Wednesday 21 November 2018

Remembering José Ramón Larraz by Simon Birrell

A few years ago we published this lovely remembrance of the great Spanish director José Ramón Larraz by film-maker Simon Birrell on the first anniversary of his death. At one point we removed this piece thinking that all or part of it might be recycled for our (then) upcoming Blu-ray release of his classic film SYMPTOMS. This never happened, but this essay was never reinstated. Today we rectify that mistake. 

One year ago today, my old friend José Ramón Larraz died. I won’t say “passed away”, because he would never have said it. If there’s one thing he didn’t do, it was mince words – he told it like it is, come what may. Abrasive, hilarious - he was the living definition of irascible, and a tremendously talented and cultured man. His loss was too raw last year, but now I’d like to share a few memories.

I met him in Madrid, where he was hanging around a film school I was attending. He had a habit of attracting young, wide-eyed admirers who would throw themselves into his projects, typing scripts, visiting producers and sending emails for him (he refused to use computers). I was neither the first nor last of these admirers, but what began as a series of “work” meetings, became a ten year friendship.

Originally, we were going to write scripts together. That didn’t last beyond the first act of a script about a satanic cult – I made the mistake of criticizing one scene he’d written for having too much dialogue. He called me up late at night and proceeded to read out an entire scene from “The Spiral Staircase”. “Count the lines!” he roared. “Is that too much dialogue?” After that I settled more into the role of a translator-secretary, rendering his Spanish scripts as I best I could, surreptitiously snipping out the odd line.

As a film-maker he had an incredible eye for detail, a command of the practical side of his craft and the eye of an artist. His framing and economy came from his work as a comic book artist, which has recently resurfaced and is quite gorgeous. He told me that the pressure of producing a daily newspaper strip forced him to work out ways to economize the drawing needed in each frame. So in a jungle strip he might draw the front half of a lion and hide the rest out of the panel, perhaps saving himself an hour’s drawing.

In film, he used similar tricks. Watch the beginning of “Black Candles” – a scene apparently shot in Heathrow Airport was made as follows: a few shots of the customs area quietly (and illegally) filmed by him with a 16mm camera are intercut with a single shot of the two protagonists ostensibly waiting for their luggage. The way that latter shot is framed, with a few extras, conveys the impression that they’re in the airport, when in fact they could be anywhere. The overall effect is seamless. It’s not an “artistic” shot, but it’s a highly effective, economical and workmanlike one. José Ramón was a master of putting together a film like this with minimal resources, and without having the obviously low budget look of contemporaries like Franco or Naschy.

Apart from his artistic ability, a big part of this came from meticulously studying the masters, breaking down the way classic films had been put together and adding the techniques to his palette. He could describe from memory complete scenes from “Cat People” (one of his favourites) and explain shot by shot where the camera was placed, the actors positioned and precisely how they all moved. He would explain how the exotic setting of Port-au-Prince at the start of “I Walked With a Zombie” had been created with a single gangplank and a barrel.

As noted in “Immoral Tales”, he could generate a mysterious atmosphere from the simplest of situations. In the “Coming Of Sin”, there’s a scene where the threesome at the centre of the story are sitting by the fire, drunk. It’s years since I’ve seen the film, but there’s a shot of the lead actress playing with her hair that is quite unique. It’s just a gesture, but it sums up what’s going on beyond any of the dialogue. “I showed her how to play with her hair”, Larraz told me with satisfaction.

This love of detail contrasted oddly with the casualness with which he dismissed much of his work, and with some of the later, poorer films. The raunchy Spanish comedies are an acquired taste and “Edge of the Axe” or “Deadly Manor” are quite simply deadly. But he would try anything, from the award-winning TV epic on Goya, to some romantic comedies that were never made, probably to his benefit. The best stuff though, is the work rooted in his personal obsessions.

