Posts Tagged With: Bruno Mattei

The Other OTHER HELL Review… Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso’s Jaw-dropping Spaghetti Exorcist / Nunsploitation Hybrid Arrives On Severin BD.

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BD. Region B. Severin. Unrated.

I previously dug up and reviewed the Redemption VHS edition of The Other Hell (1980) elsewhere on this site, where I rashly described it as Bruno Mattei’s “wildest and best” movie (or something along those lines… go click the link if you can be arsed, because I certainly can’t). Since then, courtesy of a clutch of fine Severin / Intervision releases, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with the gob-slapping cannibal / zombie / WIP atrocities that Mattei perpetrated in the last few years of his career / life and am obliged to reconsider my assessment of this one as Mattei’s finest hour-and-a-half…. or perhaps that should be twenty minutes, as much of the supplementary material on Severin’s spanking new Blu-ray of The Other Hell lends weight to ongoing speculation that its nominal director “Stefan Oblowsky” comprises something like one part Mattei to every four parts Claudio Fragasso.

Fragasso contributes an amusing, highly self-deprecating commentary track (sample quote: “Zombie nuns… that’s cool… because it’s blasphemous!”) He confesses that shots of a burning priest were bought in from the producers of The Legacy, drops the fascinating aside that at one point he was going to write a sequel to Bay Of Blood for Mario Bava and wonders: “Why is Umberto Lenzo always so angry?” Most memorably, one of the many faults he finds with The Other Hell is that it should have been a lot “crazier”… a mind-boggling judgement considering that the film’s pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more studied, subdued and subtle moments in this film, which subsequently relates the vain attempts of trendy cleric Father Valerio (Carlo De Mejo) to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!

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Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (you guessed, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from a certain Dario Argento picture. The film’s title is clearly intended to reference another Argento picture, although naming this farrago “L’Altro Inferno” makes about as much sense as calling Alan Briggs’ Suffer Little Children, another upcoming and suitably wholesome Severin (Intervision) release,  “The Other Suspiria”!

Nobody’s ever going to confuse The Other Hell with an entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy (hang on, I was forgetting Mother Of Tears!) but its sheer go-for-broke audacity, its all-out  sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium puts it ahead of even Joe D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, its fluffed “shock” ending and its female lead Franca Stoppi) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.

Stoppi is probably The Other Hell’s trump card, chewing the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza. She comes across very well in the short interview on this disc, reminiscing about days spent shuttling back and forth between the sets of The Other Hell and Mattei’s True Story Of The Nun Of Monza topped off by evenings on stage! Sadly, stage fright ended her career prematurely but she reinvented herself as an animal rights activist (and no, she wasn’t at all happy about that chicken decapitation, though Fragasso describes it as “inevitable… chickens always end up like this!”) before sadly passing away in 2011. The featurette To Hell And Back comprises archive interviews with Mattei and Carlo De Mejo. Elsewhere Fragasso offers some interesting observations as to why the careers of both De Mejo and Garofolo fell short of what those actors might otherwise have achieved.

Inevitably when a film of this vintage and provenance is re-rendered in Blu-ray there’s going to be a certain amount of grain in evidence, but Severin have managed to keep this element within acceptable levels on a disc that cannot be denied a place on your shelf… Satan himself demands it!

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Incidentally, towards the end of Fragasso’s commentary track, he and his interlocutor are scratching their heads over the identity of the actor playing the priest in the film’s lame “twist” ending. Is it not (I could be wrong) “Mark Shannon” (Manlio Cersosimo), who starred in any amount of goofy horror / porno crossovers for Joe D’Amato? If so, he manages the unprecedented feat here of keeping his dick in his trousers when confronted by a movie camera. Thank heaven for small mercies, eh?

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World Gone West… THE REzORT director STEVE BARKER interviewed

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Nothing, to paraphrase Victor Hugo, is as powerful as a film whose time has come. By the time I caught Steve Barker’s The ReZort at Nottingham’s Mayhem festival in October 2016, it had spent some months marooned in distribution purgatory, a period during which reality seemed to be catching up with its dystopian vision of mindless leisure for the few, victims as villains and an unreconstructed economic / political system spiralling ever deeper into disaster. Having already directed Outpost (2008) and Outpost: Black Sun (2012), Barker was apparently reluctant to be drawn back into another zombie epic but it’s our great good fortune that he was persuaded. Thanks to everyone at Mayhem, particularly Chris Cooke for setting up the following interview which, like our recent conversation with Billy O’Brien, was originally intended for a certain long running genre mag …

Steve, I know you’re busy writing now, are you able to tell us something about what you’re working on?

I’m actually working on three projects, about which I can’t say too much just yet, but everyone seems to be very upbeat about all three of then so fingers crossed.

Hopefully The ReZort will put some wind in your sails in that respect because although the vagaries of distribution have held it up, it seems to be very much a movie with its finger on the pulse of 2016 and presumably 2017…

The distribution thing seems to have resolved itself. The fact that it was a co-production between three countries led to some complicated biz… I finished it at the end of July 2015, everybody seemed happy and the vibe about it was very good, then it sat on the shelf for quite a while, while I got very nervous. Your instant thought is: “Maybe I just got this wrong” but the disappearance of the film had nothing to do with the quality of it and everything to do with the vagaries of how such international co-productions are distributed. Various investors want at least to get their money back and there are different ideas about how best to do that.  Multiple countries and companies talking to each other just stalled the process for a while, meanwhile the reviews were really good and  festival audiences seemed to be enjoying it and being very vocal about it. A lot of credit goes to Charlotte Walls, the producer, who really worked hard on getting it out there. It did help a lot that the Edinburgh Film Festival saw it… even though I’m from the North West of England, I’ve lived in Scotland for a decade now so I kind of count as a local film maker and they were incredibly keen to show it, after which a lot of festivals started showing interest and Charlotte kept working away in the background… I don’t know if it’s been fully confirmed and announced yet, but The ReZort has been picked up by Netflix and comes out on January 17th in The US, Canada and The UK, which is fantastic. I know it’s doing its VOD window now but I never really quite understand VOD, to be honest…

… me neither…

… it’s just beyond me. I know that every major movie comes out on VOD in a certain window before it gets released anywhere else but I’m just a bit too Old School to get it! It’s out and about in certain countries already. I’ll be very interested to see how it goes because I was nervous, when I finished, that there’s this political aspect to it…

Very much so…

When we were making the film, that was much more speculative. This was the first project I’d done that I hadn’t instigated, they already had a script for about a year and the thing they initially sent to me was a pitch rather than a script… I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to do zombies again…

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… but they keep dragging you back in!

I ended up calling two really close friends, one a producer and another who’s actually the production designer on the film, to say: “Try and talk me out of it, ‘coz I think I’m going to do it!” The clear attraction was that the concept was disenfranchisement… in the very first conversation I had, in November of 2013, we were talking about Syria but it hadn’t yet escalated to the level it subsequently did. It was essentially a civil war and an awful humanitarian crisis, the thing that drove me nuts was how quickly that became a political football. The people suffering it were completely forgotten. We were talking about that and the post-economic meltdown situation. I hadn’t seen a zombie picture that dealt with that in the great Romero tradition, where the themes are inherent within the story and not bolted on the side. During a shoot you’re doing 19 hour days, 7 days a week and the outside world just disappears. Then I spent 8 months in post production in Belgium with very little access to the outside world and within a month of coming back to the UK, the real imagery of what was going on in the Mediterranean was all over the news and I was nervous that people would think we were exploiting that situation, though the film had already been finished. We’d come up with the final image, of zombies coming out of the sea, at the beginning of 2014! Timing is important in every walk of life and I wonder if the film sitting on the shelf for that extra couple of months has given people enough distance from it to see it as social comment and satire rather than exploitation.

The world’s awash with zombie movies at the moment and a lot of them are getting spoofy to the point of silliness, so it’s refreshing that you’re taking the genre back to satire and those dark metaphors…

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That was the appeal, very much… the world is indeed awash with zombie pictures and they all seem, to me, to come from a certain point of view, i.e. Lord Of The Flies They’re all about what the world will look like when you take the rules away and what I found fascinating was the idea of how much more terrifying we are as a species when we win! This was the first time I was coming to a picture as a hired gun and I didn’t know how I was going to approach that. They let me run with it but I think the politics were more subtle early on because I had the responsibility to make a genre picture that was still a ride. The only stipulation they gave me was that they didn’t really want a horror picture, they wanted an action-adventure film that had scary bits in it. This was the Michael Crichton thing… the first thing they told me was: “It’s Westworld with zombies” but obviously Jurassic Park, because it’s so much better remembered, became the comparison point. There was a feeling that nostalgia for that would give us a boost, because nobody had made a movie like that for so long and of course while we were making it, Jurassic World came out! That was the first movie I sat down and watched when I returned to the UK and I was just sitting in the cinema thinking: “Oh No!” to myself…

It must be so daunting to find yourself up against the big boys…

I was glad that I hadn’t seen any of their imagery because some of it is so close… my first impression was that we has a boat but they had a proper fuck off Jurassic World boat… the whole scale thing, that we had 3.5 million and they had 175 million! There were certain scenes that, you realise, just come with the thought process. These days, the way you do your research is strangely homogenised by the internet. If you put certain words into google, you’re going to get a certain bunch of images coming back at you. There were obviously certain reference images that both teams had looked at and we’d gone in separate directions with, or sometimes the same direction. Bits of costume design were amazingly similar and there’s an image in the control room in both films that’s essentially the same shot. They were made a year-and-a-half apart, with no knowledge of each other whatever but if you’re being pointed in similar directions those things come together and it fascinates me. I was worried that people would think we were just jumping on the coat tails of Jurassic World but then again, the fact that Piranha is a knock off of Jaws doesn’t make me love Piranha any less…

Certainly not!

Anyway, it’s fascinating to see how somebody with all that money does something that we were struggling so hard to do with a much smaller amount of money.

Despite the obvious discrepancy in budgets, you really did get a lot of bang for your buck. What was the secret in making such a low-budget production look like a much bigger one?

