Tag Italian

Contamination (1980)

Contamination (1980)

They Invade Your Body … Control Your Mind … Blow You Apart!

A cargo ship pulls into New York Harbor with no one on board. The police find a cargo full of green pulsating eggs which burst when in contact with humans, spreading a green slime that seeps into the skin and causes their victims to explode with a hideous chest-bursting death. A research team is called in to trace where the eggs came from and the trail leads them to former astronaut Hubbard, who returned from a mission to Mars years earlier rambling about alien life forms.

 

Italians used to do rip-offs better than anyone so needless to say this exercise in splatter is simply a thinly-veiled clone of Alien, or at least a whole film based around the most infamous moment in that film, being John Hurt’s chest-bursting exercise. To create a film entirely around one cool moment (albeit such an iconic moment) is a bit of a tough ask and Contamination does it’s best to flesh it out.

The first thirty minutes are quite promising with a cool opening scene aboard the deserted boat, complete with lots of exploded bodies and gore. Unfortunately the film runs out of steam quite early when Ian McCulloch’s astronaut character comes on board and the investigation into what is happening picks up pace. It’s rather dull and talky and doesn’t lead anywhere in a hurry as the characters go from one clue to the next. You know most of the budget has already been blown on the copious amount of exploding people here so the rest of the film is constantly trying to better it.

However you’ll have to keep watching, as dull and monotonous as it may be, as the end third picks up pace again when it’s revealed that behind the exploding eggs is a hideous alien, trying to take over the planet.  Not since the 50s have you seen anything as ridiculous as this thing at the end. Criticism aside, it probably works in the film’s favour because it’s just pure cheese from the start and never pretends to be anything else.

As I’ve already stated, the film has been written around the idea of someone’s chest blowing up. The make-up effects for the chest-bursting moments are pretty gruesome, although it’s repeated once too often for my liking. They always happen in slow-motion for added impact and you can tell when they’re coming because one moment a character is a skinny as a rake and the next they have a huge padded chest ready to blow open. The effect looks great the first time, not so by the time the film has ended and pretty much everyone has blown up. There’s also a fantastically haunting synth-soundtrack from Goblin which gives the film that distinctive Italian feel. Say what you want about the actual films but there are some very gifted composers out there who really left their mark in these films. The soundtrack is arguably the best bit of the film and the signature theme is one of my favourites, giving the finale a powerful kick as the characters fight and try and to survive as the giant alien locks in its hypnotic gaze.

One final note goes to Ian McCulloch who puts in a great performance. I’ve seen some of his work in these Italian horror films and the guy never looks like he’s slumming it, despite clearly knowing what sort of trash he’s starring in. McCulloch has a strong presence on screen and gives the film a much needed seriousness.

 

Contamination is your typical Italian horror – gory set pieces are preferred over pretty much everything else including story and logic. But whereas with some of its brethren, this one actually manages to hold together a reasonable plot and doesn’t just go off on a tangent. Coupled with a solid lead performance and a rich soundtrack, this has been unfairly forgotten behind some of the more infamous films of it’s time.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

City of the Living Dead (1980)

City of the Living Dead (1980)

The Dead Shall Rise And Walk The Earth

In the town of Dunwich, a priest commits suicide which opens the gates of Hell and sets about a terrifying chain reaction of events which, if unstopped, will lead to the dead rising up from the grave. A psychic in New York has the terrible vision of these gates opening and, with the help of a reporter, heads to Dunwich to investigate.

 

The first entry in infamous Italian director Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell Trilogy, City of the Living Dead is like the marmite of horror films. You’re either going to love it for it’s outlandish approach and the gory set pieces or you’re going to hate it because it makes not a blind bit of sense and can be hard to follow at times. There’s little in the way of middle ground here but I’m going to try and take it, although I don’t quite get the love for City of the Living Dead as I do for some of Fulci’s other films. Heavily censored for many years in the UK because of its content in the wake of the ‘video nasties’ scandal, it wasn’t released uncut until 2001 but now everyone is able to enjoy this in its original form.

