Director: Kostas Karagiannis
Mondo Macabro

Mondo Macabro debuts its "Greek Collection" with a pair of exploitation films from "the Greek Jess Franco" Kostas Karagiannis in separate releases of TANGO OF PERVERSION and THE WIFE KILLER, one of which makes its stateside debut with this DVD while the other is uncut for the first time in America.

Mondo Macabro's back covers cite these two films as the work of Dacosta Carayan while the English subtitles during the opening credits cite the director as Kostas Karagiannis, but the Greek auteur is probably best known to stateside viewers as Costa Carayiannis: the director of the lukewarm Peter Cushing/Donald Pleasance horror film THE DEVIL'S MEN (released stateside by Crown Releasing shorn of what little sex and violence it had for the PG rated LAND OF THE MINOTAUR). An incredibly prolific director – his filmography triple that of Ilias Mylonakos whose exploitation filmography included the more familiar EMANUELLE: QUEEN OF SADOS, LOVE CAMP, and a handful of Greek softcore Ajita Wilson films – Karagiannis dabbled in various genres at various levels of budget and prestige not unlike Jess Franco during the early part of his career. With the two films discussed herein, he and partner Antonis Karatzopoulos attempted to sought to cash-in on the popular giallo genre with productions aimed at the foreign market (the films were shot with the actors mouthing their lines in English) and secondarily for domestic consumption.

TANGO OF PERVERSION (or TANGO 2001) follows the strain of giallo concerned with the foibles and perversions of jet-setting characters with the police procedural aspect largely sidelined until the third act. Former sixties matinee idol and Karagiannis favorite Lakis Komninos – credited as "Larry Daniels" – is hunky boy toy Stathis (or Steve in the English version) who is so macho that he could ably juggle a sugar mama (Jennifer Wynne) and his coke-addicted girlfriend Joanna (Erika Raffael, FOUR DIMENSIONS OF GRETA) if only they wouldn't fight over him. When Stathis is unable or unwilling to secure Joanna a fix, in swoops predatory lesbian Rosita (Dorothy Moore) promising drugs in exchange for sex. For the sake of privacy, Rosita borrows the key from timid and put-upon Joachim (Vagelis Voulgaridis, SOME LIKE IT COOL) for his isolated pied-a-terre (also frequently used by Stathis). Joachim has come to terms with his impotence after doctors have found no medical reason for it, but he gets what joy he can out of secretly filming Stathis' and Rosita's respective bedroom antics from behind a false mirror in his bedroom. When Stathis sees Rosita and Joanna leaving the Tango Club together, he follows them and bursts in on them in bed together. When Rosita refuses to let him join in, he tries to beat her into to submission while Joanna flees into the night. Turned on so far by what he is witnessing, Joachim is even more surprised at his spontaneous arousal when Stathis accidentally kills Rosita.

Left alone with her body when Stathis runs off, Joachim makes love to Rosita's corpse and imagines her returning his affection. Feeling guilty afterwards, Joachim dumps her body into a stolen car and shoves it off a cliff. While Stathis is understandably bewildered by Joachim's claim to have found nothing out of the usual upon returning home, he does not probe further when he reads of Rosita's supposed suicidal crash in the paper. He is even less curious when his sugar mama apparently suffers a similar fate (or fates). When he definitively breaks things off with Joanna, Joachim invites her back to his home offering a fix and comfort. Joanna seems more than just grateful for the drugs, but can Joachim return her affections while she is still warm; and what will happen when Stathis finds out that his pathetic friend has stolen "his girl"?

According to critic/composer Akis Kapranos on the featurette "Sunshine and Shadows" (24:33) present on both discs, Karagiannis took his cinematographer Vasilis Vasileiadis (THE BRAVE BUNCH) along to point out sequences in imported films as guides to how he wanted his own films to look. Presumably in the case of THE WIFE KILLER, Karagiannis had just seen Luigi Cozzi's THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (which some of us stateside may have first seen as a Greek-subtitled bootleg) as the plots are somewhat superficially similar (along with perhaps the lingering memory of sequences from Robert Vincent O'Neil's THE PSYCHO LOVER). Already tired of his marriage to wealthy Helen (Moore again) – who has just gifted him with a yacht named after him – and wanting to marry his lover Laura (Jane Paterson), playboy Jim (Komninos again) plots to make his wife the latest in a series of rape murders committed by former shipmate Mike (dancer Vagelis Seilinos, MARIJUANA STOP!) who now runs the local funeral home. The plan is for Mike to rape and murder Helen while just wounding Jim, but Mike suspects that Jim will double cross him and forms a contingency plan involving a reasonable Helen facsimile he abducts along a country road. Both plans are threatened, however, by the suspicions of Helen's pining former suitor – whose specialized knowledge of Helen's distinguishing marks is purely professional – and the investigating police lieutenant (Dimitris Bislanis, also THE DEVIL'S MEN's local representative of law and order) detects subtle differences between this crime and the earlier ones.