Despite professing that he had no interest in his career in cinema, he had a tremendous drive to try and launch new projects, right up to the end. I was one of many who labored to get “Vampyres II” off the ground. The script, co-authored with Tim Greaves in some incarnations, is a genre bending mélange of witchcraft and vampirism and has little to do with the original film. I took one version of the script to an aging film distributor in New York, who told me, “I love it! It gave me an erection,” and asked for a new version with more sex in it. José snorted on hearing this, “What do I care about Alex’s erection?”, but duly turned out a new version stuffed with depravity. There are numerous other unmade stories, including “Voodoo” and “The Onlookers”.

I tried, Tim tried, Pete Tombs tried, Jonathan Sothcott tried; there was lots of interest, but no-one would actually sign a cheque. The last interest we had was to make it in 3D, which would have been something. As José Ramón got older he started lowering his expectations, but never stopped beavering away. He wrote scripts for others, even comedy sketches for TV. Finally, he started writing novels, which can be ordered in various language on Print-On-Demand sites. He approached novels in the same way as films, reverse engineering Henry Miller and trying to apply the same techniques to his own stories.

He had a reputation as a ladies man, and his colourful autobiography bears this out. A Spanish wife, a French wife (who was raised by Eleanor Roosevelt) was followed by Diana, the love of his life, and finally Vanesa Hidalgo, star of “Black Candles”. But there were many others, including a second, parallel family in Scandinavia and a string of models from his period as a fashion photographer.

He always insisted that he had behaved professionally towards his actresses, but there were differing opinions. Alfredo Landa claimed Larraz had spent much of the film they made together chasing the female cast, which José Ramón disputed furiously in his autobiography. I don’t know the truth, and I wouldn’t put money on it. The cover of his autobiography is a classic:

By the time I knew José Ramón, the glory days were long behind him. But I saw him in action just once, and it was awesome to behold. We were scouting the location for my short film “El Último Deseo”: a large apartment in the center of Madrid occupied by six girls in their early twenties. They were a motley assortment of nurses, makeup artists, accountants and students and we had to both plan the shots and sweet talk the girls into giving up their home for a week of chaotic filmmaking. We went from room to room meeting each one, and José Ramón methodically hit on every single one of them. He would tell one girl that she had a perfect face for photography (“Trust me, I’m a professional.”) and the next girl he would compliment on her political beliefs (“I’m a republican too!”). He was in his eighties and clearly wasn’t planning on doing anything, but I think it was just an old instinct kicking in. By the time we finished, there were six rather dazed young women who had given us permission to make their life hell, and some of them even joined the crew.

Finally, he was both a misanthrope and a born entertainer. He stayed at home, preferring his wife’s company and pottering about his projects, rejecting opportunities to go out and network with people who could have helped him. Yet once he was out of his shell, he was unstoppable.

We took him to a small film festival in Caceres where they gave him a lifetime achievement award. Celia Novos’ film crew hung around to shoot the event for the documentary “Vampyres and Other Symptoms”. That night he declared that he wanted to go partying with the youngsters and we took him round a series of dives. He didn’t sit down once in the evening, standing till 3am spouting blue jokes and a series of hilarious stream-of-consciousness monologues and invectives about the Spanish, politicians, the film business and himself. He totally dominated the festival, to the extent that the gentile Eugenio Martin, also attending, would run in terror when he saw José Ramón approach. Listen to the Vampyres DVD commentary track for a feeling of what he was like when switched on.

His last outing was at the Madrid Filmoteca, where they had somehow united a wizened Paul Naschy, Larraz, Jack Taylor, Antonio Mayans and Eugenio Martin for a round table. Once the organizers made the mistake of letting him speak, they couldn’t shut him up. The audience was in stitches as he ridiculed the genre and the universe in general. The best toe-curling moment was when he asked why anyone would want to see a film about Dracula, with some portly toupee’d idiot in a black cape and plastic fangs trying to play the gallant. This, sitting next to the mortified star of “Count Dracula’s Great Love”.

As it turned out, that was his last public hurrah, and Naschy’s too.