Let’s get the awesome stuff out of the way with first though. I’d question anyone who says that this doesn’t ooze some ether-worldly atmosphere. City of the Living Dead reeks of doom from the opening scene with the village of Dunwich alternating between gusty winds and being drenched in fog. The atmosphere is constantly brooding, with Fabio Frizz’s superbly-ominous soundtrack highlighting the impending terror that will be unleashed upon the Earth. It’s a living nightmare, with each frame of the film ready to burst out from the screen and grab a hold of the audience. There’s always unease and always the feeling that something nasty is literally just around the corner. And this is usually the case, with a variety of zombies which seem to appear and disappear at random (one of many plot holes) as well as the priest, who has now turned into some kind of demonic preacher who can make eyes bleed through his gaze. They didn’t call Fulci ‘The Godfather of Gore’ for no reason and City of the Living Dead contains some of his most memorable moments as the nightmare comes to horrifying reality for some of the characters. We’ve got a couple of unlucky victims who have their brains ripped out by having their heads crushed and there’s the aforementioned eye-bleeding moments.

It is the film’s two major gore set pieces  that are some of the most visually-disgusting but outstandingly-produced set pieces you’re ever likely to see. The first involves a girl puking up her entire digestive system and intestines out through her mouth – it needs to be seen to be believed if you can ‘stomach’ it. The second involves a pervert having a drill slowly inserted into the side of his head by an overly-protective father who thought he was trying it on with his daughter. The scene looks frighteningly realistic and total credit must go to the special effects team who give the illusion that everything witnessed is a continual shot. Possibly the most effective shock scene in the film is the one which doesn’t need gore to work and that’s when Catriona MacColl’s psychic character is presumed dead at the beginning of the film and buried alive. Anyone with a remote fear of this should be advised to stay well as its claustrophobic and unsettling in its depiction.

But this is where the problem lies and it’s a common theme across Fulci’s output. The film makes little sense. I can understand the film working as a simple collage of nightmarish visions designed to replicate the randomness of dreams but he could at least make an effort to get everything to gel better than it does. Literally all the story you need to know is from the opening ten minutes or so when the priest hangs himself and then the physic tells everyone that the gates of Hell have been opened. City of the Living Dead seems to just go on that bone alone and it’s not enough to really keep it from struggling along at times, especially when there’s nothing supernatural happening on screen. The flimsy story simply serves as a loose connection to a series of gruesome set pieces. We never find out why one man’s decision to take his own life spells death for the rest of humanity. We never know why these zombies are able to transport in and out of locations at will. The ending also makes no sense whatsoever – understandable given that they ran out of time to do re-shoots – but I can only review what’s in front of me! And as an end product, the final ‘twist’ in the film is ridiculous. No more so than the characters that have just survived a confrontation with the undead priest.

Speaking of which, the characters suffer from the same fate as the story in that they’re thinly-written and poorly constructed. Both Catriona MacColl and Christopher George do alright in their roles but they play second fiddle to the horrors around them and the robotic dialogue does them little favours. They’ve also clearly had to re-dub their voices over the soundtrack which adds a bit of jarring to the sound, especially when some of the dubbing is a little over-the-top. They’re the only standouts from the cast which features many unnecessary minor characters who serve little purpose other than clog up the screen and provide extra ammunition for the zombies to rip apart (for instance the whole sub-plot with the pervert could have been easily removed).

 

I’ll go out on a limb and advise people to check out Fulci’s far superior Zombie Flesh Eaters (to give it the UK title) before they decide whether they want to venture into his other works. City the Living Dead works purely as a nightmarish journey with some excellent imagery, an amazing mood and some of horror’s finest gore moments. But aside from the gruesome gloss, there’s little substance and I’m sure you could tear the film apart if you tried to piece it all together coherently.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killer Crocodile (1989)

Killer Crocodile (1989)

A group of environmentalists discover that someone has been dumping radioactive drums along a Santa Domingo river which in turn has also mutated a giant crocodile. As attacks begin to happen along the river, the company responsible for dumping the material blames the environmentalists for the spate of deaths in order to cover their tracks.

