Gus (1976)

The Disney live action world of the 1970s is the kind of place where a Yugoslavian goat can come to America, get a job in the California Atoms NFL franchise and interact with owner Hank Cooper (Ed Asner) and Coach Venner (Don Knotts) and not a single person mentions how completely on drugs the entire thing is.

I also love that the NFL helped make this movie and Asner’s character is so in debt from gambling that he makes a deal with bookies Charles Gwynn (Harold Gould) and Cal Wilson (Dick Van Patten). If the Atoms win the Super Bowl, all gambling debts will be forgiven. If they lose, the crooks will take ownership of the team.

Originally, Gus was just going to perform in the halftime show, But Coach Venner puts him in a game and that venerable rule of movies shows up: there’s no rule in the books that says your kicker has to be human!

Also — the fact that a kicker can help win footabll games is a weird concept, as field goals only get three points, so basing the entire offense around an animal that can only get half the score of a touchdown seems kind of shortsighted. I mean, if the rule books are so illogical, why not have a gorilla on the defensive line?

At this point I wondered, how can this movie get any better? Could it also have two 70s comedy stars as gangsters? The mouse heard my prayers and rewarded me with Crankcase (Tim Conway) and Spinner (Tom Bosley), whose scheming cause the Atoms to lose two games.

Look, any movie that unites Bob Crane, Johnny Unitas and Dick Butkis is going to be something I’ll watch. I have a strange weakness for movies that make an utter mockery of the game of football, to be frank.

Director Vincent McEveety was all over the 70s Disney map, making everything from The Castaway Cowboy to The Strongest Man in the WorldSuperdad and two Herbie movies. His last directing job was a TV movie that united Markie Post and Robert Urich called Stranger at My Door, which is completely the kind of movie that I spend weeks tracking down.

The Shaggy D.A. (1976)

Where can you go after The Shaggy Dog? Well, you become a canine district attorney, I guess. And after eighteen other films for Disney, this would be the last film of director Robert Stevenson. Those movies made him the most commercially successful director in the history of film (at least in 1977).

Made in 1959, The Shaggy Dog had been at that point the most profitable film produced by Disney and created the template for their live-action films: place something supernatural inside modern life and then let hijinks ensue. These were inexpensive movies made with TV actors on summer break from their series shot on the Disney backlot that had little to no risk. They could play matinees and then would eventually show up on The Wonderful World of Disney*. Made for around a million, The Shaggy Dog made $9 million on its first release and even more when it came out of the fabled Disney vault for another release in 1967.

Another thing that obsesses me about these Disney movies is that they are set in a cinematic universe before that even became a fact of moviemaking. Yes, so many of them are set in Medfield, a town that is also the setting for The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber and the Dexter Riley trilogy that contains The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World.

In the seventeen years between movies**, Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) became a successful attorney and married Betty (Suzanne Pleshette). When they return from a vacation, they discover that they’ve been robbed and Wilby blames district attorney John Slade (Keenan Wynn — wait what!?!) who is connected to mob boss Edward “Fast Eddie” Roshak (Vic Tayback — again, this movie has the casting of my dreams). After he’s burglarized again — two times in a day — Wilby decides he’s going to run for district attorney.

Seriously, it’s like they asked me to pick people and roles for them in this movie. I would answer, “Please put Jo Anne Worley in this as a roller derby star” and poof! My dream comes true! “How about Richard O’Brien as a desk sergeant?” Disney may say, “You mean Riff Raff? You want him to randomly show up?” And it happens! “Can Jo Anne Worley date Tim Conway?” You know it!

Look, this movie is absolutely ridiculous but it’s made for kids and as a child, if someone turned into a dog when they were trying to do grown-up things I’d literally piss my pants. That’s how I reviewed movies back then.

*And now we watch them on Disney Plus.

