Zombi 7 (1980) (aka Antropophagus)

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We’re almost at the end of our “Zombi” series! And if Andreas Schnaas’ “Anthropopaghous 2000” proves impossible to track down (I’m not going to spend too much on it, obviously), this will be the end! Although the “official” series only consists of 5 instalments, it feels like I’ve watched 50 of the bloody things, even though this is no.14. We’ve reviewed a few classics which hopefully you’ve since enjoyed yourselves (“Zombie Flesh Eaters”, “Virgin Among The Living Dead”) and a few which ought to wiped from existence (“Panic”, “Zombie Flesh Eaters 2”).

 

We’ve also discovered that, if you’re a cheeky enough distributor, not having zombies in your movie is no problem. If you count this one (spoiler!) an amazing 5 of the 14 don’t have a single zombie in them! If you’re being extra-generous, dead people walk and talk in a few, but this, “Absurd” and “Panic” all feature just one villain, who’s definitely alive. This was part of the great zombie makeup shortage of the late 70s, of course.

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“Antropophagus” is not particularly well known as “Zombi 7”; but it’s extremely well known as one of the 72 “video nasties”, and was also one of the 39 to be successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. Unlike its not-really-a-sequel, “Absurd”, there’s absolutely no doubt why this one was banned, and that is our cannibal villain eating a foetus. I figured I ought to mention that at the top of things, in case it was a deal-breaker for you (the prop was, apparently, a skinned rabbit), but it’s a really well-done effect and induced a wince or two from even this jaded reviewer.

 

Let’s talk movie! The cold open features a young couple strolling through the streets of a picture-postcard Greek village before going for a sunbathe. He lies on the beach with huge headphones on (who takes headphones to the beach?) and she goes for a swim, finding something extremely unpleasant in a small drifting boat before getting chopped up by persons unknown, closely followed by the boyfriend. Solid open, as they go, and it’s another in the surprisingly durable “ship drifts into harbour carrying something nasty” sub-genre.

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Basically, the movie is about a group of pretty chill buds going for an island-hopping holiday. They’ve hired a boat, they’ve got some places to go, and as they’re travelling on the cable car down to the bay, the beautiful Julie (Tisa Farrow) asks them if she can get a lift to the island her friends are on. Because she’s hot, and one of the guys fancies her, they say yes. I wonder which island that will be?

 

A quick word about Ms Farrow – she seems to have hopped out of 2016, with everything about her – clothes, personality – seeming to come from a more enlightened age. She takes no nonsense from the guy she’s into, because he’s in a weird situation with another woman; she travels on her own; and she does her own rescuing. Honestly, it’s just refreshing to see a woman remain fully clothed throughout a movie, given what we’ve watched recently. If I can be bothered to mess about in Paint for a few minutes, below you should find a picture of her compared to a picture of Kristen Stewart in this year’s “American Ultra”.

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Okay, it’s the not the closest resemblance, but it’s good to see a woman not be wallpaper. Sadly, the island Julie wants to go has had something bad happen to it, in a style reminiscent of “Dagon” (although the inspiration went the other way, I presume). No-one’s on the streets, and the only person they see runs away, but not before writing “Go Away” in dirt on a window.  Their boat is unmoored and left to drift into the Mediterranean, people start disappearing, until eventually they’re led to the mansion owned by the wealthiest people on the island, who unfortunately all died in a boating accident a few months ago.

 

I’ve skated over a few details, because those long recaps leave me bored long before the end, even if it’s a cool movie. And this is pretty decent, surprisingly! The characters are all believable, the settings are great (kudos to the person who did all their location scouting for them) and the gore is plentiful. Given its status as a video nasty and the way it always used to show up on semi-legal “10 DVDs for a tenner” box sets, I expected a pretty miserable experience, but kudos to everyone involved. The scene in the ossuary (which featured at least some real bones, which the crew accidentally took away with them) is a great and creepy bit of business.

 

What’s more surprising is how this and “Absurd” are from the same writer and director, have similar-ish plots and were filmed a year apart. I think I bought the peril of this group more than the family from the later movie, I liked the actors more and they found better sets. But it’s not perfect, obviously, so it’s time for your favourite feature, “the paragraph where I mock the dumb stuff in the movie!”

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There’s a set of tarot cards used at the beginning. Now, have you ever seen a set of tarot cards in a movie ever, where the Death card doesn’t come up? It’s like the ultimate Chekov’s gun. I thought this was going to be the first, but as if in an acknowledgement of this rule, after “dealing a hand” and chatting about it, the highly strung and jealous Carol flicks through the pack until she finds the Death card, which still gets the big dramatic music sting! Excellent work. Carol locks Julie in a cemetery and leaves her there, with a psychopathic cannibal on the loose…then, ten minutes later, after she escaped, Julie’s way too forgiving. Lastly, the big mansion has a room where the killer has hidden all his bodies, which has a good number in there, all of whom have been there for some time. Two things – he’s a rubbish cannibal, only biting his victims enough to kill them; and those corpses must’ve absolutely STUNK in the height of a Greek summer, yet not a single person makes reference to it, or is particularly grossed out by the presence of dozens of dead bodies.

