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Oasis Of Fear
cast: Irene Papas, Ray Lovelock, Ornella Muti, Michel Bardinet, and Jacques Steny

director: Umberto Lenzi

84 minutes (18) 1971
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Shameless DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Shameless continues its mission to create excitement around a DVD label. Harking back to the golden age of video rental Marc Morris means to give us a new Intervision, Hokushin, Go or VTC with the content of a Fletcher, EVC, VPD or Inter-Ocean. To this end the packaging has to be rich in design and the content focussed on some of the most lurid, florid and unusual of 1970s and 1980s exploitation cinema. Morris intends on doing this not once but several times across several labels including Naughty and Nucleus. Shameless is a high risk endeavour and as the catalogue develops it does indeed look good and the ongoing anticipation does indeed excite a little. Morris is doing film fans a major favour and it would be great if I could provide it with my full support but obscurity and a chequered releasing history sometimes pre-configures the actual quality of the film.

Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper is unpleasant rubbish and though gore nuts might whoop about its official availability in the UK it is not at all intact with some of its nastiness is still forbidden. Ruggero Deodato's Phantom Of Death is no more interesting now than it was in less bloodthirsty form on video in the UK in the late 1980s. Fulci's The Black Cat was one of the clumsier and less fulgent exercises from the director in the early 1980s, not a patch on the twinkling quartet of entertaining living dead horror shows he made around the same time. Still, Night Train Murders was good, as are Killer Nun and Baba Yaga, though the release of Baba Yaga Reloaded concerns me as comfortable as I am with the familiar version of the film. Trailers for Watch Me When I Kill, Designated Victim and The Frightened Woman also contain promise. Few would admit that every European exploitation flick was a winner and that the true appreciation came by way of the moderate entertainment value, a sustained interest across the average running time. Few spaghetti sex, action and horror films were outrightly dull.

The substantial coverage in the pre-cert video era gave rise to an interest not only in what was available but in what did not make it to magnetic tape and where those on release fell short. The subsequent inspection has perhaps placed too much importance on some of these films, but that is nothing new in film research. Umberto Lenzi's Oasis Of Fear (the on-screen title, other titles: Un Posto ideale per uccidere - translation 'an ideal place for a murder' - and Dirty Pictures), a Carlo Ponti production, has had one of those difficult journeys and is now presented in what is considered to be the most complete form in the UK for the first time.

The story is of two handsome young smut peddlars, Ray Lovelock and a 16-year old Ornella Muti taking advantage of sexual freedoms in Copenhagen and smuggling rude material, including audio sex tapes, into other countries. In Italy they do well in the black market but live fast on the proceedings moving in a cycle of impoverishment to wealth and back to impoverishment again, always in the belief that the new era in pornography can be exploited ad infinitum. They live on their youth and when they find themselves without other resources produce dirty still shots of their own beautiful bodies to peddle on. Things take a further dip when they are robbed of everything including their camera equipment and they are forced to resort to taking nude shots of Muti in a photo booth.

Incriminated in a theft in which they have played no part they become sought after by the police. Running out of petrol they steer their vehicle into a large remote property and when unable to get a response at the house steal into the garage and siphon petrol from another vehicle. The householder is in though. A jittery Irene Papas, 44 and very fetching, interrupts them and, when less hysterical and more understanding, invites them in. The sexual mischief of the young ones is attractive to her and she sleeps with Lovelock but the following morning the young couple awaken to find another game afoot. The sex was consensual and they only imbibed in what was offered but Papas seems to be setting them up for rape and robbery. Matters worsen when the newly-cautious pair find a dead body in the boot of a car.

The following game of cat and mouse is a tight enough exercise but it plays like one of the weaker episodes of Brian Clemens' Thriller series. Oasis Of Fear is never dull but neither is it magnificent: it is merely interesting... and that is hardly a recommendation. Well shot by cinematographer Alfio Contini, it looks good and so do the leading players. Muti and Papas both appear to use body doubles though this is largely successfully hidden by the proficient camerawork and editing. Even the stills images are a clever composite of a nude stand-in and Muti's gorgeous visage. During their original smut-peddling success the couple prove irritating in their celebrations. None of the characters are likeable and the young couple are deserving of their fate. In the accompanying trivia track (an audio-commentary, confessedly playful) Kevin and Nick Walker, exploitation film historians, place emphasis on firsts in the details, sometimes as flimsy as Ornella wearing hotpants (long before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they remind us) yet overlook to mention clear rips from elsewhere. The close, for example, is stolen from Pete Walker's A Smashing Bird I Used To Know - and in the manner of this bothers Walker I express this to you - a full two years before. If you miss the opening introduction to the film (say by accidentally going through scene access) you may be surprised by the English audio soundtrack giving way for some ten minutes into Italian without English subtitles.

The soundtrack is tormented by ugly pop, particularly an enthusiastic disco track mangled into English by a female singer. Variations on the theme are heard throughout the film but Shameless have missed a trick. A competition could have been launched to explore who could come closest to either a) interpreting the lyrics, or b) see who could come phonetically closest to the new garbled lyricism. I swear this is some of what I heard: "Now is the moment I suggest another finger get going./ Now is the moment, what it's another with a vinegar throw, how you get as a ninja./ Up on your labia love, elbow wallet, deliver your way of life, modest hello baby, so you will never be free." All together now!
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