Tag Italian

Body Count (1986)

Body Count (1986)

The woods are alive with the sound of screaming

A group of teenagers roaming around Colorado in their RV pick up hitchhiker Ben, who offers them a place to stay at his parents’ campsite as a way of thanks. However, the group are unaware that fifteen years earlier, a murderous Native American shaman killed a pair of teenagers on his land and Ben’s father is convinced he is still prowling the woods.

 

Italy’s answer to Friday the 13th, Body Count is an apt title if ever there was one for a slasher film which ratchets up the kills as much as this one. It’s a routine campground slasher which I’d hoped would put more of a European flavour to the usual American trappings but rather plays out in exactly the same way as one would expect, just with plenty of extra Parmesan. By 1986, the slasher formula had been entirely played out, with the entire cycle of serious slashers followed up by themed holiday slashers and then finally the self-aware/spoof slashers all being done to death. That never stopped the Italians though, who were always late to the party and constantly tried to jump on horror bandwagons that had already long-gone in the US.

With no overlong build-up or messing around, Body Count gets straight down to butchering work and keeps a fast pace going, spreading plenty of kills over it’s running time (I counted thirteen, although one is left ambiguous) without worrying too much about characters or overarching story. It’s very much a case of getting the victims all assembled as efficiently and quickly as possible and then unleashing the shaman upon them, many times before I’d even worked out who was who. The copy available for streaming on Prime was quite dark and so its difficult to see who is being attacked from time-to-time. To be fair, it matters little when the characters are this sketchy and there’s little to no plot – people like me are just here to see the shaman get down to work.

Director Ruggero Deodato, most infamous for grisly exploitation flick Cannibal Holocaust and notorious revenge flick The House on the Edge of the Park, helms this one so you would expect a tsunami of violence, blood and guts. Whilst the murders are graphic in comparison to a lot of other slashers, you would not expect Deodato to hold back as much as he does here. The kills are fairly routine, most copied from its American counterparts (you can spot the Kevin Bacon kill from Friday the 13thcoming a mile away) and with little real suspense or tension to build up. The characters don’t seem to notice that their group of friends is dwindling one-by-one and even when they find themselves in dangerous situations, they do the most stupid things. Said ‘Kevin Bacon kill moment’ involves one character opting to run upstairs in an abandoned house and lie on a bed rather than fleeing out of the front door to go and get help. There is sticking to the formula and then there’s lazy writing. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard for the writers to give her character some degree of brain power so they could set up a kill, rather than do what they do here. It’s repeated throughout the film – characters do the most insane things at the wrong times. Or the killer comes up with the most ‘out of nowhere moments’ purely so the script can set up the next kill. Either scrap the kill at this point or find writers who can come up with these things. Thankfully, the writers at least know that nudity is a key ingredient to a successful slasher flick and the script throws almost all of its female cast into the shower at some point of the film.

Deodato’s old buddy David Hess is given an extended role as the slightly-deranged father (when was Hess ever anything less than deranged in this type of horror flick?) to add a potential red herring into the mix. Clearly along for a nice Italian holiday, American character actor Charles Napier pops up in a trademark authority role, this time as a police officer rather than an army officer. As for the rest of the cast, it’s mainly your usual array of Italian actors with bad dub jobs imposed over the top. The problem with Body Count, in fact the majority of Italian horrors pretending to be set in the US, is that the dialogue is cringy beyond belief, as the middle-aged Italian writers think they know what teenage Americans sound like. I’ve had the same issue with Nightmare Beach, another Italian slasher set in America, and watched in the same sitting as Body Count. These ‘teenagers’ couldn’t be anymore square if they tried.

Composer Claudio Simonetti has always been one of my favourite Italian maestros, responsible for some rocking soundtracks to the likes of Demons as a solo artist but more famously as the keyboardist for Goblin, the progressive rock group who scored such massive Italian horror hits as Suspiria. Simonetti works miracles again with some excellent music that would have befitted a far superior film and certainly adds something extra to the ambiance and vibe.

 

Body Count is by no means the worst slasher film out there but given the director’s resume, this should have been bloodier and messier if not more competently made. With so many clichés, you wonder where the director was just slumming by this point or whether he thought he was making something different. Either way, Body Count is for die-hard slash fans only.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Nightmare Beach (1989)

The beach of terror

After the execution of motorcycle gang leader Diablo who was convicted of murder, a helmeted biker mysteriously appears and goes on a killing spree during spring break in Florida. As the bodies start piling up, the authorities try and keep everything quiet to avoid scaring people away.

 

An utterly bonkers slasher with a difference, it is impossible to dislike Nightmare Beach, no matter how hard I’ve tried when I’m writing this review. Its almost as if the people behind it scraped up the leftovers from both the goofball teen sex comedies of the 80s and whatever remnants of the slasher genre that had been unused by 1989 and slapped them into a blender. It is difficult to get a hold on things when the behind-the-scenes shenanigans was just as confusing. Original director Umberto Lenzi, of Nightmare City fame, allegedly backed out shortly before production began and screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick stepped in to direct. But he apparently asked Lenzi to stay on set as an unofficial advisor. Some say Kirkpatrick was an alias used by Lenzi. He denied it. Some say he refused to sign the credit after he’d finished shooting. I guess no one will know. All I can say is that has all of the hallmarks of a Lenzi film – madcap moments with plenty of graphic gore and no real sense of direction.

