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21st century horror is often characterized by its reactions to 21st century politics – stuff like the September 11th attacks, the Iraqi/Afghani wars, and controversies over ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ – but this isn’t a new phenomenon. What makes the last 15 years of genre output particularly unique is its obsession with nostalgia, specifically nostalgia for the raw and pessimistic movie horror of the 1970s and early ‘80s. Following the death knell of the post-modern, referential horror that had defined the previous decade (a comparatively brief trend instigated by Wes Craven’s Scream), filmmakers, like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and Alexandre Aja, began paying less tongue-in-cheek homage to their idols. Some of these films – Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Taratino’s Grindhouse (2005), Ti West’s House of the Devil (2009), Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), and the multi-director Father’s Day (2011), for example – were incredibly specific subgenre and brand name tributes.

Among the memoriam is a growing crop of neo- giallo thrillers. For those that aren’t aware (sorry for the repetition, everyone else), giallo films (plural: gialli; taken from the) were an Italian reaction to (mostly) Hollywood-made thrillers and noir. This tradition is usually identified by garish colour photography, convoluted (often impossible oblique) plotting, psychosexual themes, and graphic bloodshed. Recent neo- gialli releases run a gamut from dreamy pastiches (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s Amer, 2009), to crummy fan-films (Luciano Onetti’s Sonno Profondo, 2013) and tangentially related horror flicks (Eli Roth’s Hostel Part II, 2007). I’ve even been told that the ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars plays like a long-form, teen-friendly giallo story, but haven’t found the courage to test that theory just yet. As luck would have it, Shout/Scream Factory (in league with IFC Films) is releasing two new, well-received, and wildly different neo- giallo in the month of September – Matthew Kennedy & Adam Brooks’ The Editor and Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy.

Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

The Editor


Rey Ciso (real-life editor and co-director Adam Brooks) was once the greatest editor the world had ever seen. Since a horrific accident left him with four wooden fingers on his right hand, he's had to resort to cutting pulp films and trash pictures. When the lead actors from the film he's been editing turn up murdered at the studio, Rey is fingered as the number one suspect. The bodies continue to pile up as Rey struggles to prove his innocence and learn the sinister truth lurking behind-the-scenes. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

As someone who is barely even tolerant of ‘acclaimed’ parody movies (your Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker flicks), the word ‘spoof’ has become a flaming red flag. I now live in eternal fear of the lazy, cash-in, anti-comedies of Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer ( Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, et cetera). But how could I turn down the option to see a spoof of Italian thriller & horror cinema? For whatever reason (perhaps cold weather?), Canada is now the hub for high-energy, over-the-top exploitation parodies. Jason Eisener, director of the aforementioned Hobo with a Shotgun, Anouk Whissell/François Simard/Yoann-Karl Whissell, directors of Turbo Kid (co-produced by Eisener, 2015), and Lowell Dean, director of Wolfcop, all hail from the Great White North. Editor directors Matthew Kennedy & Adam Brooks and co-writer Conor Sweeney are part of a Canuck-run production company known as Astron-6, which is something of a filmmaking think tank for similar comedic piss-takes on various horror subgenres. The company’s resume includes Father’s Day (a co-production with Troma that included input from six different directors), Steven Kostanski’s Manborg (starring Kennedy & Brooks), and the ABCs of Death entry W is for Wish (directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo).

For better or worse, The Editor fits the Astron-6’s ‘house style.’ Your comedic mileage will vary depend on your patience for their patented brand of absurdity. The laughs are there, but there’s a lot of space between them. As in the past, the studio’s stylistic and thematic mockery is usually spot-on and the impressions reveal real affection on the part of the filmmakers. Kennedy & Brooks’ film is chock-full of unmotivated crash zooms, characters making small talk about their emotional health, hysterical women, sexually frustrated men, fetishized violence, and rampant, not so casual misogyny (political correctness aside, they probably should’ve avoided this particular trope). Shortly after finishing the film, I casually watched Maurizio Pradeaux’s relatively obscure giallo, Death Carries a Cane (aka: Passi di Danza su una Lama di Rasoio, 1973), and found myself giggling at the accuracy of The Editor’s portrayals. But the rigid duplication of the more precarious giallo traditions – stiff delivery, overwrought dialogue, and bad dubbing – loses its comedic appeal pretty quickly. It’s a symptom of modern film fandom’s fondness for ironically laughing at the dramatic artefacts of older movies, instead of appreciating them on their own terms. Moreover, Kennedy & Brooks appear hampered by their laundry list of things that they want to make fun of.

The film-within-a-film motif might be a reference Fulci’s Cat in the Brain (1990) – a mostly terrible movie in which the aging director’s psychiatrist commits murders and convinces Fulci he is responsible, because he makes gory movies. Kennedy & Brooks use the concept as an excuse to make even broader jokes at the expense of genre conventions, but waste it when they frontload the actual film with the same kind of parody gags. It takes almost an hour for them to expand the film into the metatextual territory that a movie about movies affords them. Eventually, Rey begins to hallucinate and the lines between his work and reality begin to blur.

