The Giallo is a sub-genre as often reviled by critics as it is enthusiastically embraced by adventurous film fans. A specialized hybrid of the traditional murder mystery and suspense genres, this bold and bloody art form is known for its distinct stylistic flourishes, extreme content, and subversive celebration of excess. Emphasizing fetishistic violence, heightened mood, and psycho-sexual themes drenched in scandalous taboos, this Italian form of horrific storytelling places greater focus on sensationalism and style than on internal plot logic. The format is often the message, as it were. Yet the misleading and purposely convoluted structure of the traditional Gialli is as often capable of telling an intriguing story as its surface imagery is devoted to shocking sensibilities. The thrillers of Mario Bava, the 'animal trilogy' of Dario Argento, and the subversive cultural attacks of Lucio Fulci's Giallo are rife with coherent and structurally complex plotlines, marrying labyrinthine themes with visual ballets of desire and death.
However, most of voyeuristic potboilers crafted by other practitioners were content to bypass story intricacy for mood, delighting in crossing boundaries of sexual and violent excess (prefiguring the US Slasher movement that burrowed much of the violence with little of the aesthetical value). Such titles as Strip Nude For Your Killer and Giallo a Venza became soon became the norm as companies struggled to out-shock one another with increasingly demented murder set-pieces, with an increased dependence on sexual misogyny. By the late 1970s this shift toward outrageousness contributed to the eventual decline of the Giallo, soon to be replaced by even more questionable hysterics of women-in-peril and Nazisploitation films. During this era Italian filmmakers were forced to either abandon ship by exploring one of these other opportunist sub-genres or inject their thrillers with even more eye-popping perversion. One of the more successful of these has finally found the presentation that its salacious subject mater deserves. While in no way comparable by means of story denouement or style to Argento or Sergio Martino -- nor trying to be -- The Sister of Ursula is an uneven if scathing and unrestrained thriller that combines an energetic script with feverish visual intensity. A vicious if lovingly photographed punch to the solar plexus, this poem to perversion promises to enrage and engage a new audience thanks to Severin's polished transfer.
A ballsy (literally) 'thrust' against societal dictates of taste and acceptance, The Sister of Ursula fears little and dares almost everything. And it does so with a surprising attention to character and story integrity. Two attractive sisters comfort one another after their father's death. Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) and the sexually adventurous Dagmar (Stefania D'Amario) travel to an ocean side resort where they waste away the hours flirting, taking in sultry nightclub performer Stella Shining, and befriending hunky druggy Marc Porel. In the midst of this uneven carnival atmosphere is a malicious killer whose disturbed interpretation of 'wholesomeness' prompts him to murder 'loose' women with a HUGE wooden dildo. Yup, you heard me. A dash of supernaturalism is thrown in for god measure as Ursula experiences premonitions of the murders, fearing that they are related to her own family.
While literate enough to hold our attention and move us from one set piece to the next, and certainly more concerned with character than many of the late cycle Giallos, The Sister of Ursula is uneven in its execution, and its standard mystery/thriller elements come close to cliché territory with disturbing regularity. In a demented shadow-land of psychotic killers, obvious sexual rage, and lust-crazed inhabitants, Ursula is a deranged interpretation of Alice, and her Wonderland is drenched in blood and cum. Thankfully, the regularity with which the story smashes taboos and expectations saves the more routine aspects of the pot-boiler from simply being boring. While the assassin's identity is too obvious, the phallic violence retains fascination and outrage, slapping one in the head with its feisty symbolism. Neither condemning or condoning the sexually related violence towards women, first time director Enzo Milioni is wise enough to leave the moralizing up to us, content to depict nearly hardcore sexual coupling and grisly murders with harsh beauty. Settings are disturbing in their aesthetic appeal, so like the lush, attractive bodies of women, and both unwilling hosts of violence. While the phallic violence is largely kept off screen, the results, both emotional and physical, are upsetting. Severin, the champion of obscure cult cinema, offers this piece or Eurotrash for the first time uncut or censored in the US. The result is a hallucinatory orgy of sin, sex, and slaughter that deserves at least a look from fans of this sadistic sub-genre.
The Sister of Ursula is presented uncensored in all its gory glory thanks to fully restored vault elements. Severin is to be congratulated, not only for taking such a risk with such a film but also for treating the title with such technical flourish. While a scant bit of film damage is occasionally present, the film, for the most part, is clear, featuring no significant grain or picture defects. Colors are bold and satisfying, and skin tones realistic. Throw out your bootleg copy, you won't need it again! Audio options are just as proficient, including impressive optional English subtitles and a clear Mono soundtrack.
Extras are always a big deal for Severin releases, with their quality exceeding the standard collection of photo galleries and self-satisfied commentaries crowded onto most other discs. "The Father of Ursula," a half-hour interview with director Milioni, is no exception to what we've come to expect, filled with fascinating and revealing insights into this talent and the film in general. Milioni not only provides a bizarre and salacious context with which to better appreciate and enjoy the film but recounts several intriguing memories from his past, including his origins into the film industry, the comical beginnings of the film (a bet!), and his relationship with cast and crew. It's quite a sight, Milioni waving around the film's seedy murder weapon! A superb featurette. The only additional extra is the Theatrical Trailer, which is a buffet of nudity and bad taste in under four minutes.
Review by William P Simmons
|Released by Severin|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|