By the end, he was frail, walking slowly with a cane and starting to lose his memory. He was also broke, despite having lived in castles in Scotland and manor houses in Kent in better days. He finally married his devoted Vanesa Hidalgo and they lived in a one room apartment in Madrid. He constantly complained about Spain and talked of returning to live in his beloved England, but in his heart he didn’t want to leave Vanessa. The plans for filming got sketchier and sketchier, but none of us had the heart to stop helping him in his projects.

In one of history’s great understatements, Casanova starts his enormous autobiography, “Whatever I have done, for good or evil, I have done freely. I have lived.” José Ramón Larraz was a comic strip artist, a fashion photographer, a film-maker, a TV director and finally a novelist. He left a large body of creative work behind. And he lived. How many of us can say that?

Friday 12 October 2018


ON SALE FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26th at 9 am PACIFIC only at! Details below!! 

Thursday 23 August 2018

Four new upcoming titles on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro!

Towards the end of this year and into next we have some pretty great and obscure stuff lined up! Check it out:


This is one where you’ll probably want to take a shower after you watch it. From the degenerate director who brought you TANGO OF PERVERSION and THE WIFE KILLER (both available now on DVD from us!) comes another Hellenic sleaze-fest, DANGEROUS CARGO! DALLAS’ Debbie Shelton stars, in a role she’d probably rather forget, as a woman taken captive when pirates take over a ship carrying weapons and ammunition to the far east. These pirates are very much the grimy 70s kind, and not the fun-loving, 18th century “yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum” variety. Quite a bit of ugly, sweaty, and hairy sex and violence ensues. Ms Shelton gets nude A LOT. And it doesn’t end well for anyone involved.

MM is proud (?) to present the US home video debut of this nasty bit of Greek exploitation, as part of our ongoing exploration of genre films from that neglected country. And yes, this will be on BLU-RAY, god help us all. Keep an eye out for promo teaser trailer sometime in the next couple of months. We hope to unleash this film unto the world around the end of the year or maybe early next. It will likely have a “straight to retail” release, with no ‘red case’ limited edition.


A.K.A. THE PUNISHMENT, is a very 1970s French arthouse/exploitation crossover that pre-dates such hit Euro S&M-themed films as STORY OF O and THE IMAGE. Karin Shubert stars as a prostitute who has failed to please a customer and so finds herself locked in a room by her pimp to receive her “punishment”. Although filled with unpleasant violence and disturbing sex, LA PUNITION is a psychedelic marvel, an “evil gem of a movie” as one IMDB reviewer puts it, a ravishingly visual film made around a decidedly seedy story. This movie is often compared to the 70s films of Alain Robbe-Grillet like EDEN AND AFTER or SLOW SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE, but it hits much harder than those.

Coming to Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro probably sometime early next year from a new 2K restoration from the original negative. Expect a limited “red case” edition of around 500 copies to proceed the standard retail release.


A.K.A. THE GIRL WITH THE BUTTERFLY TATTOO or simply THE KILLER BUTTERFLY (probably the title we’ll use).

Over the years we’ve released some pretty strange movies here at Mondo Macabro. But this might very well be the strangest yet. Directed by Kim Ki-young, director of the original version of THE HOUSEMAID, often called “the best Korean film of all time”, BUTTERFLY is a horror-tinged psychotropic melodrama freak-out about nothing less than death itself and the will to keep living. After a young man survives being poisoned by a girl at a picnic he falls into a deep, suicidal depression. But standing in the way of his desire to kill himself is a Nietzschean bookseller who refuses to die even though he’s killed several times, an ancient mummy who is revived in the form of a beautiful woman who happens to be a cannibal, and an insane anthropologist who wants to keep his daughter alive by getting her laid. And also, of course, butterflies. KILLER BUTTERFLY is the most eccentric work in the filmography of the very eccentric Kim Ki-young, made at time of crisis in the Korean film industry when he was running out of hit movies but not bizarre ideas.