 

The Italians used to make rip-offs better (or maybe that should be worse) than anyone else. Two of their favourite films to rip-off were Dawn of the Dead and Jaws, both of which are the recipients of many terrible attempts to cash in on their success and popularity. One of the more infamous copies of Jaws (the ‘pretty watchable in a bad way’ The Great White) was even banned in America for being such a knock-off. So it’s quite surprising to see such a blatant Jaws clone come out around fourteen years too late, especially when the idea is to cash in on a popular film as soon as possible. But then whether it is four months, fourteen years or forty years, Killer Crocodile was never going to be anything but a dud.

Many of the same problems that face these Italian films are evident from the get go. Extremely bad dubbing, a terrible script, some poor actors, a complete lack of atmosphere and suspense and an over-reliance on cruder shock methods like more gore are the film’s problems, not to mention some totally obvious copying from Jaws. Taking into account the obligatory monster POV shots, there’s plenty of other ripping. The opening scene is almost a like for copy of Jaws, with a lone female swimmer going out for a swim, being attacked in the water whilst a guy sits on the shore. The music is very John Williams-esque and it’s easy to spot his signature ‘shark’ motif in there, albeit it twisted around a little bit to avoid copyright problems!

After the first third, the copying seems to cease and the film veers off on its own random tangents, only to crank back up again with the introduction of the token ‘Quint’ character who wants to hunt down and kill the crocodile. Not once does the film manage to create any shocks or tension though, instead creating plenty of unintentional laughs with the situations the characters find themselves in or just the actions of the characters themselves. The characters are idiots – every single one of them. They just find more stupid ways to get into trouble near the water. If there’s a killer crocodile on the loose in the swamp, what’s the best way to avoid getting eaten? Avoid the swamp entirely! But here we have people who hang over the edges of boats waiting to be knocked into the water. We’ve got guys who venture out in the smallest, cheapest boats possible. Everyone seems so aggressive too and they’re always barking their lines out in anger. I know it’s the badly botched job on the dubbing but it adds a comic effect to the tone which it doesn’t need. The hunter character even resorts to calling the crocodile names in an attempt to hurt its feelings. I’d much prefer a shotgun myself. Despite shooting it many times with an elephant gun and making little difference, he decides to leap onto its back and stab it repeatedly with a boat hook. The scene is totally absurd but at least it raises a chuckle.

I’m not sure what to make of the crocodile but at least I can see where a lot of the budget went. It certainly looks fake but it’s big, pretty fearsome in close-ups and you get to see a lot of it. At least there is an animatronic crocodile which is used for interaction during attack scenes so you see characters being bitten and dragged underwater by the crocodile. These are not victims of stock footage attacks like many of it’s genre ilk opt to display and it was made in a time before CGI come to prominence. It’s an old fashioned mechanical monster and it earns brownie points for that. The crocodile doesn’t do an awful lot though except swim around in a straight line, bump into boats and roar and growl a lot.

Being predominantly water-based, obviously the crocodile needs people to come to it and so takes to smashing into boats to knock people overboard. The crocodile would have worked a lot better had the film actually kept it hidden away for longer to build up the anticipation of its first appearance. But you get to see it early on so there’s no big pay-off towards the end. Once you’ve seen it attack once, you’ve seen the rest of the attacks as they’re all pretty much the same.