**Someone at Disney is as big a continuity maniac as the old DC Universe used to be, because they made The Return of the Shaggy Dog, an attempt at showing what happened in the period between these movies. Gary Kroeger played Wilby Daniels. That said, let me get a little deep here, but the transformation ruleset changes in each film. In the first one, Wilby read the inscription on the ring once and then would randomly become a dog until he did something heroic. In the sequel, he becomes a dog any time someone reads the words and it only lasts for a few minutes. And then in the TV movie, Wilby’s transformation is triggered any time the inscription “In canis corpore transmuto” is read. Man, that’s like Dial H for Hero trying to figure out how to work in a smartphone world.

Freaky Friday (1976)

Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers — who also wrote the screenplay — the magic that switches the mother and daughter in this movie is quite simple. In Friday the 13th, all you have tio do is say, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day” and it happens.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Goofy Minds the House, a 1977 Disney Wonderful World of Reading storybook that features the character Goofy and his wife switching jobs for one day and learning that they both have rough lives. That story was based on a Norwegian folktale and taught me that women were much stronger than men. Also — Goofy once had a wife named Mrs. Geef and Mrs. Goof, but now he’s thought to be dating Clarabelle the Cow, so something happened at some point. Perhaps even odder, Goofy was once called Dippy Dawg.

But I digress.

Just as much as that story is part of my childhood, so is Freaky Friday, a movie that I know for a fact that I saw at the Spotlite 88 Drive-In in Beaver Falls, PA.

Ellen Andrews (Barbara Harris) and her daughter Annabel (Jodie Foster) are constantly battling with one another until they switch places, which enables each of them to see life from the other side, connect better with other people and, of course, water ski.

The cast of this movie is made up of people that a five year old me would see as big stars, like John Astin, Dick Can Patten, Charlene Tilton, Marc McClure and, of course, Boss Hogg. Strangely enough, George Lucas wanted Foster for the role of Princess Leia, but her mother wanted her to complete her contract to Disney.

Disney can’t seem to stop remaking this movie. And really, no one else can either, because it’s the mother of body switch comedies, including 18 Again!All of Me, Dream a Little DreamVice Versa and Freaky, a film which combines the Friday the 13th of this story with the slasher side of the holiday

Junesploitation 2021: Special Cop in Action (1976)

June 27: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie— is cops.

I am a conundrum. I speak up against the brutality and the militarization of our police nearly every day, but then the movies I choose to relax and watch are poliziottesco films in which cops go against the system and act nearly as bad — if not worse — than the criminals they are after.

The third film in the Commissioner Betti trilogy — after Violent Rome and Violent Naples — Special Cop In Action is also known in Italy as Italia a mano armata (Italy at Gunpoint). This was directed by Marino Giorlami, who went from being a physical therapist to the director of films such as The Fury of Achilles and Zombie Holocaust. He’s also the father of director Enzo G. Castellari.

The mobsters in this film are the kind of Italian movie bad guys that go from realistic to super villains by the end of the film, moving from robbing banks and taking hostages to hijacking school buses filled with children.

Cops Betti (Maurizio Merli, Highway Racer) and Ferrari (Aldo Barberito) are trying to find one of those kids when one of the criminals assaults a female cyclist, altering authorities to their hiding place. When one of the kids is killed, a mother unloads on Betti, who decides to take the place of the children as a hostage. Man, Betti gets abused throughout this movie, shot multiple times, beaten and dumped on a highway and even set up for murder.

Man, this movie starts off hot and never slows down. Cops get dragged behind cars, John Saxon shows up, there’s a J&B appearance and a downbeat ending — the dead kid’s mom and our hero have dinner when some syndicate thugs blow him away in a drive-by. I’d say that that was a massive spoiler, but that ending doesn’t appear in every print, so who knows if they added it in the hopes they could make a fourth film someday. Or perhaps when they realized this was the end, they remembered it was the 70s and nearly every movie has to end with a downer, so they edited on this closing.

Honestly, I kind of think that Betti can shrug off getting gunned down. If anything, the excessive abuse he endures in this movie is proof.

Norman J. Warren Week: Satan’s Slave (1976)

Editor’s Note: We reviewed this British horror obscurity on February 15, 2021, as part of our tribute reviews to Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats 12-Film Pack (Amazon). We’re bringing it back as part of our “Norman J. Warren Week” tribute of reviews. Visit our Gorehouse Greats Round-Up for all of those reviews.