 

Small potatoes, I suppose. It’s a little on the slow side, and the sort of heavy editing that it had to go through to get British certification must have made it a rather curious film; but it’s here now, uncut since 2015, and is a very solid film. Director Joe D’Amato would make a movie in the same locations, with roughly the same plot, next year, with the only difference being its X-rated nature, called “Porno Holocaust”, which shows how Europeans definitely had a different attitude to matters sexual. By the way, there’s a tribute to D’Amato on the DVD which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – he’s talking about how the images at the centre of his latest film are from his heart, and his dreams, and talks about it like it’s this big production…when it’s just one of the dozens of porn movies he made in the last few years of his life. Then, there’s a bunch of montages of his smiling face, almost always with a cigarette in his mouth, with the title pages of his movies popping up in the foreground. It’s hilarious, and so stupid that I’d have easily believed it to be a joke if it weren’t on the DVD.

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Rating: thumbs up

2 Lava 2 Lantula (2016)

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A brief break before we tackle the last couple of “Zombi” entries, with the sequel to one of our favourite films of last year. “Lavalantula” could have been an empty, jokey, typical SyFy effort, but director / co-writer Mike Mendez helped fashion a love letter to monster movies that was also lots of fun.

 

They sadly saved the empty, jokey, typical SyFy effort for part 2. No idea why Mendez chose not to return, but they replaced him with Nick Simon, whose only directorial work in the last five years was “The Girl In The Photograph”, a poorly regarded indie thriller from 2015. The two co-writers from part 1 are back, which I guess gives us an insight into exactly what Mendez brought to the table; also returning are The Gutte (obviously), Michael Winslow and Marion Ramsey. Nia Peeples, who played The Gutte’s wife, is “on a yoga retreat halfway round the world”, as is their son (although he gets thirty seconds on screen via Skype).

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Presumably there’s a story behind why there’s a distinct lack of star power – relatively speaking – and everything seems a little cheaper. Perhaps SyFy isn’t doing as well as it was, and is putting all its eggs in the Sharknado basket, but it seems pretty obvious they’re not interested in making any more “Lavalantula” movies. Factor in two utterly baffling central performances from Guttenberg and Winslow – Guttenberg seems to be doing a weird impression of a dumb action hero, and Winslow just can’t act (although he was never able to) – and this feels like a contractual obligation on almost everyone’s parts.

 

Colton West (Guttenberg) is on the set of his latest movie, “Clown Cops”. Now, right at the very beginning is when they start throwing us curveballs – given the worldwide celebrity he’d have gotten at the end of the first movie, some cheesy garbage like “Clown Cops” is the best he could manage? Anyway, he’s doing the diva thing, demanding a chair just be placed behind him wherever he is, and so on, when he discovers his step-daughter is in Fort Lauderdale partying, instead of at college, he gets all upset. By the way, as far as I can remember, the stepdaughter wasn’t mentioned in the first movie at all, and I bet one draft of the script had her as his new far-too-young girlfriend.

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So, lavalantulas just start emerging from the ground again, and it’s on. Colton and Marty (Winslow) head off to Fort Lauderdale to stop the infestation and save the day, the director of his movie (who was on “Glee”) shrieks ineffectively, stepdaughter Raya (Michele Weaver) meets a couple of local mechanics / lavalantula-killing enthusiasts, and milling around the plot is Colonel Jester, played by 80s stalwart Martin Kove, who’s friend and foe depending on what minute of the movie it is.

 

The subplot with Raya is fine, because while it feels a bit like a million other SyFy movies (the act 2 lull, where they’re just trying not to spend much money), it doesn’t feel like they’re just straight ripping off something else. It’s also nice to see a movie with a majority black cast, but there’s a bit which I’m still not sure about – when both “teams” meet up, they go to TJ the mechanic’s house, and his mother serves them dinner. Fried chicken? And the mother is the sassiest, most bad-sitcommy mother I’ve seen in ages.

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If you’ve seen a SyFy movie, you’ll recognise every beat of this, with the sole difference being the presence of 80s movie stars in leading roles. But there’s a serious issue, in that one of the writers just decided to make this a reference-fest. There was a little of that in the first one, but perhaps Mendez kept it to a minimum? But here, we’re at a level not a million miles from people like Friedberg and Setzer (“Epic Movie”, “Vampires Suck”, etc). The following is a list of the movies and shows they just lift things from – no cleverness, just straight “hey, remember this?” moments.

 

Dr. Strangelove; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Sanford and Son; Deliverance; Star Wars: Episode IV; Apocalypse Now; Cocoon; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Poltergeist; Scarface; The Karate Kid; Miami Vice; The Terminator; Crocodile Dundee; Top Gun; Predator; Die Hard; Jurassic Park; Pulp Fiction; Friday; Apollo 13; Sling Blade; 2 Fast 2 Furious (obviously); Frankenfish; Burn Notice; Straight Outta Compton; Aliens; Armageddon; and Independence Day.

 

The only one of those they do anything fun with is “Crocodile Dundee”, when they meet a guy in the swamps called Alligator Dundee, who’s a predatory homosexual with designs on Colton’s assistant Kyle (Jimmy Bellinger) – perhaps a bit on the offensive side, but at least they tried. Then there’s a great bit where Guttenberg calls this movie’s big bad the “Gargantulantula”, and TJ questions him over what it means – it felt like it came out of improv, and is great.