Nightmare Beach follows the typical slasher narrative simply and effectively. Introduce the tiny bit of back story needed, have the main characters arrive at their destination early on, unleash the killer and start to crank up the carnage as red herrings are tossed across the screen, blood drips copiously and breasts jiggle for the gratuity of the male audience. The wafer-thin narrative is stretched out to its utmost length and even with a number of sub-plots that go nowhere, Nightmare Beach outstays its welcome whenever the killer isn’t doing his thing. From pickpocketing teenagers, a buxom blonde who lures rich men to her hotel room, a peeping tom caretaker, a corrupt mayor desperate to cover it all up, a practical joker who is always pulling pranks (what are the odds he’ll wind up dead and everyone else thinks it’s a prank?), a reverend’s rebellious daughter who doesn’t want to pray with him…..the list goes on and on of characters who are given screen time and something resembling characterisation but the majority have virtually zero interaction with each other or the main characters and are there simply for fodder.

As alluded to in my introduction, Nightmare Beach is a film with two very distinct parts: the slasher and the screwball comedy. When it is slashing, it is a riot. When it is screwballing, it is horrendously dated. There’s plenty of footage of teenagers partying on spring break – diving in pools, drinking in bars, sunbathing on beaches, and ‘Lenzi’ even throws in a token wet t-shirt contest. But none of the major storyline happens at the beach and this is all filler to pad out the running time. Like many horrors from Italy in the 80s, Nightmare Beach tries and fails desperately to convince anyone that this is typical America. It is but as seen through the eyes of foreigners as they assume this is how the youth speak and act. The writers do a terrible job of making these characters look and sound American despite trying so hard, with the obvious exceptions of the American actors in the cast like John Saxon. The two young leads aren’t very engaging and don’t have any screen presence whatsoever. Thankfully, the older actors in the film like Saxon and Michael Parks have much more fun in their roles. Saxon, who appeared in a fair few Italian films in the 80s, is particularly good at chewing the scenery as the sheriff who framed Diablo.

Like most slashers, the real joy of Nightmare Beach is seeing how wacky the kills are. Seriously, this biker is one creative person who has meticulously planned every single detail and possible outcome of murdering someone. If they’ve not pimped up their motorcycle to only electrocute the person riding on the back, they’re hiding on top of a lift and waiting for someone who has just discovered a dead body to enter so they can finish them off too. What if they’d taken the stairs? Or hadn’t found the body for another few hours? Were they just going to lie patiently on top of the lift? The practical effects, usually involving someone being electrocuted or burnt to a hideous crisp, are excellent as layer upon layer of make-up is applied to some, whilst obvious dummy heads are blasted with fire for a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style head melting for others. The biker outfit is also a nice change to the usual mask-wearing psycho. The problem with how madcap some of the build-up is, is that the finale was always going to be a disappointment and the almost Scooby Doo-like revealing of who the biker really is comes totally out of leftfield – a complete contrast to the way the character had behaved in the film up until that point. It’s hard to care about the character and their motivations given that they were non-existent earlier on.

One thing you can’t help but remember from Nightmare Beach is the soundtrack, full of classic 80s-style hair metal and rock ballads and a great score by Claudio Simonetti. The songs get repetitive as they’re played throughout but they do add a certain charm to the film which reminds its audience of a simpler time of horror filmmaking. There’s no mistaking which decade this came from!

 

Nightmare Beach is silly slasher fun which is even less concerned with characters, cohesion, plot and sense than most of its kind. I lost a few brain cells watching it and a few more whilst writing this review but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the ninety-minutes of mayhem.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Paganini Horror (1989)

Paganini Horror (1989)

Desperately needing a new hit to appease their producer, a female rock band acquire an unpublished score by legendary violinist Niccolo Paganini and head to his old remote villa to shoot a music video for their latest track. Little did they know that the sheet music is cursed and that they have unleashed the spirit of the dead composer and unlocked a gateway to Hell.

 

One final hurray for the Italian horror genre in the 80s or a damp squib to end the decade? I’ll give you a second to guess which category Paganini Horror falls into. A film with a bit of potential but with no clue on what it wanted to be, Paganini Horror is the epitome of how desperate the Italian horror genre was at this point in history; a film which did little success at the box office in Italy and didn’t really get much of a look-in across the world, consigned to obscurity and dodgy video bootlegs for decades. Now in a time where niche distributors in the UK and US are finally releasing these lost old school horrors for contemporary audiences, Paganini Horror sees the light of day to a whole new fanbase.

Paganini Horror comes with a bit of history between producer Fabricio De Angelis and director Luigi Cozzi. Angelis wanted a simple horror film whilst Cozzi wanted to play on his science fiction credentials by making something more fantastical. What we end up is a film which satisfies neither man – a timid horror film without any real scares or gore and a sci-fi film where all of the wacky cosmic stuff had been cut out by the time it hit theatres. The mish-mash of approaches is obvious. There are no rules. No limits. No restrictions. Like the majority of surreal Italian horror films from this era, you can’t even try and comprehend what is going on – just sit back and accept all of the nonsensical stuff on display. The plot meanders from idea to idea and not settling down with one clear direction – you’ve got Paganini slumming around the villa killing people, invisible forcefields preventing people from leaving and green fungus which melts people into piles of goo amongst other incidents that occur. It’s all very bewildering, especially with a twist ending which tries to explain everything that has come before it.