Both films are rather simplistically- or at least familiarly-plotted – especially to giallo fans – each around a series of sex/death setpieces with repetitive elements (necrophiliac in the case of the former and rape in the latter) suiting the almost ritualistic nature of the villains' perversions (as despicable as Komninos' leads are, he is more of an anti-hero in that – as Kapranos points out in the featurette – we still kind of want him to get away with it). The photography of Vasileiadis is relatively slick but lacks the flourish the giallo models and robs some of the locations of their production value with flat lighting (apart from Mike's secret dungeon). The psychedelic scoring of Yannis Spanos (BLUE PASSION) is intermittently effective, with THE WIFE KILLER sporting the more interesting accompaniment (although both feature the song "Now", performed live in TANGO and heard on the radio in WIFE). The sex and rape scenes – for some, the raison d'etre to watch these – are not substantially more explicit that what one would encounter in a softcore Euro effort of the period, but Karagiannis does not hold back on the outright brutality towards the film's female characters with the camera sometimes whipping back and forth in sympathy (and its villains unfortunately never get I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE-level comeuppances). Both films are padded with dance performances that might peg the settings as Mediterranean despite the efforts in vain of the filmmakers to make them more viable for the international market with attempts at Anglicizing setting and characters (the car driven by Stathis' sugar mama has a Pennsylvania license plate). Of the two films, THE WIFE KILLER is perhaps the more successful venture in terms of plotting and shock value (more so than the other film's necrophilia kink), and hopefully these two most "controversial" entries are merely wetting our appetite for further entries in the "Greek Collection" line.

TANGO OF PERVERSION had a theatrical release in the UK by G & W Walker Cinemas Ltd. but apparently had no theatrical or home video releases stateside (the film's English alternate credits are sourced from the aforementioned British release [2:51]). THE WIFE KILLER was one of the few Greek exploitation films to be released stateside; in this case, by Joseph Brenner Associates as THE RAPE KILLER. Understandably, Prism changed the title to DEATH KISS when they released several of the Brenner holdings on VHS in the eighties. While the scenes where the audio reverts to Greek on the English track are indicative of where cuts were made to the American version, the Brenner versions of a number of Euro pickups were futzed with in different ways. I have not seen the Prism VHS but the alternate English credits (1:08) from the tape in the extras has the video-burned DEATH KISS title over a close-up of Helen from her nightmare before cutting back to the original credits background. Perhaps more informed readers can chime in, but I wonder if the gratuitous nightmare sequence was moved up to the beginning in place of the actual pre-credits rape scene and used as a teaser (presumably some cuts were made to all of the rape scenes for an R-rating). The deleted footage in TANGO OF PERVERSION is mostly of a violent nature while THE WIFE KILLER lost some dialogue scenes (including the epilogue) in its American version.

The rebirth of Mondo Macabro in the last two years has seen a number of flawless or near-flawless discs with the encoder doing a superlative job with the available masters. In the case of TANGO OF PERVERSION and THE WIFE KILLER, the materials available for the film are far from pristine (it seems like the only Greek exploitation films from this era that are well-preserved are the German co-productions whose materials are held by Atlas International and possibly the Italian co-productions), scuttling plans for Blu-ray releases but thankfully getting these titles out there on DVD. The masters for these two look better than the Greek newsstand DVDs from last decade of a handful of exploitation films and the encodes are free of digital manipulation. The Greek Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks on both discs are cleaner than the English ones (which may have come from videotape sources), but the mixing of the Greek voices makes them almost sound over-dubbed while the English dubbing of the English-mouthed dialogue actually sounds like the characters are part of the same environment as the music and effects in the scenes. Optional English subtitles are provided for the Greek dialogue in cut scenes on the English track as well as a full translation for the Greek track.

Besides the usually well-written filmographies, TANGO OF PERVERSION features a text interview with producer Karatzopoulos on how he and Karagiannis formed a joint company in the late sixties with the goal of producing ten films per year, the reasoning for making films for the international market after their period of patriotic war films during the 1967-1974 Junta. The "About the Film" text essay covers both films, the influence of the giallo on them, the history of post-war Greek cinema and the two-way relationship with Italy (with some Greek films re-edited or even unofficially remade by the Italians including THE WILD PUSSYCAT as Joe D'Amato's EMANUELLE AND FRANCOISE). Discussion of the two films includes possible inspirations, their shared cast and their respective standout roles, the attempts to Anglicize them, as well as how they fared outside of Greece. The aforementioned "Sunshine and Shadows" documentary covers some of the same ground, but more entertainingly with the droll Kapranos discussing the different filmic cycles of post-war Greece from the star system of Finos Films, competition from returning Greek-American James Paris (who had served as an assistant producer at Fox) and a rising number of independents (who made use of top talent who were not particularly picky about the jobs they took so long as they got paid and were splashed across the screen constantly), to Greek noir films, patriotic films during the Junta period, the golden age of exploitation, and pornographic films attended by audiences more interested in poking fun at their badness than getting aroused. He notes that the exploitation films that did well abroad were the ones indifferently received domestically while the ones that did well in Greece had little success abroad.

Besides the carried-over "Sunshine and Shadows" featurette and About the Film text (which covered both films) – as well as the aforementioned English credits – THE WIFE KILLER also features well-written filmographies, the text "A Crime in Cavouri" (the translation of the film's Greek title) which describes the infamous 1971 murder of a British female journalist that is referenced in the film (thought to be the work of a sex maniac but then rumored to be a botched torture/interrogation by representatives of the country's military junta). Two English trailers are included for THE WIFE KILLER (4:19): the first being the Joseph Brenner theatrical one under the title THE RAPE KILLER ("Rape! The crime without punishment!") which features KPM music stings familiar that Brenner would use in their American versions of Umberto Lenzi's EYEBALL and Sergio Martino's TORSO, and the second being Prism's video promo which uses the theatrical trailer and cuts around the title (only preserving one usage of it in the narration). One of the rape scenes in the trailers has some English dialogue that is not heard in the feature presentation (this may have been dubbed into the trailer, it may not have been available in the English audio source, or it might have been more difficult to synchronize the audio since the scene might have been trimmed differently between the two versions). THE WIFE KILLER features an Easter Egg, but I could not figure out how to access it from the menus. It features Seilinos and Eleni Prokopiou in a dance scene from the 1962 film "Betrayed Love" (1:41). Both discs have the "More from Mondo Macabro" promo reel. (Eric Cotenas)