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Ultimately, and this is the most disappointing thing, it’s too much like a completely ordinary SyFy movie, played for laughs. No-one really bothered to make any effort (would a few more “Police Academy” cast members have been that difficult to dig up?) with the exception of Raya and TJ; and the genuine sweetness at the heart of part 1 has been replaced with…well, nothing. I’d be amazed if there’s a part 3, after this. It just feels like a waste – you can make a funny film and bother with plot and performance, as the first one showed.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Zombi 6 (1981) (aka Absurd)

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As well as being part 6 of the super-inaccurately-named “Zombi” series, “Absurd” is also a video nasty. Not only was it one of the 72 movies listed by the Director Of Public Prosecutions, it was one of the 39 successfully prosecuted under the “Obscene Publications Act”, making it the worst of the worst.

 

And now you can watch it on Youtube. How times have changed, eh? May it be a lesson to people who attempt to stir up moral panics in the future (although I’m sure no-one will learn). To complete the “huh?” factor, “Zombi 6” is actually a sort-of sequel to “Zombi 7”, aka “Antropophagus”, another video nasty. Both directed by Joe D’Amato, both starring George Eastman, and both featuring a scene where he gets his guts ripped out. It’s a big, wide, wonderful world we live in!

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“Absurd” starts with what looks like the end of the most extreme game of Tag ever, as Mikos, a dishevelled chap (Eastman) is running away from a rather unhappy looking man (Edward Purdom), only to get his guts ripped out and collapse on the doorstep of the Berger family. The Bergers consist of a comically indifferent set of parents, Ian and Carol, and their children Katia and Willy. Willy might be the worst child actor in the history of the world, and Katia is paralysed, strapped down to a bed to stop her from ruining whatever healing process is going on. Remember, paralysed, because this will be important later on.

 

As Mikos is taken to a nearby hospital (which is once again, barely lit – how many hospitals do you know that have any murky areas, anywhere?), the staff there are shocked by the rapidity of his healing, so the police gets brought in, and the unhappy man catches up to them. Turns out he’s a priest, and Mikos was being experimented on as part of some church-sponsored scientific thing – Mikos can regenerate any damaged or dead tissue (apart from the brain), and is now effectively immortal. On top of all that, the drugs they gave him turned him insane, and he’s all about killing. No eating of body parts or drinking of blood, Mikos just wants to saw your brain in half, or stick a drill through the base of your skull, or put your head in an oven.

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I’d have been so disappointed if I’d tracked this down at great expense in the 1980s, expecting a gore-fest, and just gotten tedium. In what is almost the main plot, it takes up so much time, the two parents and a bunch of their friends are getting together to watch a big NFL game; we see actual footage of a Steelers / Rams game, and the commentator seems to be commenting on the action taking place, which is a nice bit of attention to detail. While this is going on, they leave their kids in the house – a house which had a guy with his intestines hanging out in it just a few hours ago, lest we forget – with the babysitter, who gets killed, and then another babysitter, who also gets killed. I wasn’t sure about that bit, perhaps it was a babysitting tag team.

 

The crucial element of this movie is the kids. Willy is so irritating I’d have happily killed him myself, and they picked a shrieking moron to dub his voice too. After being a pain in the arse for most of the movie’s run time, babysitter 2 tells him to run over to where his parents are at, because there’s a killer in the house – instead, he waits outside for a few minutes then hops back in through a window, forcing babysitter 2 to emerge from her secure hiding spot to rescue him, which directly leads to her death. But he’s not done! He then stands outside Katia’s room, begging to be let in, and for what feels like 10 minutes (but is probably more like 1) he screams “let me in Katia! Please let me in! I’m begging you!” over and over. He knows his sister is literally unable to move, right? But she spends an hour (okay, 2 minutes) undoing the straps which held her to the bed…and it turns out she can walk around just fine, although he’s run away by the time she manages to get up. Screw you, movie, screw everything about you.

Urgh

Urgh

I hated this so much. I hated that it ripped off “Halloween” but didn’t bother copying any of its good qualities. I hated the pathetic levels of gore. I hated that it was called “Zombi 6” but didn’t have any zombies in it. And wow, did I hate that kid. If any of you happen upon Kasimir Berger at a horror convention or anything like that, please kick him for me, several times. Not well-written, not well-acted, not interesting, not funny, not scary, not anything. I feel bad for everyone who’s ever been fooled into spending money on this.

 

I wish Joe D’Amato had just stuck to porn, because then at least I wouldn’t have bothered watching any of his miserable films.

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Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 5 (1982) (aka Revenge In The House Of Usher)

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If you’ll forgive the indulgence, it’s time for another brief talk about the numbering of the Zombi movies. The series we’ve been following as the “originals” finished at 5 (Joe D’Amato’s thoroughly rotten “Killing Birds”); but there was another, similar but longer series, released by T-Z Video, which shows an even more blatant disregard for series having any sort of central theme at all. That has included one classic, “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, and their entry for “Zombi 5” is another from that movie’s director, Jess Franco. After this, there’s a 6 and 7, which (in what must surely be a joke of some sort) are the first and second “Anthropophagous” movies from Joe D’Amato, but released in reverse order – 6 is part 2, 7 is part 1.

 

All I can tell you of this experiment is don’t watch dozens of terrible zombie movies back to back. I do the hard work so you don’t have to, dear reader – of this series, all you need is the first two of the proper “Zombi” series, “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, “Burial Ground” / “Nights Of Terror”, and maybe “The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue” if you’re in a good mood. If you’re reading this and would like me to embark on another series, or themed reviews, please let me know in the comments. Or just drive past my house and shout, if you know me.