It’s a combination of things. I was coming out of ambitious films on low budgets. The Outpost films had both been done for about a million quid so. On The ReZort I obviously had more money than that but it was a massive jump in scale… the key is to know what you want, to know what’s readily achievable and to be aware of which shots are going to give you the impact and which will eat time and money without giving you the same pay-off. If I learned that anywhere, it was from a whole childhood of watching John Carpenter… look at the scale you get from Escape From New York, with such a small

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budget. The trick is hire well, hire really good people who know what they’re doing. My brief was to make it feel big so as much as telling the story and making the characters work, there was always that in the back of my mind. The big challenge was to make people believe in this multi-million pound facility, which would spend as much on their logo as we could spend on the actual place itself. We had about three weeks to lock down on a logo and get a look and a feel so you make sure that your teams work well together… costume and production design work hand-in-hand. Thankfully I have a “family” crew, I use the same people as often as I can so Ali Mitchell the costume designer and Jamie Lapsley the production designer know each other well and kind of cross-pollinated each other. A lot of credit goes to my brilliant cinematographer Roman Osin. This is the first picture I had done with Roman and I was looking for someone who had never done anything like this, then I went out of my way to make sure that he didn’t watch anything like it for research. The idea was that, for the first half of the film, until the wheels come off, it should look like the people who ran The ReZort would want it to look, as if it was a trailer for that holiday, so it’s very smooth, very slick, we were on dolly and tracks and steadicam until it started getting more and more fucked up… we worked on that from the beginning, essentially it was like shooting a commercial… Mallorca was a magnificent location with fabulous crews that worked really hard and it hadn’t been overshot. Hardly any movies had been shot there but a lot of commercials had, so the crew were used to that look, that vibe and naturally brought that gloss to it. It’s about being on top of a lot of very different things, choosing various shots through the acts of the film, knowing that those were going to be my scale shots and working my way down from there. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. There were some really memorable shots in the film and a couple that particularly stuck in my mind were very high altitude shots… of the boat leaving for the island and then, at the climax, of streams of zombies converging on the last survivor, who’s legging it to get off the island before The Brimstone Protocol is initiated… how were those shots achieved?

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That’s a really interesting one actually. While you have to be strategic and get everything planned out, you also have to be able to manoeuvre your way in and out of stuff as it arises. Those were scale shots, originally we were going to shoot them with a drone but this was just before the appropriate cameras got light enough for that to happen so in fact both those shots are entirely digital, but I actually came to them almost backwards. Originally it was going to cut from the close up of our leading lady to this very high and wide shot, let the audience know that they were travelling to the middle of nowhere and once they get to the island, they’re stuck there. I’m really pleased with how those shots turned out and a lot of the credit, particularly for the boat one, go to our vfx supervisor Dominique Fiore, who was quite magnificent. I grew up reading Cinefex and loving the old school models, foreground miniatures and all that, the illusions you could create that way. There are things you can do now, in the digital world, that are kind of like that in the sense that it’s smoke and mirrors. So the high shot … I don’t want to destroy the illusion here (laughs) … Dominique put it together himself because we were really under the gun trying to finish the movie at that point and it’s effectively a still but with some smoke actually integrated into it above and below to make it seem like undulating water and a layer of highlight plus a cardboard cut-out of a boat and some animated water, yet when you put it together with a bit of artistry… he just took it home from the office and played it to me next morning and I went: ”Wow! I completely buy it!”

It totally fooled me…

I totally buy it and I’ve seen all the elements that go into making it! My favourite thing about movies is those moments where it fools me. Similarly, when she jumps over the cliff at the climax, that’s almost entirely digital apart from a shot of her running which has been digitally looped. I was very lucky that the vfx facility was in Belgium… because we had less money than most movies it was gonna be a lot easier to make decisions quickly if I was actually there, so we put the cutting room right next to me. It was actually in the office next door so I could literally walk between the two every day, which must have driven the vfx guys nuts but it meant that we didn’t go down any false paths, we were always moving in the right direction.

It’s obvious from what you’re saying that although you were this “hired gun”, you didn’t just slide in, film what was in the shooting script and say: “There you go, then…”

I wouldn’t even know how to do that, Bob. It was a fascinating thing to go into, I was wary to start off with and I probably created problems just in terms of how I approach things. I became aware that I was driving the writer Paul Gerstenberger – who’s a lovely lad – nuts! I did that total director / wanker thing of walking in and saying: “I love it… let’s change everything!” What I would do, if I was instigating a project, is push in all directions on the idea so here we were, shooting in four months and I was putting him through it early on. I couldn’t understand a director who would just cynically walk in, take the money and run.

There are plenty of them about.

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I think I’ve just been lucky but all the people I know and work with, once we’re committed to something we’re all in and we’re trying to find the thing that will make it at least stand out from the crowd, as much as that is possible. My philosophy is almost like the old studio system before it went freelance, where directors were under contract, they’d be assigned a picture and would make it the best film they could…

… you still had auteurist directors working in that system…

To be honest I’ve never been the biggest fan of the auteur theory. I don’t get an amazing amount to of joy out of… I can’t watch my pictures when they’re finished because I can’t stand to see how much I did wrong. I don’t get much out of touring pictures around, either, I just say thank you very much and keep my head down. I do love crafting and making the film,  the joy of that for me is working with the people who are making it with me. I’ve never taken one of those “a film by…” credits because I think they’re nonsense, in the end there might be a shot that is incredibly stylish but there are a million different people whose ideas are accumulated in that shot. I understand the propriety credit “a film by Steven Spielberg” or whatever, I get that it’s part of the way things are done in the industry rather than saying “Look, it was all down to me!” There are genuine auteur film makers in the world… David Lynch… I think Kubrick represented a heroic tale of somebody trying to beat the system… David Fincher, these days… but the stuff I really enjoy is when I’ve got something in my head about how the shot should be done but then the DP kind of modulates it slightly or the actor turns round and has a way of playing it that’s completely unexpected yet makes it so much better… then something totally random happens like it starts raining or the sun comes out and all of those things then combine to make it special. I’m not into the idea of fighting all of those things to keep going, I think you should embrace that and hopefully know what you’re trying to do well enough that you can modulate it and accommodate all of these new and exciting things that are happening around you. The thing is that my collaborators are all so much better at it than I am! Every DP I’ve ever worked with understands photography so much better than I do. It’s something I’m interested in but I’m probably only good enough at it to be dangerous rather than helpful. Likewise, when it comes to music…. I’ve never been able to play an instrument, I know what vibe I want but I have almost no vocabulary to talk to composers, they have to speak with me almost like I’m a child because I’m literally talking in terms of emotions. It’s the same with actors, I’ve got no conception of what they have to do to go to the places they go to and I think that’s brilliant, I love them but I still have this certain sense of wonder when they pull it off. I like to trust actors as much as possible, tell what the movie needs and where I think that character is but also asking them what  they want to bring to it.

You got a compelling performance out of Claire Goose, playing somewhat against type…

Oh, Claire’s lovely and deserves so much credit in the sense that she took it really late. There’s always one of those that happens on every movie, one or two roles that, for whatever reason, just never get sorted… whoever you had in mind isn’t quite right or you can’t afford them or whatever. One of the producers thought of Claire, I didn’t know her for that kind of performance and was already well into prep, days from shooting and so had no time to meet her, plus she was working on something else so we literally built it down the phone, had a few core conversations in which I gave her the idea of what I wanted. It really helped that she was able to have a long conversation with Alison Mitchell the costume designer, because Ali and I had discussed at length how we imagined that character. Unfortunately that caused all kind of traumas for Claire, wearing this dress in which she couldn’t sit down because it would have creased instantly. So she was always propped up on set and we didn’t roll until seconds before we turned on her because we wanted her to have this pristine look throughout most of the film. I was amazed at how easily she just slipped into it, with instant confidence but without overdoing it. For this long intro speech she has, where she’s by the swimming pool greeting the guests, she got her lines at about 10am and we were shooting at 6 but she nailed it, instantly. No disrespect to  Paul, who wrote the film, but a writer friend of mine gave me the fabulous line: “Every apocalypse deserves an after party” and she just got that instantly and knew how to play that, how to play against all the zombie stuff. She’s cracking, she really is and incredibly lovely, she’s as lovely in real life as she is nasty on screen.

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We could probably have found a less gratuitous picture of Claire Goose but decided not to…

The film just seems to me to be more relevant to the times we’re living through with every passing day and every time I turn on the news…

I  know!

Dunno if this is pursuing it too far but when you’ve got Claire Goose’s chic, alpha female character being mean to refugees and justifying everything in the name of business, supply and demand… it just makes me think of Theresa May and her thousand pound leather trousers!

Somebody said to me after the screening in Edinburgh, possibly just because of what had been in the news that week, how much Claire reminded them of… I can’t remember her name, now, that hideous fucking woman who thinks refugees are cockroaches…

Katie Hopkins?

Yeah, Katie Hopkins, that truly hideous human being… such a terrible, terrible waste of the oxygen she breathes. People were asking if Claire’s character was based on her…

She should be so lucky as to be played by Claire Goose… but character-wise, yeah, absolutely. You’ve made three zombie movies now… are you at all a buff in this genre and if not, did you research by watching a bunch of them?

(Laughs) This is probably not the thing to own up to in an interview with a horror blog, but although I love genre film making, Horror is probably the genre that I’m least well genned up on. I was never really a horror guy though I’m friendly with people who are, like Paul Hyatt and Jake West… he’s a really full-on horror guy who did that amazing documentary about video nasties. People like that are at one with the genre whereas I go to something like Frightfest and feel like a bit of a fake, they obviously know so much more about this stuff than I do even though I grew up watching these things, pooling pocket money with friends so that we could rent videos and John Carpenter became a massive influence on me… I actually went to see Carpenter play his scores live in Manchester about three weeks ago.

I heard it was a great gig but the venue was awful…

The sound was terrible. I loved it though because it was more like a gig rather than video I’ve seen where they treated it as a classical performance with seating and it didn’t have the atmosphere, but this was real gig with so many people in fancy dress, girls everywhere dressed in the wedding gear from Big Trouble In Little China and a lot of people dressed as the aliens from They Live… amazing! Anyway, from those VHS renting days there are titles that still comfortably in my top 10 or top 20 movies of all time, obviously Alien, Escape From New York but also on that list would be Jaws, The Apartment by Billy Wilder, All The Presidents Men… so I don’t know, I love Horror when it’s great Cinema but also I like it when somebody like Cronenberg pushes the boundaries really hard. Where I’m not so big on it is… I’m not disparaging them because I don’t know them, but I’ve never gone very far into this whole other world of Italian stuff…

Interesting that you should mention that, because… maybe this is down to Paul Gerstenberger as writer or maybe it’s a complete coincidence, but the climactic revelation in your film of what is really going gone, although it’s really effectively handled, is almost identical to the pay off a truly awful Bruno Mattei film called  Zombie Creeping Flesh…

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Zombie Creeping Flesh?!? That’s a hell of a title! If he did pinch, it he never told me about it.

