean, there isn’t a whole lot of print damage to gripe about, and the transfers show no obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement, though you’ll likely spot some compression artifacts in darker sequences.

    Audio options are as follows:

    Orgasmo: 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Italian mono on Italian cut, 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 English mono on English cut with English subtitles provided for the Italian cut and separate English SDH options provided for the English cut. If you opt to watch the longer Italian version of the film with the English audio selected, the track will automatically switch over to subtitled Italian for the stretches that weren’t dubbed into English.

    So Sweet… So Perverse: 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Italian mono on Italian cut, 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 English mono on English cut with English subtitles provided for the Italian cut and separate English SDH options provided for the English cut.

    A Quiet Place To Kill: 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Italian mono on Italian cut, 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 English mono on English cut with English subtitles provided for the Italian cut and separate English SDH options provided for the English cut.

    Knife Of Ice: 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Italian mono on Italian cut, 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 English mono on English cut with English subtitles provided for the Italian cut and separate English SDH options provided for the English cut.

    Clarity is fine across the board here, both tracks for each film sound pretty solid. You might notice a bit of sibilance now and then but it’s infrequent, and generally speaking the audio here is nicely balanced and quite clean sounding. For what it’s worth, each track is obviously dubbed but Baker does appear to be delivering all of her lines in English and so her mouth movements match the English tracks better than the Italian tracks. The scores used in each film has some pretty solid depth to them and for older mono tracks, there isn’t much room for complaint in regards to the sound quality.

    However, in regards to the subtitles, this set suffers from a very strange issue where if you change the audio or subtitles during playback by hitting the ‘audio’ or ‘subtitle’ button on your remote, the settings selected will automatically change when the disc hits the next chapter stop. You can get around this by using the ‘pop up’ menu button on your remote and making the selection from there. Additionally, if you select your options from the main menu before playing the feature, you’ll avoid this problem. This shouldn’t have happened, but at least there’s a workaround.

    Extras are spread out across the four discs. Here’s what each of the Blu-rays in this set contains, as far as supplemental material is concerned.

    Orgasmo:

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary with film critic, author and academic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that opens with details about the music used in the film and its main theme song, comparisons between the cinema of Lenzi and Argento and the wave of giallo pictures that came before and after the success of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. She also offers up info on how Baker and Lenzi came to work together on this picture and the importance of Baker's presence in the film, the presence of J&B in the film, some of the themes that the picture exploits and more.

    Severin has also included the X-rated director’s cut of the film, running 1:30:58 versus the feature version at 1:37:00 that uses the Paranoia alternate title card. It’s presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen with English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio and optional English subtitles.

    The director’s cut comes with a new audio commentary with Mondo-Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and author Troy Howarth that discusses the alternate titles for the film, the 'wonky' distribution history of the movie, the differences between the regular cut and the 'X-rated' version (which is not a pornographic cut) and the history of X-rated movies that are not, in fact, adult pictures. They talk about the themes and elements in the film that likely earned this picture the X, the history of the distribution company that handled this one, the film's release history on home video, the quality of the cinematography in the film and Lenzi's abilities to really milk what he had to work with, what works and what doesn't in this picture, comparisons to Five Dolls For An August Moon, details on Baker's career and how she wound up in Italy for a stretch, the use of music in the film, the way that hippies are depicted in giallo films and more.

    As far as featurettes go, Giallo Fever is an interview with director Umberto Lenzi that runs for eleven-minutes and lets the director discuss writing the original script and revisions that it went through, teaming up with Baker for the film, casting Lou Castel, other actors that appeared in the movie and what they brought to the film, the huge success of the film and its effects on his career, how the film was received theatrically, the American release of the film and how Baker has trouble remembering which film is which when it comes to the movies that she made with him! He also goes on to talk about a few of the projects he was involved with after this one, like Violent Naples and Almost Human.

    Rounding out the extra on the disc is a US theatrical trailer (using the Paranoia title), menus and chapter selection.

    Included inside the Blu-ray case along with the disc is the complete soundtrack for Orgasmo on CD, made up of twenty-two tracks that are listed on a postcard sized insert – a great bonus.

    So Sweet… So Perverse:

    The second feature kicks off with an audio commentary with Kat Ellinger which opens with her thoughts on how excited she is to see the picture finally restored on Blu-ray. From there, she covers what she feels are the film's biggest strengths, what makes Lenzi's giallos and work with Baker look as good as they do, the use of color in the film, the 'sublime' casting in the film and details on the principal actors that appear in the picture, the ups and downs of Baker's career, the set design on display in the picture and the use of fashion in the movie, avant garde touches on display in the movie like the party scene and more.

