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DVD SAVANT
Savant Pal All Region Guest Reviews:

The Nude Princess
&
Mystics in Bali

Separate releases reviewed by
Lee Broughton

Mondo Macabro's walk on the wild side of world cinema takes a detour down a slightly stranger than usual back road this time out. The Nude Princess from Italy is a feature that defies any attempt at generic classification. Featuring cult cinema icons aplenty, the action here teeters between sexploitation and political satire, mixing in some vaguely sub-Blaxploitation-ish elements along the way. Indonesia's Mystics in Bali is an intense supernatural tale. Specifically produced with export in mind during the worldwide boom in genre interest during the early 1980s, the film nevertheless manages to retain a lot of local flavour.


The Nude Princess
Mondo Macabro
1976 / Colour / 1.77:1 anamorphic / 94 m. / La Princesa Desnuda, La Principessa Nuda
Starring Ajita Wilson, Tina Aumont, Luigi Pistilli, Jho Jhenkins, Rosa Daniels, Jon Lei, Walter Valdi, Achille Grioni, Franz Drago
Cinematography Claudio Catozzo
Production Designer Alberto Giromella
Editors Jolanda Adamo and Cesare Canevari
Original Music Detto Mariano
Written by Antonio Lucarella and Cesare Canevari
Produced by Giuseppe Brizzi
Directed by Cesare Canevari

Synopsis:

Educated in America, where she reputedly caused a stir as a nude model, Princess Mariam Zamoto (Ajita Wilson) is now a slave to President Kaboto, the cruel dictator of an African state called Taslamia. In her capacity as Taslamia's First Minister, the Princess visits Milan in order to secure trade agreements with a group of Italian businessmen. Miss Fogget (Tina Aumont), an American attached to an outfit called the Economic Information Unit, helps the Princess negotiate with the unscrupulous businessmen but they represent the least of her problems: a tabloid journalist, Marco (Luigi Pistilli), is determined to get a scandalous scoop on the Princess and a group of Taslamian exiles intend coercing her into leading their revolution against Kaboto.

The film opens with the journalist, Marco, advising his photographer that Princess Zamoto is "one of the most exciting women in the world....a sort of Madam Pompadour of the computer age." He figures that she's bound to wind up in an uncompromising situation during her stay in Milan and he intends being there when it happens. But Mariam isn't Kaboto's mistress by choice and her enforced relationship with him has drained her of any desire to love or make love. However, the revolutionary Taslamian exiles believe that reawakening a need for emotional and sexual engagement in Mariam will give her back the strength and character needed to lead a revolt against Kaboto: she eventually agrees to submit herself to their proposals and methods.

The basic plot outlined above might well read like just the excuse needed for a series of 1970s-style softcore sex scenes but, while the film does contain a good amount of nudity and a fair number of sexual encounters, it also appears to have a strong political agenda too. At the start of her journey, a Taslamian advisor tells Mariam that Milan is "a high tech paradise [where] the Milanese are already living in the year 2000 [and] the streets are a paradise of peace and prosperity." Director Canevari immediately cuts to a wild montage which features stylized scenes from an urban nightmare (a motorbike gang causing chaos in a shopping mall, a jewelry store being ransacked, etc) inter-cut with shots of a very groovy stripper doing her thing. It's all neatly edited to the blaring strains of a fantastic piece of sub-psychedelic, fuzz-guitar led music and the whole thing eventually gives way to a succession of shots of Milan's congested city centre, which have exaggerated jungle noises superimposed as their soundtrack. The same jungle noises are used in a later sequence when Mariam finds herself in the wrong part of town after dark.

The Italian businessmen treat the visiting Taslamians with contempt, figuring that they're dealing with "peasants": the traditional process of submitting secret bids for the business contracts is secretly vetoed by the capitalists who instead agree to work together and obtain the contracts at a cheaper than normal price. When the Princess is awarded an honorary diploma in Political Science at the University of Milan, the academic master of ceremonies describes how she represents "the spirit of her country's respect for law and human rights": protests that bring to mind Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital can be heard outside while Canevari repeatedly cuts to scenes showing Kaboto gleefully executing his political enemies.

The quality of the cinematography, Detto Mariano's interesting soundtrack score and the largely excellent acting on display serve to give the film some further distance from accusations of gratuitous sexploitation. Ajita Wilson does a good job as the Princess and is pretty convincing in a sequence where Mariam breaks down in tears. Tina Aumont (Modesty Blaise) is great as her "human calculator". She effortlessly uses facial expressions to communicate her inner thoughts and feelings and continuously projects a real aura of sensuality. Aumont steals one crowded scene at a modern art exhibition simply by silently moving and positioning herself between the exhibits. Luigi Pistilli was a first class actor and he gets some good screen time here. He seemed to relish playing diverse characters (Groggy in For A Few Dollars More, Father Ramirez in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Pollicut in The Great Silence) and the hard-drinking, insubordinate Marco is yet another string to his bow. He gets some great lines, too: when Miss Fogget asks him what he is doing drinking in the Princess' hotel bar early one morning he replies, "I was just passing and realised I'd missed breakfast."

The (presumably natural/as found) sets and locations are quite impressive and the way the film presents 1970s Milan as the ultimate symbol of flawed modernity is interesting. This show is really quite unique (I can't recall coming across anything that it could be readily compared to) and it represents something of a find for fans of Euro-cult cinema. There is a touch of typically '70s 'unpolitical correctness' present in places and a hint of 'Euro-sleaze' here and there but the characters and the plot remain engaging: if you're looking for something that's a little different, but strangely engrossing and affecting in its own peculiar way, this could be the film for you. Mention must be made of the film's incredible opening song, 'A Beautiful Lady', which is a fantastic slice of emotive Deep Soul performed by Hously Rose.