I wouldn't say it was THAT funny

I wouldn’t say it was THAT funny

As you may have noticed from the title, this isn’t a typical zombie movie entry. “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” is not only a famous story, but was also filmed the year before this, an American TV production with Robert Hays and Martin Landau. Then there’s the legendary 1960 version from Roger Corman, one of three magnificent Poe adaptations done by him in the 1960s, so the question “why bother?” might reasonably be asked, although it certainly won’t be answered. As is almost traditional with 70s and 80s Euro-horror, there’s a chequered production history – three versions were made, apparently, after an extremely poor reception at a film festival, with different plots. Although I slightly doubt the amount of difference, with the version I saw appearing to have two of the three resolutions listed on IMDB, it’s become a cause celebre in recent years, with a re-edited version getting great reviews earlier this year as close to Franco’s original vision. Who knows, eh?

 

The other thing you might remember if you’ve read the original story is that it features no zombies, a plot this movie follows. Now, there are literally hundreds of un-loved zombie movies from the 70s and 80s that could be picked up by an enterprising video company for little to no money, so why they yet again picked a poorly regarded movie with no zombies in it is a conundrum I cannot solve.

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The plot bears a vague resemblance to the famous story. Dr Harker (Robert Foster) receives a letter from his old teacher, Dr Usher (Howard Vernon, the Uncle from “Virgin Among The Living Dead”) and goes to visit him in his castle, which is supposed to be a bit ruinous but is actually beautifully maintained  – they filmed in a real working tourist castle, so every now and again you get a glimpse of something far too modern for the story. Before he turns up, we see Usher’s assistant Morpho, blind in one eye (and mostly blind in the other, which is halfway down his face) and a butler drain all the blood from one woman and put it into another, who briefly shows signs of life before lapsing back into a coma.

 

So, Usher and his people are trying to keep Usher’s daughter alive, who suffered from an unspecified illness, or they said it when I was yawning and I didn’t catch it. He’s also discovered the secret of eternal life…I feel like I’m just going to grudgingly recap this entire movie, and I can’t be bothered (much as I doubt you’d be bothered about reading it). Harker discovers the secret of the house very quickly, then falls over and hits his head to the extent he’s knocked unconscious; when he wakes up the next morning, they try and pass it off as “mountain fever” and he buys it…for about 2 minutes, before Usher sits him down and just explains all the murders he’s been doing anyway. Huh? I guess that was one of the edits they made after it went down badly?

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One of the crucial rules of poor-quality low-budget movie-making, is never remind anyone of a great movie, because they’ll just want to watch that instead. Franco uses a large chunk of one of his old movies in the middle of this, repurposing key scenes from 1966’s “The Awful Dr Orloff” (also starring Howard Vernon) and changing the dubbing to fit his narrative. Only problem is, “Orloff” is a great film, the one that put Franco on the map, and “Usher” isn’t. The switch between the beautiful black-and-white footage to the cheap-looking modern colour stuff is a jarring one, every time it happens.

 

The rest of the movie is just people running around the old castle, a completely typical, if hopelessly confused, ghost story. As Usher descends further into illness and madness, his victims come back to haunt him, and as we’ve seen the castle start to crack when Usher is close to death, we know what’s going to happen (I’m not going to be accused of spoiling a story that’s nearly 200 years old). The excellently named “Fata Morgana”, in what appears to be her only role, is the spirit of Usher’s first wife, and is excellent, leading me to believe it’s someone else under a pseudonym.

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I feel this review has been a little disjointed – if so, I’m merely mirroring the movie. It’s poorly made, with the great location doing most of the heavy lifting, with some terrible camp performances from most of the cast. Because he used so much of his old movie, he had to change some of the plot points, and while the original story isn’t a great classic of literature or anything like that, I trust Edgar Allan Poe with a narrative more than I trust 1982-era Jess Franco. And Harker, as well as the local doctor Seward, feel like lifts from “Dracula” (Harker’s character is unnamed in the original Poe story). There’s no gore, on top of there not really being any zombies.

 

I look forward to reviewing many more Jess Franco films for you, because he’s clearly made some great bits of Euro-horror. But not this one, oh no. Poorly edited, poorly shot, poorly acted and, honestly, pretty boring. Watch “Orloff” instead, or range a little further back and check out “Eyes Without A Face”, which has more of an influence on this than Poe does.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 5 (1988) (aka Killing Birds)

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After starting this not-really-a-series with two of the greatest zombie movies of all time (“Dawn Of The Dead” and “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, they’ve very kindly saved the worst for last. It features maybe the biggest star to have sullied his name as part of the franchise – Robert Vaughn, and a very early example of computer porn; but sadly these two things aren’t enough to stop you wanting a bird to pluck your eyes out so you never have to see it again.

 

We start off with a flashback, to Vietnam days (although they don’t make an effort to change any clothes or hairstyles or anything like that). A guy who has quite the collection of birds comes home from the war and finds his wife in bed with another man. By the way, if this happened to me, I like to think I’d have the nous to just pick a shirt out of the closet, give some small talk about the weather and just walk out again (before phoning a solicitor, of course). But our unseen gent doesn’t have the desire for really dumb jokes that I do, so he kills them both with the same throat-cutting effect, which the producers must have paid for a job lot of because about half the people who die in this die in an identical way. He then kills the couple who are about to visit his house, including throwing a knife at a guy and having it bury itself up to the hilt in his skull – he’s a strong guy! Or this movie is dumb! He rescues the couple’s baby, and is just finishing cleaning up all the evidence of the slaughter when a couple of birds decide, for absolutely no reason, to tear his eyes out.