Well, they say that mediocre film makers quote bits from other movies but the great ones just go in there and steal them… it’s done with much more aplomb in your movie anyway, in Mattei’s it gets delivered in this really dead pan: “So, the Western powers decided to solve the problem of world hunger by turning Third World people into zombies who would eat each other” kind of way…

Oh, I can pretty much vouch for him on that then, because the first script I read for The ReZort was actually set entirely within the UK. Then they took the decision to make it international but they were waiting until a director was on board before they agreed on how they were going to do that. Paul’s original version was about the exploitation and eradication of the displaced though just within one nation, but certainly the idea of using the refugee crisis came with me pitching into the job, right at the point that they were making this translation from the UK to a more international setting. A lot of the stuff I built up for that got lost, I actually cut so much of that out because my preference was ultimately for viewers to enjoy the action-adventure ride rather than risk alienating them with too much sub text and arguably we lost a little artfulness and elegance in the process.  There was a lot of stuff about how the world was rebuilt after the Zombie war but what I realised was that, when I started pacing up the opening via montage, you got all that stuff in one line.

However it happened, the film is so on the money as a metaphor for what we’re currently living through… wars, social dislocation on a global scale, victims as villains, the underground resistance and hacking, the glorification of the entrepreneurs who took us down the toilet and are hard at work on doing it again…

The feedback I’m getting is that the film feels very timely to people who are seeing it… actually you could probably release it again in two or three years.

To underscore the cyclical nature of it all?

Yeah. I think there actually is a cycle and it looked like this year was going to be the year of fighting back against globalisation, of a backlash against the way the world is going, but unfortunately it seems to be going in directions that we didn’t account for, which are frankly rather alarming.

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It’s like that old Chinese curse… may you live through “interesting times”! You’ve talked about the pleasure you take in the collaborative aspect of making movies… what about the more solitary business of writing them?

Well, I obviously didn’t write The ReZort but I did as much as any director would do, tweaking it here and there. Even if I had a new element I wanted to introduce, I would turn it over to Paul to do it. I’ve gotta say that writing is my least favourite part of film making in every way, simply because it’s the antithesis of everything I love about the process… working with people in a team to construct something.

It’s a hermetic thing, isn’t it?

I fucking detest it! I learned on The ReZort how much I love NOT writing!

As you mentioned before, you’re not crazy about promoting them either, are you?

The festival circuit’s an odd one because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I love meeting the fans though, particularly at genre festivals, which are just amazing, they’re just like family events. I owe an enormous amount to The Edinburgh Film Festival, who were first to get this one out there but the next one we went to was Frightfest, where I’d been with my previous picture and everyone there knows everybody else, you’re wandering about and folk will come up to you constantly… in fact that led to RamaSkrik in Norway, which was absolutely amazing! One of the guys who runs that saw The ReZort at Frightfest and came up to me with an invite to theirs … it’s in the Norwegian hills in the middle of nowhere, all the film makers go for the entire three or four days, everybody watches everything and there’s a genuine sense of community which you just don’t get with other genres. I think part of that is about being a genre that was, in previous times, maligned. It’s like the geeks have taken over the asylum, so much that’s now massive in our culture has come from these movies and comics. All the stuff that I was considered very geeky for loving when I was a kid is now the absolute norm, a standard Saturday night out. I don’t know if I would even have a career now if it wasn’t for the fact that my first movie, Outpost, was this tiny little film and Sony, thank you very much, bought it worldwide but they were never going give it a big release in The States and kinda just threw it out there … but before they threw it out anywhere else, it was the community that found it. The fans don’t like having something shoved down their throats, they like to be able to find something for themselves and we were lucky that we were little enough for it to be a bit of a surprise and then folks started talking about it and they started talking about it loudly enough so that Sony in the UK noticed and started putting some money behind us so that we got a relatively big release and it did very well, which obviously helped me enormously. As somebody who’s not very good at festivals, I find that  genre festivals are the ones I do OK at because the folk there are so lovely.

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What kind of stuff do the fans talk to you about?

A lot of folk were really interested in and asked a lot of questions about the slow / fast thing. Paul, who’s a real genre fan, came up with that very early on, the idea that this action is set ten years after The Zombie War so the old zombies moved around slowly and the more recent ones were fast. I thought that was cool though I really don’t have any ideological standpoint on it. I think Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake is a belting film.

You got the best of both worlds with that because you had those lumbering masses of slow zombies and also the fast ones to give you those shock moments…

Exactly and I tried to break down the set pieces so you would get the maximum, or as much as I could get anyway, out of each variant… when to use the fast ones, when to use the slow ones and I think some of that was clearer in my original conception of the movie. Any film you do for this kind of budget, you’re not gonna get everything that’s in your head but I got more on this than on any picture I’ve made before.

Because I saw and enjoyed The ReZort at Mayhem in Nottingham, I was wondering how you enjoyed your time there…

Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil are top lads, they really are. It was fab. The only difference from the Norway one was literally that I obviously got to go to Norway for that, which was rather more glamorous…

Well, the River Trent can’t really compete with those fjords…

Mayhem was brilliant, what I love about that was again that it had this real sense of a community for one long weekend… another thing I love about it, that I didn’t know till Chris told me, was that it started as a short film festival and they’ve managed to maintain that at the heart of it and again, this is the kind of stuff that was previously maligned or ignored. I think the good festivals and the good genre festivals have managed to maintain something at the heart of them, the little gem that brought folk together in the first place.

Mayhem is a great festival… did you get a chance to watch anything else while you were there, or were you just in and out?

I was only there for one day. I missed The Greasy Strangler, which I finally caught up with in Norway. That one is…

… interesting…

… it’s absolutely insane, Bob! I actually got to know the producers of that film and they’re lovely, really sweet guys.

I would love to have sat in on the brainstorming sessions for the script on that one…

Yeah (laughs) … I told them, there’s no hiding how fucked up your film is and they said yeah, either people are going to dig it or they’re not. What I did get to see at Mayhem was part of Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires, it was getting quite late and I was tired but I watched the first act of that just to see how it played on the big screen.

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Bava was the king of this thing we talked about earlier, getting more bang for your small budget via amazing key shots and scale shots…

Absolutely. I came to his stuff backwards because I knew Argento from Suspiria and found my way to Bava from there. Stuff like Danger Diabolik… what the fuck? Again it’s got this real grand sense of scale about it and I think Planet Of The Vampires is one that just keeps giving. I mean, everybody talks about Alien but if you take a look at the costume design it’s so close to what they ended up using in Prometheus, amazingly close with the off blue colour and the yellow piping… you know, Ridley Scott has clearly seen this film!

I think The ReZort got a boost at Mayhem by following another film, which shall go unnamed, that was really pretentious and up itself…

It’s amazing, I’d never quite realised the importance of where you fit into the running order at a festival. I do know that one of the few screenings where we didn’t go so well was a festival at which they screened Last Train To Busan and us right next to one another for two nights and on each night, whichever film came on second didn’t go down as well. The movies were too similar… although they had a lot more money than we did.

Reminds me of the Monterey Pop Festival, where Hendrix and The Who were arguing about who was going to close it, because neither of them wanted to have to follow the other…

Yeah. When we screened The ReZort at GrimmFest in Manchester, we went on right after a film called Tonight She Comes by a lovely young American guy, it was his first fest anywhere outside The States and I won’t spoil it for you but it’s got a truly memorable last scene and I thought: “My film is almost polite in comparison to this… fuck!” Yet strangely enough, after everybody had digested that over a drink and come back in they were ready for something a little more “mainstream” as it were. So that was a real learning experience, too…

Programming is a real art in itself…

It is and I don’t think I’d ever considered it, never had an opinion on that before.

Promotion is an art in itself, too… now that it’s finally getting out there and all this stuff has gone on in the meantime, your guys could really push The ReZort as some kind of horror film that’s got this grip on the zeitgeist… I’d like to think it will be seen by as many people as possible and given the credit for what it is.

I have very little say in it but yeah, I kind of like the idea that it’s that kind of film. I’ve only made three films but everything has changed so much since my first one came out in 2008… we had a very traditional low-budget release for that, you’d go out in about 150-200 cinemas for about a week or two weeks and effectively it was a very long, elaborate advert for the DVD and BD releases. Nowadays it just seems like an entirely different world, cinemas have so little interest in those kinds of movies and you can pretty much blanket wall to wall for the entire year a film that’s going to have cost 70-100 million. I kinda dig the idea that if film is meant to break through, the fans are going to find it.

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Two Fat Ladies… A Round Up Of Elusive 88 FILMS BD RELEASES

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… elusive to me, anyway, as I haven’t had much luck getting review copies out of 88 Films. That is, of course, their prerogative, but I did think they might have sent me the promised copy of their Burial Ground disc, for which Calum Waddell and I supplied the commentary track. As it is I had to wait to catch up with that and other of their releases until Fopp started unloading them dirt cheap, at which point I left said store clutching the following load (god, my right arm hasn’t ached so much since I got that Cindy Crawford workout video)…

Burial Ground (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Blastfighter (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Deep River Savages (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.)

Spasmo (BD. Region B. 88 Films. 15.)

So, something approaching three years after actually recording it, I finally got to hear my commentary track on Burial Ground. I’d been worrying that it would make me sound like a total dickhead, so it was quite a relief to discover that I only came out of it sounding like a bit of a dickhead. Some of those who’ve enjoyed / endured this commentary question why I spent so much of it talking about myself and my involvement in the ’80s / ’90s fanzine scene rather than the film in question. The simple answer is that these were the subjects which Calum was asking me about. I’m not going to say much about the film here, either, having recently reviewed Severin’s BD edition of Burial Ground elsewhere on this blog. The Severin jobby looks sharper and boasts better extras (apart from the above mentioned boy genius commentary track) but there’s some good stuff here, too.