MM is incredibly excited to bring this amazing film to the US for the first time ever in a world-premiere Blu-ray release sporting a new 2K restoration from the original negative and loaded with tons of exclusive extras. Hopefully we’ll have this one available before the end of the year, though early next is possible as well. Expect a ‘red case’ LE followed by a standard version a couple months later.


And finally, this wonderfully bizarre bit of hippy horror from Italy!

QUEENS OF EVIL stars Ray Lovelock as a freelovin’ dude just tryin’ to get away from it all, who stumbles into a seemingly perfect situation: a very stylish home isolated in the countryside inhabited by three extremely beautiful young ladies (played by Silvia Monti, Evelyn Stewart, and Haydee Politoff) who are totally into him and his free-love ethos. But of course, things don’t go exactly as he would hope, and soon enough things take a bizarre turn into the realms of pagan ritual and witchcraft!

A wonderfully stylized example of late 60s/early 70s counterculture exploitation cinema with lots of artsy touches and an occult horror payoff, it’s a real mystery that QUEENS OF EVIL has never gotten a US release before now. Mondo Macabro is very excited to rectify that sad situation with this Blu-ray release of a new 2k restoration of the film from its original negative. Expect a LE to be unveiled sometime early next year, with a retail edition coming a couple of months later.

Monday 16 July 2018

BLOOD LUST limited edition specs and cover!

Our limited release of this film will come in the slightly larger (PS3 size) red Blu-ray case. It will also have a 12 page booklet written by Michael Gingold, with lots of fascinating information about the film and how it came to be made.

The LE will also include 14 full color, postcard sized reproductions of lobby cards, posters and promo materials and a cover exclusive to this limited edition.

The film will be presented in both English and German language versions, with optional English subtitles.

Extras include an interview with the film’s assistant director – Marijan David Vajda – who is the son of the writer-director of Blood Lust. We are also very happy to have an interview with actress Birgit Zamulo, who has many fascinating stories to tell about the making of the film. The interview was conducted by Sadi Kanturk who also produced the great interview with Eckhart Schmidt that was featured on our release of The Fan.

This edition will be limited to 500 individually numbered pieces.

Thursday 14 June 2018

PERVERSION STORY L.E. specs and cover reveal!

We are still working out a few last minute things on our upcoming Blu-ray release of Lucio Fulci's classic giallo PERVERSION STORY aka ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER. But we can now unveil the full details of that upcoming release. Below you'll find the reversible cover art, both sides of which are unique to this edition, as well as the previously revealed slipcover design featuring brand new art by Justin Coffee. Even though it features a slipcover, this edition will have a red-colored case, though it will be a thinner case than we've used for our previous "Red Case" LEs, FYI.
As for features ...
HD presentation of the longer, 108 minute "European cut" of the film
English or Italian opening credits options
English or Italian with optional English subtitles language track options
Brand new interview with actor Jean Sorel
Brand new interview with actor Elsa Martinelli
Brand new interview with critic Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci
Original trailer
MM previews
The numbered limited edition will feature a slipcover, a new thinner red case, a 12 page booklet with new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, and 8 postcard reproductions of the German lobby cards and poster for the film.
We will schedule the pre-order as soon as we get everything completely done. Hopefully we'll be able to announce that next week, with the pre-order coming at the end of the month or very early in July!

Friday 16 March 2018

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD, LE covers and full specs

At long last - what you've all been waiting for! WHO CAN KILL A CHILD is coming to Blu-ray soon! The pre-order will arrive sometime next month (keep checking back, we'll have a firm date on that soon), but in the meantime here are the two covers for the limited edition plus all the specs for the disc and the packaging!
Limited to this red case edition will be a reversible cover with both images unique to this version, a booklet featuring a brand new essay by horror film expert Lee Gambin, and a series of postcards reproducing the US lobby cards!
The region-free disc itself will feature:
*Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative
*Two different English language tracks - the Spanish export version and the US 'ISLAND OF THE DAMNED' dub - as well as the Spanish language track with optional English subtitles
*Two options for the opening credits; the longer 'mondo'-style opening of the Spanish/export version and the shorter US 'ISLAND OF THE DAMNED' opening
*Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan of the Daughters of Darkness podcast
*Brand new interview with horror historian and critic Kim Newman
*Archival Spanish TV documentary on the film
*Archival interviews with director Narciso Ibanez Serrador and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine
*Trailers and radio spots