Paganini looks to be pitched as some sort of Freddy Krueger-like villain, stalking and killing with his Stratovarius complete with a retractable blade, but he’s hardly in the film enough to make a real impression. Instead, you have the characters exploring the villa, crawling around the same blue-lit tunnels, green glowing pits of Hell and red-coloured corridors. It’s just the sort of cheap and tacky Halloween funhouse you’d get in a carnival but it’s purely superficial atmosphere due to a lack of real scares or tension. Above all, and the cardinal sin for any film from my point of view, is that Paganini Horror is just dull. There’s a lot of crazy stuff floating around but there’s also a lot of nothing, with too many scenes just involving characters standing around talking about what is going on (and a dreadful script full of exposition to explain all) or walking around exploring the villa.

This being the 80s and featuring a rock group as the main characters, if you think you’re going to survive without hearing some of their songs then you’ve got another thing coming. I’m not sure we needed to listen to the entire blatant rip-off versions of ELO’s Twilight and Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name being blasted out by the band, but it does waste valuable screen time in two lengthy sequences. However, they’re kind of catchy in that 80s Italian rip-off way and I have immediately downloaded them to add to my cheesy Italian horror rock collection (Clue in the Crew’s The Sound of Fear from Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 will take some beating)

Donald Pleasance cameos in a throwaway role as the mysterious dealer who sells the score to the group. It’s probably the easiest pay cheque he will have ever received, working only three days and getting a free holiday to Venice out of it. Bizarrely, he’s dubbed over by someone else in the English language version of the film, making him sound like some low budget Pinhead. The rest of the cast are your typical group of 80s fashion victims, ineffectual male characters and cute but vapid females. Flicking between the English language dub and the original Italian version, it didn’t make much difference to the performances, consisting of really bad overacting, shouting when not needed and a general sense of phoning in it. Pretty standard for Italian horror at this time.

 

Cozzi denounced the film as the ‘poorest film in the history of the cinema’ and though he’s got something of a point, Paganini Horror is by no way the worst Italian horror film you’re ever going to see. It’s cheesy enough, mad enough and quick enough to provide some entertainment but the film is very much scraping the barrel of the genre at this point.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

House by the Cemetery, The (1981)

The House by the Cemetery (1981)

BEWARE THE DEMON FORCES OF THE…BLOOD BEASTS

A New England home is terrorised by a series of brutal murders, unbeknownst to the guests that a gruesome secret is hiding in the basement. It seems that the previous owner, Dr Freudstein, hasn’t quite vacated the premises.

 

Released way back in 1981 (the year of my birth), The House by the Cemetery is the third film in the Italian director Lucio Fulci’s ‘Gates of Hell’ series, a loose trilogy of horror films that also includes City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. It was one of the films that suffered greatly in the wake of the ‘Video Nasties’ frenzy in the 80s and was actually one of the thirty-nine unfortunate souls to be prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It beggars belief that it was finally released uncut in the UK in 2009 – showing everyone how ridiculous the prosecution was in the first place but also how much our tolerance for on-screen violence and gore has gone through the roof.

I never quite got The House by the Cemetery and it’s by far and away the weakest of the three films by a considerable distance. If you thought the others were bad as far as logic and sense goes, you haven’t seen anything yet because this one makes even less sense, even if the underlying story is far more straightforward. There is a lot of unnecessary supernatural stuff floating around, inadvertently creating massive plot holes, when actually it could have worked purely as a simple slasher flick. But like most Fulci films, things happen without a real point and the copious violence and gore on show is pinned together with thin narratives. Best not try to piece together too much of the flimsy story because you’re only a few scenes away from something completely turning that upside down. There’s rarely any character development, ideas that are introduced are never fully fleshed out and the endings are open to interpretation (meaning you won’t have a clue). Some of this might have worked with City of the Living Dead and The Beyond due to their nightmarish doomsday-like scenarios but not here with the more traditional story.

For Fulci, this is restrained stuff. There are his trademark gore set pieces – the film kicks off with a suitably-visceral death – but they’re too few and far between, with the time being filled with some truly lethargic padding. Surprisingly, there is a lack of his trademark ‘eye trauma’ moment where something sharp sticks into a human eye. But this time around, the jugular is the prime target for the killer of the piece and there are a couple of gushing kills to make even the most hardened horror fans squirm. The gore splashes around at much-needed moments of aruduous pacing but Fulci fails to really build upon true suspense. A frustrating trademark of Fulci’s is to have one of the characters being menaced simply stand there in fear and wait for whatever is terrorising them to get closer and kill them. It doesn’t exactly crank up the tension.

Whilst City of the Living Dead and The Beyond featured lots of zombie and supernatural forces, The House by the Cemetery features just the sole protagonist. An unseen assailant is responsible for some of the on-screen kills early in the film and it’s only in the final third of the film where we actually see Dr Freudstein in all of his Frankenstein-like glory in the basement. The nice twist here is that the mad scientist has actually become the monster as he harvests body parts to keep alive. Gianetto De Rossi has done a super job in bringing to life Freudstein and the doctor’s first grisly appearance is definitely worth the wait. Sadly, all he does in the final third is groan and shuffle around like a typical Fulci zombie, and it raises the question of how he’s managed to kill so many people when he groans loudly and shuffles along at a snail’s pace. Don’t even get me started on how no one has ever checked the basement in the newly-bought house. He wasn’t even hiding behind a fake wall, just down there in plain sight of the stairs!

Fulci regular Catriona MacColl returns, having already been tormented in both City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, and is the usual dependable hand. The least said about little Giovanni Frezza, as her young son Bob, the better. Frezza’s dubbing has been given to a woman and his screams and cries are laughable, and his incessant whimpering in the finale is the most annoying sound you’ll hear for a long time. You’ll be wishing Freudstein does him in, and quickly too!

