Review: Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti (2014)

Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti

Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti
Korero Press, 2015 (containing material previously published)
Artist: Emanuele Taglietti

Review by N Emmett.

Published By Korero Press, Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti collects over 120 illustrations from various Italian comics (or fumetti, as they are known) of the seventies and eighties. Unusually for a book on comic art, none of the illustrations are sequential: Emanuele Taglietti made his name as a cover artist.

The style of Taglietti’s paintings is immediately familiar from the world of pulp cover art. They are brash, bold and salacious, conceived to stand out from similarly-lurid competitors on the racks – and making no bones about this fact. They were painted to appeal the taste of a quite specific readership, promising buyers a heady mixture of the erotic, the macabre and the flat-out odd.

The book sheds light on the weird world of seventies fumetti with short synopses of the various comics that Taglietti worked on as a cover artist. We are introduced to Belzeba, an intersex devil who goes up against a kinky interpretation of Torquemada; Sukia Dragomic, a female vampire with a gay sidekick named Gary; and deformed aristocrat Jimmy Wallestein, who battles criminals to avenge the murder of his father.

tag5Ulla von Hagen is injected with the blood of a wolf, and consequently becomes a lycanthrope named Ulula; she dashes around in a Vampirella-esque swimsuit before being cured by a lesbian scientist from Romania. Nineteenth-century aristocrat Zora Pabst, star of Zora la Vampira, becomes possessed by the spirit of Count Dracula and promptly runs off to shag any undead critter who comes her way. Cimiteria is a beautiful woman who dies only to be resurrected via electricity, with the unfortunate side-effect that anyone she has sex with gets electrocuted (although we are assured that “Cimiteria’s sexual problem is resolved and she and on-off lover Quasimodo enjoy many bizarre adventures: they fight robots and monsters, get kidnapped and go on sex and killing sprees”).

tag2Not all of the fumetti represented here are horror. Fata Turchina (“Turquoise Fairy”) follows the cartoonish sexual exploits of the woman who turned Pinocchio into a real boy, for example, while Moschettiera revolves around a female musketeer who swashbuckles in her knickers. Even the non-horror titles are rife with sadism and the macabre, however: La Poliziotta (“The Policewoman”), which stars a glamorous female NYPD officer who likes to leave her shirt unbuttoned and seems unable to move without flashing her nipples, places its heroine at the hands of dastardly villains wielding all manner of painful implements. One cover shows her being accosted by the animated statue of what appears to be a six-armed Hindu deity, while another has her being whipped by the Ku Klux Klan.

The sadistic overtones of such imagery are hard to miss. Many of Taglietti’s illustrations could be tag8described as misogynistic, the most objectionable being the covers of Wallestein il Mostro, in which whippings and other violations are being carried out by a character who – judging by the synopsis – is meant to be the hero of the story.

But at the same time, the dubious elements of these illustrations are offset by their inherent absurdity: looking at them laid out in the book one after the other, the sight of naked women being crammed into so many of bizarre situations becomes a kind of running gag. The cover to Ulula Supplemento #33 features a butcher strangling an unclothed woman as he feeds her into a gigantic meat-grinder; the werewolf heroine, also naked, climbs in through a window with a gun aimed at this latter-day Sweeney Todd. Sadistic? Misogynistic? Borderline snuff? Perhaps – but at the same time, so utterly, self-evidently silly that getting outraged would be more trouble than it is worth.tag1

And to balance things out, it is worth mentioning that Taglietti’s covers sometimes show men in similarly sexualised or compromised positions – albeit with far less frequency. Karzan, a parody of Tarzan, stars a hero with a bulge in his loincloth so ridiculously oversized that he appears to be smuggling some kind of exotic fruit. Genitals are never shown point-blank, but phallic imagery is a recurring motif: Sukia #98 has the vampiress – on a ski holiday, rather incongruously – staring in shock at a snowman with a suspicious protrusion beneath its waist. La Poliziotta’s half-naked heroine is depicted straddling a circus performer, delicately peeling a white sheet from his head to reveal an elongated and clearly symbolic nose. A similarly-themed Selezione cover is even more forthright, with a circus act having his lengthy conk fellated by a blonde woman in lingerie.tag4

The cover to La Poliziotta #28 shows the police officer rescuing her naked male partner, who is pinned down by two partially-clad men and one topless woman while a third man stands behind with a baseball bat. The title of the story translates as “Two Balls and a Bat”.

Perhaps the ultimate erotic horror gender-reversal is on the cover of Stregoneria #9, illustrating a tale entitled “The True Story of Jack the Ripper”. The painting shows yet another topless woman, this time ripping a half-dressed chap’s innards out with a scalpel. Those aware of the gender politics associated with serial killing will find this “true story” quite perplexing, but within the context of its genre it is peculiarly refreshing!

tag6Like the Italian exploitation films of the same period, these covers freely mix and match disparate pieces of horror iconography. The cover to Sukia #66 shows the vampires being menaced by a pudding-basined child with a steak knife – an image which conjures up The Omen, Village of the Damned and the prologue to Halloween at the same time; the illustration has now taken on a kind of period charm thanks to the pile of circa-1980 toys, including one of those electronic Simon games.

A cousin once removed to Michelangelo Antionioni, Taglietti grew up around the cinema and worked as an assistant art director and interior decorator on a number of films. This early involvement with the film industry may have something to do with Taglietti’s fondness for lifting imagery directly from various films, with many of his fumetti tag3covers featuring characters clearly based around actors. Some might call this plagiarism, but given just how obvious Taglietti’s borrowings are, his approach can be more fairly described as something similar to pop art.

Some of the liftings are perfectly straightforward: the hero of 44 Magnum is modelled around Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. fame, while an unidentified painting shows a woman being accosted by a green-skinned version of Christopher Lee’s Dracula. Others are more surreal…

One of the final images in the book is a 2014 painting entitled “La Poliziotta and Frankenstein”. This shows the NYPD heroine in the throes of ecstasy as she is tag9undressed by Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster, whose expression of simple-minded pleasure has taken on a whole new meaning; Elsa Lanchester’s partially-naked Bride of Frankenstein looks on with an unreadable expression, apparently unnoticed by the two lovers.

The oddest of Taglietti’s mix-and-match tableaux is the cover to Zora la Vampira #74. The vampire anti-heroine is shown copulating with what appears to be Boris Karloff’s mummy, watched by two voyeurs: one is Lon Chaney’s gleeful fiend from London after Midnight, while the other is a gigantic, looming visage modelled around Christopher Lee’s monster in Curse of Frankensten, who seems to be smacking his lips tag7at the spectacle. Lee turns up in the book with remarkable frequency, and can also be spotted staring intently at Ornella Muti’s nether regions on the cover to Sukia #83. One wonders what the real Christopher Lee has to say about all this.

The fumetti celebrated in this book come from a time in which gothic horror was taking full advantage of sexual permissiveness. In Britain, this manifested itself in the relatively restrained form of Hammer’s Carmilla films. In Italy, however, the gloves were off – along with many other articles of clothing. Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti is a time capsule into a vibrant, if not always tasteful, period in the history of horror imagery.