Mikel J. Koven, esteemed author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film, an academic with an obvious penchant for sleaze, gives an overview of Andrea Bianchi’s career with special focus on the prevalence in it of less than subtley handled incest motifs which causes him to exclaim “What The Fuck?” so many times that this expression becomes the actual title of his featurette. Having pondered his C.V. long and hard, Koven concludes that Bianchi is either a genre satirist (when I watch that J&B placement shot, I could almost believe it), (possibly) a Marxist or maybe “just not a very good director.” It’s over to you, readers…

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Peter Bark, yesterday…

You also get the “35mm Grindhouse version”, should you want to watch such a knackered-looking thing and 10 minutes of “mute” deleted scenes (dialogueless but synched up to soundtrack music)… if only we could hear what they’re saying to each other in these resurrected sequences, maybe the added context would have established Burial Ground as some kind of avant garde masterpiece. Michael even gets an “alas, poor Yorick!” moment… alas, I’d love to have heard his soliloquy while contemplating that skull and learn if he found it to be worse smelling than that cloth which smelled of Death. Plus reversible sleeve, trailers for Burial Ground and Zombi Holocaust and so on…

Among several other aliases (a death cloth by any name would smell as bad), this monstrosity was known as Zombi 3… as were several other pictures, notably the Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei 1987 mess, er, collaboration now released by 88 as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, a title that could have been specifically coined to underline the degree to which Fulci’s fortunes and output had declined since he poked out Mrs Menard’s eyeball less than a decade earlier. Indeed, Fulci only directed a few scenes in this one before failing health, among other factors, obliged him to bail and leave the film for producer Mattei to “finish off”… in every sense of that phrase.

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Bacteriological weaponry and international espionage here supplant perverse medical science as the root of the zombie scourge, when a bungled attempt to burgle a canister of “Death 1” leads to bubonic infestation for the thief and everybody else in the hotel where he was staying. The inevitable ABC-suited SWAT Team arrives to shut down the hotel and liquidate all its residents. The film’s debt to George Romero’s Day Of The Dead (1985) immediately becomes evident in the ongoing squabble between scientists and the military over how to contain this outbreak. Ignoring scientific advice, the soldiers cremate the first batch of victims and – before you can say Return Of The Living Dead – a busload of sex-crazed girls is being buzzed by a flock of zombie seagulls (makes a change from Mattei’s usual rat fixation, I suppose.)

The increasingly ridiculous narrative unfolds to the Greek chorus accompaniment of “Blueheart”, a right-on radio DJ whose infuriating, interminable eco-babble provokes one imminent zombie victim to complain” “I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint sometimes and every so often I like to piss on a bush, OK?” As the crisis escalates, Blueheart’s bulletins are periodically punctuated by lists of emergency hospitals, read out by a guy glorifying in the name of Vince Raven… like, right on Vince baby! Pass on our regards to your brother Mike, celebrated elsewhere on this blog during our Crucible Of Terror review.

“Plot” is pretty soon reduced to an ever decreasing number of survivors running around in ever decreasing circles, a succession of run-ins with zombies and “decontamination squads” blowing away anything that moves. Of course the “unexpected” shooting of a heroic male lead is duly trotted out. Yep, he fell for the oldest trick in the book of the dead! Assorted other “highlights” include the moment when a character with the munchies opens a fridge, only to be attacked by an even hungrier zombie head that flies out at him, on obvious wires, from behind the McCain oven chips. Look out also for the Caesarian birth of an undead baby that immediately sets about gnoshing on the midwife who delivered it. The surviving human characters fly off in  a Romero-esque chopper, vowing: “We’re coming back… to win! Otherwise, humanity’s done for!”

Mattei’s crowning idiocy apes the unforgettable voice-over outro of Zombie Flesh Eaters, with Blue-heart revealed as a badly made up zombie, broadcasting immortal vibes: “New horizons have opened up… this is now the New World, Year Zero, so there’s lots of work to be done. I’ll dedicate the next record to all of the undead across the world…” Zombietastic, great mate!

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DJ Blueheart, before and after ingestion of Death 1… just say no, kids!zombie-dj.jpg

88’s BD transfer looks just fine (as fine as it’s ever going to look, given Riccardo Grassetti’s bog standard cinematography) and sounds OK (special mention for the awful, albeit infectious shrieky hair rock anthem that plays over the credits.) Bonus materials include interviews with Claudio Fragasso (sporting interesting ethnic headwear) and prolific zombie movie star Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, from each of whom you’ll get a few new pointers on exactly who directed what in this troubled production. The Catriona MacColl interview is of dubious relevance but it’s always great to see her and hear what she has to say about working with Fulci (she has plenty to say on that and many other subjects in our Catriona MacColl interview, elsewhere on this blog.) Female lead Beatrice Ring reads her answers to a bunch of questions over a series of stills of her gurning in the movie. She expresses bewilderment that any actor would have anything nice to say about working with Fulci and charts her progress from a vacuous bimbo who only got into movies because she had run up a big debt buying designer clothes, to a spiritually aware person who works for the end of racism and war. Bless her. She also provides some further clues as which bits were directed by whom.

All I could get out of Fulci on the direction of Zombi 3, when interviewing him on the occasion of Eurofest 1994, was: “That one was finished by Bruno Mattei because the producers were very strange people… I had to escape from there on an aeroplane!” Perennially prone to standing up producers, Fulci was signed to direct the original version of Blastfighter, an adventure yarn focussing on futuristic weaponry which mutated, after his secession from the project, into a fusion of First Blood (1982) and Deliverance (1972.) Hard to see why it needed four extra writers (including eventual director Lamberto Bava) to fashion Dardano Sacchetti’s original concept into this.

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Like his father before him, Lamberto Bava came up with a belting horror effort (Macabre, 1980) for his directorial debut, before turning his hand to whatever genre was currently packing them in at Italian cinemas. He didn’t execute his genre hopping anything like as skilfully as the great Mario managed, nevertheless cranking out some satisfying efforts en route to TV movie mediocrity. Blastfighter (signed off under Bava’s pseudonymous paraphrase of his dad’s former glories, “John Old Jr” in 1984) is undoubtedly one of them though to rate it (as Quentin Tarantino did to me) as Bava Jr’s best picture is surely hyperbolic.

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“Head for the canoe, quick… I hear banjos!”

Jake “Tiger” Sharp (Michael Sopkiw) is a former cop who went all Charles Bronson on the ass of the slimeball who killed both his wife and his partner. Coming out of chokey, he considers bumping off the killer’s lawyer with a high-powered assault rifle that one of his friends acquired for him (basically this thing will launch anything short of nukes) but opts instead to renounce any further violence and lose / find himself in the backwards back woods of Georgia where he grew up (though the irritatingly catchy theme song, which sounds like a Starland Vocal Band B-side but turns out to be a Bee Gees number, keeps name-checking Arizona.) Wherever the fuck he is, our boy Tiger is looking for a bit of contemplative peace and quite. Fat chance… slack jawed yeehawing yokels are soon taking the piss and though he laughs that off, his Zen-like mellow is irretrievably harshed when he discovers their cruel trade in wounded live animals for the Chinese medicine market. Like a before-his-time Steven Seagal, Tiger dispenses some serious ass kicking (admittedly without such signature Seagal moves as breaking people’s arms, throwing them through plate glass or kicking them in the testicles till they stagger around groaning “my balls… my balls!”)

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Things start looking up when his estranged daughter Connie (Valentina Forte) introduces herself but take another pronounced downward turn when the inbred hill-billies take it upon themselves to kill her, her boyfriend (Michele Soavi) and yet another cop who made the mistake of being one of Tiger’s old colleagues. Breaking out his big gun, Tiger zaps them all to yokel Hell before the climactic confrontation with his old nemesis, Tom (our old pal “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori.) Bava makes exemplary use of his beautiful rural locations and has a serious message for us, to wit: “There’ll never be an answer to violence!” As if to ram home this very point, his next cinematic outing was the eye-wateringly OTT splatterfest Demons (1985.)

American actor Michael Sopkiw parlayed a passing resemblance to Franco Nero into a mid-80s Italian acting career that took in all of four films – this and Bava Jr’s oddball Jaws variant from the same year, Devouring Waves, topped and tailed with Sergio Martino’s entertaining entry in the post-Apocalyptic stakes, 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983) and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s awful last gasp cannibal effort, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985.) All of this is small beer compared to Sopkiw’s real life adventures, which include a year’s imprisonment for smuggling Marijuana into the US… so his role in Blastfighter as an ex-jailbird wasn’t too much of a (sorry!) stretch, then. He now spends his time promoting the use of “natural healing remedies.” Hmm…

Apart from a nice looking transfer of Blastfighter, 88’s release includes an interview with DP Gianlorenzo Battaglia, various trailers and of course you get a reversible sleeve.

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“George Eastman”, who actually puts in a pretty good performance in Blastfighter, appeared in any amount of Joe D’Amato outrages, though he’s conspicuous by his massive absence from D’Amato’s Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals aka Trap Them And Kill Them (1976.) This represents Joe’s second, third or possibly fourth (who can say, he was churning out several titles a year by this point) “Black Emanuelle” effort after he’d hi-jacked the franchise from Adalberto Albertini and is a co-production with Fabrizio De Angelis for their company Fulvia Cinematografica, though the partnership survived only one more film (1978’s Emanuelle And The White Slave Trade.)

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E&TLC claims to be “a true story, reported by Jennifer O’Sullivan”… sure thing, you guys! Gemser’s Emanuelle is an investigative reporter, which apparently involves her in sneaking around mental hospitals with a camera concealed in a teddy bear (?) She comes over all tabloid moralistic when a nurse is bitten while molesting a disturbed female patient (“She’ll be OK but she lost her breast… she had it coming”) but has no qualms whatsoever about pursuing a scoop by masturbating the same patient, who boasts a distinctive tribal tattoo on her pubic area. When she mentions this to hunky anthropologist Mark Lester (!) he invites her back to his place but not with the intention of showing her his etchings… oh no, he shows her anthropological footage of castration and cannibalism, which somehow convinces her to sleep with him. The Prof is played by Gemser’s real-life husband and frequent screen partner Gabriele Tinti… I often wonder if that’s how he wooed her in real life!

They abscond to The Amazon (actually an Italian park) to hook up with Donald O’Brien and giallo stalwart “Susan Scott” (Nieves Navarro), who are encountering a few difficulties in their relationship (“You’re just a tramp!” he chides her. “… and you’re an IMPOTENT!” she spits back, cuttingly albeit ungrammatically.) Their soap operatic distractions are put firmly into perspective when the cannibals turn up to dismember and eat them and various camp followers, all recorded in excruciatingly dull detail by D’Amato amid a plethora of unconvincing, not-so-special FX and to the accompaniment of an original sound track that sounds like some demented, retarded ancestor of Groovejet. Of course, various people take time out from dodging cannibals to have sex and at one point a chimpanzee savours a fine cigar while watching them at it… only in a Joe D’Amato film!