Kennedy & Brooks’ later efforts don’t quite match the dizzying heights of Peter Strickland’s similarly hypnotic neo- gialli, Berberian Sound Studio (see below), but the further they skew into the bizarre, the more amusing their references become – specifically their reenactments of Cronenberg’s Videodrome (Rey comes face to face with a living Betamax tape), House by the Cemetery (the killer holds a woman’s head against a door as the detective tries to break through it with an axe), The New York Ripper (he plays fetch with a dog that returns with a severed hand), Inferno (everything involving the book ‘The Three Mothers’ and a climatic scene where Paz de la Huerta’s character changes her name to ‘Death’), and The Beyond (the detective is attacked by tarantulas in a library, a blind actress has a Dickie-looking German Shepard seeing-eye dog, the sign of Eibon can be seen on the wall, and the final shot recalls Fulci’s windswept afterlife). With this in mind, it may have been better to stick to parodying Argento and Fulci’s more esoteric and nonsensical movies, where literally anything can happen, rather than sticking to the semi-grounded world of giallo. Most of these sequences were part of the faux-trailer the directors made before deciding to expand the concept into a feature, lending credence to my assumption that it would’ve worked better as a short.

For the record, The Editor is not the first feature-length spoof of the giallo heritage. From what I can surmise, that distinction belongs to Sergio Corbucci’s tragically unfunny Giallo Napoletano (1979).

According to specs, The Editor was shot in digital HD using Canon EOS and Red One cameras. It is presented here in hyper-clear 1080p, 2.35:1 video. The directors act as their own cinematographers, along with Astron-6’s Jon'Nathon Stebbe, and opt to not to fleck their entire movie with faux-print damage like so many post-modern grindhouse movies (only the occasional film-within-a-film shots are effected). It’s the better choice, because the real gialli weren’t made to look trashy – they were made to be garish and opulent. This crystalline, digitally-assisted version of the standard genre photography is certainly modern, but not to the detriment of the joke. The super-saturated, over-the-top colour palette is tempered by a softer and darker image than ‘70s/’80s filmmakers could’ve achieved. Black levels are heavy and edges are tight without any notable haloes or compression effects.

The sound mix, presented here in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is relatively low-key, but makes some funny jokes at the expense of the classic Italian exploitation tradition of post-dubbing all sound. Even outside of the film-within-the-film, dialogue and vocal effects (screaming, sloppy kissing) are clearly ADR’d for no other reason than to sound like a ‘70s giallo. Sound effects are pretty minimal, but the directional aspects of the mix are heavily aided by a very noisy electronic score. This patchwork music is credited to Canadian composers Jeremy Gillespie, Trevor Tuminski, Brian Wiacek, and Norman Orenstein, as well as giallo revivalist Vercetti Technicolor (aka: Gianni Vercetti Balopitas, co-founder of Giallo Disco with Antoni Maiovvi) and Goblin keyboardist Claudio Simonetti – one of the driving forces behind the sound of gialli in the ’70s and ‘80s.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with directors Matthew Kennedy & Adam Brooks and co-writer Conor Sweeney – This group track is expectedly silly and sometimes absurd, but generally sticks to filling in the facts of the production. The filmmakers also verify the movies that inspired certain homage-heavy scenes.
  • Making Movies Used To Be Fun (51:00, HD) – An extensive behind-the-scenes documentary includes cast & crew interviews and raw footage from the set. The often tongue-in-cheek discussion covers the film’s inception as a faux-trailer, overcoming financial issues (one of the directors’ parents did free set design/decoration and the production had several stops and starts), cinematography/lighting, special make-up effects, the clever fake movie posters that appear throughout the background, the ADR, the composite musical score/sound design, and the various festival premieres.
  • Interview with Hook Lab (7:10, HD) – A jokey interview with composers Norman Orenstein and Trevor Tuminski.
  • Interview with poster artist Brett Parson (5:40, HD)
  • Astron-6 Film Festival Introduction (2:00, HD)
  • Four deleted scenes


 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature


Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

The Duke of Burgundy


Sex, bondage, and butterflies: two women explore the extremes of carnal desire in this kinky, deliciously twisted tale of erotic obsession. In a crumbling European estate, butterfly researcher Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her lover Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) repeatedly enact a sadomasochistic role-playing game with Cynthia as the stern mistress and Evelyn her subservient slave. But as the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur and Cynthia grows increasingly uneasy with Evelyn's insatiable appetite for punishment, their relationship is pushed to the limit. (From Shout Factory’s official synopsis)

Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (his second feature following his zero-budget debut Katalin Varga) was a different kind of ode to giallo and the fantastical cinema of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and all of their contemporaries. His ambiguously post-modern version framed the tropes in a film within a film motif. Without specifying any single image or even showing the audience a frame of the fictional horror movie the characters are producing (we only hear the horrifying sounds as they are mixed and recorded by the main character), Strickland captured the tone and hallucinatory ambiguity of a great Italian horror movie. Berberian Sound Studio’s spiritual follow-up, The Duke of Burgundy, is less attached to a specifically Italian brand of terror than the erotic cinema of French and Spanish filmmakers, specifically Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin. Strickland makes this clear in his dreamy tone, tantalizing yet dramatic use of S&M, and the casting of Monica Swinn, who appeared in Franco’s Female Vampire (1975) and Rollin’s The Demoniacs (1974). She is ironically cast as a conservative, nosy neighbour, by the way.