How is it that we could go on all day about British actor and Hammer stalwart Michael Gough, starting with his first role as Sir Arthur Holmwood in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula (1958), watch his work in Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) multiple times, and watch him in The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Skull (1965), and Horror Hospital (1973), but never encountered his work on Crown International Pictures’ Satan’s Slave? Even with all of our combined video store memberships and watching Friday and Saturday late night horror blocks on our local UHF-TV stations, we’ve never heard of it or seen it (at least it slipped by me). How is that possible? We fell in love with Euro-obscurities like A Bell From Hell and Symptoms from multiple UHF showings — and even seen them on home video shelves.

Well, let’s unpack this flick brought by the great Norman J. Warren!

Turns out, director Norman J. Warren has two flicks on Mill Creek’s Gorehouse set: this and Terror (1978), which is also on the B-Movie Blast 50-Film pack that we also reviewed back in February 2020. Truth be told, while he’s legendary — at least in B-Movie and video nasty circles — Warren is an under-the-radar obscurity to most horror fans (well, except for FUBAR’d dudes like Bill Van Ryn who’s made his fandom of Warren’s Prey well known), with only 16 credits. The Warren films you (may or not) know are the insipid, Star Wars-inspired sex comedy Spaced Out (1979), aka Outer Touch (that we passed on during our “Star Wars Month” tribute; the similar, better known Galaxina won that review pole position), and the Alien rip off (that we did cover with our “Alien Week” tribute) Inseminoid (1981). Then there’s that off-the-nut sci-fi zombie romp Prey (1977) that Bill Van Ryn digs, and Warren’s final tour de force: Bloody New Year (1987), that Sam digs. All of those films were, of course, better distributed projects that turned up in theaters, cable, and VHS (for me, that would be as Inseminoid; Spaced Out was an oft-aired HBO programmer).

Perhaps it’s because it was only Warren’s third feature film — after two Italian sex shenanigans flicks issued in 1968: Loving Feeling and Private Hell, which makes Satan’s Slave his first horror film. In between his Alien romp, Inseminoid, and his Slasher romp, Bloody Birthday, Warren changed it up with, well, looking at the cover, a Stallone Rambo-cum-Arnie Commando rip called Gunpowder (1986) — has anyone seen it?

Now, the writer on this, well that’s a different story: While he wrote Warren’s Satan’s Slave and Terror, he gave us the video rental favorites of ’70s British horror: White Cargo (1973), House of Whipcord (1974), Frightmare (1974), the sleaze-o-rama that is The Confessional (1976), and Schizo (1976): Lord Smutmeister David McGillivray (and we mean that as a complement).

This time we have a supernatural horror tale with Catherine (British horror “Scream Queen” Candace Glendenning; The Flesh and Blood Show) who comes to live with her uncle and cousin (Michael Gough and Martin Potter; his work goes back to Fellini Satyricon) after she survives a car crash that killed both of her parents. Of course, Uncle Alex and Cousin Stephen are behind the crash: they’re necromancers who need her as a sacrifice to resurrect a powerful, spiritual ancestor.

To say more will spoil the film, as this Rosemary’s Baby-inspired tale (but not at all like a cheap Italian ripoff of that film or The Exorcist) is an excellent watch; one that’s far above the fray of the exploitative-norm discovered on Mill Creek sets. The scripting, set design, and acting — from all quarters — is top notch. I loved it. Consider it one of my new classics in the British ’70s cycle of gothic horror tales, right alongside Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy.

The production story: There’s additional material shot that was even more violent, and alternative versions of existing scenes that are in the film are available in other prints in the overseas markets. So, what we get is an amped up, Gothic psychological-sexploitation tale that programs nicely with the better distributed (as with the aforementioned A Bell from Hell and Symptoms via VHS and UHF-TV) Virgin Witch (1971) and the always incredible to watch The Wicker Man (1973). Of course, keen eyes immediately notice that the house and grounds of the Yorke estate appeared in Virgin Witch; and when you watch Terror off this same Mill Creek set, you’ll notice the Gothic estate, reappears.