Given the obscurity of this film, the print on display here is really very good. It's sharp and colourful but it does suffer from some print damage: the odd appearance of 'tramline' scratches and a bit of speckling in places. The sound is also generally very good though one or two sections do 'crackle' just a touch. The extras include a nice Tina Aumont featurette/interview in which she talks about various stages of her career and refutes the suggestion that Klaus Kinski was a difficult customer. Interestingly, the film's opening credits contain a prominent disclaimer which advises that "any resemblance to real events or to real people is purely coincidental" but Pete Tombs' production notes go on to draw some intriguing parallels between the film and some specific historical events. Presented in Italian with optional English subtitles, this is a PAL disc but it is encoded for 'All Regions'.


Mystics in Bali
Mondo Macabro
1981 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic / 80 m. / Leak, Balinese Mystic
Starring Ilona Agathe Bastian, Yos Santo, Sofia WD, W. D. Mochtar, Debbie Cinthya Dewi, Itje Trisnawati, Ketut Suwita
Cinematography Kasdullah
Production Designer El Badrun
Editor Djuki Paimin
Original Music Gatot. S (The Disc)
Written by Jimmy Atmaja based on the novel Leak Ngakak by Putra Mada
Produced by Abdul Muis Sofian, Hendry Katili, Sri Gunawan
Directed by H. Tjut Djalil

Synopsis:

An American author, Cathy Kean (Ilona Agathe Bastian), is in Bali doing research for a book on black magic. A 'hands on' type, she persuades her Balinese boyfriend, Mahendra (Yos Santo), to set up a meeting with a practitioner of the dreaded Leyak magic. The Leyak Queen (Sofia WD) agrees to teach Cathy some basic Leyak spells but Cathy soon finds herself being controlled by her duplicitous teacher. Sending Cathy's temporarily disembodied head on nightly searches for rejuvenating blood results in the Leyak Queen fast becoming powerful enough to bring chaos to the whole world.

Mystics in Bali really does evoke those early days of home video when a trip to the local video store inevitably resulted in some intriguing box art prompting the rental of some badly dubbed but wild and wacky feature that you had never heard of before. Mystics actually sits quite comfortably alongside, and partially shares the period look of, low budget early '80s titles like Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. Interestingly, both films involve foolish individuals travelling into the wilderness and unleashing age-old evil forces but Mystics couldn't hope to match the unique style that Raimi brought to his production: the Indonesian film's cinematography is adequate but basic by comparison.

Mystics in Bali is also hindered somewhat by the American dub-job found on its soundtrack. It sounds as though the usual dubbing suspects were on holiday and left their even less convincing assistants to work on this show. There are a couple of scenes where the quality of the dubbing/translation has the film almost becoming something that would please the 'so bad it's good' crowd. Which is a shame because the basic premise of the film's story line is pretty good. And the distinctly local flavour of the supernatural threats featured here will represent something totally new for most genre fans: this unfamiliarity does act to offset some of the film's more obvious shortcomings.

It's hard to gauge the quality of the acting given that the film is so poorly dubbed but everybody involved would appear to be doing their best. Ilona Agathe Bastian was apparently a German tourist that the producers spotted and asked to star in the film: if she really is a non-professional she does a good job as Cathy. And Yos Santo does okay as Cathy's likeable boyfriend, the considerate and bashful Mahendra. When the Leyak Queen writes a spell on Cathy's upper thigh, Cathy subsequently asks Mahendra to decipher it: as he struggles to read it from a respectful distance, the American girl has to tell him to get closer. But the show is stolen by Sofia WD in her role as the genuinely creepy and scary Leyak Queen. The one good thing about the dub-job is the totally unnerving cackle that the Leyak Queen uses to announce her presence.

The film also scores points in the special effects department. Given the film's obviously small budget there are some effective and imaginatively staged sequences where Cathy and the Leyak Queen transform into animals. And a psychic battle where the protagonists assume the form of flying flaming orbs works well. The Leyak Queen's make-up and costumes are also particularly effective. The film also features a well-staged and really quite action packed and special effects laden finale: very basic but imaginatively executed stuff. The scenes featuring Cathy's disembodied vampiric head (a mix of models and live action/blue screen effects) aren't totally convincing but they still make for a quite unpleasant and disturbingly audacious spectacle.

Another plus is the music provided by Gatot. S (The Disc). Whether it be traditional Balinese works or hypnotic synthesizer pieces, the soundtrack score has an unsettling intensity that brings to mind the effect achieved by Tony Guefen's work on Juan Lopez Moctezuma's Alucarda. A growing number of low budget horror flicks from the 1980s are currently achieving renewed cult status or serious re-evaluation courtesy of their appearance on DVD so it shouldn't be too hard for Mystics in Bali to find itself an appreciative audience.


The picture quality here is generally colourful and reasonably sharp but the print used has suffered some damage, with small scuffs and speckling appearing throughout. But again, given the obscurity of the film, Mondo Macabro have done yet another great job with this presentation. The disc's sound quality is pretty good, too. The Mondo Macabro documentary on Indonesian fantasy films is particularly interesting and contains some fascinating film clips. This is a PAL disc but it is encoded for 'All Regions'.

Both discs are PAL, and are not intended for playback in the U.S.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Nude Princess rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Tina Aumont interview/featurette, illustrated production notes and text biographies for Ajita Wilson, Tina Aumont and Luigi Pistilli
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 2, 2003

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Mystics in Bali rates:
Movie: Fair ++ / Good -
Video: Good ++
Sound: Very Good -
Supplements: Fantasy Films from Indonesia documentary, Mystics in Bali & the Indonesian Exploitation Movie text article, H. Tjut Djalil filmography and a text piece entitled How to become a Leyak
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 2, 2003




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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