DVD. Screen. Region Free. 18.
Back in 1988, Lucio Fulci was still regarded as a consummate horror meister who’d taken some time out to dabble in other genres (e.g. with the likes of Conquest, Rome 2033 – Fighter Centurions and The Devil’s Honey) and consolidate former giallo glories (with Murder-Rock). It’s unlikely that many people had seen Aenigma or Zombi 3 by this point. No doubt those who had were attributing the shortcomings of the latter to Bruno Mattei… and who (with the exception of The Great Theresa from City Of The Living Dead) could possibly have foreseen such upcoming miseries as Touch Of Death or The Ghosts Of Sodom? Every reason then, to believe that the old boy would soon be back knocking out gloriously gory, low-budgeted pasta paura classics… so it makes sense that the producers of this minor Gianni Martucci effort would stump up some dough for the privilege of hyping it with the banner “Lucio Fulci presents” (the German publicists, who presumably had never seen The Beyond or Don’t Torture A Duckling, took things a hyperbolic step too far, dubbing I Frati Rossi “The Masterpiece of Lucio Fulci”). Unfortunately, in retrospect the pimping out and consequent devaluation of the Fulci brand can be seen as just one more accelerating mis-step in a career that was tumbling towards its bottom rung faster than Ania Pieroni’s severed head in The House By The Cemetery.
The “action” here kicks off with a smarmy yuppy wandering around the spacious grounds of a villa he’s just inherited and encountering a mysterious hooded violinist. Letting that one pass, he lets himself in and is soon on the trail of an equally mysterious bare-assed chick who leads him down into the cellar and, just when he’s congratulating himself on his good fortune, swings around and decapitates him with a jewelled sword. Things now flash back “50 years previously” and just to establish an authentic 1930s vibe, Robert Gherghi (Gerardo Amato) has tuned his radiogram to some vaguely jazzy music that’s being played on one of Casio’s cheaper, cheesier electronic keyboards.
Wandering around those grounds, he finds winsome Ramona Icardi (Lara Wendel) perched on a tree branch, evading the attentions of his Alsatian. I’d like to believe that this pooch is some way related to Dicky in The Beyond, though without checking the Kennel Club records there’s no way of knowing. I think I’m on safer grounds to suggest that the wobbly joke shop spider on the branch which also menaces Ramona was retrieved from the props hamper from that film (is it for this that Fulci was credited with “special effects” on The Red Monks?)
Anyway, after a cursory romance, Robert and Ramona tie the knot. But why is he so reluctant to consummate their relationship, despite the fact that Ramona is clearly gagging for it? Well, believe it or not, he’s got a chapter of red-robed Templars living in his basement (didn’t the real estate agent warn him about this?) who are expecting to use her as a virgin sacrifice on the upcoming second sextile of Saturn. As presented by Martucci, these Templars are a pretty disappointing bunch, bearing less resemblance to Amando De Ossorio’s immortal Blind Dead than to some of those whip-wielding monks in Rialto’s Edgar Wallace adaptations (sorry for all the recent Wallace references… having just slogged our way through Universum’s 33 disc box set, we at the House Of Freudstein are currently viewing life through a krimi-encrusted lens).
Ramona’s sexual frustration boils over into full-blown “woman scorned” hellishness when she discovers that Robert’s been happily bonking his obliging secretary Priscilla (Malisa Longo, who’s been dropping her drawers in these things since the late ’60s… Malisa, we salute you). She allows a passing lounge lizard lothario to divest her of her pesky cherry (promptly disqualifying herself from that upcoming sacrifice) and also consults a local notary, who fills her in on the historical gipsy-raping shenanigans that kick-started all this shit in the first place.
The clumsy use of this “flashback-within-a-flashback” only serves to remind the viewer how deftly Fulci, in his prime, deployed the same device during his Beatrice Cenci (1969). Anyway, this forbidden knowledge enables Ramona to turn the tables on Robert in a manner that is simultaneously senseless and eminently predictable… and that’s your lot, really.
The Red Monks is a fairly typical example of mid-late 80’s Italian Horror vainly attempting to revive an only recently faded glory. To be fair, it’s nowhere near as painful to watch as some of the efforts Fulci himself directed during the final decade of his life. If you’ve seen The Ogre (Lamberto Bava’s 1989 attempt to “do” the aforementioned House By The Cemetery”), you’ll know the kind of mid-table mediocrity to expect. Once you’ve located it on some charity shop shelf, coughed up your quid, brought it home and watched it, you won’t hate yourself too much, but I can’t imagine that you’ll be in any hurry to repeat this particular viewing experience.
The moral of our story? Beware Lucio Fulci, presenting gifts… especially when Uranus is entering the second sextile of Saturn!