 

The House by the Cemetery is fairly tough going for any horror fan but die-hard Fulci lovers will no doubt appreciate his attempts to move away from the more overt gore outings into something supernatural akin to The Shining. Those who aren’t use to his brand of Italian horror are better off viewing his earlier works.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Demons (1985)

Demons (1985)

They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.

A pair of students decide to ditch their evening class after being given two free tickets to an unknown movie at the recently re-opened Metropol Theatre in Berlin. During the screening of the movie about people turning into demons after opening a tomb, one of the attendees cuts themselves on a prop metal mask from the film that is being displayed in the theatre foyer. This causes them to be transformed into a demon and they start slaughtering members of the audience, who in turn become demons too. When the other people in the audience try to escape, they find that the exit doors have been sealed and that they are now trapped inside the theatre with a horde of demons after them.

 

Demons was one of my first forays into Italian horror – I think Zombie Flesh Eaters was first – and I certainly had no idea what to expect. Growing up on a strict diet of British (good old Hammer) and American horrors, it can be a little jarring to dive into the world of Italian horror cinema, where plot is less rigid, logic is not as strictly adhered to, and writers aren’t confined by well-established tropes. Demons is the perfect embodiment of everything that made the Italian horrors of the 80s so ridiculously entertaining, yet so perplexing and puzzling at the same time.

Director Lamberto Bava cited this as his personal favourite out of all of the films that he has directed and it’s easy to see why. The simplistic plot, sort of like a Night of the Living Dead-style siege flick with demons instead of zombies, is easy to follow though incomprehensible to fathom out. Its utterly absurd, with the writers using literally anything they can think of to write themselves out of a hole and expecting the audience to buy it (the helicopter crashing through the roof for no other reason than to provide the survivors with a way to escape is the obvious example). Even the characters make no sense – a shifty-looking usherette appears to be ‘in’ on the whole thing at the start with a load of dodgy close-ups only to fall victim to the demons like everyone else, whilst don’t even get me started on why there’s a blind character going to the cinema. Even the story itself radically changes direction at the end, from a Night of the Living Dead-style siege flick with demons to a post-apocalyptic nightmare in the final scenes. But until you get to that point, Demons has a cracking pace and is full-throttle for the majority of its running time. It does sag a little in the middle once the demons have taken over the theatre and killed off a lot of people but picks the pace back up considerably towards the end where everything-but-the-kitchen-sink is thrown at the screen.

Bava does creating some striking images throughout the film. Used on many of the film’s posters and DVD covers, there’s a brilliant slow-motion shot of the demons walking up the stairs, shrouded in dry ice and eerie blue lighting; their yellow eyes glowing in the dark. The filmmakers used a closed-down movie theatre to shoot inside and it really adds to the production, giving it a sense of scale and grandeur that studio sets would have inhibited. Bava clearly learnt a lot from his famous director father, Mario Bava, and his cinematography is generally atmospheric. Neon lighting, dry ice and shadows and darkness are all used effectively to create plenty of tension and suspense within the confines of the theatre. It’s hardly a film that is going to be known for its atmosphere though and Demons has become an ultimate crowd-pleaser in the gore stakes.

Demons is gruesome and gory, with violence being the name of the game. People don’t just instantly turn into demons, but the transformation is slow and painful. Close-ups of fingernails being forced out of cuticles and teeth being brutally pushed through by sharp fangs will have you squirming. The demons are slobbering monsters, dripping blood and green goo, with pulsating neck wounds, and that scratch and claw away at their victims, ripping apart throats and, in one particularly nasty scene, the eyes of a victim and the scalp of another. The gore is cheesy in some places, but it’s far more convincingly brought to life than plenty of the zombie and cannibal films that Italy was churning out during this time. The body count is high, and the kills are all evenly paced out to keep things exciting and unpredictable. Some characters meet earlier demises than you’d expect. A standout set piece involves a demon hatching through someone’s back – certainly as impressive as any sort of transformation sequence you’d get from Rob Bottin or Rick Baker.

The energetic performances from the cast are embodied by the scene-stealing turn from Bobby Rhodes as a pimp who is only too quick to take charge when things go from bad to worse. I’m not sure whether it’s just the dubbing job done to his character but he’s so aggressive and assertive right from the first scene until his last. Rhodes would return as an unrelated character in the sequel and steals the show again. The two young couples who form the bulk of the main cast are all decent in their roles given the circumstances – trying to comment on acting in a film which is dubbed is a tall order!

Demons not only has a terrific original soundtrack from Claudio Simonetti, one of my favourite Italian composers, with some really catchy tunes (including the title music which is a real earworm), but it also has a bizarre collection of 80s rock and heavy metal from the likes of Motley Crue and Billy Idol which doesn’t quite fit in with some of the sequences they’ve been matched up with. There is an extended sequence featuring a guy on a motorbike with a samurai sword whilst a thundering heavy metal song blasts away in the background.

Like many Italian horror films of the late 70s and 80s, Demons has spawned a ridiculous number of ‘sequels’ – only one true sequel but a whole host of other films which have alternate titles using ‘Demons’ in them.

 

Demons is one of my favourite guilty pleasures – an immensely entertaining horror film with lots of spark and ideas, utterly ridiculous and beyond fathoming at times, and buckets of blood and grisly special effects. A roller coaster ride of epic 80s Italian splatter at it’s finest.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Beyond, The (1981)

The Beyond (1981)

Behind this doorway lie the terrifying and unspeakable secrets of hell. No one who sees it lives to describe it. And you shall live in darkness for all eternity.