 

Killer Crocodile isn’t as bad as it probably deserved to be. There are a few decent moments, the crocodile at least looks real enough and it gets reasonably well fed, it’s just that the film is so dumb, so derivative and so badly made. If you’re a fan of these Italian exploitation films then maybe Killer Crocodile would appeal but to the rest of us, this is one crocodile that needs turning into a fashionable pair of shoes ASAP.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Big Alligator River, The (1979)

The Big Alligator River (1979)

A remote tourist resort in Africa finds itself at the mercy of a huge man-eating crocodile, which is the incarnation of a native god, angered by the intrusion of the tourists on it’s nesting ground. After a few natives are killed, they blame the tourists and launch an attack on the resort. With blood-thirsty natives slaughtering them on the land and a giant crocodile eating them in the river, what hope is there for the survivors?

 

Good ol’ Italian rip-offs. You can’t beat them can you? The late 70s and early 80s saw our pizza-loving neighbours in Europe put their own spin on numerous American classics like Dawn of the Dead, Jaws and Alien. Not just one or two, though – a whole sub-genre has been formed of low-budget Italian rip-offs. The worst thing is that you always expect a few rip-offs to come out after a film has made it big but these tend to diminish within a year or two. But the Italians go into overkill with them and keep making them for countless years later. Here Spielberg’s classic gets the treatment only this time it’s a giant crocodile (quite where they get the ‘alligator’ in the title is unknown). Is it any good? Like most of this genre, you’re going to love it or hate it.

Jaws is the prototype for the monster-on-the-loose film and since then, the formula has changed little. It’s my favourite formula of all time because in the 20+ years since Jaws was released, filmmakers haven’t messed around with it in the slightest. You know that there’s some monster lurking around a small town. You know that the authority figure is worried about a loss of business and ignores the pleas to sort the problem out. You know that there’s one scene where the monster finally shows itself to the public and all hell breaks loose. It’s exactly the same here. And so on. The businessman thinks the story about the crocodile is just nonsense from the natives who want to scare the tourists away. We obviously know better because there wouldn’t be a film if there wasn’t a crocodile. It’s a bit sketchy as to where the film is based. Early moments tend to signal somewhere in South America but then later the tribes look more African and when the credits roll, it was filmed in Sri Lanka! But that’s a pretty mute point in a film like this. Everyone who watches this will watch it for the big beastie of the title munching on people in the river.

The crocodile looks terrible. In the underwater scenes or shots of it swimming, it’s clearly just a blow-up pool toy. It’s got absolutely no movement at all in its head, tail, neck or legs. It just glides in a straight line, sometimes looking like it’s been having a swift whiskey before it started shooting. A few of the bigger head models used for rising out of the water and attacking people look a little more convincing. The attacks are plentiful and there’s a big body count although you don’t really get to see anything nasty, just a bit of bloody water on occasion. The crocodile also has a habit of swimming up and down the river quickly – in one moment it is menacing the tourists at the resort and a few seconds later, it turns up down river to terrorise the two leads. Maybe it is a god after all, capable of appearing in more than one place simultaneously. Sensibly, Martino and his editors do a good job of keeping it off-screen for as much as the story will allow but this does mean that plenty of the film lags as characters constantly argue with each other and dance to horrible music.

Speaking of the leads, again it’s a pretty mute point to talk about them in a film like this as the cast is dubbed so you’re not hearing their original delivery. Barbara Bach does little except look pretty and Claudio Cassinelli becomes the generic rugged-looking hero of the piece. Everyone involved looks pretty bored. There are two exceptions though, one being the inclusion of Bobby Rhodes. Rhodes will forever be remembered as the overly aggressive pimp in the classic Demons film. And Enzo Fisichella plays an extremely seedy gentleman who has no bones about copping off with a young mother and making his intentions clear right in front of her daughter.

 

It’s one of the worst of the cheap efforts from Italy that I think I’ve had the misfortune of watching. Maybe you’ll get some kicks out of it and there is a certain amount of charm to the film. But I want a little more, well creativity, from my rip-offs. I don’t just want a bad rehash of the same elements. I want more monster action, sillier and more absurd moments to laugh at, more gore and more nudity. It’s not a lot to ask for – it’s just that The Big Alligator River doesn’t deliver on any of them.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