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Present day! After we see eyeless fella hand over the babies to the hospital authorities way back when, the only two questions are:

  1. Which central character is going to end up being that kid?

And

  1. What part is the blind guy going to play in proceedings?

 

Now, there is an answer to both these questions, but it’s so utterly irrelevant to what might kindly be called the plot that I’m genuinely surprised they even bothered. We are then obliged to sit through an interminable “meet the meat” section, where a student receives a letter saying his grant application for an expedition to find the silver-beaked woodpecker has been approved, and assembles the team that’ll be going along. Best Friend, His Girlfriend, Computer Guy, Bookish Girl, Reporter (also main guy’s ex-girlfriend), and Van Driver. Now, I thought “this is a weird bunch to send on an expedition”, but it turns out it’s just a trip to the wilds of Louisiana, and given Main Guy is weird an LSU t-shirt, it’s not that far either. Not sure I’d call that an expedition, you guys! Reporter finds out the location of the last guy to see the special bird, and it turns out to be Blind Guy, aka Robert Vaughn, aka the guy who did all the murdering at the beginning. He points them in the right direction, and off they go.

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While dull and stupid up to this point, it at least makes sense, of a sort. Then, there’s a scene where, a few minutes after leaving Blind Guy’s house, they happen upon the truck and the dead body of the guy from the beginning, half-hidden in the woods. He’s looking a bit rough, but if he’d actually been left in the Louisiana wilderness, he’d have been a skeleton in months, much less…15 years? But even this pales in comparison to their decision to just press on with their bird-watching trip and not go and phone the damned authorities! They deserve to die, for all being idiots, is what I’m saying. Bonus idiocy points are awarded for them having precisely zero items of equipment with which to observe or record birds, unless you count Computer Guy and his computer, which is a 1988 laptop so about as useful as you’d expect.

 

A few of the characters, including Main Guy, have sort of dream sequence / flashbacks, which give them no useful information and serve no purpose whatsoever. Kudos to you if you’re noticing the theme in this review! They find a house, which is the house that Blind Guy lived in before (he evidently moved down the road after slaughtering his wife, her lover and a couple of other guys), and decide to make that a base camp, although they never really leave.

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The one fun thing in this movie is the gay subtext, which is almost too blatant to be called subtext. Van Driver and Computer Guy are always doing stuff together and seeming really happy about it, there’s a shot which is composed in such a way that it looks like Computer’s Guy’s head is in Van Driver’s crotch, and when Van Driver suggests he would quite like to have sex with Bookish Girl, Computer Guy looks super hurt and says “I thought she wasn’t your type”. Sorry, Computer Guy! Although you get the last laugh, because Van Driver dies on fire a few minutes later. Thinking about it, there’s a scene where Best Friend is off exploring the house, and His Girlfriend tags along. He shoves her back, and says “you’d better go with the others”, you know, while he goes off into the dark with a few guys – this is the day after he half-heartedly attempts to have sex with her before just giving up and going to sleep.

 

Now, if you took part in higher education, think back to your time there. Do you think any of your tutors would have signed off on / paid for a trip out into the wilderness, where you do zero preparation, have zero equipment and absolutely no idea where you’re going? Can you imagine the insurance costs for the “just let them go wherever the hell they like” plan? This is a serious trip, too, which will apparently take the place of several of their senior classes. Damn, but this movie makes absolutely no sense.

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Zombies turn up at the 55 minute mark. Not only is this worse, in a sense, than those movies where the zombies don’t turn up at all, but no explanation is given as to why the zombies are there. You can perhaps infer that they’re the corpses of the people that Blind Guy killed, but the movie doesn’t tell you that, or indeed anything else. When Blind Guy turns up at the end and says “these are my fault, sorry”, he also says they feed on fear. Now, if we accept that, which is stupid in itself, we can use the preceding hour as evidence, an hour where none of the cast appear particularly fearful – okay, the odd moment, but it’s hardly enough to cause the dead to rise from their graves. Most of the cast die off, based on being absolutely useless and incapable of defending themselves, and then two of them survive just because. That Main Guy is Blind Guy’s…son?…is brushed off with a few lines at the end, and we’re done.

 

I’ve spent the day trying to figure out why it ended in such a half-assed way, and the best I can come up with is that Robert Vaughn refused to film the ending they’d written for him and wanted some last-act redemption. Nothing feels like it fits together, starting with the title (no-one kills any birds, and birds don’t kill anyone). No explanation for anything is given. The film makes negative amounts of sense, and is d-u-l-l on top.

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Some of these problems might be explained by the presence of uncredited director Joe D’Amato. His is a name you’ll see occasionally in exploitation / horror circles, as he produced a staggering amount of work before his death in 1999, including 111 directing credits in the last five years of his life. 111! It’s safe to say D’Amato was a quantity over quality man, and we’ll be meeting him again in…well, movies that have been released as parts 6 and 7 of this non-franchise. I genuinely have no idea how anyone could have watched this and thought it was worth releasing, or that it made the slightest bit of sense.