In Louisiana’s Seven Doors Hotel in 1927, a lynch mob murders an artist named Schweick, who was in the middle of finishing a grotesque painting which could open one of the Seven Doors of Death, allowing the dead to cross into the world of the living. Several decades later, Liza Merrill, a young woman from New York, inherits the hotel and plans to re-open it. Renovating the hotel activates the hell portal, and she contends with increasingly strange incidents as the dead begin to cross over into the real world.

 

It was extremely difficult narrowing the plot down to such a small synopsis, but I think I’ve done a decent job in simplifying a narrative which doesn’t really have much else to say than ‘weird stuff happens because of a portal to Hell.’ The Beyond is Italian horror at it’s most infuriatingly strongest – some stomach-churning gore set pieces but without a coherent narrative to link everything together in an acceptable form. The second in director Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy (along with City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery), The Beyond is yet another case of the ‘Godfather of Gore’ going for broke where his strengths lie but failing to keep it all glued together when he isn’t dripping the screen with splatter.

The Beyond can be best described as a vivid nightmare, filled with bleak and depressing images, an oppressive and brooding atmosphere and a general sense that things won’t turn out the way we’ve come to expect from a UK/US horror. This is where the film’s strengths lie – because you have no clue what is going on, thanks to the fractured narrative, just go with the flow and expected the unexpected. Chances are, that’s the only way you’re going to survive this because trying to predict what will happen next is largely impossible and will just lead to frustration. I first watched this about ten years ago, hadn’t got a clue what was going on, became bored and disengaged. My recent second viewing at least allowed me to see it from a different angle and it was all the better for it, rather than trying to piece together the story and make some sense from it. Amidst all of the randomness and copious use of drawn-out shots, there is some decent cinematography and a few bits where the film threatens to fulfil it’s promise. There’s an effective score from Fabio Frizzi which adds to the ambiance and with all of the zombies, supernatural goings-on and ghosts present, Fulci certainly covers all of the bases. It’s a shame that the zombie finale is so bland and low-key and seems to have been tacked on simply for the added-on value of zombies.

The Beyond was originally on the UK’s ‘Video Nasties’ list in the 1980s as one of 33 films which were never prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, but which could have led to the police seizing the film from retailers if they felt the material in question was in breach of the Act. The Beyond was dropped from the list when the BBFC realised they had already made cuts to the cinema version. Nevertheless, the uncut version remained elusive until 2001. I guess everyone got their knickers in a twist back in the 80s because The Beyond isn’t any less gory than a number of other big horror releases from the time period. If you think you’re going to survive a Fulci horror without seeing one of his ‘eye-popping’ gore effects, then you’re mistaken! You’re also in for a bonus treat as eyeballs are both scraped out from the front in one scene and pushed out from the back of the skull in another. Try making it through any of these moments without squirming – eyes are the killers for me as far as gory effects go and any sort of trauma to them just brings out the wincing. Another trademark Fulci gore sequence, the throat ripping, is also present as one woman is on the receiving end of a dog’s bite. Bodies are also dissolved in lime and acid, with various levels of effectiveness. In some scenes, the gore is cartoonish and so obviously a dummy/mannequin head or prop being used. Whilst some of them don’t look convincing nowadays, you’ve got to give them some credit for trying to create something out of virtually nothing (as far as budget goes). This is definitely not a film for the squeamish, regardless of the varying quality of the effects.

Fulci favourite Catriona MacColl returns in an unrelated lead role again, doing her utmost to make some sense of the nonsensical script. Not only is MacColl an attractive lady but she’s a bit of a prototype for the strong feminine lead roles that would come later in the genre. She’s not the helpless, screaming damsel-in-distress type but a character who works almost equally with the male lead, David Warbeck, to get to the bottom of the mystery. This isn’t a character-driven film and it’s to their credit that both MacColl and Warbeck do their best to hold it together as Hell rains down upon them.

 

Some say it’s Fulci’s best work and though I can understand the reasoning behind that, I much prefer Zombie Flesh Eaters (to give Zombi it’s UK title) or City of the Living Dead. Sometimes surreal, sometimes crazy, always gory and other times just plain ridiculous, The Beyond is a nightmarish film which will drive you insane with it’s lack of logic and story progression but sicken and repulse you with it’s visceral punches. If you’ve never seen it before, my advice is to watch it twice before coming to a final judgement.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988)

Terrorists steal a secret toxin from a secret military base which infects one of them during the botched heist. He is promptly killed by the army and his body is incinerated. However the ash produced from the incinerator gets into the air and the toxin proceeds to reawaken the dead as flesh-hungry monsters. A trio of soldiers on leave help a group of teenagers stranded in the outskirts of town fend off the zombies. All the while, the army is trying to prevent the spread of the toxin by forming a quarantine zone and killing anyone who comes out of it.

 

Bear with me here. This is a review for Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (to give the film the name that it received on the UK DVD release that I watched). However its original title is Zombi 3. You see it’s a supposedly a sequel to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, which is more commonly known as Zombie Flesh Eaters. And Zombi was the name given to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead when it was released in Italy, to which Fulci’s Zombi 2 was marketed as a sequel. This is all well and good because to throw a further spanner in the works, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (this film) has nothing to do with any of the films made by anyone before it and instead seems to be an Italian knock-off of Return of the Living Dead, complete with rock music opening sequence and a zombie epidemic that is caused through the ashes of a cremated zombie. And for good measure the film also includes ideas from The Crazies and The Birds, just to cover all of its bases. So with all of this in mind, it’s time to get cracking with the review.