Another choice: Paired with Warren’s Terror.

While you can get this on the Mill Creek sets we’ve unpacked in February, the more serious Warren fan can get Satan’s Slave, along with Terror, Prey, and Inseminoid on Anchor Bay’s Norman Warren Collection DVD box set. Vinegar Syndrome and Severin also offer restored single-disc reissues. However you watch it: watch it. There’s a copy of Satan’s Slave on You Tube.

The Grim Reaper (1976)

Ron Ormond’s journey — from Southern deep-fried drive-in fare to religious grindhouse filmmaker — is the kind of thing that obsesses me. Usually working with Rev. Estus Pirkle, his films reach a level of ecstatic mania that I could only dream of discovering in a snake church revival, yet can do it in the comfort of my basement.

There’s a line we can follow from Ormond’s Mesa of Lost Women to these films, because at its heart, exploitation is exploitation. It’s getting you to not just want to watch something but need to watch it. Just look at the poster for this, which uses the same language and cues as a horror film, which is what this really is.

Verne (Cecil Scaife, who was in nearly all of Ormond’s religious movies, plus Girl from Tobacco Road; as well as producing and starring in The Hollywood Beach Murders) and Ruby Pierce (Viola Warden, who was also in The Burning Hell) have a son named Frankie (Eddie King, who was in The Burning Hell after a career in small Hollywood roles; he also worked with Ron’s son Tim to start the first video firm that was allowed to videotape legal depositions for showing at trials in Tennessee courtrooms) who is a wild man, racing cars and says, “Religion? Not fos this dude.”

When Frankie dies in a car crash, he goes straight to hell and the Pierce’s pastor refuses to preach at his funeral. So while Ruby clings to God, her husband goes into the occult to try and save his son from the left hand path, working with Dr. Kumran to speak directly to the dead. Yet this is putting him on the same way to the flames of the abyss, so his other son Tim (Tim Ormond, who I love in everything he appears in) tries to save his father.

Finally, the family gets to hear the words of Jerry Falwell and heed the altar call. But it’s too late for Frankie, who we see as a ghost and watch burn in hell, surrounded by masks that Ben Cooper would shun.

Best of all, the film uses church parishioners to recreate Acts 16:16-40 and 1 Samuel 28 with wigs and basic makeup instead of the special effects that were possible in 1976. Then, we see Moses in the desert before going back to hell again, which is populated by witches and even Dracula. Let me be as clear as possible: this movie is the kind of thing that I devour like a cool lemonade on a balmy day.

At one point, this comic book poster was up on church walls and people gathered to watch this movie in basements and rec halls. We’ll never have a time like that again, when movies like this were sermons, unless you come to my house, where beer will be our communion.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Ron Marchini Week Wrap Up!

Phew. We did it! Twelve Ron Marchini films in two days. You know the drill! Yee-haw, let’s round ’em up!

Born in California and rising through the U.S. Army’s ranks to become a drill sergeant, in his civilian life, Ron Marchini earned the distinction as the best defensive fighter in the U.S.; by 1972, he was ranked the third best fighter in the country. Upon winning several worldwide tournaments, and with Robert Clouse’s directing success igniting a worldwide martial arts film craze with Enter the Dragon (1973), the South Asian film industry beckoned.

After making his debut in 1974’s Murder in the Orient, Marchini began a long friendship with filmmaker Paul Kyriazi, who directed Ron in his next film, the epic Death Machines, then later, in the first of Ron’s two appearances as post-apoc law officer John Travis, in Omega Cop.

Ron also began a long friendship with Leo Fong (Kill Point) after their co-staring in Murder in the Orient; after his retirement from the film industry — after making eleven dramatic-action films and one documentary — Ron concentrated on training and writing martial arts books with Leo, as well as becoming a go-to arts teacher. Today, he’s a successful California almond farmer.

