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Psychic Porno Giallo: Patrick Still Lives (1980)


"What's so amazing

That keeps us star gazing

And what do we think we might see?"


These immortal lyrics, sung by Kermit the Frog - an ode to the dazzling, multicolored miracles that appear during the first sun following a rainstorm - could just as easily be applied to the mind of a cult movie addict. Truth be told, if you consume enough low budget genre junk, your brain's pleasure centers become dulled and weary, unable to properly replicate the filmic dopamine rush delivered by that initial viewing of outsider treasures such as Craig Denney's The Astrologer (1976), or vile Eurosleaze transmissions like Jacopetti & Prosperi's Farewell Uncle Tom (1972). The rainbows, however tarnished and piss stained, are missing from your life.


It's why we keep shooting stepped on dope, now typically peddled by overpriced boutique sleaze merchants boasting better transfers and deep dive histories nobody was begging for in the first place, occasionally getting a solid buzz yet never quite ascending to that first face-rush the disreputable dragon delivered. Yet buried somewhere deep in your brain is the scant hope that there is something still out there, waiting to be injected straight into your eyeballs, that you've never seen before. Not just a film, mind you, but a full body experience; one that makes the hair stand up on your arms while your mind silently screams "YOU CAN FUCKING DO THAT IN A MOVIE?"


Then a woman gets psychically impaled through her vagina with a fire poker, complete with graphic, porn-worthy penetration shots and, to paraphrase another pop superstar (who's only slightly less famous than Kermit), it all comes back to you now. Delivered by Mario Landi, an Italian television workhorse and author of arguably the most loco perversion of the gialli thriller, Patrick Still Lives (1980) is an abject triumph of the rip off culture that's dominated the more scandalous corners of world cinema for decades. Yet even if you're thoroughly familiar with that sticky subgenre - from Italy's unofficial Romero sequels to Egypt's own Rocky Horror Picture Show clone to Turkey's blatant Exorcist cash-in - nothing can fully prepare you for the gnarly delights of Patrick Still Lives.

Now, to briefly adopt the cadence of Rudy Ray Moore: who is Patrick and why is he still alive? Well, to be honest, Patrick Still Lives is actually a second generation deep fake; a Taiwanese Twinkie of a movie that borrows from Richard Franklin's rather obvious Ozploitation ode to Brian de Palma's blockbuster Stephen King adaptation, Carrie (1976). In it, the titular psychic vegetable (played to dead-eyed perfection by Robert Thompson) stalks a pretty nurse (Susan Penhaligon) and generally makes life a living hell in the private ward where he's been hospitalized following that time he killed his naked whorish mother and one of her lovers by throwing a space heater into the tub. You know, that old chestnut.


Unnaturally, Patrick (1978) was a huge hit, grossing all the money at the Australian box office and becoming a sort of unofficial international ambassador for the exploitation-driven boom that revitalized Oz's film industry. Quentin Tarantino stole Patrick's involuntary spitting for Kill Bill (2002). Not Quite Hollywood (2008) documentarian Mark Hartley remade it as his narrative debut behind the lens. Franklin would go on to become a key figure in rejuvenating Hitchcock's reputation via campus repertory screenings while the master director was in a career slump, and even brought Al's iconic momma's boy back to the big screen with the golden era slasher sequel, Psycho II (1983). Culturally speaking, Patrick kind of a big deal.


Truthfully, the movie itself is fine - a series of entertaining shock tactics that, in hindsight, seem somewhat tame compared to most of the diseased filth New York City's 42nd Street had been playing for the last decade. Still, the Italians don't give a hoot or a holler about the finer merits of the films they were ripping off. They're in it solely for the lira, baby; hoping to put butts in seats and then sell the dubbed products off to as many territories as possible, often changing the title multiple times to try and maintain as many showtimes as they could. Just ask Joe Bob Briggs about The Grim Reaper (1980), and he'll simultaneously be telling you everything you need to know about Anthropophagus (1980).


Enter Mario Landi. Unlike Franklin, whose attention to formal execution and understanding of Hitchock's rules when it comes to building suspense elevate a good number of his works above their low budget brethren (this author is fond of referring to Road Games (1981) as "Big Rig Rear Window"), Landi seems likes he's operating off of a depravity checklist assigned to him by the producers and just sets the camera up well enough to capture all the requisite blood and cum. To be fair, it's arguable that notorious Eurosleaze producer Gabriele Crisanti is the true author of this erotic atrocity exhibition, as his resume reads more like a rap sheet of repeat offenses than it does a mere filmography.