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 will never win any awards for the quality of its final output but I have to say that, unashamedly, it’s one of my favourite zombie flicks simply for the fact that it’s a lot of goofy fun. Its uber-trash: terribly-edited, badly scripted, features a random plot which zips all over the place for the sake of creating set pieces and contains some jokey zombie make-up effects. But if you like cheese, including flying zombie heads that stealth-attack from freezers and the US army developing the gas canister which they worrying call Death One, then you’re going to have a field day with this one.

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 has little plot. Once the virus has spread and zombies are on the loose, then it becomes little more than one chase-and-escape scene after the next as the characters attempt to flee for their lives from the hordes. I guess the writers had a great time coming up with set pieces but having to build a film around them seems like an ask too much. The film generally repeats itself over and over again, as a couple of characters split up from the others, go looking for something and then end up being attacked and eaten by the zombies. Rarely anyone survives whenever they’ve been the focus of the film for the last five minutes! Thankfully there’s a rather generous cast to dwindle down for the finale so you’re never a few minutes away from another flesh feast. And feast you shall because the effects team have a field day with the kills in this one. Aforementioned flying zombie head aside (because it looks rubbish), there’s a whole array of meaty dispatches which happen regularly and culminate with a zombie baby.

The ‘Godfather of Gore’ Lucio Fulci directed most of this but Bruno Mattei took over the reins and finished the film at some point when Fulci fell seriously ill mid-shoot with only fifty minutes filmed. Mattei was asked to devise a secondary plot to pad the film out with new actors and the result is a jarring and blatantly obvious dual-plot film which rarely crosses threads in any cohesive manner. You get the feeling you are watching two films.

It’s pretty easy to spot who filmed what though as Mattei, not noted for his amazing films, apparently just added loads of things that he thought would look good to the film. Fulci’s moments have tension and a sense of atmosphere and dread. His scenes are properly shot, constructed as best as they could be and generally give you the sense that the guy knew what he was doing behind the camera, even if it didn’t translate well in the final film. His scenes include the shot of the zombies waiting outside the hotel with lots of fog blowing around, eerie blue lights back-lighting the figures and a haunting score building up anticipation of the attack. In other words, the best bits of the film. Mattei’s scenes are blatantly hack-job quality, with all the trademarks of his other low brow horror films like Zombie Creeping Flesh (don’t ask what the name is supposed to mean) and Monster Shark in evidence here.

Perhaps this also explains why the zombies act differently depending on the requirements of the scene. Some of the zombies can run, some walk and amble around slowly, some hide away in the bushes or behind walls and spring out at their victims, others just let them walk past without batting an undead eyelid and some pull ninja-like moves. Some of them even start to use weapons like machetes. I think it was George A. Romero who once said that as soon as zombies started to move quickly and act human, then they might as well be any other cinematic monster. Zombies with weapons and running at full pace towards their unarmed and injured victims seems to be a bit of a mismatch in my eyes. I don’t know whether this inconsistency was down to the duel directing but it’s annoying, frustrating and really harms the film.

 

Far too disjointed to be anything but a cheesy midnight viewing with a few mates and beers, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is an unbelievably idiotic, incoherent and inconsistent splatter flick that does deserve a lot of the flak it gets from fans of Italian horror – but I can’t help but be entertained by its nonsensical charms. It was one of my first forays into Italian horror and therefore holds a unique place in my cinematic splatter education, becoming one of my favourite zombie films. Plus the soundtrack is rather good!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)

They eat the living

After a chemical leak at the Hope Centre in Papua New Guinea (an organisation devoted to feeding underdeveloped countries) turns its staff into flesh-eating zombies, a four-man commando squad led by Mike London are sent to investigate. They run into a TV news crew led by celebrity reporter Lea, who are after the same story, but what they discover is that the area is overrun with zombies and the virus is quickly spreading.

 

Known in various countries as anything from Virus to Hell of the Living Dead to Zombie Creeping Flesh (which is the guise under which I’m reviewing this), it makes no difference what title is slapped on the credits, there’s one thing that will never change: this is a terrible film. Coming in the midst of the Italian zombie and cannibal horror boom of the late 70s/1980s, Zombie Creeping Flesh is like a ‘best of’ selection box, featuring all of the hallmarks of this exploitation sub-genre (cheapness, nastiness and violence) and throwing in as much from both the zombie films and the cannibal films it is stealing from.

I’ll give credit to the overall plot idea – that the rich nations of the world have developed a toxin which turns the population of the Third World into cannibals, letting them eat each other so that we can pilfer their resources – but in the hands of cult Italian exploitation director Bruno Mattei, arguably one of the worst directors I’ve had the misfortune of enduring, the overall idea was never going to matter. That’s because Mattei does his usual hack job, helming what only can be called a complete shambles of a production. The narrative is a mess, more so than Mattei’s usual films, and seems to have been stuck together with only the flimsiest of ideas.

Not only does the story make no sense and flitter from scene to scene with little to no furthering of the plot, but Mattei feels the need to add even more randomness into proceedings by splicing in all manner of nonsensical stock footage of animals and the rain forest. Getting bored of a scene between actors? Mattei goes ahead and slaps in some random footage of an owl in mid-flight. Or maybe a monkey flying through the trees might be more suited to your tastes. The stock footage inserts don’t even come during natural transitions – they’re just inserted into the film whenever the editor has either got bored, forgotten to edit properly or made a massive cock-up and had to put something in as a filler. Words alone can’t really describe how bad and disjointed this footage is.