 

Rating: thumbs down

A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1973) (aka Zombi 4)

VirginAmongTheLivingDead

When I first decided to review all these zombie movies, the knowledge that somewhere along the way was “Virgin Among The Living Dead” was one of the reasons I chose to take the plunge. From first discovering it on VHS many years ago, it’s been one of my favourite horror films, and I hope this encourages a few of you to go and watch it.

 

A bit about its history first. The version I saw first had some rather unusual edits, including blacking out almost all the screen (leaving a small circle with a neutral detail in) whenever there was any nudity; and also featured the insertion of a repeating dream sequence where the star, Christina, only seen from the back, is chased through a garden by zombies. Well, it turns out the censorship was due to it being a TV edit of the movie (proper prints of the original being hard to come by, it would seem) and the zombies…well, 8 years after its initial release, Eurocine (a distributor of cheap Euro-horror), while they had Jean Rollin filming “Zombie Lake” (underwater Nazi zombies!), got him to shoot that scene. Every time poor Christina fell asleep in the movie, we’d be treated to a couple of minutes of zombie chasing; as well as all those changes (no zombies in this director’s cut), we also got a completely different ending – but more on that later.

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Before the internet (if you can even imagine such a horrific thing) I just assumed that was the movie, but I remember a newsletter which mentioned “grey-label” – basically, taking movies where the legal provenance was shaky and re-editing them – distributor “Video Search Of Miami” had taken that version and a few other edits to make the longest possible version. But I was poor and didn’t want to spend £££ on an imported VHS tape of unknown quality, so I waited for its first British DVD release and that’s the movie we’re reviewing tonight. There’s yet another version, with an orgy scene that features none of the cast members, which goes by the title “Christina, Princess Of Eroticism”, but I don’t think anyone’s too sad about missing that (unless you really like orgies).

 

(by the way, if you want the exhaustive rundown on the different versions of this movie, go to http://www.dvddrive-in.com/reviews/t-z/virginamonglivingdeadblu73.htm)

 

Christina (Christina von Blanc, an extraordinarily beautiful woman who never took to acting, it would seem) has gone from London to Monserrat, in Portugal, for the reading of her father’s will – a father she never met, due to him sending her away to boarding school after the death of her mother, who died almost immediately after her birth. I mean, I can buy a slightly absentee father, but to never see her in 20 years? It’s not like he was that busy, or that far away! While staying at an inn, she’s told that no-one lives in Monserrat Castle, but she laughs this off as she’s got a letter from her Uncle. The castle’s dogsbody, a mute who communicates via the occasional grunt, Basilio (director Franco), comes to pick her up.

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The first thing you’ll notice is the soundtrack, which is one of my favourite ever. It was done by a guy called Bruno Nicolai, who did sound for hundreds of movies and composed the soundtrack for dozens more – Tarantino used a few of his pieces for “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds”. It’s extraordinary, a sort of Italian take on Krautrock, with the addition of wild free-jazz effects on top. It’s absolutely perfect for the movie, with its sleazy / noisy tones matching  beautifully, as well as being genuinely great music in its own right.

 

Christina meets her family up at the castle, and they’re a very odd bunch. Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon) sits and plays the piano while staring off into space; Carmense, who’s just “part of the family”, a predatory lesbian; her stepmother, Herminia (Rose Keikens), who’s on her deathbed and manages to whisper “get out” before dying; Aunt Abigail (Rosa Palomar), who seems super-unimpressed that Christina is there; a blind woman (Linda Hastreiter, uncredited) who can see the colour of Christina’s soul and wants her to leave for her own good; and Basilio, of course. For such an apparently deserted place, there’s plenty of people wandering about, including someone who, in a normal movie, would be the love interest, but is frightened off by Uncle Howard and disappears from the movie; there’s also a couple of old pervs who check out Christina as she’s having a dip in the not-really-swimming-friendly lake. The women are all very heavily made up and they all give “mannered” performances, seeming as if they’re all in the middle of a very bad dream. Most mannered of all is the woman listed in the credits as “Queen of the Night” (Ann Libert), who seems to only exist for Christina (and looks quite a lot like the blind girl, with thick black hair and tons of makeup).

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It’s the most oppressive-feeling movie I can think of, taking what could very simply be filmed to look beautiful (Portugal) and turning it into a place of misery and death. I know they sort of mention it themselves in an early monologue, but every plant seems over-ripe, and the smell almost comes off the screen. The sense that everyone’s just waiting around for some catastrophe is also strong – basically, it’s a masterpiece of mood.

 

All this is rather surprising, given its provenance. While Jess Franco has made some great films, he’s also made tons of garbage, and has been responsible for more pornography than perhaps any other “mainstream” director. There’s a heck of a lot of full-frontal nudity in this, too, although for those of us who originally watched that censored VHS tape, this all might come as something of a surprise. In a very un-erotic scene, a naked Carmense is holding a pair of bloody scissors, which she’s used to cut above the (also completely naked) blind woman’s breast, and is drinking the blood and laughing while the blind woman stares off into the distance, showing no emotion at all. You’d have to be some sort of monster to get turned on watching this, which I think is the director’s intention.