    Lenzi’s Lenses is a nine-minute ‘backstage chat’ with the director that was shot at The 1999 Nocturno Film Festival and which covers the making of So Sweet... So Perverse, the Parisian locations, his thoughts on whether or not the film was successful, what's missing in the script (which he points out he didn't write himself), how it wound up being a French co-production, influences he took from French cinema, his thoughts on American cinema and some of his favorite American directors, going on to make From Hell To Glory with some American cast members, making connections in the French film industry, and how he was lucky to get theatrical distribution in the United States for some of his films.

    Equilateral Triangle is a six-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi on Lenzi, covering how they first met and how, at times, Lenzi would be irritable and mistreat people on set, how Lenzi felt that Gastaldi held a grudge against him, Lenzi's work as a novelist once he got out of filmmaking, how the two of them disagreed on the casting of So Sweet... So Perverse and then how he got his own start writing for film, how writing was easy for him and how he creates his stories.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are an English language trailer, an Italian language trailer, an alternate opening credits sequence using the Cosi' Dolce... Cosi' Perversa title, menus and chapter selection options. There’s also an Easter Egg on the disc that offers up an eight-minute Italian news clip showing off the actresses arrival in England around the time that The Carpetbaggers was made.

    So Sweet… So Perverse also comes bundled with a bonus CD that contains the entire soundtrack for the feature and A Quiet Place To Kill as well as a bonus track from Knife Of Ice. Again, a postcard-sized cardboard insert offers up the track listing for the disc.

    A Quiet Place To Kill:

    Author and critic Samm Deighan provides an audio commentary for the third film in the set that opens with her covering how she's been a longtime fan of Lenzi and how she feels his work is underappreciated in unjust ways. She talks about his giallo pictures and what makes them interesting and sets them apart, Carroll Baker's move from Hollywood to Italy after her career hit some snags as well as other Americans who made the same move, how Lenzi's giallo pictures become more conventional once the boom years kick in after Argento's success, the importance of proper home video releases to evaluating Lenzi's work, the theme of manipulation in the film, the excellence of Sorel's work here as a 'puffed up playboy,' the use of Spanish crew members on the film and more.

    Sex And Conspiracy is an interview with Lenzi that runs for eleven-minutes and features the man discussing working with Baker and Sorel, how the film came to be a Spanish co-production, the locations used for the film, element of the plot that he feels really worked well, running into trouble with the police during the shoot and why he was arrested three times, working on pictures in Spain later in his career without running into trouble, the film's success in Italy, working again with Baker for a third time, the themes that the film deals with and the characters that populate the picture.

    The disc also contains an alternate non-negative credits sequence, a VHS credits sequence using the Paranoia title, an alternate clothed scene, a short extended scene, menus and chapter selection. Another Easter Egg contains a black and white Italian news clip announcing Baker’s arrival in St. Vincent to celebrate the release of the film.

    Knife Of Ice:

    Extras on the last disc in the set include Carroll And Umberto’s Final Stab, an interview with Stephen Thrower that runs for twenty-nine-minutes in length. Here, Thrower covers how Lenzi came to the attention of horror films thanks to his cannibal films and how he gets categorized as a horror director for that reason, despite doing better as a director of giallo and Italian cop films. He then details the importance of Lenzi's contributions to the giallo picture early in its boom years, the quality of the four films that he made with Baker and how with these films he came into his own as a stylist, how Baker's career nosedived after Harlow flopped leading to her move to Italy, how so many of the giallo pictures were written by the same people, the effectiveness of some of the twists in Knife Of Ice, the release history of the film and its box office and where Lenzi's career went after this picture.

    A second interview, entitled Until The Silence Screams, sits with Lenzi for just short of nineteen-minutes and which goes over making his fourth giallo picture with Baker based on the success of the first three, shooting in Mallorca, trying to do something different with the plot of the film and taking influence from The Spiral Staircase, the plot points of Knife Of Ice, working with Eveyln Stewert as well as Baker in the film, how he feels Baker really was incredible in the picture, having to create a decent atmosphere on a low budget, how the lack of sex and violence probably hurt the film's box office, the influence of the Manson murders on the picture, working with the cast and crew on the film and more.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc are a theatrical trailer, an alternate credit sequence using the Il Coltello Di Ghiaccio title, menus and chapter selection.

    Special mention should also be made of the packaging for this release. The four discs are housed inside a slick and sturdy cardboard box that opens up from the top. Removing the lid allows access to the discs inside, each of which is housed in its own black Blu-ray case with unique cover art. It’s a nice touch.

    The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection – The Final Word Review:

    Severin’s release of The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection, despite a few quirks, offers up four underappreciated entries in the late director’s catalogue with a host of extra features and solid high definition presentations. These might not be salacious as other genre entries but they’ve definitely got their own unique charms about them and Baker and her equally glamorous co-stars make the most of it.