In the annals of martial arts tournaments, Marchini is remembered as Chuck Norris’s first tournament win (The May 1964 Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California) by defeating Marchini by a half a point. Another of Chuck’s old opponents, Tony Tullener, who beat Norris in the ring three times, pursued his own acting career with the William Riead-directed Scorpion.

You can learn more about Ron Marchini with his biography at An interview at The Action Elite, with Ron’s friend and Death Machines director Paul Kyriazi, also offers deeper insights.

Ron, second from right, with Chuck Norris, shaking hands, 1965. Courtesy of Ken Osbourne/Facebook.
Courtesy of

The Flicks!

The Reviews!

New Gladiators (1973)
Murder in the Orient (1974)
Death Machines (1976)
Dragon’s Quest (1983)
Ninja Warriors (1985)
Forgotten Warrior (1986)
Jungle Wolf (1986)
Return Fire (1988)
Arctic Warriors (1989)
Omega Cop (1990)
Karate Cop (1991)
Karate Raider (1995)

Black tee-shirt image courtesy of Spreadshirt. Art work/text by B&S About Movies.

We love ya, Ron!

About the Review Authors: Sam Panico is the founder, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, and editor-in-chief of B&S About Movies. You can visit him on Lettebox’d and Twitter. R.D Francis is the grease bit scrubber, dumpster pad technician, and staff writer at B&S About Movies. You can visit him on Facebook.

Death Machines (1976): A Third Look

Thanks to Mill Creek box sets, we’ve enjoyed this Ron Marchini flick three times: November 28, 2020, courtesy of Herbert P. Caine for our Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion box set blowout, on August 5, 2020, courtesy of Sam the Bossman for our Mill Creek Savage Cinema round up, and again on February 5, 2021, for its inclusion on the B-Movie Blast set.

Since today (and tomorrow) is “Ron Marchini Week” (yes, a two-day week), we’re bringing Death Machines back one more time — to honor Ron’s all too short, eleven-movie career — with another take by B&S About Movies self-proclaimed uber fan and Marchini authority: moi. (Really, Sam said I can have the title, he’s already made the tee-shirts!) So, now it’s a battle of wills: who loves this film more: Herbert Death Machine, Sam Death Machine, or R.D. Death Machine? And Becca, the “B” in B&S, is our overlord. Hail, Madam Pacino, for she is the Queen of the Death Machine.

If only this sophomore follow up to Ron Marchini’s Murder in the Orient actually had the Zardoz-cum-Rollerball superintelligent machine of teeth thingy. My guess is that Rollerball was on the way and Roger Corman had Death Race 2000, his knockoff of that film, in the marketplace. Only the incisors-ridden pyramid of the cover does not spout any cool Lord Zardoz lines like “The Penis is Evil.” And Ron has no cool, knee-high red boots, skimpy speedos, or bullets belts on his bare chest. There’s no death cycles or post-apoc cars — which you think you’re getting because of the post-apoc poster dupe. I was expecting — to put this in a modern context — some Alien vs. Predator pyramid of death, with an ancient Mayan or Aztec pyramid, deep in the Philippine jungles with martial arts masters trapped inside a booby-trapped monolith, fighting their way out, with spiked walls and ceilings at every turn.

Well, guess what? We’ve been Def-Con’d. For this movie doesn’t make a lick of common sense — or any sense. Or anything that rises above boredom. Not even the great Ron Marchini is saving it with his kung-fu grips. Ugh. Thanks, Crown International.

So, Madame Lee has gathered, i.e., kidnapped, three multi-racial, martial arts masters: White Death Machine (Ron Marchini, aka John Travis of the one-two punch of Omega Cop and Karate Cop), Asian Death Match (Michael Chong of Charles Bronson’s Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects), and Black Death Machine (Joshua Johnson of The Weapons of Death) after she injects them with a mysterious formula that makes them her mindless, karate fighting soldiers. Her plan: to take over the underworld with her bullet-impervious warriors.

