DVD Reviews: Super Bitch (1973) and The Night Child (1975)
By Keri O’Shea
Massimo Dallamano’s a strange one. With his background as a cinematographer for Sergio Leone (working alongside him on the seminal movies A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More), he brought a very distinct look and feel to his own movies when he moved into the directorial chair and tried his hand at all the major exploitation cinema food groups. I like to think of him as the minister who married this type of fare to a very particular and engaging sort of dreamy atmosphere. Both of the films I’m reviewing here, for instance, sound incredibly OTT on paper, and to be sure they have their moments, but what you might expect to be a barrage of excess feels rather turned down in the mix. And that’s not a negative criticism, not as such: the overarching sense I got from these examples of his work was of intrigue, rather than excitement.
Saying that, if nubile female flesh is your thing – and I’d be very surprised if neither of the other editors comment at this juncture to say that yes, yes it is – then you can’t go too far wrong with Super Bitch (1973), a film which is notable still further because the nubile flesh belongs to one Stephanie Beacham, who’s perhaps still best known, perhaps unfairly after all these years, for being ‘her out of Dynasty’. Anyway, back in the Seventies Ms. Beacham was starring with genre icon Ivan Rassimov in this soft-core spy romp where she plays Joanne, a high-class escort who, alongside her lover and boss, specialises in blackmailing her well-to-do clients by filming their sexual exploits (some of which are quite specialist: prepare yourselves for some nascent Furry action here). Can I also say – this is the most quintessentially British escort agency I can remember seeing on film, all impeccable manners (apart from the illegal filming, obviously) and tiny porcelain cups of tea. Well, all good things must come to an end – it turns out the agency is being investigated by one Inspector Cliff (Rassimov), a bent cop who’s also on the verge of infiltrating an international drug smuggling ring…but wouldn’t you know, both businesses are related? Prepare for double and triple dealings, a very unlikely criminal mastermind (Patricia Hayes), plot-irrelevant nudity which is often accompanied by jazz trumpeting (not a euphemism) and some truly global illegal goings-on. Oh, and the entire movie seems to be sponsored by J&B whisky.
That’s the thing about Super Bitch (which has also seen release under the titles Blue Movie Blackmail and, erm, Si pùo essere più bastardi dell’espettore Cliff?) Although it is a film punctuated by nude scenes, this is no hack work with nothing else on offer. Dallamano hasn’t cut corners, and if the script says New York, he has indeed gone to New York to shoot. Likewise London and Beirut, though pardon my ignorance if I haven’t correctly identified the real Beirut – the point is, most cult film directors would not have the budget for this and even if they did, they would struggle to capture the sense of distance and place which Dallamano does. He certainly brings his professional background into play; the stunts he uses, too, are well-handled, and there are a few Wild West moments. Now, I’ll admit, parts of the double-dealing elements of the plot lost me a little bit: this may well be because I was distracted, not by breasts but by the time capsule effect of seeing the Seventies coming back to life across a number of different countries – as this is something else which is very pleasing on the eye. Not as batshit insane as a lot of the Italian police capers of the day, Super Bitch is still very entertaining, and this release comes with some great extras into the bargain. The documentary Bullets, Babes and Blood: the High Octane Action of the Italian Police Film is a treat, and, for someone who knows generally rather little about this genre, serves as a fun introduction to it all. There’s a neat memorial from Ruggero Deodato on Ivan Rassimov, too, and there will be – with the final release – a collectible booklet with a new article from Calum Waddell.
Onto The Night Child (a.k.a Il medaglione insanguinato, 1975). Just as Super Bitch was a Dallamano foray into the world of crime drama which was so popular at the time, so The Night Child strove to cash in on the craze for crazy possessed children which had been kicked off properly by The Exorcist two years earlier. In this movie Michael, a documentarian on the lookout for Ol’ Scratch has, it seems, his own demons to look out for – especially in the form of a traumatised young daughter, Emily, who is in mourning for her mother, his wife, who died in a fire. The doctor insists that Emily should accompany her father on the next leg of his filmmaking, to Italy and to a town called Spolero, because constant mentions of Satan are good for distressed children. There, Emily keeps having visions of sinister figures chasing her, and of a mysterious medallion and – wouldn’t you know – her father has one in his possession, and allows her to wear it? Nothing can go wrong. Especially with even more J&B whisky appearing in so many frames…what, was Dallamano sponsored by the brand?
Moving on: as a strange, symbolic painting starts to form the bedrock of Michael’s research, he also has to contend with a sexually-repressed nanny, a child who seems to have developed an Electra Complex and a smoking habit, oh, and some unfortunate deaths. Again, on paper this sounds crackpot, but in its delivery it’s actually all a bit arthouse. Yep, this is The Exorcist, made by a Euro arthouse director. With a dash of Don’t Look Now thrown in. And again, nothing about this film looks unduly flimsy: the locations are superb, they’re well-shot and there’s not a cardboard set in sight. The Night Child balances the barmy with the beautiful, and as such it feels at times like a more accessible (read: linear) Argento – without sacrificing that pleasing strangeness which is half the fun of films of this era and place. Speaking of strangeness, yes, the little girl playing Emily is ‘her out of Flesh For Frankenstein’ and a number of other huge cult classics – Nicoletta Elmi, currently residing in the ‘where are they now?’ category, which is a real shame.
There are a plethora of extras available on this release too, including a choice of Italian and English audio tracks and a fun documentary, Exorcism Italian-Style, which examines the so-called ‘pasta possession’ movies of which The Night Child numbers. Trailers, and a collectible booklet, again penned by Callum Waddell, with a reversible sleeve, will also be on offer.
So, more high gloss and coherent than many of their peers, but still gently mad and plenty of fun, aficionados of cult film could do far worse than give these deluxe releases a whirl. Arrow have again made a huge effort to make these desirable products; now if they could add a release of Beyond The Door to their pasta possession remit, I’d be a very happy bunny. But not the sort of happy bunny we see in Super Bitch…
Super Bitch and The Night Child will be released in the UK by Arrow Video on October 25th 2012.