“Sweet Mother Of Mercy, Can’t You Smell That Stink?” Further Fragasso / Mattei Madness From Severin… NIGHT KILLER And ROBOWAR Reviewed

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Night Killer. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Robowar. BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Does the image above suggest a Felliniesque cinematic sensibility? Perhaps there’s a touch of the Bergmanesque about it? Well, unlikely as it may seem, on one of the extras to Severin’s spanky new BD release of Night Killer (1990), writer / director “Clyde Anderson” / Claudio Fragasso states (with admirably straight face) that these were the rarified levels of cinematic attainment to which he was aspiring here. Unfortunately, when his partner in crud (OK, the guy’s dead, let’s be a bit respectful, now)… “his uncredited co-director” Bruno Mattei saw the rushes he declared Fragasso’s wannabe Arthouse classic a dud and (at the insistence of producer Franco Guadenzi) cut in interminable clumsy dance sequences and stuff involving a gonzoid killer in Freddy Krueger mask and kill glove (the latter wobbly prop looking like it would struggle to slice its way through warm butter) before releasing the whole resultant mess in Italy under a title and publicity campaign that suggested it was the second sequel to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (!?!) at exactly the same time as Jeff Burr’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III came out.

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Did Mattei’s revamp do the film any favours? Probably. After spending way too long pondering what Fragasso’s “psychological thriller” cut of the movie would have looked like, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither version was ever going to make a lick of sense, but that Mattei injected sufficient (additional) unintentional laughs into the proceedings to make it worth your while.

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In Virginia Beach, VA, some nut job is raping and killing his way through the local female population. Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman) is the only victim to have survived one of these assaults, only to find herself apparently falling into the clutches of the psycho all over again… but is her captor Axel (Peter Hooten) the same loony as the one with the Freddy mask? And if not, WTF is going on? And should you give a toss? Prepare yourself for one of the stupidest twists in stupid movie history, closely followed by one of the lamest “so, the nightmare is finally over… oh no it isn’t!” codas you’ve ever witnessed. No doubt about it, this is one of the dumbest movie I’ve ever sat still for. Hm, might watch it again tonight…

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In the ’70s and ’80s Tara Buckman compiled a pretty solid CV, appearing in many of the classic TV series of that era. She played in Kojak, The Rockford Files, Baretta, Hart To Hart, Barnaby Jones, CHiPs, T.J. Hooker, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (on which, more below) and not one but two episodes of The Greatest TV Show Ever (and I’ll brook no argument on this score), Quincy ME (including 1979’s Never A Child, in which the irascible coroner battled child pornography, an episode informally banned from UK TV screenings until recently). In 1981 she rubbed shoulders with a shedload of Hollywood A-listers in Hal Needham’s The Cannonball Run. Three years later her career trajectory was describing a downward curve (or not, depending on your personal orientation re trash films) with an appearance in Charles E. Sellier Jr’s miserably tasteless Silent Night, Deadly Night. TB’s resume petered out in the early ’90s (partly, perhaps, for reasons hinted at in some of the bonus interviews on this disc) amid some of Joe D’Amato’s stodgier soft core efforts and the likes of Night Killer. To be fair, she puts in a half-decent performance here, with nary a hint that she considers herself above all the nonsense unfolding around her or of her apparent animosity towards her co-star… again there are hints at the (not entirely PC) grounds she might have had for this in the supplementary materials.

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If only the performance of Peter Hooten as Axel could be dignified with the accolade “half (or even quarter) decent”… having worked his way up through the same TV terrain as Buckman, Hooten made his first inroads into Italian cinema into Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards (yeah, the real one) in 1978, the same year as he filled the mystic threads of Dr. Strange to rather less elegant effect than Bendydick Cucumberpatch in a weedy TV adaptation of the Marvel character’s trans-dimensional exploits. In 1982 Hooten popped up in Joe D’Amato and Luigi Montefiori’s post-Apocalyptic romp 2020 Texas Gladiators and here he is in Night Killer, looking very much like a fish out of water… I mean, for an allegedly intense psycho, he doesn’t half mince around!

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Rossella Drudi, Fragasso’s other half and uncredited co-writer suggests, in one of the accompanying featurettes, that Night Killer is about how sexual assailants penetrate the minds of their victims as devastatingly as their bodies, which smacks of an after-the-fact attempt to claim Night Killer as some kind of influence on Dario Argento’s 1996 giallo The Stendhal Syndrome (itself a pretty awful film, albeit with many less excuses for being so). That’s as may be, but die-hard sleaze film fanatics will be way more interested in such scenes as the one where the masked dude’s in a heated clinch with a floozy, who observes “Ooh Grandma, what a big schlong you have!” and the big reveal of the psycho’s true identity, after which Buckman stabs him in the dick.

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“Ooh, Grandma…”

Additional bonus materials include a trailer and an interview with Fragasso which, like Drudi’s, looks like it was recorded in someone’s home recording studio. He remembers how their disagreement about the editing and promotion of Night Killer led to a temporary estrangement between him and his co-director, though happily they made it up and Claudio was eventually gracious enough to admit to Mattei that he’d been right. Hey Claudio, when it came to spaghetti exploitation, Bruno Mattei is always right!

