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Plot: two sisters inherit a mansion and convert it into a pension. Hilarity ensues!

In the post-La Liceale (1975) years things weren’t always easy for Gloria Guida. No doubt la Guida had the luxury of picking the roles she was interested in but the general quality of the sex comedies she appeared in was never exactly high to begin with. The Landlord (released domestically as L'affittacamere) is surprisingly tolerable and something of a minor cult hit despite being released at the tail end of Gloria’s turn as the iconic high school girl. Surrounded by some of the best comedic talent of the day, written and directed by some of the country’s most experienced specialists The Landlord might not be a masterwork of high comedy exactly, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. It shows extraordinary resilience not to revert to the kind of lowbrow slapstick shenanigans that Lino Banfi (with, or without, his trusty sidekick Alvaro Vitali) often indulges in whenever Gloria isn’t cavorting around in the nude. Even when Guida isn’t naked The Landlord is good fun. This was probably one of the better Guida offerings in those trying and challenging years before To Be Twenty (1978).

In the five-year span from 1974 to 1979 Gloria Guida had worked with some of the best and brightest in the commedia sexy all’Italiana industry. After Fernando Di Leo’s politically-charged To Be Twenty (1978), and having played just about every male wish fullfillment - and fantasy figure, perhaps it was time for Miss Teen Italy 1974 to branch out and spread her wings. Night Nurse (1979) was a semi-serious melodrama with the usual comedic interludes, and when glorious Gloria finally disrobed it was well worth the wait. The Landlord ramps up the situational – and slapstick comedy quotient and there’s at least one good chuckle-inducing moment where Gloria loses her dress and has to make a run across the street in only her translucent white lingerie (complete with stockings and garterbelts, for those who care for such details) in a scene probably “inspired” by the corresponding Nadia Marlowa scene in Sergio Grieco’s fumetti Argoman (1967) and something she would do in The High School Girl Repeating Class (1978) two years later. Fran Fullenwider’s sleepwalking episodes are memorable for all the wrong reasons, and at least she ended up working in Italy for a number of years after her roles in The Mutations (1974) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). If anything but that must have been a nice little opportunity to vacation while she was there. Lino Banfi is suprisingly tolerable (he doesn’t engage in his usual odious slapstick and the mugging is minimal), but it’s really Giuseppe Pambieri who’s responsible for most of the actual comedy. Vittorio Caprioli always elevates every scene he’s in and here it’s no different. The man was a genius. The Landlord is far from quintessential Italo comedy, but it’s far better than most base Gloria Guida swill.

Giorgia Mainardi (Gloria Guida) and her sister Angela (Fran Fullenwider) inherit a mansion in the countryside near Bologna after their aunt-contesa (Flora Carosello) passes away. Once the notary (Dino Emanuelli) and lawyer Mandelli (Giancarlo Dettori) get the necessary paperwork out of the way, the girls agree to convert the building into a pension and name it Pension Paraiso (or Pension Paradise). Angela designs the flyers and when Giorgia distributes flyers across town their new business venture attracts not only the attention of the printer (Aristide Caporale), but also that of judge Damiani (Adolfo Celi), the local arbiter of wisdom and moral values; as well as playboy jockey Anselmo Bresci (Giuseppe Pambieri) and professor Eduardo Settebeni (Luciano Salce). The pension is fully booked almost overnight, and quickly the rumor spreads that Pension Paraiso is not a pension but a casa d'appuntamento, if one is willing to part with 50,000 lire “for a night in paradise” with the hostess, so to speak.