Tuesday 2 January 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR! aka What We Did Last Year, and What We Have Planned for This Year

2017 was a watershed year for MM. We released the retail version of the South Korean supernatural thriller SUDDENLY IN THE DARK, the limited edition (but not yet sold out!) JESS FRANCO TRIPLE BILL featuring HD upgrades of HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN and COUNTESS PERVERSE (as well as its X-rated variant SEXY NATURE), Paul Naschy’s directorial debut INQUISITION, the classy Spanish giallo THE FOX WITH A VELVET TAIL, the indescribable Latvian erotic art-horror film SPIDER, and we topped the year off with a sold-out limited edition blu of the 70s Spanish horror masterpiece THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE. Not too shabby! 
But 2018 will be even more impressive! 

Already up for pre-order at places like Diabolik DVD and Amazon is the retail version of BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, as well as the US debut of the highly original 90s Greek film LOVERS BEYOND TIME! The latter is a unique and erotic sci-fi noir, pretty much unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. To sweeten the deal, we’ve added a full-length documentary covering the wild world of Greek fantasy and horror films made by the same director, among several other enticing extras. This release is DVD only, sorry HD purists. But lovers of weird films no matter what format they arrive on should be totally psyched! Both of the above releases are scheduled for February 13th.

Our next limited Red Case Blu-ray will be the Paul Naschy masterpiece THE DEVIL INCARNATE aka EL CAMINANTE! The region free disc will sport a brand new 4K restoration from the original negative plus a host of fascinating extras. The limited release will have a reversible cover as well as an exclusive booklet featuring a new essay on the film by Kat Ellinger! This will be limited to 666 numbered copies and will go on sale sometime this month or early February at the latest. Keep your eyes on our Facebook page or Big Cartel storefront for that forthcoming announcement. A retail edition will arrive sometime after the LE has sold out. 

But we know what title fans are looking forward to most from us, the long-awaited US Blu-ray debut of the Spanish horror classic WHO CAN KILL A CHILD! We are hoping this will arrive hot on the heels of DEVIL INCARNATE, but we’re still working on it so that’s still a bit up in the air. But we can reveal that it will be another brand new 4K restoration, so be prepared to toss out all previous DVD and BD versions! This will be the definitive edition. It will arrive first as another of our Red Case limited editions, followed by a retail edition later in the year.

But beyond that, what does 2018 hold in store for Mondo Macabro?

Well, as reported last week by Bruce Holecheck’s Cinema Arcana website and Facebook page, we have a wild Blu-ray double feature of the US ‘roughies’ THE RAVAGER and THE BUSHWHACKER coming up, straight from the Something Weird Video archives! We are super excited to be working with both them and the American Genre Film Archive to release this sometime in the middle of 2018. Not only that but it will be the first release in an entirely new sub-label: American Arcana! This new imprint will focus exclusively on US-made trash and genre films. We can’t reveal yet what else the label has in store, but we do have our eyes on couple of very crazy and fascinating titles, one of which was a previously lost film! Prepare to get excited! 

And now we come to the best part, and what you’re probably reading all of this for – all new title announcements!