One things is for sure: there’s action ‘o plenty. We get a karate school vs. Death Machines blow out. We get sword fights. We get electrocutions. Death by cars (but not apoc cars). There’s a motorcycle gang (but not apoc bikes). And we think the plot concerns the student body of a karate school being wiped out (and I wish I could tell you why Ms. Lee ordered it), and the lone-survivor wants revenge for the Death Machines amputating his hand. And there’s a cop, Lt. Forrester, on the case, but what that “case” is, we guess to destroy the Death Machine warriors, is anyone’s guess.

Blame this ALL on our friends at Crown International Pictures: they got an evil martial arts movie and decided to tweak it into a sci-fi film. Oh, and we are not anywhere exotic. Just ol’ Stockton, California. So much Paul Kyriazi’s “passion project,” he who gave us the awesome Ninja Busters (1984). Now, if you know your Ron Marchini trivia — and you don’t because I am authority at B&S, remember — Paul Kyriazi and Ron fared much better with joint work in Omega Cop (1990).

If you’re a Kyriazi completist as much as you’re a Marchini one, the rest of his writing and directing credits are: The Tournament (1972), the aforementioned The Weapons of Death (1981), One Way Out (1987), and Forbidden Power (2018). And get this: prior to making his debut with the 12th century samurai adventure The Tournament, Paul worked for NASA in their press department filming space launches. So, the next time you watch late ’60s and early ’70s Mercury and Apollo shots, Paul’s eye is behind that camera.

You can get a copy on the numerous Mill Creek sets we’ve mentioned. You can stream it on Amazon Prime or get the Blu-ray at Vinegar Syndrome. A 4k restore of its original Techniscope camera negative, the VS Blu features all-new interviews with its director and actors. But hey, there’s a copy on You Tube to enjoy.

And Does Ron Marchini fair better with his third movie, Dragon’s Quest? Well . . . well, let’s just say that’s a tale and a half, and we’re reviewing as part of our Ron Marchini (two day) tribute, so strap in.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Junesploitation 2021: The Passover Plot (1976)

June 19: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is free.

Hugh J. Schonfield was a British Bible scholar who specialized in the study of the New Testament and the early development of the Christian religion. I bet he never believed that when he went from being one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls team members and writing a non-ecclesiastical historical translation of the New Testament to writing The Passover Plot that it’d be made into a movie with Zalman King, Dan Hedaya and Donald Pleasence.

The central thesis of Schonfield’s book that Jesus was completely convinced that He was the Messiah, as he was a descendent of King David. Therefore, he calculated His journey, keeping many of the Disciples on a need-to-know basis of his true plans, which ultimately included dying on the cross and being resurrected so that He could rule as a king on Earth.

Then things went wrong.

The plan was that Jesus would not end up being on the cross for more than a few hours, as Jewish people by law had to be taken down in time for Sabbath. One of His followers was to give him a drug to knock him out. Then, Joseph of Arimathea would take His body while Jesus healed. However, a Roman soldier — one assumes the one played by John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told — stabbed Jesus and killed him before The Passover Plot could be completed.

Producer by Wolf Schmidt and Menahem Golan (yes!), The Passover Plot was written by Paul Golding (the writer of Beat Street), Patricia Louisianna Knop (the writer of 9 1/2 WeeksWild OrchidRed Show Diaries and the wife of Zalman King) and Millard Cohan.

Jesus — called Yeshua of Nazareth — is intense, but that’s because that’s Zalman King’s acting style. He’s up against Pontius Pilate (Pleasence), who is working with the Jewish High Priests to rule what will someday be The Holy Land. There’s a commotion at the temple, presumably led by Barabbas, which Jesus hopes to calm so that He can bring the people together and become the Messiah. Either that or ask Jusad (Scott Wilson) to betray him so that he can fake his death.

This movie plays fast and loose with the Gospel and the direction by Michael Campus — yes, the same man who made The Mack and Z.P.G. — is kind of wild. But hey! It has a score from Alex North, who did Spartacus and Cleopatra, plus Academy Award-nominated costumes by Mary Willis, who also worked on both the TV movie and original versions of The Diary of Anne Frank.

How about this for weird? This movie has the same cinematographer as Lemon Popsicle and The Last American Virgin, Adam Greenberg.

