Tuesday, October 03, 2006

RIP: Renato Polselli & Armando Govoni

Walter Brandi has María Luisa Rolando well in hand in THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA.
Yesterday, a thread on the Anchor Bay UK discussion boards reported the passing of Italian horror and sexploitation director Renato Polselli at the age of 84. Born in Arce, Italy in 1922, Polselli died of natural causes on October 1 -- only two weeks after the death of actor Mickey Hargitay, who starred in some of his best-known films.

Polselli directed his first feature, L'ULTIMO PERDONO, in 1952; it was the first of four proto-giallo thrillers that preceded his first international success, L'AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO (1960), released in America as THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. A significant title in the history of Italian horror cinema, L'AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO (scripted by the great Ernesto Gastaldi) was the first Italian horror film to be green-lighted after the surprise boxoffice success of DRACULA IL VAMPIRO, the Italian dub of Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA. While not a film of the caliber of Mario Bava's LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO [aka BLACK SUNDAY], which went into production three months later, it was the first Italian horror film to turn a profit.

As legend has it, Polselli wanted to follow up L'AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO with another Gastaldi horror script, IL VAMPIRO DELL'OPERA, but the picture ran out of funding while shortly into production and was shelved. Polselli filled his time by moving on to a series of dramas -- including the Gastaldi-scripted ULTIMATUM ALLA VITA (1962) -- notable for the recurring presence of actor Antonio de Teffé, soon to adopt the nom d'ecran "Anthony Steffen." By 1963, Polselli's horror film had made its inroads around the world, and he found himself with the funding to continue his shelved project, which became the ill-fated IL MOSTRO DELL'OPERA (1964). Despite a promotional pictorial article that appeared in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, preparing its fanbase for the release of a picture called "THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA," no such picture ever materialized stateside, and the film managed no outside continental sales until it was acquired by a French distributor in 1969. IL MOSTRO DELL'OPERA circulates as a bootleg videotape taken from two different RAI-TV broadcasts, and it's worth seeing for its vintage B&W atmosphere, a surprisingly early lesbian subplot, and the early casting of one of my favorite character actresses: the delightfully quirky Milena Vukotic (BLOOD FOR DRACULA, HOUSE OF THE YELLOW CARPET, and Luís Buñuel's last three films).
Ernesto Gastaldi tells Video WatchBlog: "How weird is it that I have to learn that Polselli died from... Cincinnati!? The last time I met Polselli was 15 years ago. We met by chance. We talked for half an hour remembering the old happy times: L'AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO had a very funny troupe and a lot of problems that created hundreds of incredible gags." Some of these anecdotes are told in Ernesto's 1991 book VOGLIO ENTRARE NEL CINEMA, which he recently reprinted through Lulu.com under its original title, COME ENTRARE NEL CINEMA E RESTARCI FINO ALLA FINE (which means "How To Break Into the Movies and Stay There Till the End"). In Italian only, unfortunately.

After three more films -- including an obligatory Spaghetti Western called LO SCERIFFO CHE NON SPARA (aka THE SHERIFF WON'T SHOOT, 1965), which marked his first collaboration with former Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay -- Polselli disappeared from the scene, only returning in 1970 as the screenwriter of two erotic films made by other directors. One of these features, Alessandro Santini's QUESTA LIBERTA DI AVERE... LE ALI BAGNATE (1972), introduced Polselli to the actress who would become the centerpiece of his work for the remainder of the decade: the ravishing Rita Calderoni. With 1972's LA VERITA SECONDO SATANA, Calderoni and Polselli (adopting the disguise "Ralph Brown") embarked on a lengthy phase of feverish, hallucinatory sex-horror films, fraught with druggy scenes of rape, sadism, and Satanic sacrifice. It was followed by the two Hargitay films, both available on DVD: DELIRIO CALDO (aka DELIRIUM, 1972) and RITI, MAGIE NERE E SEGRETE ORGE NEL TRECENTO (aka THE REINCARNATION OF ISABEL, 1973). These films, much moreso than Polselli's early work, have become the keys to his cult legend; the second, in particular, will give anyone pause to wonder if someone has spiked their drink. If you haven't seen these, you have quite the decadent treat in store.

Image Entertainment, who released these two films on VHS, laserdisc, and later DVD, also announced their intention to release Polselli's RIVELAZIONI DI UNO PSICHIATRA SUL MONDO PERVERSO DEL SESSO ("Revelations of a Psychiatrist in the World of Perverse Sex," 1973), but cancelled the release after discovering the mondo-style film's hardcore content. Polselli's next film, QUANDO L'AMORE E OSCENITA' (1974), continued in this vein and was banned in Italy until 1980, when it was issued as OSCENITA' ("Obscenity"). According to the Anchor Bay UK discussion thread, a book about Polselli's career is in the works, and we look forward to reading its Revelations about the Perverse World of Filmmaking.
Ernesto Gastaldi, in turn, has informed me of the death of Italian production manager Armando Govoni at the age of 79, on September 17. Armando had a far more accomplished career than his few credits on the IMDb make known. When I interviewed him for the Bava book, he told me that Bava's SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO [aka BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, 1964] was his first film as a full-fledged production manager, and though it was his final job with Bava, many other such credits followed. As the IMDb page shows, Armando was present for the filming of much of Bava's early work, including LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO and my chapters on those films owe a lot to his diary keeping, which kept strict account of production dates. I deeply regret that he won't be here to see the finished book, which would be much poorer without his unique contribution of data and insights.
Armando also played an important role in the life of Ernesto Gastaldi: "He was one of my best friends. I met him in 1955 at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, then I shared an apartment with him for two years before my marriage. We worked together many times and we had the same passion for sailing." It was through an invitation from Armando that Ernesto was able to visit the set of LA BATTAGLIA DI MARATONA [aka THE GIANT OF MARATHON, 1959], where he first met Mario Bava and watched him transform a field occupied by perhaps 30 extras into a teeming battlefield of hundreds, via careful multiple exposures.
With the passing of these two men, those of us who adore the Italian cinema mourn not only them but the loss of everything they knew, but were never asked, about their careers, their colleagues, and their craft.
PS: A new update was added to the Bava Book blog earlier today.

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