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It might fairly be said that Christina isn’t the strongest actress in the world, but if you imagine she’s an innocent Christian girl, trying to make friends with a family she’s never known, then her behaviour makes more sense – it doesn’t excuse her most regular facial expression, though, which is that of someone who’s having the paint-drying process explained to them. Both she and many of the other characters exist in a sort of dream-logic world, and I’ve spent many reviews abusing dream logic as just lazy plotting, but it works here. Although the title’s a bit of a giveaway, the behaviour of her family is slightly off-kilter, with some scenes being masterpieces of reality, just tilted a little – take the “funeral”, for example.

 

Christina’s father, played by Italian horror stalwart Paul Muller, is perhaps the most interesting of all the characters. He both wants his daughter with him in his world, but wants her to escape too, and the scene where he is being pulled back to the place of his suicide, while Christina follows through overgrown jungle, is a quietly wonderful piece of work. Many scenes will stay with you, which I appreciate sounds like a crazy amount of praise for what many regard as a fairly undistinguished work from a hack horror / porno director.

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I’ll go out and say it, though – I think this is a complete classic. A bunch of things – script, performances, locations – came together perfectly, and the result is a gem of mood and the hinterland between dreams and nightmares, which even manages a moving ending. In the longer / zombie filled version, the ending is a loop from the beginning, which works really well, but here in the shorter director’s cut, the Queen Of The Night gets involved and the scene they shot works like a charm. The popular story goes that Franco made this to come to terms with the premature death of his muse / regular leading lady Soledad Miranda, and if so it’s a truly wonderful tribute to her. If you’re reading this and haven’t already been hassled by me at some point in the past to watch this, then go and do so immediately.

 

Rating: enthusiastic thumbs up

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Zombi 4 (1982) (aka Panic)

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I suspected this day would come, dear reader. This film poses a very serious question which we may choose to answer or not, one that cuts to the very heart of what we’re doing here at the ISCFC. That question is…”were they short of zombie movies that week?” It’s the first zombie movie we’ve reviewed here that DOESN’T HAVE ANY ZOMBIES IN IT

I’ve got no idea. Originally named “Bakterion”, which is a cool title, also known as “Panic” (appropriate) and “Monster of Blood”, this is listed on IMDB’s alternate titles as Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title)- “Zombi 4 – I ekdikisi ton zontanon nekron”, which translates as “Zombi 4: Revenge of the Living Dead”. This sounds like someone, about ten years ago, decided to rename this on IMDB for a laugh, the information got picked up by Wikipedia and now it’s a thing, despite me being unable to find any evidence of its existence under that title. So congratulations, long-ago internet prankster, you tricked me into watching this.

 

A lab accident is the cause of all our woes here, some lab in the UK – simply called, rather wonderfully, “Chemical” – has been dabbling in God’s domain; the serum they gave to a rat made it so mean and strong that it broke out of its cage and disappeared down a drain. At the same time, the chief scientist there, Professor Adams, gets some of the experimental goo all over him and disappears; then, a few minutes later, a hideous mutated figure starts killing people and draining their blood. Or was that the previous zombie movie? Ah, who cares? Anyway, they appear to be trying to hide from us that the scientist and the mutant are the same person, but it’s a little on the obvious side.

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It’s at this point, about five minutes in, that proceedings grind to a halt. We’re introduced to a bunch of old white men with dubbed accents that don’t match their appearances at all, they’re all Government people of various sorts; and then we meet the guy who’s being dispatched to solve the problem, an American agent called…Captain Kirk. Yes, one of the ten or so most famous fictional characters of the 20th century, and they just decided to name one of their characters that – bravo! He’s off to the definitely-not-in-England town, and there he meets Prof Adams’ assistant, Jane Blake, with the blondest perm and the darkest eyebrows, so the two of them…well, the two of them do nothing. Jane sits around and looks worried while Kirk does all the actual stuff, because this is a European 1980s horror movie and women are several steps below plankton in terms of the amount of agency they’re allowed.

 

It feels very shambolic, all the way through, like someone behind the scenes was annoyed they were told to set it in England so did as much as possible to sabotage it. While a load of army guys are driving down the street, the car’s eye view is leafy suburban London, but when it cuts to a shot with actors in it, it’s very clearly a completely different location, somewhere in semi-rural Spain probably (the other listed filming location). The cars and police uniforms sort of look a bit British, but not enough to fool a Brit, and there’s the home of one of the government guys, with a pool and a huge outdoor area for barbecues and loungers; a home which just wouldn’t be in Britain because we don’t have enough summer to warrant it. I mean, okay, this could sound a bit like nitpicking, but it’s so poorly done that you can’t help but notice. It’s not like it would’ve cost extra to fix, even.

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Everyone keeps talking about a virus that’s spreading, and it needing to be contained, but the slight problem there is, there’s no evidence of a virus spreading anywhere. Aside from the infected rat, which shows up in one scene, now of massive size, and then disappears from the movie, the only “infected” person is Professor Adams, and there’s zero evidence of him being able to pass the infection on to anyone else. So they send the army in to “quarantine” the town, and put Plan Q into place, which involved bombing the entire town and pretending it was an accident. I mean, come on! It’s one guy! Did no-one at any point during the making of this piece of garbage go “you know this plan makes absolutely zero sense, right?”