I’m actually hard pressed to actually refer to The Duke of Burgundy as a neo- giallo, because it takes such an esoteric approach to homage. Its referential qualities are present – the lepidopterology angle may be invoking the doomed entomologist of Bava’s Bay of Blood, the erotic games the characters play are in line with Sergio Martino’s more dramatic gialli, and the opening titles are fashioned after a number of Euro-horror credits. But these are textural pieces of a greater and generally more contemporary whole (though the actual timeline is debatable – it could be taking place almost any time between the 1950s and the modern day). Strickland isn’t simply stirring a potpourri of genre tropes that only hardcore fans can appreciate – he’s creating an extension of their functions and making films that appeal to broader arthouse audiences. Even though their themes are niche (for proof note that Strickland acknowledges each of the insect species during the final credits – as if they were actors), both Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy are concerned with relatable portrayals of emotionally damaged people.

Like its predecessor, Duke of Burgundy is a sensory feast that touches deep, visceral places with extraordinary restraint. Franco and Rollin were certainly capable of self-control when it came to erotic and violent content, but their audiences and distributors expected a degree of indecency. Strickland’s indie credibility allows him cinematographer Nic Knowland to generate outrageously sensual images without the vulgarity required from the movies that inspired them. Not that there’s anything wrong with vulgarity – Franco, Rollin, Tinto Brass, Walerian Borowczyk, and others were all capable of creating truly beautiful obscenity – but it takes a very special filmmaker to ensure that close-up shots of clean panties soaking in white bubbles are as erotic as scenes of actual lesbian sex. In Strickland’s obsessively detailed world, even the precise and ultimately stale dissertations about the intricate differences between species of butterflies take on a seductive quality. It’s also crucial to note how well Strickland conveys tenderness between Cynthia and Evelyn, which makes their strife all the more heartbreaking. Despite all of its goosebump-inducing imagery, The Duke of Burgundy is ultimately a sympathetic portrait of a typical romantic disintegration (a relationship where polishing another woman’s boots is as big of a betrayal as a sexual affair).

The Duke of Burgundy was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented in 1080p, 2.35:1 video on this Blu-ray release. Strickland and Knowland’s smooth and creamy visuals look fantastic. Details are tightly rendered, edges are rarely over-sharpened edges, and there are very few step effects (posterisation/banding/whatever) in the subtle gradations. Black levels are rich and bottomless, but not at the risk of the more delicate highlights (for example, the knit texture of black costumes is still evident). That said, the darkest moments don’t completely escape low-level digital noise and minor blocking. The palette is pretty strict and divided between autumnal, desaturated daylight scenes and nighttime/dark interiors that contrast limited cool and warm hues. The consistent colours tend to fall under the orange, teal, or red categories, alongside some exterior greens and blues. This all sounds like pretty standard-issue Hollywood digital cinematography, but there’s a cleaner natural quality to the ‘structure’ that gives the impression of 35mm. Overall, I can’t imagine a more effective HD transfer for such a subtly beautiful film.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is not as lively and abstract as Berberian Sound Studio, which is a movie about sound design. Strickland values complete silence and many scenes include little to no environmental ambience. Outdoor sequences feature chirping birds and winds, but the only standout noises (besides music) are the intense buzz/hum of synthesized insect calls and a scene towards the end of the film where the flapping wings of butterflies swirl around the room like static. Despite these purposefully quiet qualities, I suspect that the track has been a bit compressed, because I was forced to turn the volume up beyond my usual levels just to hear what characters were saying. The dreamy, sometimes catchy soundtrack is supplied by Cat’s Eyes, a pop duo consisting of The Horrors’ Faris Badwan and soprano/instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Peter Strickland – I admit I was weary of watching this particular film with an audio commentary, because so much of its value is in its ambiguity and I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what Strickland definitively meant to convey. Fortunately, the good-natured Strickland (who is recording from his own apartment) is full of information that doesn’t ‘ruin’ the intended effect. I actually completed the review before I watched it and was happy to learn what I got wrong. There’s quite a bit of technical jargon and Strickland notes the various thematic/visual inspirations, many of which are delightfully unexpected.
  • Interview with Strickland (11:40, HD) – The director rambles about his inspirations, intentions, casting, and more, but seems put-off by the interview all-around.
  • Deleted and extended scenes (44:30, HD) – These include special effects tests and additional B-roll type footage, much of it set to music from Cat’s Eyes. Each scene opens with an extensive text essay from the director.
  • Cat's Eyes promo (5:00, HD) – An eerie little advertisement for the musical group.
  • Conduct Phase short film (8:10, HD) – An experimental short featuring footage of a dog shot on 8mm at different speeds. It is set to music by Roj.
  • Still gallery
  • Theatrical trailer


 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

 Euro-Horror Throwback Double-Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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