88 Films, a wild distributor out of the UK, has continued to do an unprecedented job of curating, restoring, and releasing cult Italian genre films onto blu-ray, from obscure and cult gialli to zombie and jungle-cannibal gut-munchers to lost Lamberto Bava action flicks. At the time of this writing, 88 Films has restored and released over 30 Italian titles that genre fans have been hungry for on HD (or sometimes, on any post-VHS format). Of course, being a huge giallo fan, it's easy to guess which of their Italian blu-ray releases I've been the most attracted to; there are films to die by from giallo mavericks Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, and the aforementioned Lamberto Bava. Throughout my 22 years of giallo obsession (I'd call myself a giallo aficionado, I'd like to call myself that; alas, obsessive is far more an appropriate description. You'd only have to see my culture-strewn living room to understand that this is true). Through these years, there was one particular giallo, that while available for a limited time prior to 88 Films' blu-ray release, still had eluded me – Silvio Amadio's Amuck!
Amuck! starred Barbara Bouchet and Rosabla Neri, two of Italian Cinema's most gorgeous and prolific genre starlets. (So why, then, had Amuck! eluded me for so long?) Right from the moment a lower-budget distribution company had seen fit to release a limited number of DVD copies in the early 2000s, Amuck! was found itself surrounded by disappointingly average reviews. Even within 88 Films' own blu-ray insert booklet, author Calum Waddell casually describes the film as a “'lowbrow', quickly-turned-out cheapie”. However, after having finally experienced the film last night – and within the first few seconds being grateful that had waited this long, the prize being that my first experience with this film was an amazing HD widescreen transfer – I did not think that Amuck! looked like a “cheapie”, nor did I think that the film was too average to not be included in the top of Italy's giallo cannon. That being said, those more attuned to the bloody grand guignols of Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci could be disappointed here, as the violence is massively understated, yet the conspiracy and eroticism (tropes to any Italian giallo) remain in ultra-high gear, nearly crossing the lines into exploitation cinema – dropping short of that thanks to the beautiful cinematography, the performances of all of the actors, and the stunningly fantastic score, which seemed to come out of nowhere, because I'd never heard anyone talking about the music of Amuck! before. Silvio Amadio's film also utilizes a series of subtly crescendoing flashbacks, something that giallo maestro Dario Argento would start turning into a trope within the stylistic storytelling of his own films several years later. Amuck! concerns the character of Greta, played by Barbara Bouchet, who is staying at a friend's house in Venice while searching for a missing friend (the subject of Amuck!'s flashbacks), and soon finds herself the target of murder and a conspiracy that seems to be going on between her friends and hosts (including Rosabla Neri). Meanwhile, many sexual and erotic shenanigans are taking place, both in reality while Greta is drugged by her hosts, and within Greta's own dreams. Through these scenes, Amuck! is constructed as almost the archetypal giallo; which is another thing I'd never heard any review talking about.
I first heard of Silvio Amadio's film when it was released on that first limited DVD in the early 2000s for two reasons: 1) Barbara Bouchet, as she had also starred in one of my all-time favorite gialli, Don't Torture a Duckling, directed by Lucio Fulci; and – 2) XploitedCinema.com had been carrying that limited DVD for quite some time. XploitedCinema.com (or Xploited Cinema) had by that time already been doing business in online DVD importing and shipping for a couple of years – in fact, my first-ever online purchase was through Xploited Cinema, for a Jess Franco DVD titled Exorcism. Following this, I only ordered DVDs from Xplited Cinema a couple of times, but the online-DVD-ordering company had started to become a mecca for genre DVD fans online. Xploited Cinema would order genre movies from around the world and ship them out to Canada and the United States. Many of these DVD would be region-locked for other international territories, prompting fans of these films to seek out the best in region-free DVD players, so that they could finally watch the never-before-available films of Umberto Lenzi, Walerian Borowczyk, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, and Lucio Fulci.
At some point in 2007-2008, Xploited Cinema announced that they would no longer be bringing in new titles. Their online store would remain open, until the last of their stock had sold out. I wasn't sure why this was happening at the time, but clearly in hindsight, the announcement from Xploited Cinema had spelled out the warning that DVD sales were on the decline, despite the support from genre fans. Sometime niche cannot support a business, despite the idea that the opposite can be true. But when the niche market can gradually turn to corporate business like Amazon to fulfill their niche needs, then that can only spell trouble for small retail companies like Xploited Cinema.
At this point in time, I had still not moved ahead with purchasing the limited DVD copy of Amuck!, and despite the fact that the title (signed, even!) was still available on Xploited Cinema's website. I waited so long that Xploited Cinema finally ceased to exist. I still have the DVD copy of Jess Franco's Exorcism on my shelf, my first-ever online purchase. I'm not entirely happy to say that I've been an eager and avid participant in Amazon's online retail establishment for years now – wherein I happened to purchase 88 Films' new blu-ray release of Amuck!