By dissecting each entry individually we will uncover the truth behind the tacky, and the fury beneath the offensiveness. Let's start with:
Rating: Standard Skin Fare
Plot: It's mid-level Mondo time as the world's weirdest and wildest hidden elements are exposed.
In this twisted travelogue, we visit a high society ball for Paris debutantes -- and witness the equally exclusive homeless hoedown that occurs just outsider the spectacle. A trip to Japan reveals a strange good luck ritual where thousands of half-dressed men swarm and surge toward a religious temple, all to hopefully retrieve the holy talisman that will bring them a year of favor and fortune. The last performance of the famous Grand Guignol Theater is shown, as is a French organization that celebrates the female buttocks. From the ladies-only muscleman shows to a chap who claims he can control all aspects of his body as he stabs his sides with all manner of weaponry, we learn that there are many amazing -- and a few sickening -- people on our planet. The key is to "look, witness, observe and behold" – otherwise, Ecco!
For any fan of the Mondo movie, and more specifically, the brilliant work of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi and their classics Mondo Cane, Women of the World and Africa Adio, Ecco will seem like skin flick small potatoes.
There is no major universal message here, no theme of humanity gone gross-out for the sake of some ancient symbolism or rite. No, by the time this rip-off made its way to theaters, Cane was well established, it's sequel was burning up the box office, and pickings were slim when it came to material mandated to make audiences balk. Jacopetti and Prosperi were already immersed in their epic look at Africa, and the luster of all these lewd shockumentaries had gone from bright to barbaric. Thankfully, Ecco avoids the horrific visuals of creature vivisection, putting lots of naked chicks in its place. Of course, this makes the movie a lot less interesting from a sociological standpoint, since stripping and porno are about as common as ideals come. You don't learn much about the French by hearing that they like round rumps. Instead, the most intriguing bits revolve around Lapland ladies who bite the nuts off reindeer (not shown) and then end up being lassoed by their men as part of a quickie wedding ceremony. Director Gianni Proia has a great eye for the artistic, and many of the scenes radiate a real visual finesse. But not even the sonorous tones of George Sanders can successfully sell what is really cut rate cultural commentary.
Rating; Standard Skin Fare
Plot: Borrowing some material from a French attempt at the standard Mondo movie, American filmmakers take us on a sex-oriented look at oddities from around the globe.
We see the world's first portable topless bar – a mobile tavern invented to help government workers blow off a little steam after a long day at Area 51. In California, a pert little pixie with bowling ball like bosoms teaches disgruntled housewives how to bump it with a trumpet, all in a feeble attempt to reinvigorate their sex lives, while a woman's self defense club produces a rape fantasy film that's supposed to induce gals to take up martial arts. In between riots on the Sunset Strip, a trip to that most prohibited of places – a mid-60s lesbian bar – and a glimpse of how German dancers use Hitler and the Nazis as part of their basic sensual shimmy, this excursion through The Forbidden realms of modern society are sure to shock, scintillate, and scandalize. Or maybe you'll feel like you've seen it all before.
Using a style similar to the one they employed in their previous Mondo movies – Mondo Freudo and Mondo Bizzaro – director R. lee Frost and notorious writer/producer Bob Cresse do their damnedest to try and keep the genre alive with this 1966 stumble.
Overloaded with scripted material (we witness a karate school/sex fiend film, a reenactment of the most notorious murder for love case in the history of France, and an odd case of outrageous jealousy) and relying on nudity vs. novelty to win its viewers, this scattershot attempt to mimic the "anything goes" nature of the Italian style fact film is just not that engaging. A trip to a private lesbian bar is dull, the footage of the Sunset Strip Riots is borrowed from better films, and the whole hookers who rob their Johns is a grope and grab gratuitous given. Perhaps the most intriguing element is the look at a British strip club where "certified virgins" earn substantial wages by putting on as gentile and wholesome a stage show as possible. The commentary by the narrator is hilarious, especially when he makes rude remarks about the skanky American dancers that couldn't hold these goody two shoes gals' g-strings. Otherwise, this is a peculiar entity into the entire shockumentary category – a movie more concerned about sensationalizing concepts the audience is already familiar with than really revealing anything remotely raunchy or new. Some may find it fascinating. Most will merely yawn in a clear "been there, seen that" ideal.
The A/V Club
Rating: Standard Skin Fare
Whenever they go color, Something Weird Video runs into problems. Their monochrome titles are always of the highest quality, providing sharp contrasts in light and dark and a brilliant balancing of shadow and luminosity. Yet unless they have the original negative to work with, or an exceptional print from a party involved in the production, the company takes a tricky 'passive preservationist' approach with pigments. They will leave emulsion scratches and storage scars on the image. They will digitally remaster a widescreen image and ignore all manner of defects. Then they will forget to take the steps to make the whole presentation anamorphic. Ecco's 2.35:1 transfer remains a faux letterboxed offering with clashing color issues and a fair amount of shimmer. The 1.66:1 Forbidden is a tad better, since it does have some decent black and white sequences. As for the Dolby Digital Mono mix, there is nothing new or novel about its flat and featureless elements. Aside from the sensational score for Ecco by Mondo man Riz Ortolani, the aural elements here are unexceptional.
Rating: Not So Nudie or Cutie
Sadly, the added content included on this disc is subpar at best. While it's always nice to see original trailers of tantalizing titles, the only real standout in the bunch is the oddly spelled Tabu. Otherwise, the previews for Ecco, Mondo Freudo and Mondo Bizzaro are pretty much the same shocking things over and over again. Hoping to add a little zing to things, Something Weird also digs up the dreary I Want More. Called a 'Mondo Sexo' featurette by the company, what we really have here is a compendium of scattered softcore footage with uninvolving interviews playing in the background. Our host hopes to enlighten us about orgies, biker gangs, and artists who work in pubic hair. What we end up with is the typical raincoat crowd nudity supplemented by some idiot shaving women's crotches just off camera. Ugh! Rather dull and tedious, I Want More will definitely leave your wanting less...a lot less.
Grindhouse Grade: Standard Skin Fare (Recommended)
Here's the sad situation with this derivative duo. Fans of the original Mondo movies will look at the underwhelming offerings provided in this pairing and wonder what they ever saw in the genre to begin with. Indeed, the efforts of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi are masterpieces compared to the 'catch as catch can' concepts in these films. More disturbing, these aren't even the best Mondo movies Something Weird has to offer. Previous DVD releases of Freudo, Bizzaro, Mondo Mod and The Hippy Revolt act as much better cinematic samplers than the two tired entries in this package. Granted, there are some interesting moments in both, and there's enough initial intrigue to warrant a Recommended rating, but for fans of the sick and the twisted, Ecco/The Forbidden is bottom feeder fascination at best.
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