The script continues to baffle the mind the further the film progresses. Despite knowing and being constantly reminded by their crazy comrade that the only way to kill the zombies is to shoot them in the head, the bulk of the soldiers continue to fire away without a care in the world, frustrated at their attempts to stop the hordes from getting closer. The zombies move slowly and I mean slowly. Mostly it’s meant to be for dramatic effect, as hapless victims stand petrified to the spot and allow the zombies to get closer to them, arms outstretched and moaning horribly. But it has the tendency to slow down action scenes to a crawl. It’s an agonising wait for the zombies to catch up to their ‘meals’ and some characters see it as an opportunity to prance around them and taunt them. Not a good move amidst a swarm of flesh-eaters. Some of the zombies have a habit of remaining perfectly still and allowing the humans to walk up on them from behind to see if they’re ok – cue the quick turn and face the camera to reveal the zombie ready and eager to bite! Pretty clever tactic if you ask me but what happens if no one comes up to you?

For no apparent reason, the survivors run into a cannibal tribe in the middle of the rain forest. Well I say for no apparent reason but knowing Bruno Mattei, the reason is perfectly clear – it’s to pad out the running time with a load of copious stock footage of an actual tribe from Papua New Guinea. The footage of the burial ceremony was real and has been lifted from a documentary – kind of a tasteless thing to do by sticking it right in the middle of a tacky exploitation film where the recently deceased is then turned into a flesh-eating zombie. It’s no wonder there’s so little dialogue during the ten to fifteen minutes of screen time that this portion of the film receives. It’s such a distracting sidestep from the zombie carnage that preceded it that you wonder whether the survivors really have a clue what is going on, let alone the audience.

Mattei has also copiously ‘borrowed’ the soundtrack from other films scored by Goblin. I say ‘borrowed’ because apparently the producers allowed him access to the music but it still reeks of cheapness. There are cues from Dawn of the Dead and Contamination in there. Whilst the soundtracks are a little jarring because they don’t really correspond to what is happening on screen, the fact that they’re kick ass soundtracks in their own right means at least they’re getting appreciated once more.

At least there’s one thing you can expect from a Mattei film and that’s copious amounts of gore. The bulk of the film features the usual neck biting and arm chewing zombie action that you’d expect. It’s in the finale where the money shot lies: an awesome tongue-ripping, fist-smashing, eye-popping sequence in which one character suffers a horrific fate at the hands of an off-screen assailant. It’s a great set piece which comes about thirty seconds before the credits roll.

 

Zombie Creeping Flesh is one of the tackiest zombie films ever to come out of Italy, a derivative, badly-made mess which stops and starts as much as one of its walking dead stars. A truly bad movie on every level, there is some enjoyment to be had out of identifying how many other films Zombie Creeping Flesh rips off in some way but even hardened Italian horror veterans will find this tough work.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

After a space capsule returns without its compliment of astronauts and only strange blue rocks in their place, psychic cave explorer Thelma receives one such similar rock as a gift from a friend. Taking it with her on a spelunking trip into underground caves, Thelma and her friends soon realise that the rocks are host to alien lifeforms. Once hatched, it appears that mankind is no longer the dominating force on Earth.

 

Ah the good old Italians and their shameless exploitation. During the late 70s and early 80s, Italian cinema saw an explosion of films ‘loosely based’ on successful American films – by ‘loosely based’ I mean these films were billed as ‘sequels’ to US blockbusters (like Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, which was marketed as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, released as Zombi in Italy – confused?). These unauthorised sequels drew the ire of Hollywood but, in the case of Alien 2: On Earth, where Ridley Scott’s seminal classic Alien was the target, the courts actually decided in favour of the Italians due to some obscure 1930s book called Alien and the inability of anyone to trademark the Alien name at that point. It’s a good job that we film buffs can distinguish the difference between a true sequel (Aliens) and a dodgy hack-job cash-in like this! Think of The Asylum or SyFy and the sort of terrible cash-ins they release today like War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave or Titanic II (yes that does exist!) to give you a flavour of what these older films were like.

Alien 2: On Earth is terrible. There’s no sugar-coating the issue. Even as a failed ‘sequel’ it doesn’t even attempt to make any connections to Ridley Scott’s film – I’m assuming the opening shots of the astronaut landing on Earth are meant to be Ripley and the emergency shuttle from Alien? Who knows because there are so many ideas floating around in the first fifteen minutes that it’s almost impossible to get the gist of what is happening. As well as the space landing, we’re introduced to a psychic spelunker (the main character) who foresees lots of doom and then a kid finds a rock on the beach which can explode and melt away faces. It’s a trying time to sit through and Alien 2: On Earth trudges its way slowly along, without any real focal point, and clearly just padding out a lot of screen time before the alien finally appears.

Thankfully, the low budget doesn’t really show that much once the action switches the caves. There is a decent amount of suspense created with the minimal use of lighting in the dark caverns and, coupled with the use of the lamps on the characters’ helmets, the cinematography works better than it should do. Though nowhere near the same level of sophisticated or claustrophobic underground terror, these scenes reminded me of The Descent. I’m not sure whether they filmed on a set or real caves but it’s a credit to the film that the difference is hard to tell. Even if they’re not being attacked, there is still something unsettling and nervy about these scenes underground.

It’s in these caves where the alien finally starts to do what all sci-fi horror film aliens have to do and that’s pick off the cast. With about thirty minutes to go, Alien 2: On Earth does wield out the big guns in the form of its gory set pieces. The one trump card that the film has going for it is the practical gore effects. But if you go onto Youtube and search for the trailer, you’ll pretty much see everything in that and save you the job of sitting through the rest of the film. There’s a head explosion, melted faces, an eye-bursting moment, a gruesome internal beheading and people being crushed inside rocks. Throw in almost a full can of red paint for added effect and its decent stuff but really not worth the wait if you watch the trailer first.

