Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Nights of Terror (Le Notti del Terrore)

Another day, another Spaghetti Zombie flick. Fresh from the prime years of Italia's Zombie cycle comes Andrea Bianchi's Nights of Terror.

This film has been called a lot of things. Good isn't usually one of them. IMDb reviews run from a verdict of "unintentionally hilarious" to "unbearably awful" and, whilst there's definitely elements of the latter, I must side with the former.

Like so many of the others (and indeed, most of the films I cover here...) it gets off to a bad start on paper.
  • Andrea Bianchi cut his teeth very much on the porn side of exploitation films: his previous titles to this included Confessions of a Frustrated Housewife, Strip Nude for Your Killer and The Erotic Dreams of a Lady.
  • The film has almost no plot
  • The scenes are pretty much split equally between the central characters fumbling with each other and the central characters being hunted by zombies.
Of course, you could very well argue that some of those may be positives....

^^ There is literally nothing that gives away that this film was made in 1980.^^

The 'plot' can be pretty easily dismissed as: luxury-loving loved-up couples spend some time at a castle/mansion house. Zombies rise from their graves. Zombies kill central characters. The end.

The characters are similarly bland; in the film's defence, things to move at a good enough pace that we are hardly given time to consider how little depth Bianchi gives his protagonists but.... on the flipside: whenever any one of them dies, there's a fairly large temptation to shrug your shoulders and mutter, "oh well". It's not as if we really ever care about any of them. The women especially (as might be expected from a 1980 Italian exploitation horror) are completely characterless. Of the prominent women, one is zombified fairly early, the other encounters her slaughtered son and hardly utters another word whilst the third.... She is so enormously irritating in the typical 'all-a-woman-can-do-when-confronted-by-something-scary-is-scream' manner that, when she stumbles into a (rather oddly placed) bear-trap, I was vaguely pleased. Sadly, all it means is that she screamed and squawked for the rest of the film, albeit now with added limping.

Frustratingly boring characters aside, the zombification is quite fun. The make-up is somewhat heavier than normal (in the vein of the Spanish conquistadores of Fulci's Zombi 2) but they are pleasingly grotty with maggots and all. The gore is a little thin on the ground perhaps, but the bits we do get are fairly satisfying. And THAT breast-feeding moment needs no more elaboration...

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. After all, for all the lack of plot, the flat characters, the atrocious dubbing, the obviously budget-limited set, this film moves along at a keen pace and is a lot of fun. Maybe not one to treasure, watch again, or even remember but... if you're after a fun film to watch, in which stupid people get killed by the undead, this might just fit your requirements.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nightmare City (Incubo sulla città contaminata)


Ok. First off we'll do a quick Zombie-Survival, multiple-choice quiz question:

You are on the run from vicious, fast, flesh-eating, blood-drinking ghouls. And your escape-vehicle is running out of petrol. When you stumble upon a deserted looking petrol station, do you...

a)Fill your van at the pump, taking advantage of how there appears to be no-one around, and continue fleeing, or...

b)Pop in, have a rummage through the (presumably deceased) owner's clothes and make yourself a cup of coffee, whilst dicussing how man's greed has triggered this crisis. Upon discovering one of the zombies in the back garden, rather than running away, you attack it, alerting others to your presence, allowing them to find your car which you then firebomb, before escaping on foot with only a flask of brandy.

If you anwered a) you might stand a chance of survival. If you anwered b) you'll die like the suckers in this film.

Oh look, there's some glamourous dancers. What'll happen to them, I wonder....?

Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City is both wonderful and awful, serious and silly. The characters are numerous and killed off so fast that we can't really care very much about them; when the military lieutenant is forced to shoot his zombified wife through the head, we're vaguely aware that this seems a shame, but it's hardly a tragedy as none of the characters have enough time to create any depth or link with the watcher.

