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Thursday, January 31, 2019

ECCO/ THE FORBIDDEN -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle




ECCO (1963)


It may not have the word "Mondo" in the title, but ECCO, aka "Il mondo di notte numero 3" (Severin Films, 1963), is an offshoot of the infamous, wildly successful shock-u-mentary "Mondo Cane" just as sure as its goal is to shock, titillate, and even disgust everyone who shells out the price of a ticket to see it.

"Ecco" is an Italian word meaning "look here", and as soon as American producer Bob Cresse (MONDO FREUDO, MONDO BIZARRO) took a look at this Italian production, he knew he had to purchase the rights and release an Americanized version of it himself.  Which, one assumes, cleaned up at the box office.

He hired venerable actor George Sanders to intone the pithy narration, keeping the excellent musical soundtrack which includes both rock'n'roll and crooner-type ballads in addition to some stirring orchestral music like something out of a spaghetti western.


But the real attraction is the non-stop travelogue of exotic, outlandish, and often highly strange sights and sounds from around the world, some filmed as they occurred and others staged for the camera but, unlike many "Mondo" films, based (mostly) on actual events.

Some of this stuff is relatively mundane enough to show up in a TV travelogue, such as a look at Rio de Janiero's famed Mardi Gras celebration and a brief example of rough-and-tumble women's roller derby.

One mountain village in Europe is visited by a family of daredevil circus performers, and elsewhere we see some amazing Grecian monasteries built high atop mountain peaks (as seen in the James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only").  Portuguese fishermen go whaling in nothing but simple rowboats, a dangerous task which, if they survive, will benefit their entire village in many ways.


But before long, the more extreme exploitation aim of this eye-popping cinematic grab bag makes itself known in a variety of ways, beginning with some young German men who get together for a night of drinking and then bloody jousting with swords.

A satanic ritual ends with a naked woman drenched in chicken blood, while Swedish delinquents roam the streets getting into trouble, attacking citizens, and then having wild sex in front of a group of straight-laced oldies.  A visit to what is purported to be the final performance in the famous Grand Guignol theater finds the actors involved in a typically gruesome scene.

In one of the film's most amazing sequences, hundreds of young, half-naked Japanese men form a roiling, squirming, tightly-packed mass of humanity during a weird annual "game" in which at least a dozen of them are expected to be crushed or trampled to death just for funsies.


Sex really comes to the fore (finally!) in the film's latter half--matronly Vegas women drool over oiled, posing muscle men, a popular European stripper has a whole hall of lecherous guys in a state of giddy arousal, and a forbidden all-lesbian club engages in same-sex nudie frolics for the camera's benefit.

But just as I was beginning to write off ECCO as a fairly standard "Mondo" flick, then came a guy named Ivan--one of those "mind over body" zealots--who started driving long, sharp needles through his skinny body in a segment that may be staged but definitely isn't faked.

"Cringe" doesn't go far enough to describe watching this guy slowly penetrate his neck with a needle while describing how he's studiously avoiding the carotid artery, the jugular vein, and, of course, the esophagus.  Eventually we witness the needle's point emerge from the other side, whereupon he invites a member of the audience to pull it out. Yikes.


I figured they couldn't top this, but the next segment goes right into a reindeer roundup in Lapland where an amazing wave of thousands of reindeer swarm tsunami-like into an enclosed area where they scuttle around in a huge circle while the natives lasso them.

Some are slaughtered, while others are castrated to become steers.  How is this done? Why, the ladies do the honors with their teeth, of course.  And thus, my mind is blown.

Other things happen which I can't recall at the moment, all very beautifully narrated by silken-toned George Sanders (who even throws in a little Shakespeare), but this should suffice to give an overview of ECCO'S mindbending menu.  I expected the usual weird sex practices and bizarre rituals, but some of this stuff really had me in full "SMH" mode and then left me benumbed, bewildered, and thoroughly be-cringed.


THE FORBIDDEN (1966)


Having roughly the form of a "Mondo" but with much less of a travelogue element and much more unmitigated sleaze, Bob Cresse & Lee Frost's THE FORBIDDEN (1966) is composed almost exclusively of softcore sex stuff--mostly strippers pretending to be performing in Paris or London but mainly in dark little soundstages with drapes over the walls to simulate nightclubs. It's probably the same set every time, just redressed a bit.

The film does veer occasionally into actual documentary territory as when we're shown genuine footage of a riot that occurred in Los Angeles when hundreds of teenagers refused to obey a ten o'clock curfew and clashed with the police, causing much chaos and property damage.


There's also a couple of detours into lurid fiction via re-enactments of "true" cases, one involving a woman's lethal jealousy toward her ex-husband and his lovers (this one ends DEATH PROOF-style) and another telling of a lonely woman's very unconventional method of getting the man she loves to come and visit her in Paris from his home in Mexico.

Mostly, however, we're treated to the kind of nudie-cutie segments that one often saw in 8mm film loops in the 60s, given hokey wraparound stories.  One stripper is supposedly performing in East Berlin and pretending to be Hitler's girlfriend.  Another, the gorgeous "Baby Bubbles" from Frost & Cresse's MONDO BIZARRO, plays a woman who teaches timid housewives how to strip for their husbands. 

We get a good idea of what we're in for with the opening segment showing two women in varying states of undress while a creepy peeper peers at them through their window.  He breaks in and attacks, during which we find that this is supposedly a commerical commissioned by the female owner of a karate school for women wanting to learn self-defense.


A secret initiation of two girls into a lesbian club is an excuse for us to--you guessed it--watch some naked lesbians for awhile.  There's also a scene with a prostitute who drugs and rapes her female clients before robbing them. And with that, your evening's entertainment is pretty well rounded except for just one more stripper (and some fervid, near-incomprehensible narration) to send THE FORBIDDEN off in sleazy style. 


Buy it from Severin Films

Special Features:
The Bandit: Producer David Goldstein Remembers Bob Cresse
I Want More: Short Film
Ecco Trailer
English Subtitles


The Stripper is scanned in 4K from the original internegative
The Forbidden is newly-transferred from the only known 35m print in existence



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