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The climax is a real hoot, with Gemser and Tinti looking on from the bushes, calmly swapping anthropological observations as their friends are done away with (O’Brien torn limb from limb, inconvincingly, in a tug-o-war). Eventually she’s moved to discard her clothes and impersonate a water goddess, a spectacle that has to be seen to be disbelieved, likewise Gemser’s closing speech, delivered as though she’s in the throes of a major stroke. Last Cannibals enjoyed a theatrical release (minus all the gore) over here, playing to packed houses of old guys in dirty macs.

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88’s release does seem, as promised, to be uncut though one imagines there could well be versions floating around in some territories that have been recut with hard core inserts, standard operating procedure for D’Amato. Sometimes with these HD upgrades you wonder why they bothered, but E&TLC does look really good, significantly better than 88’s release of its companion piece Zombi Holocaust, even though the improved picture quality does make the stroboscopic alternation of day and night shots within certain scenes even more obvious (the amount of times they say “We’ll wait until dawn” with the sun beating down on them!) Although I’ve criticised the acting in this film on many occasions, on reflection those who dubbed it must take their share of the blame, though I still think Gemser’s got to carry the  can for that lumpen closing soliloquy (“Maggie and Donald with their…” what, now?) No significant extras beyond the obvious.

I’m told that Ruggero Deodato got really pissed off, when he watched Calum Waddell’s Eaten Alive documentary, at my suggestion that D’Amato pre-empted his Cannibal Holocaust here with his use of fim-within-a-film and by setting the action of E&TLC in South America (even though the crew never got anywhere near there)… no disrespect intended, Ruggero, but hey… facts is facts! There can’t be any dispute though, that all these Italian cannibal capers (and most of their terminally non-PC) tropes) kicked off with Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 effort Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (“In The Land Of Savage Sex”)… hang on, I seem to recall Deodato disputing that, too!

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Among its many other aliases this one is also known as Sacrifice! (in the US) and Mondo Cannibale (in Europe),  but made it to pre-cert  UK VHS as Deep River Savages, courtesy of Derann. The guy who wrote the liner notes for that release sure hit a purple patch of prose: “A story of raw savagery, tribal torture and one man’s courageous fight for survival, respect and the delicate and fragile love of a beautiful native girl… a compelling film in which character relationships are brilliantly developed and a richness of human emotions are played out against the bizarre and tortuous rituals of the primitive world.” The DPP wasn’t fooled and nor should you be, for signature Lenzi sleaze is lurking, not far beneath the surface of all this hearts and flowers stuff. No matter how compelling, courageous and brilliant its depiction of delicate, fragile love and rich human emotions, Deep River Savages was also heavy on those bizarre and tortuous rituals, not to mention cannibalism and the mistreatment of animals, which in March 1984 (the height of the home video witch hunt) meant that it found its way onto the official “nasties” list, where it stayed for about a year and a half. Now, shorn of a couple of minutes of man’s inhumanity to animals (a snake being flayed, a pig gutted, a mongoose forced into a life-or-death struggle with a cobra, et al), 88 have brought it to Blu-ray in the UK as Man From Deep River.

Ivan Rassimov, on the lam after killing a native at a Thai boxing match, surveys the steamy interior and pronounces: “I’m sick to death of this trip … I wish I was at home drinking a pint”. Though we’re only scant minutes into the film, viewers will find themselves in sympathy with this verdict, as all their least favourite pieces of stock footage are trotted out yet again (if I see those bloody storks in that tree one more time…) When the cannibals roll up, Ivan tries the diplomatic approach (“Leave me alone, you bloody savages!”) but they drag him back to their village, where the first thing he witnesses is a guy getting his tongue cut out … Blood Feast has a lot to answer for! Rassimov, on the other hand, after a tricky bedding-in period, is treated to the life of Riley after he has proven his worth in fighting against neighbouring tribes and saved the chief’s son from choking to death with an impromptu tracheotomy. Most memorably, he is allowed to take part in a ritual during which the men of the village file past a hut and put their hands through a hole in the wall. The aptly named Me Me Lai (Lay, by some accounts) sits blindfolded on the other side while the men take turns squeezing her breasts and feeling between her legs.

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The budget wouldn’t stretch to a Man Called Horse-type ritual for Rassimov’s formal initiation into the tribe, so instead he is lashed to a vertical rotisserie which turns slowly as the villagers aim their blow-pipes at him through cubby-holes reminiscent of the set up in a Soho peep-show.

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This formality dispensed with, Rassimov gets down to bringing up a family with Me Me, but those neighbouring tribesmen – their faces liberally daubed with boot polish – are soon viewing her as lunch. She escapes, but one of her friends is not so fortunate, and when Rassimov catches the intruders red handed / mouthed (to the accompaniment of jolly music, as is often the way in these things) he shows how thin the veneer of civilization is by doling out summary tongue removals. Thus it comes as no surprise that even when Me Me dies of some tropical disease or other, he elects to turn his back on civilization and stay with the tribe that adopted him.

The most notorious scene of excised animal baiting here is the brutal bit of monkey business by which some unfortunate simian has the top of its head lopped off, boiled-egg style, so the tribe can snack on its warm brains for supper. A similar scene was faked up in fellow “nasty” Faces Of Death (1978) but the notoriously stingy Lenzi no doubt figured it was much less bother and expense to just chop off the unfortunate creature’s bonce and be done with it. He clearly did have resort to prosthetics when restaging this scene on a human (well, John Morghen’s) cranium during his altogether more notorious foray into cannibal country, Cannibal Ferox (1981) though further animal outrages in that one proved the rock on which personal and professional relationship between the splatter star and his terminally irascible director foundered.

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“Whaddya mean, ‘What’s my fucking motivation?’?”

Bonus materials include the expected trailers and reversible sleeve options (including the Derann “nasty” artwork) plus the short Inferno Of Innards in which Eli Roth (director of Lenzi / Deodato hommage The Green Inferno) enthuses about all things Italian and anthropophagic.  More substantial extras include Me Me Lai Bites Back, the ace Naomi Holwill documentary portrait which I review elsewhere on this blog and Calum Wadell’s commentary track. The latter certainly constitutes VFM for both Calum’s admirers and his troll following, being charactersically incessant, informative and opinionated. Travellers seeking information on how to track down many of the film’s locations will find it particularly useful. My own interest in these films centres on the specifically Italian experience of Mussolini’s frustrated neo-colonialism but it’s interesting to hear Calum rehearse the Cold War context arguments that will apparently inform his upcoming book on Cannibal Holocaust.

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Ever a busy boy, Calum also contributes a Lenzi interview that was conducted at the 2013 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester (which I attended myself after something like a twenty year absence!) Mischievous as ever, Lenzi says that he’s now buried the hatchet with Deodato but can’t resist taking a few crafty digs at him. He wriggles around all over the place when any attempt is made to pin him down on the vexed question of animal abuse, contending that the decapitated money had to be killed because of an illness that it could have communicated to humans (best way to reduce the risk was to spray its brains all over the set, I guess!) Obviously mellowing in his old age, the director reveals that he no longer slams the phone down on people who ask him about Nightmare City or Cannibal Ferox (this is no mere rhetorical flourish either, he once did exactly that to me!) Yep, he still despises the latter title but after realising how much money it’s made him over the years, he’s cynically prepared to concede that it’s “a masterpiece.”

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It’s difficult to imagine any circumstances under which that appellation could be levelled at Lenzi’s Spasmo (1974.) Since I last encountered this title as a Diplomat (Videoform) VHS release much water has passed under the bridge and many Freudstein brain cells have clearly crinkled up and died, for me to have been labouring under the misapprehension that this one was (just about) worth six quid of my money… on reflection, six pence would probably be pushing it!

Mario Bava effectively invented the giallo in 1962 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and set many of its conventions with “Six Women For The Murderer” aka Blood And Black Lace (1964) but things were still pretty fluid within the genre and by the turn of the decade Bava himself was still experimenting with its possibilities in the likes of the psycho case-study Hatchet For The Honeymoon, the stylised body count effort 5 Dolls For An August Moon  (both 1970) and the grand guignol of Bay Of Blood (1971.) In the meantime Lenzi was staking out a nice little giallo niche for himself with sexually charged soapy pot boilers like Paranoia, So Sweet… So Perverse (both 1969), A Quiet Place To Kill (1970) and Oasis Of Fear (1971.) When The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, directed by Dario Argento (whom Lenzi likes to portray as a protegé of his) became a surprise international hit in 1970, however, it changed the game viz-a-viz what was expected of a giallo. Lenzi’s producer Luciano Martino transferred his patronage to his own younger bother Sergio, who effortlessly managed (with the likes of  The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh, All The Colours Of The Dark and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key) a more contemporary and feisty overhaul of the melodramatic bonkathons that had been Lenzi’s stock-in-trade.

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Lenzi’s subsequent gialli have the feeling of a man flailing around, attempting in vain to reassert a grip on a genre that has moved on without him, thank you very much. Knife Of Ice and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (both from the same year in which Lenzi churned out Deep River Savages) are, respectively, a thinly disguised remake of Robert Siodmak’s classic The Spiral Staircase (1946) and an Italian / German co-production falling back on the latter territory’s ongoing fondness for Edgar Wallace adaptations (both genuine and bogus) with a pinch of Cornell Woolrich and added gore thrown in. 1975’s Eyeball (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) was an amusingly deranged stab at the body count format whereas Spasmo (1974)? Hmm… Spasmo is  an ill-advised attempt to do some kind of metaphysical giallo… a bit of Blow Up here, a sprinkle of Lisa And The Devil there… a suggestion of Death Laid An Egg (“Hey, you remind me of a dying chicken!” to quote one scintillating line of dialogue.) More than anything else, Spasmo brings to mind one of those swinging ’60s pictures Jesus Franco made for Harry Allan Towers, but without any of Franco’s willingness to experiment, either in visually or narrative terms.

Louche characters slip in and out of bed with each other… star Robert Hoffman might or might not have killed somebody… his brother Ivan Rassimov might or might not share the gene that drove him bonkers… but who’s been draping the woods with hanged mannequins? And does anybody who actually stays awake until the end of this thing give a flying fuck? Lenzi even manages to make genre goddess Suzy Kendall look frumpy and unalluring… a cardinal sin!