This, of course, attracts the attention of Angela’s boyfriend Lillino Scalabrin (Lino Banfi). Lillino books himself a room, as does professor Eduardo Settebeni. Among the clientele are Pasquale Esposito Ramazzini (Enzo Cannavale) and the honorable judge Vincenzi (Vittorio Caprioli) who gladly pay a pretty penny to have Giorgia over. Also staying overnight are judge Damiani’s wife Rosaria (Marilda Donà) and Settebeni’s wife Adele Bazziconi (Giuliana Calandra), the latter hoping to catch her husband in flagrante delicto and the former to meet her lover Anselmo Bresci. Professor Settebeni has been prospecting the property with eye on converting it into a clinic once he retires. Hilarity ensues when everybody ends up between the sheets with each other, and Mandelli and Giorgia come up with a last-minute plan to salvage the planned sale. In the end Settebeni pays Giorgia 50 milioni lire for the building, allowing Angela and Lillino to marry, and the trio decides to move to a luxurious mansion in Puglia. There Giorgia devises a plan to turn the house into a pension now that she has a strategy.

Like in Night Nurse (1979) a few years later The Landlord director Mariano Laurenti is more concerned with the group dynamic and the interpersonal dramatics than showcasing Gloria Guida’s exposed form, although there’s enough of that too. It wasn’t even the first time Guida had worked with Mariano Laurenti. He would direct her in The High School Girl Repeating Class (1978) two years later, and would do so again in How to Seduce Your Teacher (1979), and The High School Girl, the Devil, and the Holy Water (1979). While she often could be found sharing the screen with buffoons Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali whose combined physical-situational comedy is best described as odious, Gloria was fortunate to share the screen with some of Italy’s greatest comedians, be they Vittorio Caprioli, Enzo Cannavale, or Nino Castelnuovo. In case of The Landlord it is Lando Buzzanca. Buzzanca made his debut as a Jewish slave in William Wyler’s big budget peplum epic Ben-Hur (1959), and started to specialize in comedy as early as 1961. He has shared the screen with just about every major and minor Eurocult queen imaginable. Buzzance and Guida shared the screen together just the year before in The Mammon Cat (1975). Fran Fullenwider is mostly remembered around these parts for her small role in The Mutations (1974). What can be said about Giuseppe Pambieri? Some guys have all the luck. He crossed paths with Gloria (and with a pre-Cicciolina Ilona Staller) earlier in La Liceale (1975), with Edwige Fenech in Confessions of a Lady Cop (1976), and with Chai Lee in Yellow Emanuelle (1976) (also with Staller). Vittorio Caprioli was in To Be Twenty (1978) with Guida and Lilli Carati.

By 1979 Gloria Guida was probably in a different headspace, she had been making a living taking her clothes off for about 5 years, and her spreads in Playboy, Playmen, and Skorpio showcased her to those who never caught any of her many comedies. The long and short of it was that anything after would be fairly redundant now that she had shown all in print magazines across the world. She had traveled to Mexico to work with René Cardona Jr. on The Bermuda Triangle (1978) (the sole horror entry in Guida’s filmography). Guida had a brush with relevance with Fernando Di Leo’s brilliant satire To Be Twenty (1978) most of her post-1978 oeuvre gravitates towards slightly more serious or darker toned material. As limited an actress as she was it’s puzzling that Guida never became involved in the giallo (and, by extent, horror) genre like so many of her comedy contemporaries did. In truth by 1978 Gloria was no longer believable as la liceale, and the world was forever denied a movie with her as a l’insegnante. It was evident that Gloria was winding down from acting and two years away from meeting her future-husband Johnny Dorelli. A year later she woud retire from acting and shift focus on her personal life and singing career. The Landlord is the last Guida comedy worth seeing as it sets its sights slightly higher than usual.

Plot: aunt Marta will kill to see her estranged family – or are they already dead?

Don't Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta (released domestically as Non aver paura della zia Marta and for some reason released in North America as either The Murder Secret or The Broken Mirror) is part of I maestri del thriller (what the English-speaking world knows as Lucio Fulcio Presents), a nine-part television and home video series wherein producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini envisioned bringing Italian horror to the small screen with the help of ailing and over-the-hill horror master Lucio Fulci. Don't Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta is late-stage 80s Italian erotic thriller dirge masquerading as either a very lethargic giallo or a hugely ineffective suburban gothic. If it’s remembered for anything it’s that it pretty much was the last straight-up thriller Mario Bianchi would direct before his focus shifted entirely towards hardcore porn in 1989. Don't Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta is a sobering eulogy for the once-formidable Italian gothic. Twenty years after the innovations of Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava this is where the gothic dies. What other reason to check out Don't Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta than to see Maurice Poli hamming it up, a truly emaciated Gabriele Tinti a mere three years before he would succumb to cancer, and Luciana Ottaviani flaunting her delicious shapes and forms?