Landi was one of many regular co-conspirators in Cristani's Rolodex, which also happened to include Andrea Bianchi, who not only mixed virginal lesbianism with demonic nunsploitation in Malabimba: The Malicious Whore (1979), but also incestuous titty-sucking with lethargic zombies in Burial Ground (1981). No prude himself, Landi had just completed Giallo In Venice (1979) for Cristani the year before - a softcore send up of the stalk and slash subcategory that splashed the screen with serum and semen in equal amounts. It's a movie whose reputation precedes it, and rightfully so, delivering a straight up overdose of taboo titillation.


Let's get something out of the way up front: Giallo In Venice is porn*. More accurately: porno-giallo, a low-wave variant detestably introduced into the already sleazy mystery collection with Enzo Milioni's The Sister of Ursula (1978), primarily interested in arousing instead of thrilling the viewer. Structured around a series of flashbacks, as an egg-chomping yacht rock detective in Chuck Taylors (Jeff Blynn, looking like Chest Rockwell's interpretation of Maurizio Merli) investigates the brutal stabbing deaths of coked up fuck kittens Fabio (Gianni Dei) and Flavia (Leonora Fani*), Venice leers at their violent sexual escapades, half-assedly offering a clue or red herring seemingly out of sheer obligation to resembling a straight narrative feature.


Hell, it takes forty minutes for the first murder scene to arrive, and even that doesn't occur until after the killer fingers his prostitute victim (Maria Mancini) in a junkyard before jamming a pair of scissors into her nether-regions. Those whose kinks include increasingly awkward acts of exhibitionism will be quite hornt up, as we witness Fabio subject Flavia to several strange organs, be it getting into a light three-way in a movie theater, or just giving the possibly underage delivery boy a handjob, all while he either participates or watches. It's a near literal parade of perversion, only stopping occasionally to graphically drop a body.


Thankfully, when the bloodletting does occur, it sprays the screen red, standing in for all the missing money shots Landi desperately wants to to insert (though, depending on which territory Giallo played upon initial release, there may have been hardcore snippets already spliced into the reels). Like the sex, the violence is just as uncomfortable, pushing the limits of bad taste to ugly new heights. By the time we reach the movie's gnarly conclusion, a shower will be necessary to wash your skin clean of Fabio's endless torrent of debauched sin.


If one were so inclined - or possessed the audacity of I Spit On Your Grave (1978) director Meir Zarchi - you could graft a pseudo-feminist reading onto the shock ending of Giallo in Venice. The resolution of the movie's central mystery - who killed sex predator Fabio and his waifish concubine Flavia? - reveals that it was actually the sex slave rising up. Tired of being robbed of whatever innocence remained inside, Flavia actually stabs Fabio to death before jumping into one of the ancient city's murky canals, drowning herself in a fit of rage. Is it a punishment for anyone in the audience who enjoyed watching Flavia be assaulted again and again? Eh, more than likely just hacky screenwriter Aldo Serio (Watch Me When I Kill [1977]) writing himself out of a corner once he hit his allotted page count.

Though it isn't in the title, Patrick Still Lives borrows from the storytelling structure of its whodunit cousins. Resembling something along the lines of Javier Aguirre's The Killer Is One of 13 (1973), a bunch of scumbags - including a stuffy politician (Franco Silva), his slutty wife (Carmen Russo), and a pair of well-endowed swingers (Mariangelo Giordano and Paolo Giusti) - are summoned to the Gothic estate of Doctor Herschel (Sacha Pitoëff) for reasons they don't quite understand. Are they being treated to a luxurious vacation on the shady stranger's dime? Or are they simply there to be punished for past sins?


Frankly, Patrick Still Lives never really bothers with answering either of these questions, as the secluded locale was probably just cheap on the production design department (not to mention easy to write into the script), acting as a creepy venue for these miscreants to strip off all their clothes before fucking, fighting, or offing one another. What is clear is that Dr. Herschel's up to no good. His son, Patrick (Giallo's pervert du jour, Dei), had a bottle spiked off his face in the opening scene and has been in a coma ever since, his mind powered by "batteries" (a trio of writhing, equally naked, young folks with wires hooked to their heads).