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Good points? The whole thing is dignified with a Morricone soundtrack it doesn’t really deserve (ditto the nice transfer 88 have afforded it here) and there’s a truly hysterical  trailer which will probably cause any immature schoolboys who see it to go round the playground shouting “Spasmo!” at each other… which, from a PC standpoint, isn’t very good at all, so let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

Bonus materials include the expected postcard, reversible sleeve, trailer, Italian titles and credits… but it’s the Q&A session with Lenzi from the aforementioned Manchester bash, mediated by Calum Waddell that probably makes this disc just about worthy of your attention. Lenzi had just lunched with Barbara Bouchet, a contingency which would have left me in a very good mood indeed, nevertheless he goes out of his way to justify his rep as a grumpy old man. Translator Nick Frame suffers more than anyone on account of this long-winded answers. Nevertheless, among familiar gripes, we learn such interesting stuff as how filming of The Cynic, The Rat And The Fist (1977) was complicated by an ongoing feud between stars Tomas Milian and Maurizio Merli. Lenzi refuses point-blank to talk about namby-pamby animal lover John Morghen.

If you haven’t seen Spasmo and still want to after reading this review, that’s fair enough, but don’t say you weren’t warned. As I often find myself telling Kid Freudstein: “I went through this shit so you wouldn’t have to.” Caveat emptor.

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So there you go… six 88 releases… I tracked ’em down, I trapped ’em and I only killed one of them. One general bugbear, though… why do 88 discs always default right back to the starting menu when you stop them, rather than to the point where you left off?

In honour of all you Irene Miracle devotees out there, of whom there are thousands if the stats of this site are anything to go by, I’ll shortly be taking a look at the 88 Blu-ray release of Aldo Lado’s notorious Night Train Murders.

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If A Problem Comes Along, You Must W.I.P. It… THE JAIL – THE WOMEN’S HELL Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Intervision (Severin). Unrated.

We’ve already alluded to the gonzo career twilight of “Vincent Dawn” (and I’m using that line here because I gather it’s been vetoed as the title for my upcoming Dark Side piece) and considered some of the zombie and cannibal efforts perpetrated by Bruno Mattei in his unexpected (indeed unpredictable, unprecedented and arguably unwelcome) Indian Summer of shot-on-video atrocities elsewhere on this blog. The germ (in every sense of the word) of The Jail – The Women’s Hell was apparently a screening of Jess Franco’s 99 Women, introduced by its director, at a Festival dedicated to the memory of Joe D’Amato. Mattei attended (my God, what a Fest… where / when was it held? Why weren’t we invited?) alongside new screenplay collaborator Antonio Tentori and when the latter asked producer Giovanni Paolucci if his Japanese buyers might entertain a sleazy Women In Prison effort alongside all those zombie / cannibal gut munching extravaganzas, his answer predictably ran along the lines of: “Is a bear a Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods?”

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Yvette Yzon, subsequent star of Mattei’s swan song zombie brace, stars as Jennifer, whom we first encounter on a boat taking her and fellow female cons Lisa (Love Gutierrez) and Carol (Amelie Pontailler) to a prison camp in the remote Philippine jungle. An Oscar-worthy exchange of dialogue (kind of) establishes what they’re in for…

Lisa: “Dirty trafficking for dirty people!”

Carol: “I whacked my pimp… that bastard had it coming”

Jennifer: “I’ve done everything you said…and worse!”

Hard cases, for sure, but even they are chastened, on arrival at the prison, to witness a disobedient prisoner being pulled out from the confines of the camp sweat box and given 20 lashes… even though she’s already dead! Talk about flogging a dead whore!! This proves to be an appropriate welcome to what the guards describe as “The House Of Lost Souls”… no, there’s no mad scientist subjecting the inmates to bizarre evolutionary experiments, but the expected cohort of sapphic, sadistic camp director (Odette Khan), gun-happy governor (Jim Gaines, who would also appear in Island Of The Living Dead and Zombies The Beginning), lecherous camp doctor (David Brass), casually cruel guards and collaborationist fellow prisoners subject them to just about every other indignity that you could hope for in a W.I.P. … about none of which, to paraphrase Sir Allan Bryce, would Amnesty International be best pleased:

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… hosing downs, cavity searches, mandatory lesbianism, enforced participation in the sexy floor show of the burlesque club that seems to have been built on the side of the jail, , incarceration in that sweat box and / or a submerged rat cage… one unfortunate is even trussed up, semi naked and has a snake draped all over her. The reptile in question is clearly some kind of constrictor but apparently kills her with a venomous bite. I’m not going to quibble too much about because I was worried that this scene might take an exceptionally dodgy turn, only for Mattei to wind it up with an uncharacteristic fit of self restraint.

For the first hour of The Jail Bruno sticks enthusiastically but unexpectedly closely to the sleazy W.I.P. formula but as its final third looms, you sense that he just can’t control his eclectic itchings anymore and after a successful escape attempt, Jennifer and pals are pursued through the jungle in the best Most Dangerous Game style by Jim Gaines and pals, making the short hop from overacting, lip-smacking rapists to overacting, lip-smacking Count Zaroff types, keen to re-enact their favourite moments from Cannibal Holocaust and Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals.

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Indeed, there are even pop-up attacks from a troupe of South American cannibals who look like they took a wrong turn off the Orinoco somewhere. No zombies but, y’know, Mattei was probably writing / prepping / shooting / post-producing about five other movies that week and it must  have slipped his mind…

More gob-slapping than any of the by-the-numbers excesses of The Jail – The Woman’s Hell is its arbitrary and unbelievable conclusion, by which Jennifer, having escaped and alerted the authorities, is driven back to the jail in time to abort the imminent hanging of one of her mates and be installed as the new camp director as her predecessor is arrested and driven off… just like that! Say what you like about these developing nations, but they cut through that red tape like a dose of salts!

The Jail – The Women’s Hell isn’t quite as deliriously distracting as Mattei’s eleventh hour cannibal and zombie efforts but demonstrates that, even at this late stage in the game, when all of his more feted contemporaries had long given up, Mattei was unapologetic about serving up trashy exploitation… and God bless him for it! Maybe he, Joe D’Amato and Jesus Franco are together in heaven (or somewhere else) right now, planning the greatest sleaze portmanteau movie of all time. If only…

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Bonus materials comprise the expected trailer and two featurettes, Prison Inferno (in which Paolucci and Tentori recall the genesis of this project and look back fondly on their collaborations with the late Bruno Mattei) and Acting for Bruno, in which Yvette Yzon and Alvin Anson remember the shoot as a demanding but ultimately rewarding experience. Yeah, he was a shouty director but they’ve forgiven him. Aaaah…

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Cramming Bricks Up The Viewer’s Arse… Bruno Mattei’s audacious swan song ZOMBIES THE BEGINNING Reviewed

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Call The Midwife!

DVD. Region 1. Intervision (Severin). Unrated.

I’m not going to be dredging up, here, all the facts in the case of Bruno Mattei… how the already astonishing cinematic career of “Vincent Dawn” continued to prosper as the Italian film industry collapsed all around him (perhaps precisely because many his pictures already resembled home movies) and flowered during his twilight years into an improbable final splatter stand, reviving the cannibal and zombie genres on which his contemporaries had long given up on account of disappearing audiences, dried up investment or, indeed, death. I’m not going to be dredging them up here, chiefly because I’ll be doing that in a major Mattei retrospective coming up (assuming Brycie’s assent) in a future issue of Dark Side.

For the moment you’ll have to be satisfied with this look at Bruno’s swan song, completed (if you’ll be generous and stretch a point) in 2007, the year of his death… and what a highly satisfying picture it is, for any trash movie addict worth their salt. Rendered (like everything he’d directed in the previous five years) on high-end video, Zombies The Beginning is the companion piece to Island Of The Living Dead, in close proximity to which (if not simultaneously with) it was shot. Discerning the exact relationship between the narrative of the two pictures, however, could give you a nasty headache. So don’t try too hard.

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If Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) initiated the zucchini zombie gold-rush by pitching itself as an unsolicited cheeky prequel to George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead (1978) then Island Of The Living Dead (which was, incidentally, the working title of Fulci’s celebrated effort) attempts to go one better (aeons after the event!) by tracing Dr Menard’s unfortunate Caribbean incident back to a little known episode in 18th Century colonial history, during which conquistadores discovered to their cost that when vampire pirates encounter plague victims, the inevitable result is an island full of flesh-eating zombies… yep, that’ll do it. Having been shipwrecked on that very island three Centuries later, feisty treasure hunter Sharon (Yvette Yzon) discovered the living dead to be very much alive… er, undead and kicking, still hungering for human flesh. Despite being rescued from the open sea by helicopter, she is revealed in that film’s closing shots as a zombie / vampire / pirate / plague victim / fuck-knows-what.

The opening of Zombies The Beginning reveals, in turn, that this downbeat ending was all a dream. Sharon is fully alive and well, bristling with determination to go back to that island, stomp some zombie butt and, by so doing, lay to rest the ongoing nightmares by which she is haunted. While the hackneyed “dream” device has become enough of a cliché for us to swallow it, however resentfully, it’s difficult to see how the events of this film can follow on from those in IOTLD and still be construed as any sort of “beginning.”

Blame for this dereliction of logic (and believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet!) cannot be laid exclusively at the door of Mattei, and certainly not that of his long-term writing / directing collaborator Claudio Fragasso (who had taken a powder on Mattei productions by this point)… much of the blame (or indeed praise) for the lunacy that is about to unfold must be apportioned to new script writer Antonio Tentori, who had single-handedly proven with Fulci’s Nightmare Concert (1990) that the auteur behind The Beyond, Don’t Torture A Duckling, et al (who’d survived his 1987 collaboration with Mattei, Zombi 3, with his reputation more or less intact by the simple expedient of bailing on the production) could be reduced to Zombie Creeping Flesh-type cut-and-paste travesties when gifted the (in)correct collaborators. Tentori’s participation in the dire Argento Dracula (2012) represents a stark ill omen to those hoping against hope for a revival in the artistic fortunes of the divine Dario. An amiable enough bloke, Tentori gets to defend his, er, artistic vision in the short featurette Zombies Genysis (in which he claims the “credit” for persuading Fulci to play himself in Nightmare Concert.) The other extra you get here is a trailer.

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Emboldened by Tentori’s participation (not that he was exactly pushing against a locked door), Mattei throws just about everything bar the kitchen sink into what passes for ZTB’s plot. So Sharon, whom we left recovering from her fever dream, is now plunged into a new one as she accompanies a crack team of grunts to zombie island in her official capacity as “biological consultant”, though nothing in the previous film even hinted at her alleged expertise in this area. In the interim she’s also become a dab hand with an Uzi (was this part of the Buddhist training alluded to at the start of the picture?) … Renaissance woman, or what?