You can't fault it on body count though. The monsters of the film might not be strictly zombies - they are victims of radiation who haven't died and move incredibly fast (think 28days...) and wield weapons - but they certainly cause havoc, feed on blood and pass on their contamination to those that they injure. And the injure an awful lot of people!

The planned air-strike is somewhat derailed by the discovery of an entire airbase of dead pilots and the notquitezombies munch away at doctors, nurses, patients, soldiers, dancers and relatives with ample enthusiasm.

Plot-wise, this is little more than a vehicle for graphic violence and, although this sounds like a criticism, at least it's fairly open in its lowly ambitions. Refreshingly unpretentious! So if we can't rate a film on its plot, what can we use to evaluate it?

Why, the nature of the killings of course! Zombie movies are generally an excuse to be inventive and/or outrageous in terms of death scenes and this is fairly competent in this regard. Highlights include beating a vicar's brains out on the altar, a harpoon through the chest and a scene with a rollercoaster that I won't spoil...

Whch leads us to Zombie-Survival, multiple-choice quiz question number 2:

If, when fleeing a zombie-outbreak, you encounter an abandoned fairground do you...

a)wander in, or..

b)stay the hell away.

I'll let you figure the answer to that one yourself...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What Have You Done To Solange? / Cosa avete fatto a Solange?

The Italian Giallo films are perhaps not best known for being the most sophisticated cinematic creations of all time. Characterised by murder, mystery and sex, they equate more or less with our idea of a thriller, pulp-fiction Euro-cine. But with more sex.

It came as a surprise then just how good What Have You Done To Solange? was. On paper, admittedly, it looks as smutty, crass and trashy as you could expect from a Giallo (or any low-budget offering from the trash-flick capital of Europe): it's set in a Catholic girls school full of illicitly promiscuous teens, a teacher (the Italian professor, no less) is courting his pupils behind his wife's back, girls are getting killed with knife-wounds in unpleasant places and an unknown girl -the Solange of the title- is the link...

But that's where I have to stop giving away the details. Because, as much as it may come as a surprise, What Have You Done To Solange? is actually a pretty good film. The mystery is surprising, the story is tense, well-paced, interesting. You actually WANT to know what's going on.

Sure, the girls only seem to have conversations whilst taking communal showers, sex is entirely central to the plot: this is certainly no genre-defying masterpiece, but is entertaining and worth watching as a film. And not just softcore Italian trash...

An extra piece of trivia: the film is almost unnoticeably dubbed; the creators had intentions on the English-speaking markets, where dubbed films do poorly, and made everyone speak their lines in English, their strong accents were dubbed over, but their lip movements match the English.

As if all of that wasn't enough to convince you, the film is soundtracked by the inimitable Mr Morricone...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cemetery Without Crosses (Une Corde, Un Colt)

Westerns are in an odd place these days. The culture of the Western is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that everyone is familiar with some, if not all, of the classic clichés and norms of the Western film. Goodies wear white hats, baddies wear black. They smoke. They shoot. They drink whisky. They fight in bars. They barge through saloon doors, chase each other on horses across the desert, dash over the border to Mexico when the heat's on, have quick-draw shoot-outs at high noon, etc, etc.

Part of the reason for this collective knowledge is that Western films were simply MASSIVE once uipon a time. A well-established genre on both sides of the Atlantic, Western films were big business whilst (for the European Spaghetti Westerns at least) being dirt cheap to produce.

So why, years later do we remember the clichés but forget the films? Why do we remember only Clint Eastwood as THE Western star, Segio Leone as THE director and Ennio Morricone as THE composer?

THe simple, obvious and so most likely true (thanks Occam's razor...) answer to these questions is that, despite the enormous number of Wesrern films they were mostly pretty damn similar, forcing us to rememember the key clichés but being otherwise mostly forgettable. Eastwood, Leone and Morricone just happened to be the best...

Of course, this doesn't mean we should forget the rest. There are some excellent Westerns available and Cemetery Without Crosses is one of the best. And guess what? Neither Eastwood nor Morricone are anywhere to be seen!