Upon sensing fresh meat in the castle's grinder, the invalid son begins psychically stalking the pretty girls. Much like his Australian counterpart, this sinewy invalid sex pest sets his third eye on his dad's stunningly gorgeous new assistant, Lydia (Andrea Belfiore), knocking off everyone around her in a supernatural take on And Then There Were None (1974). Does any of this make any sense? No. Does it matter? Absolutely fucking not.


Stylistically, Patrick Still Lives feels like a closer cousin to Bianchi's Malabimba than it does Landi's own Giallo In Venice. Shot by Cristani's go to cinematographer Franco Villa - who lensed the bulk of poliziotteschi master Fernando di Leo's best work, including Caliber 9 and The Italian Connection (both 1972) - there's a fast and cheap ruddiness to the movie's Gothic castle setting, followed by pops of garish neon greens, pinks and purples whenever we wander into Dr. Herschel's laboratory (usually chasing the doc's gorgeous, strip-teasing assistant). Everything's dusty or covered in a thin coat of grime, adding a damp Eurosleaze texture the viewer can practically smell inside a darkened theater while Patrick plays.

While many performers rotated in and out of Cristani's produtions, none were as a game for whatever madness was tossed their way quite like Mariangela Giordano (who, it may come as no surprise, was a longtime girlfriend of the producer's). Whether she was having her teet suckled by a quite literal man-baby in Burial Ground, engaging in bisexual congress while playing nurse to a sex demon in Malabimba and Satan's Baby Doll (1981), or getting her jay-jay jammed with the aforementioned poker in Patrick Still Lives, the buxom adult actress didn't seem to possess the word "no" in her vocabulary. Despite her often uncomfortably exposed work and brutally violent deaths, the worst complaint Mariangela had about working on these pictures** is that Cristani kept scheduling the shoots during the winter. The rest was nothing less than a full-swing party (pun definitely intended).


Like all great Italoschlock runs, there are some pretty killer tunes accompanying all the naked flesh and bright pink blood onscreen. Berto Pisano blends together a moody concoction of sub-Goblin prog, bubbly disco, ominous keys, and Brian Eno worthy blips and bloops into a sonic Greek chorus that accompanies numerous bodies being flayed in Cristani's films. The soundscape contained within Patrick Still Lives is no different, as a high-hat needle drop transforms a quiet lap pool into an inescapable death cauldron without a moment's notice. In true giallo fashion, it's murder you can dance to.


Speaking of violence: Patrick Still Lives contains some wildly inventive, if cheaply executed, kills. On top of boiled swinger and porno kebob, we also get a man hung by the neck via a hook, Hellraiser (1987) style, attack dog maulings, and other ludicrous psychic weaponry. Hilariously, every time someone is attacked, Patrick's eyes are superimposed on the screen, flying at you as if they're about to pop off the screen in 3D. Sure, Landi was certainly more engaged in staging the elaborate strip set pieces and accompanying masturbation shows, but the director also delivered a different sort of shudder for the remaining degenerates who weren't just there for the joy juice.


To bring it back to Kermit, cult cinema crate digging is all about patience. You know the good stuff is out there; it's just a matter of time before you finally lay eyes upon it. If the porno giallo rabbit hole Patrick Still Lives caused this author to fall down is any indication, Landi crafted a hot shot that gets it's hooks in and refuses to leave your psyche, well after the initial high has worn off. Suddenly, you need to know all about the peculiar dimension this alien transmission arrived from, hoping to decode it's new language so that it becomes part of your own filmic vernacular. And once you've exhausted this newly tapped well, it's back to playing the waiting game, staring at the sky and hoping another filthy comet flies past your line of sight, beckoning you to chase it toward whatever gnarly oblivion awaits.


*For those with cast iron stomachs, the jail-bait looking beauty's filmography is a real doozy, including Denis Heroux's Richard Speck fictionalization, Born For Hell (a/k/a Naked Massacre, 1976), and George Eastman's dog fucking opus, Bestialita (a/k/a Dog Lay Afternoon,1976).

** May she rest peacefully following her 2011 death.


Jacob Knight is the co-founder/host/editor of Secret Handshake.

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