She doesn’t need a cutlass, garlic or holy water because the vampire pirates are conspicuous by their unexplained absence, this time out. Instead we get those grunts, whose motion sensors regularly tell them that they’re surrounded in all directions by unseen zombies, whose eventual appearance obliges them to shoot their way out… and if they can’t escape they clench hands in grenade suicide… the mission commander is sinister “Barker” (Paul Holmes) from the shady Tyrell…  sorry, Tyler Corporation… who seems more concerned with preserving the real estate and taking “samples” back home than with the welfare of his team (he’s not a secret cyborg but that’s the only thing you could probably say in his favour)… sounds familiar? “All the references to James Cameron’s film were intended” admits Tentori in the bonus interview (no shit, Sherlock!) and so as to leave you in no doubt, he regurgitates choice dialogue from Aliens (1986), verbatim (must save time when you’re penning a screenplay, right?)

The  over familar narrative actually takes an unexpected turn for the interesting as Sharon’s exploration of  the out-of-control facility continues, revealing all manner of hellish procedures whereby unfortunate woman are being farmed for zombie babies… shades of Tony Randel’s Hellbound (1988) in some of these scenes, though the xenomorphs-gone-apeshit stuff is also five years in advance of similar material from Ridley Scott’s mega-budgeted Prometheus (a film which I sometimes seem to be the only person on the planet who will own up to liking.)

It becomes clear (well, as clear as anything is ever made in this insane film) that the main aim of the Tyler Corporation’s sinister secret program was to churn out  (Christ knows why!) sawn-off junior cone-headed deadfucks… and my God, what a treat for the eyes of trash flick aficionados they turn out to be!

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In terms of military applications, they look about as useful as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest. Mattei does give them a little dance routine but uncharacteristically misses a trick by failing to dub the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka over their repulsive terpsichorean efforts. If he could afford to pay for submarine footage from Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide, 1995 (well, I assume he paid) he could surely have stretched his budget to meet to meet that expense? Never mind, I’m sure readers will be perfectly able to synch up this audio-visual extravaganza at home and if they do it will enhance their enjoyment of Zombies The Beginning no end.

Sharon ultimately discovers that the Corporation is itself a front and that the whole grisly xenomorphic show is actually being run by a disembodied alien brain in a bell jar… I’ll wager three quatloos that this random plot development was inspired by Tentori’s love for the Star Trek episode Gamesters Of Triskelion (and possibly even Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination.) Braniac rallies the oompa loompas and urges Sharon to “join the master race” but her facial response is so disdainful that it apparently causes the bell jar and its contents to spontaneously explode… and that’s the bell end of the alien zombie meister.

As the facility burns down, our heroine scarpers with the remaining zombies hot on her heels. There’s a submarine waiting for her in the harbour, but it’s on out takes from Crimson Tide… how is Mattei going to match up these conflicting bits of footage convincingly? Anyone who’s ever gawped, slack-jawed at his Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981) will be only too well aware of his ability to conflate nature documentaries, bits of old mondo movies and threadbare am-dram read-throughs into seamless sequences (well… sequences, anyway) but here he does something that I believe is UNPRECEDENTED IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF MOTION PICTURES!!!

He cuts to footage of himself, trying to cut the footage together.

And that’s how the picture ends.

I’ll just leave you to ponder that for a moment (it’s worth remembering, while you do, that at the time Mattei was suffering from the brain tumour which was shortly to claim his life)…

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Now, many people whose opinions I respect are (unlike me) big fans of David Lynch. They seem particularly chuffed with the moment in his unwatchable Mulholland Drive (2001) where Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, having embarked upon a torrid, minge-munching affair, discover that they’re actually microbes on a tuna sandwich discarded in a dumpster somewhere  (or something like that… sorry, I kept falling asleep.) If  Mulholland Drive is truly (as attested in many polls) the greatest movie of our times then, with apologies to my Lynch-loving friends, we must be living in pretty desperate times… and anyway, Bruno “despised hack” Mattei effortlessly outflanks his more feted fellow director’s Post Modern credentials with that astonishing “editor ex machina” appearance at the conclusion of Zombies The Beginning, a development that doesn’t so much shatter the fourth wall as dismantle it, brick by brick, then cram them up the gob-smacked viewer’s arse! Sideways!

Having recently OD’d on late-period Mattei (thanks to a clutch of excellent DVD releases on the mighty Severin label) I’m beginning to suspect… to fear, actually… that Bruno is fast becoming one of my favourite directors. And that is really fucking scary.

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Hell Is (with apologies to Jean Paul Sartre) Another Bruno Mattei Movie To Watch: L’ALTRO INFERNO Reviewed

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VHS. Pal. Redemption. 18.

I kicked off our survey of Italian Exorcist knock-offs with Pope Paul VI’s observation, from November 1972, that Satan really exists and has us all in his power. Some readers have suggested that I erred in omitting Bruno Mattei’s The Other Hell (“L’Altro Inferno”) from that survey. Did The Devil make me do it? Or was I right in my initial judgement that Mattei’s picture is more properly bracketed with the slew of “lesbian orgy outbreaks in a convent” epics that Mattei’s erstwhile collaborator Joe D’Amato was inspired to perpetrate after seeing Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) than with spaghetti exorcism proper? Either way, now seems as propitious a moment as any to examine this particular cinematic outrage, also known as Guardian Of Hell and Terror In A Convent.

Deploying the “Stefan Oblowsky” guise from his extensive collection of pseudonyms, Mattei shot TOH simultaneously with his The True Story Of The Nun Of Monza in 1980. It’s undoubtedly his best picture (though he himself has had the gall to cite Rats – Night Of Terror  as his career pinnacle), which is not to say that it’s in any way accomplished… it’s the sheer go-for-broke audacity, the all-out  sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium in The Other Hell that puts it ahead of even D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, female lead Franca Stoppi and even its fluffed “shock” ending) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.

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Incredibly, its pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more subdued moments in The Other Hell, which goes on to delineate trendy cleric Father Vaelrio (Carlo De Mejo)’s vain attempts to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!

Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (yep, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from Dario Argento’s Suspiria, although Mattei always claimed this picture as a tribute to  Argento’s Inferno (with tributes like this, who needs insults?) Mattei’s trump card here is probably Stoppi, who chews the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza.

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The Other Hell was co-written by “Clyde Anderson” (Claudio Fragasso), a frequent scripting collaborator who has often found himself completing the direction of pictures that Mattei started before rushing on to his next schlock-fest. This ploy, together with Mattei’s already-noted reliance on stock footage, was crucial in sustaining his prolific output. Fragasso also co-wrote what is probably still Mattei’s most widely-seen monstrosity, that insufferable soufflé of amateur dramatics, Fulci thievery, goofy grand guignol and grainy stock footage Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981.)

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So who was the real Bruno Mattei (death finally intervened to stop him churning out motion pictures in 2007, the year in which he managed his final two directorial “credits”)? The poor man’s Joe D’Amato? The rodent-obssessed recycler of other people’s ideas and footage? The accomplished technician described to me by David Warbeck? You must be the judge… but to come to a fair decision, one that will not (to paraphrase the dude in Faces Of Death) implicate yourself… you’re gonna have to watch a whole shit load of terrible movies!

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“Can I look yet?”

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ARRIVEDERCI, ROMA… Italians After The Bomb

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A Fighter Centurion in Rome, pictured tomorrow.

“Films such as The Bronx Warriors were the last gasp of our industry trying to survive.”

(Venerable Italian exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti… quoted above in a recent interview with Calum Waddell).

Bertrand Russell once made the ominous observation that “if the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the Fourth will be fought with bows and arrows”. If he’d lived long enough to witness the early ‘80s cycle of Italian post-apocalypse movies, he would no doubt have extended his estimate of WWIV’s armoury to include dune buggies with drill attachments (as in The New Barbarians), talking motorbikes (Warrior Of The Lost World), and pterodactyl hang-gliders (Yor). Yep, those ever-resourceful spaghetti exploitation mavens figured that once they’d adopted the patently nonsensical basic premise of anyone actually surviving global thermo-nuclear war (admittedly, their movies would be somewhat lacking in “human interest” if nobody had!), they might as well be nuked for sheep as lambs and throw logic completely out of the window. Thus their post-apocalyptic landscapes are peopled by roving bands of gay, book-burning nihilists (The New Barbarians)… Hari-Krishna survivalists battling hordes of rampaging rodents (Rats – Night Of Terror)… self-propagating Popeye clones (She)… and any amount of other, equally wacky nonsense that not even Nostradamus could have predicted!

Prior to the 80’s, Hollywood had produced plenty of atom-angst movies: firstly, scores of cash-in SF monster-mash quickies such as Them! (1954), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and in the same year, at the other end of the mutation scale, Jack Arnold’s superior The Incredible Shrinking Man; later, more sophisticated dramas like On The Beach (1959), Fail Safe (1964) and of course Kubrick’s scorchingly satirical Dr Strangelove (also 1964). Unusually for an Italian film-cycle though, the Italian post-nukes series was not rooted directly in any American cinematic antecedents, rather in real geopolitical events that were taking place on the ground in Europe. Viewed from the perspective of today’s post-Cold War “New World Order” it all seems like a bad dream now, but back then NATO’s doctrine of “flexible response” against the supposed Warsaw Pact threat allowed for the fighting of “a limited nuclear war” in our continent and when the cruise missiles were installed at Greenham Common and elsewhere, many Europeans genuinely feared that Armageddon was just around the corner.

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Under such pressures, a recently launched Italian sub-genre of societal breakdown mutated into the post-apocalypse genre proper. That fledgling subgenre, best represented by Enzo G. Castellari (aka Enzo Girolami)’s Bronx Warriors (1982), did have definite, easily discernible roots in Hollywood antecedents. Written by Castellari with prolific husband and wife scripting duo Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Livia Briganti, Bronx Warriors is an inventive, hyperactive fusion of elements from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), with a dash of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971) and a touch of Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975) thrown in for good measure. Castellari’s film also adopts Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters, with Trash (“Mark Gregory” / Marco De Gregorio), The Ogre (Fred Williamson), Golem (“George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori) and Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly) and their respective gangs battling for turf in a Bronx that has previously been abandoned by civil society, whose representatives (in the person of Vic Morrow’s “Hammer”) have now chosen to claim it back via a programme of gentrificational genocide.

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Bronx Warriors was such a hit in the U.S. market that a sequel (Escape From The Bronx aka Bronx Bronx Warriors 2: The Battle For Manhattan, 1983)  was duly made, running on similar lines but with Henry Silva understandably substituting for Vic Morrow (decapitated in the Twilight Zone debacle) as Trash’s megalomaniacal opponent. The intruiging cast for this one featured, as well as Castellari’s omnipresent brother Enio Girolami (“Thomas Moore”) and one of Castellari’s own cameos, an appearance by Italian hard-core queen Moana Pozzi, who died of cancer shortly afterwards.

