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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: the Shelleys visit Byron and compete to write the scariest story they can.

Even the most talented and serious of directors like to unwind from time to time and indulge themselves in what by all accounts should be considered pulp. For British filmmaker Ken Russell that was Gothic. To avoid any and all possible confusion Gothic is, well, uh, a gothic. Albeit one that may just be a tad intellectual, overwritten and verbose for the average moviegoer. Based upon a well-documented event in the life of British poet Lord Byron and bearing poster art based on Henry Fuseli's 1781 painting The Nightmare, Gothic is a grand triumph of style over substance and form over function. What inspired Russell to do Gothic? Who knows? If the official history is to be believed Russell received a similar script from actor Robert Powell some ten years before but the project failed to find backing. Gothic was attractive to Russell because of its comedic overtones and satirical nature. Russell is known around these parts as being the man behind the Oscar-winning film Women in Love (1969), the inventor of nunsploitation with The Devils (1971), The Who rock opera Tommy (1975) and the psychotronic sci-fi epic Altered States (1980). He famously had directed a number of biopics from classical composers of the Romantic era as Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Gustav Mahler, and Franz Liszt. Gothic was made after Altered States (1980) and the erotic thriller Crimes of Passion (1984) in a period when Russell had directed music videos (a nascent artform with the formation and rise of MTV in 1981) for Elton John and Cliff Richard with his Sitting Duck production company.

The basis for the screenplay were the frequent visits of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his soon-to-be wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin as well as Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont to Lord Byron and his personal physician Dr. John William Polidori and valet William Fletcher at the Villa Diodati estate on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland during the summer of 1816. Lord Byron rented the mansion from 10 June to 1 November 1816 to get away from various scandals (separation from his half-sister Augusta Leigh and later Annabella Millbanke) and pressure from creditors and ever-mounting debt. Kept indoors due to the "incessant rain" of The Year Without a Summer (Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted a year earlier) the five aspiring poets challenged each other to conjure up the most fantastic horror tales they could think of. Shelley commited Julian and Maddalo, Prometheus Unbound, and The Cenci to paper, Godwin produced Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus; Polidori came up with The Vampyre, or the ancestor to the modern vampire horror, and Byron contributed Don Juan, Fragment of a Novel, and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. That Frankenstein and The Vampyre both have become timeless horror classics speaks to the imagination of what exactly transpired that night. With Gothic Ken Russell takes a few liberties and posits one possible scenario of what such a visit could have entalled. Haunted Summer (1988) told largely the same story (albeit without the horror overtones and religious allusions/iconography) and it was used as a framing device for the monochrome Universal Pictures horror classic Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

The Year Without a Summer, 1816. After his contentious separation from Annabella Millbanke, rumours about his scandalous, incestual relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh and with pressure from creditors as his debts mount English nobleman and Romantic poet George Gordon Byron (Gabriel Byrne) has fled to Switzerland (“a selfish, cursed, swinish country of brutes. It just happens to be placed in the most romantic region in the world," if the Lord is to be believed). He has settled at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva with his eccentric personal physician Dr. John William Polidori (Timothy Spall) and valet William Fletcher (Andreas Wisniewski). He has befriended Percy Bysshe Shelley (Julian Sands) and has taken to inviting him, his soon-to-be wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Natasha Richardson) as well as her stepsister (and one of his previous conquests), Claire Clairmont (Myriam Cyr) for a relaxing getaway at his opulent estate. On the night of 16 June the five the bohémiens indulge on a feast of food and drink while debating philosophy, religion and humanistic logic. The five engage in a playful game of hide-and-seek, read excerpts from Fantasmagoriana and conduct a séance around a human skull. The guests are beckoned by Lord Byron, who’s clearly in a state of visible hallucinatory ecstasy and madder than ever, to abandon all vestiges of morality, civility and decorum by drinking Laudenaum-laced wine as he challenges them to devise the most macabre and scariest stories they possibly can…

It’s easy to see why Russell, ever the master stylist and technician, would be attracted to this particular script. There’s barely a premise and an absolute dearth of characterization, and that is putting it mildly. Since there isn’t a whole lot of story to tell this allows Russell to indulge in all his visual quirks and all of his usual distractions. You’d imagine that Russell saw Gothic as a stylistic exercise and a satirical deconstruction of gothic horror and its myriad conventions and contrivances. As such Gothic is awash with grandiloquent philosophical debates, pregnant with religious allusions and full of the deepest of cleavage and gallons of blood. Which should count for something because all of the horrors here are mere figments of the fevered imaginations of a bunch of privileged debauched aristocrats. In other words, Gothic is a horror wherein literally nothing happens but does so breathtakingly beautifully. With this being pretty much a genre exercise Gothic is custodian to Russell’s usual visual experimentation. Him and director of photography Mike Southon make full use of Gaddesden Place and Wrotham Park in Herfordshire. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the interior and exterior (however limited they are) that Russell was working on a drastically lower budget than usual. When the camera is not gliding across the plains of the rural English countryside it’s lingering on Natasha Richardson. The score by Thomas Dolby is fittingly schizophrenic. Dolby was the man behind the 1982 novelty hit single 'She Blinded Me with Science' and by 1986 he was on to his third solo album with "The Flat Earth" which had its own hit single with 'Hyperactive!'. Dolby had his own brush with acting in Howard the Duck (1986) and the vampire horror spoof Rockula (1990). Contrary to popular belief it was not him but engineer Ray Dolby who founded Dolby Laboratories that was the main driving force behind all Dolby-related audio innovations from the mid-1960s onward.

You’d almost think that Ken Russell saw Renato Polselli’s showcase in psychotronica Black Magic Rites (1973) and wanted to do something similar with this. It might not have the rapid-fire editing, three different timelines, the acres of skin or a rough equivalent to Rita Calderoni but his spirit certainly dwells here. Gothic answers the question what Frankenstein Unbound (1990) would’ve looked like if it focused more on the amourous liaisons between Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and Lord Byron instead of the misadventures of Dr. Joe Buchanan and his nominal adversary and his colleague in the scientific arts Baron Victor Frankenstein and his Monster. This has the hallmarks of a director indulging in a low-effort diversion or creative distraction. Historically it’s interesting for being the debut of Natasha Richardson (who was married to Liam Neeson from 1994 to 2009 when she died in a skiing accident) and the camera obviously loves her. Byrne and Sands are their usual mad selves and it’s always good seeing Dexter Fletcher and Timothy Spall in supporting roles. Nothing much may happen in Gothic but it does it oh so very beautifully. If nothing else, Gothic is what a Jean Rollin or old Hammer horror could have looked like on a modest Hollywood budget.