First up is the next volume in our ongoing series exploring Greek exploitation cinema, and the first Blu-ray in that collection! It will be a double feature of two black and white films, THE WILD PUSSYCAT and THE DESERTER! Here’s what MM founder Pete Tombs has to say about these two obscurities:

The first of these is something of a classic of exploitation cinema - a genre (if it can be called that) rarely explored in Greece. And certainly very rarely before the 1970s and 80s. What is even more surprising is how relentless and indeed, eye opening the film is. We’re talking about THE WILD PUSSYCAT, a film produced in Greece in 1968 but not officially released there until 1972. And then only in a cut and compromised version. To the best of our knowledge it has never been released before on any form of home video platform anywhere in the world. 
The original Greek title of the film was Καυτή εκδίκησις – meaning “Hot Revenge”. It was later re-released as Hot Revenge of Sex, just to make things clearer. The simple plot concerns a woman whose sister was exploited and driven to suicide by a sleazy pimp. In order to get revenge on him the sister seduces the man, drugs him and imprisons him in a sound proof room, tormenting him through a large one-way mirror (he can see out, no-one can see in) by performing sultry strip tease dances and having sex with men and women while he can only look on, helpless to stop it.

Eventually she castrates the man and sets him free, leaving him crawling along the road howling like a beast.

Strong stuff! And, if the plot sounds familiar to fans of Italian genre cinema – yes, it was “borrowed” by Joe D’Amato for one of his 1970s productions, EMANUELLE’S REVENGE.
In spite of its lurid subject matter and upfront depiction of sex, THE WILD PUSSYCAT was not a low budget quickie with a cast of unknowns and a first time film maker. It was directed by Dimi Dadiras, one of the most successful director/producers of the period, and it features one of the big stars of Greek cinema – Gisela Dali, known in her day as “the Greek Bardot”.

There have been a handful of repertory screenings of the film in the US in recent years and its every showing has been greeted by audiences with wild howls of delight. It really is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and we are sure any fan of the Mondo line will find it essential viewing.
The disc includes two versions of the film – the uncut export print and the Greek domestic release which replaces much of the original’s sleaze and tease with a sub plot involving drug smuggling, juvenile delinquency and the sort of moralistic police detective who seemed to be a speciality of Greek crime films of this period.

To complete this essential package, we are also including the 1970 film O Lipotaktis (THE DESERTER). This is a fascinating and powerful film about a young soldier who escapes a seemingly endless war and finds himself trapped in an emotional and sexual battle between two desperate women. The great Gisela Dali also stars in this production, in a small but unforgettable role as a witch who casts a love spell on the young soldier.

Again, there are strong Italian connections here. The film was edited by Bruno Mattei. He also claimed to have directed much of it and a few years later released a version of it in Italy with himself credited as director, under the title of Armida, il Dramma di Una Sposa (Armida, the Story of a Woman). As with THE WILD PUSSYCAT we can find no evidence of this film ever having been released anywhere on home video before.

So, an essential double bill for anyone even remotely interested in the wider shores of exploitation cinema. We’re sticking our necks out with this one as these are ultra-obscure, even in Greece. But it’s good to live dangerously. We hope you’ll join us on our journey into the wild side of world cinema.”

They sound pretty great, huh? You know you want it. Release date and all other details about this blu are still TBD/TBA. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for a pair of new teaser trailers we've put together to hype this release. 
And now for the big one. It’s been awhile since we’ve revealed a “big” new title, but now that it’s already 2018 it’s time to announce … Lucio Fulci’s classic giallo ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER aka PERVERSION STORY! 

We’ve been working on getting this film in our library for some time now and have recently closed the deal. We don’t have many details to share for this one yet, but we can say that other than making its world Blu-ray premiere we are endeavouring to make sure this is the longest, most complete version yet released on home video! Because of that we can only say that this title is “coming soon”, and that it will be done when it’s done. Hopefully sometime in the middle or latter part of this new year.

One other thing we can reveal is that it will feature a brand new cover illustration by Justin Coffee, who did our previous releases NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES and FOX WITH A VELVET TAIL. But this will be his best work yet. We can't wait to show it to you! 

That’s all we can announce for now, but that’s certainly not all we have up our sleeves for this year and beyond. Stay tuned later this year for more exciting announcements!