To keep costs as low as possible and make most of crew and locations this was filmed in between Reflections Of Light (1988) and The Ghosts Of Sodom (1988) retaining much of the principal cast with only the leads rotating. Mario Bianchi was a consummate professional who could be trusted to routinely direct whatever was doing well at the box office within the alloted budgets and time. As such Bianchi has directed spaghetti westerns, peplum, poliziottesco, sex comedies, and the occassional horror. After Satan’s Baby Doll (1982) he retired his long-time exploitation alias Alan W. Cools and like so many (Joe D’Amato, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, et al) he focused almost exclusively on filming hardcore pornography (usually under his trusty nom de plume Martin White and frequently with Marina Hedman and Ilona Staller sucking a wholly different way) from 1983 onward.

Written by Bianchi and photographed by Silvano Tessicini there’s no way Don't Be Afraid Of Aunt Marta could in any way compete with Fulci’s classic tenure with director of photography Sergio Salvati or his giallo with Luigi Kuveiller and Sergio D'Offizi. Don't Be Afraid of Aunt Marta not only looks cheap the way only a television movie can the cast reflected just how impoverished of a production this was. Tinti and Poli ostensibly were the draw here with Russo and Ottaviani as elder and younger stars. Them excepted the remainder of the warm bodies were, for all intents and purposes, nobodies. If there wasn’t for the inclusion of brief flashes of nudity and extreme gore this could’ve been passed off as a failed 90-minute pilot to an unproduced television series. Here Fulci acted as co-producer and oversaw the gore effects with special effects technician Giuseppe Ferranti. Even in the Ottaviani/Moore canon this (and the two other titles that Luciana/Jessica appeared in) is but a curious and forgotten footnote.

In 1958 Richard Hamilton (Gabriele Tinti) was witness to his mother (Anna Maria Placido) confining her sister (and his aunt) Marta (Sacha Darwin, as Sacha M. Darwin) - who up to that point had acted as his guardian - to a psychiatric ward to get access to her fortune. Not helping is that his mother flung herself out of a window of the house later. Thirty years pass and one day Richard receives a letter from Aunt Marta. She cordially invites Richard and his family to come visit her at the old family seat in the sticks now that she has been released from the clinic. Coming along for the visit are Richard’s wife Nora (Adriana Russo), his daughter Giorgia (Luciana Ottaviani, as Jessica Moore), and his son Maurice (Edoardo Massimi). Also arranged to come over for the getaway at the estate is Richard’s son from a previous marriage, Charles (Massimiliano Massimi). At the estate they are welcomed by administrator (and groundskeeper) Thomas (Maurice Poli) who informs them that Marta has been delayed on some pressing business and will rejoin them the next morning. Richard spents the night in sweat-drenched panic upon receiving a silent phone call. When Marta fails to materialize in the days that follow tensions within the family start to mount. All of this prompts Richard to do some investigating of his own. As long-buried family secrets come to surface members of the family start dying… or were they already dead to begin with?