If his Bronx Warriors films primed the detonator, then it was Castellari’s The New Barbarians (also 1982) which ignited the mushroom cloud and shaped the fall-out of subsequent “post-nukes” efforts. Ironically so, because as Castellari himself readily admits: “It’s a joke…  those silly futuristic cars… it’s a bad movie, very bad… a really poor effort!” His verdict is vindicated as early as the title sequence, where the impact of a nuclear explosion (once memorably – not to mention pants-shittingly – described as being like “a huge furnace door slamming shut in the bowels of Hell”) is rendered by what looks suspiciously like a child’s sparkler being waved over a leggo model of New York City. The balance of the picture comprises a succession of luke-warm retreads of moments from George Miller’s 1981 milestone Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (whose influence over subsequent films has continued, e.g. in Kevin Costner’s bloated Waterworld, 1995) and an increasingly spaghetti western-esque ambience. “Timothy Brent” (Giancarlo Prete, a stalwart of Castellari’s own spagwests) is the hero with no name (or probably wishes he was, his character having been dubbed “Scorpio”), sore-assed and out to settle a score with Luigi Montefiori’s Templars, an avowedly and aggressively homosexual cult who like to, er, widen the circle of their friends (and indeed enemies) when they’re not torturing holocaust survivors and burning books (on the grounds that: “It was damn books that caused the Apocalypse!”) Unless you’re in the right frame of mind to watch total crap (I must confess, I frequently am), the sole saving grace of this movie is Claudio Simonetti’s driving, percussive score.

Having successfully ripped off Escape From New York, Mad Max 2 and so on, Castellari proceeded to churn out countless other characteristically energetic, imitative (and generally lucrative) cash-ins on Hollywood hits, leaving the post-nukes wasteland open to his pasta exploitation peers. Sure enough, the likes of Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino and Antonio Margheriti would all now throw their hats into the radioactive ring.

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Margheriti’s entry, Yor (a 1984, Italo-Turkish co-production boiled down from a TV series) is an ultra-trashy reworking of the central premise to Roger Corman’s 1958 effort Teenage Caveman (in which adolescent Australopithecus Robert Vaughan ultimately discovers that the Flintstone-like world he inhabits is the result of an earlier generation’s nuclear war), as is rather given away by the sub-title sometimes appended to it: Hunter From The Future. But how did nukes revive the pterodactyl which muscle-brained Reb Brown (to the accompaniment of his truly brain-frying hard-rock theme song) uses as a hang-glider… Margheriti must have recently screened a Rodan movie! It’s little short of astonishing that this jumbled Jurassic lark is just about the most commercially successful item on Margheriti’s lengthy, variable but oft-prestigious CV, and I remember him having a hearty belly-laugh on this score when I raised the subject with him during the mid-90s.

Underlining the continuity between Italian apocalypsoes and the Peplum genre, Yor’s cast features an alumnus of the sword and sandal school, ever-scowling Gordon Mitchell, who’s also in Tonino Ricci’s Rush, Joe D’Amato’s Endgame and Avi Nesher’s She. The latter (begun in 1983 as a [relatively] straight H. Rider-Haggard adaptation, stalled and only appearing in 1985, having been rejigged to include radioactive mutants in the interim) is every bit as bizarre but nowhere near as entertaining as the Margheriti flick. The above-mentioned regenerating Popeye clones are the only thing that stick in my memory from this fiasco (whose soundtrack contributors include Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Motorhead, and a band rejoicing in the name of “Bastard”!), but if you think I’m in any hurry to watch it again, you’ve got another think coming, buster!

Warrior Of The Lost World, an 1983 Italian-American co-production written and directed by David Worth (=?) is a similarly gimmicky vehicle, which tosses a talking motor-bike into its derivative mix of plot-points. No David Hasselhoff, thank fuck, but the film’s surprisingly starry cast of exploitation mainstays does include Donald Pleasance, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Robert Ginty and Persis Khambatta.

2019

Sergio Martino (as “Martin Dolman) filled his 2019: After The Fall Of New York with knowing Wagnerian references (e.g. the mandatory silly character names include “Parsifal”) for those members of his audience who were culturally astute enough to pick them up. Those who weren’t could content themselves with enjoying the schlocky action, as hunky Michael Sopkiw searches for the world’s last fertile woman, whom the good guys want to whisk off to another, unspoiled planet, which they plan to populate with a new human race. Although Martino is inarguably an intelligent director, such arch touches can’t really disguise the basic formulaic nature of the proceedings here, though there is one amusing final gag (similar to the conclusion of Bob Fuest’s The Final Programme), as it’s revealed that Sleeping Beauty has been impregnated by “The Big Ape” a love-struck simian mutant played by “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori (just think of the make-up costs they saved by casting him in this role!)

Atlantis Interceptors

The new team of Top Gear presenters were considerably better behaved than Jeremy Cuntson.

Another veteran spaghetti exploiter, Ruggero Deodato (posing as “Roger Franklin”) made a tangential entry into the post-Apocalypse stakes with Atlantis Interceptors (1983), in which various unspecified eco-unfriendly activities by the human race predictably lead to the lost continent of Atlantis popping up on the Florida coast-line, and its rampaging inhabitants (led by Ivan Rassimov) driving around the state in a souped-up battle-truck, terrorising terrans. Christopher Connelly, spagwest veteran George Hilton, superspade Tony King, gorgeous Gioia Maria Scola (whose subsequent off screen antics proved most colourful) and one “Michael Soavi” become urban guerrillas to dispatch the invaders’ asses back to Davey Jones’s locker in this amusing effort.

Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2033: Fighter Centurions (1983, aka Ben Hur Vs Spartacus in The States, as if to emphasise once again those Peplum connections) is another marginal effort, a portrayal of a dystopian future with no actual mention of there having been a nuclear holocaust. In this one the corrupt ruling classes keep the masses happy with bread and circuses, the latter comprising gladiatorial motorbike competitions in which Jared Martin (a poor man’s David Warbeck, who later starred in Dallas) excels. The film is an investigation of the ethics of presenting violence as mass entertainment, a theme Fulci would expand on, to quite astonishing effect, in his later Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain (1990). Admittedly Fighter Centurions owes a certain amount to Rollerball, but it was itself extensively ripped off by Paul Michael Glaser’s nominal Stephen King adaptation, The Running Man (1987), as was Joe D’Amato’s Endgame (1983).

EndgameJOED

It wouldn’t be a D’Amato film without a few tits somewhere…

Incredible as it may seem, given his track-record (and D’Amato had during the previous year turned in a mediocre “post-nukes” outing, 2020: Freedom Fighters aka  2020: Texas Gladiators, after his protégé Luigi Montefiori abdicated the reins on what was supposed to be his directorial debut), D’Amato’s Endgame is one of the best pictures to emerge from this cycle, adding surprisingly subtle touches (such as Laura Gemser – giving one of the best performances in her career – as one of a mutant race of telepaths who must refrain from violence because they would participate psychically in the pain of their victims) to the bare bones of its “Luigi Monefiori vs Al Cliver (aka Pier Luigi Conti) in televised grudge match” storyline.

Less impressive efforts include Exterminators Of The Year 3000 (1983), an Italo-Spanish production directed by “Jules Harrison” (Giuliano Carnimeo) and a brace by  “Anthony Richmond” (Tonino Ricci), Rush The Assassin (1983) and its semi-sequel Rage (1984, aka Rush 2). The first picture stars “Conrad Nichols” (Luigi Mezzabotte) as Rush, resistance leader of a bunch of post-nuke proles forced to labour in sterile plastic greenhouses because all the vegetation outside has supposedly been destroyed by radiation. Less astute critics complained that “the entire last third of the film takes place in an Italian forest”, but they’ve missed the whole goddamn point (one pinched from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth), namely that the whole dying eco-system story was a scam, perpetrated to keep the toiling masses – quite literally – in their place. Rage contains one of Allan Bryce’s all-time favourite lines of dialogue, i.e. “It won’t be easy, building up a new world… but there’s no harm in trying!”

Nice to close on an unintentionally hilarious one-liner, but if you want the end of your world served up with some giggles instead of a bang, you’ll find the motherlode in Bruno Mattei’s totally ludicrous Rats – Night Of Terror (1984). Mattei, who would give the world a pedantically eco-conscious undead D.J. in Zombi 3 (1988), and had already turned his Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981) into a doomsday scenario featuring the first (and hopefully last) zombie rat in screen history, here depicts mankind’s last stand against hordes of radioactively mutated (and totally unscary) rodents. Although you can see it coming a country mile away, this picture’s hilarious “twist” ending is (like the rest of the film) so ineptly rendered as to be worth its weight in fool’s gold.

alesFromTheRB

The 2016 Reboot of Tales From The Riverbank was a conspicuous failure…

The genre Enzo Castellari had inaugurated with The New Barbarians petered out in the likes of Urban Warriors (1987, directed by “Joseph Warren” / Giuseppe Vari and scripted by superannuated spaghetti hack Pietro Regnoli) and The Final Executioner (1984) and Bronx Executioners (1989), a brace directed (appropriately enough) by Enzo’s uncle Romolo Girolami, under the guises “Romolo Guerrieri” and “Bob Collins” respectively. The former is actually rather good, and certainly the clearest statement yet of the affinities between this sub-genre and the spaghetti western: William Mang restores order to a town where survivalist yuppies have been preying on the dregs of radiation-scarred humanity, with spagwest icon Woody Strode along for the ride. Strode also stars in Bronx Executioners (alongside Zombie Creeping Flesh victim Margit Evelyn Newton).

These efforts were nothing more than stragglers, a belated coda to a genre whose commercial half-life had long expired in the trend-conscious Italian industry. Indeed, internationally post-apocalypse offerings tailed off dramatically in the run up to the fall of Communism, Steve De Jarnatt’s splendid Miracle Mile (1988) effectively burying the sub-genre. You can’t keep a good bomb down though, and a slew of subsequent offerings such as True Lies (1994),  the Under Siege movies (1992-95) and The Sum Of All Fears (2002) have had audiences reaching for their brown trousers again as they contemplate the dreadful prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue regimes, terrorists or millennial religious loonies… which wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but could still mean several hundred thousand people suffering a real crimp in their day!

That's your lot...

“They think it’s all over… it is now!”

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