My favorite thing about this whole controversy was that Pat Boone bought national syndicated TV time to create an hour-long show asking people not to go see this movie. In fact, he even called Donald Pleasence on the phone to ask him why he was in it, thereby proving my theory that Mr. Pleasence never said no to anything that would have him perform on camera.

Also, in The Greatest Story Ever Told, Pat played the Angel at the Tomb. Who did Donald play? Satan.

Junesploitation 2021: La Pretora (1976)

June 17: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is Lucio Fulci.

Lucio Fulci was born in Trastavere, Rome 94 years ago today. The son of a single mother from a Sicilian anti-fascist family, he was raised by her and a female housekeeper who encouraged him to be a lawyer, but he ended up going to medical school. After dropping out, he worked as an art critic before apprenticing at the Centro Sperimentale.

While he’s become known as the Godfather of Gore, Fulci didn’t start making his most famous horror work until 1979, a full 21 years after he wrote his first script, Toto in the Moon. He worked with the famous Italian director Steno on several of Toto’s films before directing the films of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia (How We Robbed the Bank of ItalyThe Swindlers).

His career covers nearly every genre. Westerns (Massacre TimeSilver SaddleThe Four of the Apocalypse), giallo, both before and after Argento (Perversion StoryDon’t Torture a DucklingThe PsychicA Lizard In a Woman’s Skin), poliziotteschi (Contraband), post-apocalyptic science fiction (Warriors of the Year 2072), peplum by of Conan (Conquest) and even family fare (White FangWhite Fang to the Rescue).

So while Fulci may be known for his eye-popping horrors — and rightfully so — I wanted to celebrate his birthday by checking out another genre he covered, the commedia sexy all’italiana.

If you’re making one of those movies, you need an attractive female lead. And this movie boats perhaps the finest example of an actress in the genre, the French-born Edwige Fenech, who like Fulci also had a Sicilian mother. While she’s known for her work in giallo such as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, All the Colors of the Dark, The Case of the Bloody Iris and Strip Nude for Your Killer, Fenech also found her greatest  box office success in this very Italian sex comedy genre, making appearances in movies like Ubalda, All Naked and WarmGiovannona Long-ThighPoker In BedConfessions of a Lady CopThe Schoolteacher and many more.

La Pretora, which translates as My Sister In Law, stars Fenech in two roles. She’s Judge Viola Orlando, a tough arbiter of the law who is feared in the Veneto regions (which includes Venice, in case you wonder where this takes place). She’s made plenty of enemies, who soon learn that her sister Rosa is a woman of loose morals who appears in adult magazines. They hope to confuse her images and reputation with that of our protagonist.

Beyond dealing with an outraged populace who can’t believe that a judge could appear nude in a magazine, Viola is also dealing with her love life — or lack thereof — with her fiancee, who wishes that she was as open as her bad seed sister.

Working from a script by husband and wife Franco Marotta and Laura Toscano(, who also wrote the original Inglorious Bastards, this movie finds Fulci not working with an unfamiliar crew, such as cinematographer Luciano Trasatti, who was the director of photography on And God Said to Cain.

However, Fulci had plenty of experience with editor Ornella Micheli (Dracula in the Provinces, Operation St. Peter’sDon’t Torture a Duckling) and would work with assistant director Roberto Giandalia on The PsychicZombiContrabandCity of the Living DeadThe Black CatThe BeyondHouse by the CemeteryThe New York RipperManhattan Baby and Murder Rock.

I understand that these movies were made so that guys could ogle Edwige Fenech — seriously, there’s a moment in this movie where men literally become Tex Avery wolves with their eyes bugging out so much that Fulci had to just be dying inside with the need to smash or pierce them — many don’t take the time to notice just how good she is in these films, able to master comedy that transcends the time and language barrier.

As for Fulci’s work here, the movie looks great, but if only knew him from his 1979 and beyond — pun unintended — films, you may never guess that this was him. He also made another sex comedy, The Eroticist, that I want to check out. And it’s pretty amazing when you think about the fact that more than a quarter of his films were comedies.