Leone however, does stamp his presence here; the film is very much a tribute to his style (which is no bad thing!) and he even guest directed what is possibly the best and most tense scene of the movie, the meal at the Rogers family ranch.

THe story, then, is interesting and tense, albeit very predictably Spaghetti-Western-y. Despite Manuel's (Robert Hossein) rebuttal of "You believe in revenge. I don't. It never ends", this is a story of revenge and, equally predictably, it all ends in tears.

The Rogers have killed one of the Caines and, though the brother Caines are preparing to flee with their cash, the freshly-widowed Mrs.Caine is spitting blood and demmands revenge. Cue involvement of old flame Manuel and a whole lot of people getting shot.

Sexual tension in the Leone-directed dining scene...

So no great innovation in terms of plot, but sometimes its executgion rather than originality that's important. What is noticeable is an unusually positive role for women. Western's female characters tended to be demure and pathetic or prostitutes; here we are thankfully given some strong women who manage to assert themselves. Even without taking off their clothes! Something of a rarity for cheap films of the era...

Cemetery Without Crosses is beautifully shot - full of lots of long static camera angles - and keeps tension high throughout, with sparse dialogue and long silences that threaten to bore at times but mostly thrill. The soundtrack doesn't suffer either, director and star Rob Hossein's father André providing some suitably stompy, whistle-y tunes that fit the picture perfectly.

In all, Cemetery Without Crosses is an exciting, well-written and well-directed Spagheti Western that, although probably somewhat forgettable, is `definitely an entertaining watch.

As an extra aside, it is worth noting the writing credit given to a certain b-movie legend, Mr Dario Argento. Argento was fresh from a taste of success in writing for Sergio Leone's (him again) Once Upon A Tine in the West and obviously saw another Western as a sensible move. Director Rob Hossein has since claimed however that Argento played no role in the cresation of the film, suggesting that his onvolvement might not have gone as smoothly as hoped...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Poster Hunt #1 - Last orgy of the Gestapo...

Poster Hunt #1 brings you a fantastically tasteless mix of sex and Nazis. Strangely unlisted on IMDb, here is... La Última Orgia de la Gestapo!

On IMDb here, albeit with a slightly different title. The reviews aren't great...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dead End Drive In


I've had this film hanging around for ages now and just hadn't quite got round to watching it. In that time, I'd forgotten what little I knew about it and, in my head, it had become just some run of the mill slasher set in a drive-in cinema. I was wrong.

This is an Australian film from the 80s (and it really is very 80s...) that play on/cashes in on the popularity of Mad Max. Taking a similar kind of post-apocalyptic society as it's base, this plays as a kind of Mad Max flavoured meeting of Escape from NY and The Cars That Ate Paris (If you haven't seen either of those, go and do so. Now).

The premise is fairly simple. America's collapsed, the world's in trouble, there're no jobs in Australia, thugs ('cowboys') in modified cars terrorise the streets by night, the police deal brutally with anyone they catch. So far, so good.

Playing cricket in the Cinema-prison

A news report, right at the start, makes a big deal of the government's success in reducing unemployment. We think nothing of it, until shortly later when we discover how this is being achieved; the police are locking all the unemployed into out-of-town drive-in cinemas. And keeping them there.

The odd thing is that most of the unemployed really don't mind. Once imprisoned, they are fed, they needn't work, they can watch films. In many ways they live a very free life... inside the electrified fences of their cinema-prison. Not so for 'Crabs' however; besides sporting one of the worst nicknames in cinema history, Crabs is keen to escape and this film is his story. And it's a fun story; there's sex, there's fighting, there's car chases, there's even a pretty good 80s soundtrack. Whilst you could never claim this to be an intellectual heavyweight of a film (although there are some not-so-subtle observations of racism in Australian society), it's certainly a lot of fun.

Decidedly implausible, really quite silly, heaps of fun. Strongly recommended.