The other disappointing thing is the actual title beast. The alien is never really seen in any specific appearance and seems to have multiple forms depending on the situation. Is there more than one alien? Do they come in different types? Rocks come to life to kill people. There are small flying worm-like creatures. The alien has the ability to control human bodies and make their heads explode. Then in the final scenes of the film, we get an alien POV where it appears to be some form of messy blob-like substance. As no explanation is given to the alien at any point, we’re left a little baffled as to the creature’s true appearance.

 

Alien 2: On Earth packages everything together with a creepy synth soundtrack which, coupled with the underground cinematography and borderline nasty gore scenes, do offer some moments of genre delight. However the continually-telegraphed scares, the ultra-low budget which forces the decent stuff to be put on the back burner in favour of time-consuming stock footage and conversation-heavy scenes, and general sense of ‘what the hell is going on?’ doesn’t allow Alien 2: On Earth to be anything but a long-forgotten footnote in Italian horror history. If you’re going to pretend that you’re a sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi horror films ever made, at least make an effort!

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Anthroprophagus (1980)

Anthropophagus (1980)

It’s not fear that tears you apart…it’s him!

A group of tourists take a trip to a remote Greek island where they find that the local townspeople have all disappeared. After their boat drifts away, and with no phone service or electricity, the group takes refuge in one of the abandoned houses. It isn’t long before they discover why there is no one left on the island – a crazed cannibal with a taste for human flesh is prowling the streets.

 

An ultra-notorious Italian shocker, Anthroprophagus was one of the infamous ‘Video Nasty’ titles that the UK banned in the early 80s. So shocking was one particular scene in this film that Anthroprophagus was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1984 and banned from publication for over eighteen years. It joined an elite list of films to be given the boot from the video store shelves including The House by the Cemetery, Cannibal Ferox and The Last House on the Left. It’s laughable to realise that the film was passed totally uncut in 2015, just showing how times have changed and how much more de-sensitized to horror films we are nowadays.

Like a lot of the titles that were successfully prosecuted, Anthroprophagus became something of a Holy Grail for horror, where a dodgy black market of rough VHS copies were traded behind closed doors. If you wanted to see it, you’d know an uncle or the best mate of a mate who had a pre-certification copy stashed away in a loft somewhere. But this is 2016 and what was shocking in 1980 is nowhere near as bad today – not exactly saintly however! Anthroprophagus’ reputation precedes it, overshadowing it somewhat much like the reputations for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When a film comes with a hefty reputation, nine of out ten times it usually ends up being a let-down.

Anthroprophagus is one of those nine out of ten times. What a complete dud of a horror film! Being branded a Video Nasty, you’d expect something, well, nasty or even remotely graphic and disturbing. The only reason I can see Anthroprophagus being banned was for the infamous scene in which the cannibal eats a fetus. Yes, it’s pretty gross to see though this is more to do with the thought and implications of what he’s doing rather than actually watching him tuck into a piece of butcher’s meat. The rest of the kills are tame and fairly weak given the nature of other Italian horror films from around the same time period and what they were doing in regards to gore. Ironically the best kill is saved for the end of the film and features a pick axe and a load of intestines. It’s scant pay-off for the previous eighty or so minutes.

Talky and with a plodding pace, Anthroprophagus will try and test the patience of hardened genre fans. Those weaned on giallo or late 70s/early 80s Italian horror flicks may be able to cope with the tedious speed of the narrative but anyone dipping in to this type of film for the first time will find it immensely hard going. With little plot, the uninteresting characters mope around the desolate Greek village with little purpose for the good part of forty minutes. They just go through the motions, in particular the guys who show no distinguishing features and I’d even forgotten their names by the end. Whilst this is annoying as far as the film goes, its impact on the viewer will be more so – total disengagement from the proceedings. This means that when things do perk up in the final ten minutes, you’re already so bored that you don’t really care what happens as long as the film finishes. At least the shots of the empty village look eerie and, coupled with the suitably atmospheric synth score, add up to some decent atmosphere. It’s a shame that nothing actually happens.

The film’s best asset is its imposing killer. This cannibal monster of a man looks intimidating and has a powerful physical presence but he’s hardly used – it’s a good fifty minutes into the film before we first see him. On a number of occasions, the film teases us with appearances, where something has happened or we see a point-of-view shot. But then nothing. This can be effectively managed and we know that the killer is lurking around somewhere close. But to be scared, we need something for us to be scared of and not just thunder and lightning or cheap scares with cats jumping out from nowhere. His eventual reveal, hiding behind a closing door, is good and director Joe D’Amato, famous his skin flicks and cheap horror efforts, uses natural lighting to slowly reveal his disfigured facial features. George Eastman, who also co-wrote, stars as the cannibal and brings the film to life in the final fifteen minutes. There is a chilling sequence inside some catacombs (where aforementioned fetus is eaten) and there’s a great stalking sequence where he climbs up a ladder after Tisa Farrow – but this is literally the final ten minutes of the film. Far too little, too late to save it.

 

Anthroprophagus has clearly relied upon one or two shock moments of infamy to become the cult classic that it is today but don’t be fooled by the reputation. You can do a whole lot worse when it comes to Italian horror but this is nowhere near as deserving its status that it has. There is something memorable about Eastman’s cannibal though and he’ll stick in your mind long after watching. I guess that counts for something.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