Arguably the last of the great Italian screamqueens (together with Florence Guérin, Lara Wendel, and Margie Newton) we have warmed up considerably to Luciana Ottaviani over the years. Ottaviani had both the curls and the curves and she was never afraid about flaunting either when and where it mattered. In a blitz career that lasted only four years and 9 movies (three of which were made-for-television bilge) luscious Luciana hid behind 3 different aliases (Jessica Moore being her most widely known) and worked with the likes of Bruno Corbucci, Joe D'Amato, and Mario Bianchi. If there’s one way to describe Luciana’s career it’s that she was the figurehead in lamentable late-stage abortions of once-great Italian exploitation subgenres. While mostly identified with her role as escort-turned-journalist Sarah Asproon in Eleven Days Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988) Ottaviani debuted in the nunsploitationer Convent Of Sinners (1986) and just before being typecast as the latest softcore sex sensation with the turgid Reflections Of Light (1988) (where she starred alongside Pamela Prati, Loredana Romito, and Laura Gemser) she took on the ghost horror with our current subject, a mild il sadiconazista with The Ghosts Of Sodom (1988), and a light giallo murder mystery with Escape From Death (1989). Suffice to say, in each and without fault Ottaviani was reduced to tits requiring nothing more from her than her usual routine of smiling pretty, flaunting her curls and curves, and getting horrendously murdered for her trouble. Ottaviani was pretty much forced into an early retirement the moment she stopped accepting erotic roles at behest of her partner. No doubt miss Ottaviani could have made a fortune in Spain’s Cine-S and it’s a question for the ages why we were forever denied a Tinto Brass feature with her.

Don't Be Afraid of Aunt Marta was the second in the nine-part I maestri del thriller (or Lucio Fulci presents in the English-speaking world) series of made-for-television and home video horror. As legend has it was cinematographer Silvano Tessicini who got Fulci involved with the operation. Old Lucio had just returned after his Zombi 3 (1988) ran into production woes on the Philippines. With his health deteriorating and cranky the project being overtaken by hired hands Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei (with none of whom Fulci got along), Tessicini figured that this was the distraction Fulci needed. The main series comprises of The Curse (1987), Don't Be Afraid of Aunt Marta, The Red Monks (1988), Massacre (1989), Bloody Psycho (1989), Escape from Death (1989), and Hansel and Gretel (1989). Initially attracted as supervisor Fulci ended up directing two features - Touch of Death (1988) and The Ghosts Of Sodom (1988) – from scripts he had penned earlier with Carlo Alberto Alfieri years before all the same. Even under the most optimistic circumstances Fulci’s involvement throughout was tenuous at best and completely hands-off at worst. Whatever his feelings on the subject Fulci and producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini mined six of these features for special effects footage for the supreme cut-and-paste hackjob A Cat in the Brain (1990).

You know just how impoverished a production is when pulp veteran Gabriele Tinti, Euroshock pillar Maurice Poli from Cross Mission (1988), Adriana Russo (the lesser known sister of comedy evergreen Carmen Russo), and Luciana Ottaviani retroactively can be considered the marquee stars. Tinti and Poli were old hands at this sort of thing and by 1988 both Russo and Ottaviani had carved out enough of a niche for themselves to be considered semi-stars. Sacha Darwin and Anna Maria Placido both were nobodies with mostly indistinct filmographies. To be charitable, Darwin was the daughter of Austrian Golden Age actors Wolf Albach-Retty and Trude Marlen and she was the younger half-sister of Romy Schneider – which probably accounts for how she parlayed her world-famous pedigree into a modest acting career. Placido on the other hand had none such luck – and she was no Mariangela Giordano, Dagmar Lassander, Daria Nicolodi, or Franca Stoppi either. Not even Tinti (who starred in his fair amount of dreck during the wicked and wild seventies) nor Poli deserved ending up in something as lamentable as this. Tinti had at least the good fortune of sharing the sheets with miss Laura Gemser. For a television movie this is quite explicit (Ottaviani has an extended soapy shower scene straight out of the Gloria Guida playbook) and the gore is off the charts when and where it appears. As a sort-of-but-not-really hybrid of Psycho (1960) and Carnival of Souls (1962) it is deadly dull in parts and only sort of gains a faint pulse whenever Poli or Ottaviani enliven proceedings with their hams. Unfortunately there’s more of the former than of the latter. After all, not even luscious Luciana’s ever so inviting tits and ass could save something this dreadful.