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Bruno’s Robowar – Robot De Guerra (directed under his trusty “Vincent Dawn” alias in 1988) is an altogether different and ultimately more satisfying kettle of crud, in which a crap (sorry, crack) team of mercenaries / ‘Nam vets and the like are shipped off to a remote and war infested Filipino island to bring down Omega 1, a prototype battle droid that’s gone AWOL / rogue / native and all sorts of other bad places to which you wouldn’t reasonably want a homicidal cyborg to go.

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I love everything about the mercenaries / ‘Nam vets, starting with the fact that they call themselves “The Bad Ass Motherfuckers” (hilariously mistranslated on the English soundtrack as “Big Ass Motherfuckers). I love their ridiculous insistence (mandated by Mattei, apparently) on screaming like loons as they unload the inexhaustible magazines of their machine guns on platoons of acrobatic Filipino extras and stunt men (well, it worked OK for Stallone..) Then there’s their ridiculous designations: “Diddy or Diddy Bop”… “Papa Doc”… Sonny “Blood” Peel… “Quang (a carry over from the Vietnam campaign)”… and (as portrayed by Reb Brown) “Major Murphy Black, a multi-decorated field officer, better known as… Kill Zone”. It bothers me a little that Romano Puppo’s Corporal Corey doesn’t get a nick-name, so I’m gonna award him one myself, OK? From now on he’s “Big Apple”. It’s my blog and I’ll award nick names to fictitious characters  if I want to…

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Actually, despite Massimo Vanni’s Diddy Bop bearing a spooky resemblance to Chuck Norris, this is actually a pretty weedy-looking bunch of special forces operatives. Don’t worry unduly on their behalf though, because the cyborg assassin they’re up against is a particularly sad sack looking piece of robotic shit. His suit must have been pinched from some cut price fancy dress shop and as for his voice… registering in a range that makes Giovanni Frezza in House By The Cemetery sound like Barry White, it recalls nothing so much as that gobshite garbage pail Twiki from the aforementioned Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.

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The guys are further hamstrung by the unwanted presence of Mascher (Mel Davidson), a representative of some sinister corporation or other who, it turns out, designed Omega 1 (“… with my team of bionic experts”) and in an unexpected twist (unexpected by anybody who’s never seen Alien) is only on board the mission to check how his baby does against a crap (sorry againcrack) special forces unit. Rather more serious accusations than that are made against Davidson in some of the extras on this disc, but I’m not going to get into any of that stuff here. The boys also rescue an UN aid worker called Virgin (!), played by the likeable (she comes across very well in the extras, anyway) Catherine Hickland, who was in the process of becoming the former Mrs David Hasselhoff during the Robowar shoot. Spagsploitation stalwart “Alan Collins” (Luciano Pigozzi) is listed in the credits (and appears in some of the “making of” material) but any trace of him has been ruthlessly excised from the final release, as also happened on Mattei’s Zombi 3, Strike Commando 2, Cop Game (all 1988) and Born To Fight (1989)… I’d love to know what happened to occasion this obviously serious falling out.

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Bruno never seemed to tire of ripping off John McTiernan’s Predator (1987). In 2004’s Land Of Death, he combined its plot line with that of Cannibal Holocaust, to pants-pissingly hysterical effect. Robowar boasts the aforementioned Alien pinch and at its “climax”, when Murphy / “Killzone” discovers that the human remnants inside Omega 1’s helmet are those of an old ‘Nam buddy, it strays over into Robocop (also 1987) territory.

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Bruno, we miss you…

*SPOILER ALERTS* The scene in which Murphy jumps down a waterfall before Omega 1 self-destructs is ambitious and well realised but my favourite memories of the film remain the one in which everybody’s angsting about Sonny “Blood” Peel having his face ripped off by the cyborg, only for a reassuring glance at Sonny’s corpse to reveals that it’s right there, still plastered to the front of his head… not to mention the moving credits sequence, in which the actors’ names are attached to the wrong clips!

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Like Night Killer, Robowar has been remastered in a 4K scan from the original original negative. In the extras, Fragasso and Drudi have their say, the latter revealing just how much sexist shit creative women had to put up with in the world of exploitation all’Italiana.  There are further interviews with Massimo Vanni, John P. Dulaney (Papa Doc), Jim Gaines Jr. (Sonny “Blood” Peel) and Hickland, whose behind-the-scenes home movies we also get to see (and which confirm that Collins / Pigozzi was definitely in this movie at one point).  Fragasso doesn’t need much persuading to recount some of his favourite Al Festa anecdotes (anybody who doubts that audience and film makers came to blows at a Roman screening of Gipsy Angel (1990) obviously didn’t attend the world premiere of Al’s Fatal Frames at the 1996 Bradford Film Festival) and the first 3,000 units of this release come with a bonus CD of Festa’s Robowar soundtrack. I’m not sure if he’s responsible for the title theme, in which a squad of grunts seems to be chanting what sounds like “hot sluts!”, suggesting a different kind of movie altogether… whatever, great fun and another indispensible brace of Severin releases. What are you waiting for?

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