Monday, July 6, 2009

They Came Back (Les Revenants)


Yes, this is technically a zombie movie. Yes, this involves the recently deceased emerging from their graves and returning to life. Yes, it is French.

Here, though, the comparisons to Jean Rollin's godawful Zombie Lake end. Because Les Revenants isn't your standard zombie movie, it isn't really a horror film at all. It is however, very, very French.

In much the same way that the recent (and wonderful) Let The Right One In manages to be a vampire film without really being about the routine vampire-mythology horror clichés, Les Revenants takes a very different approach to the zombie film.

We'll start with the zombies themselves: what most films seem to overlook when bringing the recently deceased back to life is that, by and large, the recently deceased are likely to be, well, a bit old. So here, instead of having legions of youths dragging themselves out of their graves, we have a horde of the grey undead, 65% of whom are over 60...

Secondly, the fairly major distinction between this and pretty much all other zombie films is that the freshly reanimated have no lust for blood or brains whatsoever. They simply want to return to their lives. This has some pretty awkward results; most of their families have mourned them as dead and are at a bit of a loss as to how to suddenly factor all these people back into their lives. How do you interact with your (until recently) dead wife? They also pose a bit of a problem for the whole town, with 13,000 returning, the massive increase in numbers throwing the balance of the population. They're housed in community centres, helped as if they were refugees arriving from war torn lands.

The film then, is about the relationships that are re-awakened by the return of the dead; we focus mainly on two husband-wife relationaships and a child returning to his bereaved parents. That's not to say the film isn't creepy. There may be no gore, no moments of shock and horror, but there are several distinctly unsettling moments of suspense. The child in particular is creepy as anything...

As well as this focus on how we deal with loss and personal tragedy, the film asks about what it is to be alive; we are told that those who return have incomplete personalities, that everything they say and do is just a re-hashed version of what they remember doing, that they are incapable of original thought. So are they alive? All they can do is follow a set of responses that are borne out of their memories but... isn't that what we all are?

So farm so good. Now we move to it's French-ness. The film is beautiful. The film is thought provoking. The film is full of suspense. The film is SLOW. So very little actually happens that it really does drag a bit.

The film is novel, unsettling and beautiful but ultimately flawed. Not creepy enough to scare you and not quite intense enough to justify one and three quarter hours of undivided attention. It's definitely worth a watch and it will make you think, but I doubt it'll change your world.

(Haven't been able to find a trailer...)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wicked Wicked

From film diary

Challenge your imagination? That might be a little optimistic...


This is quite a weird one. As you can see from any of the pictures, Wicked Wicked is a film based entirely around the gimmick of duo-vision. Yep, that's two screens at once. Mostly they're different angles of the same scene but sometimes they show wildly different things: a character pauses for thought whilst a flashback plays out on the the other side.

The sad thing is that the gimmick actually works pretty well and is dragged down by a god-awful plot. In some moments, with the killer hiding on one screen and the others looking for him on the other screen, the two screens device really does actually add a bit of tension.


They can talk on the phone between screens!

Sadly, the story is rubbish, the acting pretty laughable and the pacing even worse. It's only 90ish minutes long; it really shouldn't drag like it does.

That said, the first 20 minutes or so are pretty good and the last 20 are really good fun. It's just the middle 50 that crawl past... It suffers from being one of those slasher flicks with very little slashing.

Although the killer has a bit of a thing for stabbing blondes, and mostly just after they've come from the shower, the film isn't sexy in the slightest. This doesn't stop it producing what is possibly an all time classic line though: the secretary lady, who is having a bit of a fling with the doctor/dentist/security man slyly says:
"I think I feel another toothache coming on, Doctor..."

"Sorry love, I'm not drilling today"
(Well it made me laugh anyway...)

Mostly crap. Fun at the end.

How moody...

Fake blood to the face!

Fairly impressively the trailer below, though it makes a fuss at the start about "Duo-Vision" doesn't actually show any of the parallel screens. How odd...