Freaks! season one (Claudio Di Biagio, 2011)

Freaks

This independent series premiered on YouTube in April 2011 and has garnered a massive following, which keeps growing to this day. A self-funded DIY project which apparently takes it’s cue from Brit TV series Misfits, Freaks! follows a group of youngsters who accidentally discover that each of them has some rather odd superpowers, such as blinding people simply by touching them or orgasm-induced time travel (!). With all it´s roughness and imprefections, Freaks! has plenty of drive to it and the team who made the series have got a decent grasp of storytelling, keeping the viewer hooked all the way. Fans of DIY filmmaking will appreciate this uneven but sincere and ambitious (and very successful with the public) series.  The first season of eight episodes was popular enough to eventually get picked up by a TV channel and the 2nd season already enjoyed a somewhat bigger budget, and therefore looks more polished. Some of the cast have since made it big and appear in ‘real’ film projects. Freaks! is available on YouTube in all it’s geeky glory, with decent English subs!

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The New Gladiators / I guerrieri dell’anno 2072 (Lucio Fulci, 1984)

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Clumsily filmed ‘chariot’ races and all-too-brief moments of bloody violence await those who make it to the anti-climatic finale of Lucio Fulci’s sole foray into sci-fi territory. This futuristic actioner (from a typically scant screenplay by Sacchetti and company) starts out quite briskly but soon overwhelms with insistent whip-pans and stroboscopic effects while the director’s patented zoom shots seem to have lost their punch somewhat. Whether he took on the project due to contractural obligations, to pay off debts or further prove his professional versatility, Fulci hadn’t succeeded in imbuing New Gladiators with his trademark brooding atmosphere. No amount of mobile camera and colour gels could enliven this hastily written story of evil TV execs pitting death row inmates against each other on live television in a bid to raise thair channels´ ratings. Fulci mascot Al Cliver is at hand as one of the eponymous gladiators, led by Jared Martin (Aenigma) on the run through sets furnished with props seen in earlier Italo sci-fi epics such as Rats: Nights of Terror and Contamination. The cast yell most of their lines (some actors in Fulci’s last watchable film, Voices from Beyond display similarly unrestrained behaviour) and often appear on the cusp of having spasms.
Analog cinema enthusiasts will have their share of fun with the charming miniature shots representing the futuristic Rome. Awful costume design and general lack of coherence shouldn’t put the adventurous viewer off exploring this uneven but occasionally stylish and charmingly lo-tech film from the Godfather of Gore.

State of Regression / Estado de Regresión (Álex Mendíbil, 2013)

estado de regresion

With it’s intriguing premise – possibility of erasing a person’s identity and implanting new memories, a compact cast of three principal characters and a narrative that develops backwards, Estado de Regresión is one of the most accomplished truly independent productions to come out of Europe in recent years. The intro, unfolding entirely without dialogue, is a showcase of Álex Mendíbil’s skill at mounting the tension and getting the viewer hooked. We follow the three members of an unnamed secret organisation who are to organise a terror attack in Madrid’s business district. In between drawing up plans and making bombs the suicidal trio, aptly portrayed by Marta Suárez, Antonio Villa and Jesús Calvo, are busy sleeping around and poking at each other’s emotional wounds. Tensions rise as the cell is placed at risk of exposure.

Estado de Regresión is a thrilling ride packed with provocative imagery and some great ideas. The few stylistic inconsistencies can be easily overlooked in the face of such assured storytelling. Made over the course of just a few days, Estado de Regresión is a triumph of guerilla filmmaking. It’s a shame the team behind this independent gem hasn’t made more films since.

Toxic Love – Amore tossico (Claudio Caligari, 1983)

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From the very first grainy frame of Toxic Love you somehow sense: this isn’t going to end well. In this gritty tale of despair director Claudio Caligari invites the viewer to spend 90 minutes with a group of young heroin addicts in the outskirts of Rome. The film doesn’t feel acted, there’s great sincerity and directness to the non-professional actors’ performances. Monotonous and technically primitive at first, Toxic Love soon grows on you. The characters become likeable once you see past the horrible squalor they inhabit. Simplistic camerawork and unpretentious mise-en-scène become the perfect means to tell this harrowing story. With it’s very real and graphic scenes of shooting up and sparse use of Mariano Detto’s often grating, occasionally moving Casio keyboard drones, Toxic Love nevertheless remains a humanistic picture – it’s characters, with their buck teeth, greasy hair and romanesco dialects are, by virtue of their unkempt naturalness, endearing and more convincing that any pro actors’ attempts at portraying the drug culture .