 

I’ve not mentioned the cinema scenes yet. Given they don’t mention timescales, it seems like only a few days has passed since the accident in the lab, but in the intervening time the monster has had time to build himself a little nest in the tunnels just below a cinema – but that’s not the best thing. It’s when he attacks a cinema full of people, the lights go out and for a good minute, the entire screen is black. Not even a few shadows! Although it interrupting the movie-within-a-movie was fortunate, because it was the dullest-looking thing I’ve ever seen, just a car pulling away, seen from the back, with some jaunty music playing. No people, no dialogue.

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There’s a moment, about an hour in, where I sort of liked it. The escalating panic, the sense that no-one knew what was going on, but then it got stupid again really quickly. Was it the group of people who tried to charge a heavily armed army cordon? Or the way the Government guy didn’t think to evacuate his family before the cordon fell, even though he knew it was coming? Is it wondering what plans A-P were?

 

It commits the worst crime a movie can, which is to be boring. The acting’s bad, but that’s to be expected in the Italian-made 70s / 80s end of things. I almost admire the chutzpah of whoever called this “Zombi 4”, if indeed it was ever called that, but I wish they’d imparted some of that chutzpah to the writer or director. Director Tonino Ricci is called “maybe the worst genre director in Italy” by several other reviewers, and I won’t correct them. Even though it’s free, avoid – unless you’re on some pointless mission to review every movie in an ill-defined “series”.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

PS – the bit right at the end of the credits was funny, though.

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Zombi 4 (1988) (aka After Death)

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After the slog through the six different “Zombi 3”s, we’re in for what counts as a treat in Italian zombie cinema. Not this one, you understand, because it’s rubbish, but one of the other “Zombi 4”s, one of my favourite horror movies ever, Jess Franco’s “Virgin Among The Living Dead”. But we’ve got the “official” part 4 to go yet, and we’re back in that most magical of places, some ugly jungle in the Philippines, this time substituting for a voodoo island in the Caribbean.

 

Although it’s been a while since we mentioned them, this is the work of one half of our favourite Italian double act, Claudio Fragasso. He wrote “Troll 2” and all the most bizarre films of Bruno Mattei, and this is an early-ish example of his directing work (he’s done all sorts, and is still working today, with a recent movie being a wacky comedy from 2012 where a couple of mob witnesses have to get jobs at a summer camp). It’s also a rare sole writing credit for his wife Rossella Drudi, who’d go uncredited on many of her co-writing jobs with Claudio because, well, women can’t write horror? We perhaps ought to have mentioned her before now, but then again, she didn’t write “Troll 2” so it’s not as much fun mocking her.

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This is yet another “scientists go to the jungle to set up their research lab” story, when it seems like the worst idea possible. You’re surrounded by angry locals all the time, if you break something it’s a nightmare getting replacement parts, refrigerating all your samples would be a pain, and the humidity would cause all your stuff to rust. Why don’t scientists go to, I don’t know, rural Canada or something?

 

We’re right into things, with a voodoo priest who I thought was a rare black Satanist for a bit (he has an inverted cross on his forehead, a symbol I don’t think that voodoo messes with? Not sure and not going to check) about to do some weird ritual with his wife, which results in her being sucked down into Hell…then popping back up a few minutes later in full demon-form, ready to slaughter the white scientists. They were trying to save the guy’s daughter who had leukaemia and failed, so he decided to open the gates of Hell and slaughter them all. You know, the sort of reasonable reaction any of us would have. The suddenly resurrected dead start popping up all over the place, and the only survivor of the entire base is a young girl, who’s given a magic amulet by her mother. I said at this point “20 years later!” and was proved right a few minutes later, as we see that same girl as an adult on a boat.

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And it’s right here, maybe ten minutes in, where we leave such outdated notions as common sense far behind. She’s on a boat with another woman and four guys, and it turns out the four guys are mercenaries. There is zero evidence these people met beforehand, the two women don’t seem to be friends and the four guys explain their line of work to the ladies like they’re meeting for the first time. But according to the movie, she hired them to go back to the island and find out what happened? What? Wouldn’t some authorities somewhere have been interested in the deaths of everyone on this research base? Wouldn’t they have prepared, taken provisions, anything at all? They only end up on the island they’re on due to a fault with the boat. So which island were they going for?

 

Sorry, dear reader. I haven’t got the foggiest about any of this, and when we meet a group of three hikers, one of whom is just wearing a mostly unbuttoned shirt, no backpack or anything like that, I just threw my hands up and stopped caring. That man, by the way, is Jeff Stryker, who’s far better known as a porno actor (he’s done two non-porn roles, as far as I can tell), so clearly he was hired for his body, not so much his acting  – although he’s fine in this. They find the book the voodoo guy had at the beginning, helpfully with “THE BOOK OF DEATH” professionally printed on the front, and then just straight up read the words to open the portal to Hell.

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What? There’s a problem or two here as well, and we’re only half an hour into this damn movie. We already saw a zombie attack one of the mercenaries, so isn’t the portal already open? And who closed it before, from 20 years ago? You will enjoy several scenes of dead people emerging from the earth throughout “Zombi 4”, though, including some which take a couple of days to show up – perhaps they were asleep when the portal was opened, or were buried more than 6 feet under.

 

Wow, is this stupid. So, these people die, but luckily they’re armed with information that’s important – like what the amulet does (stops the zombies, if placed in a circle of candles) and how best to finish off a zombie (shot to the head, natch). From then to the end, it’s a completely standard zombie movie – in other words, lots of stupid decisions, lots of people refusing to defend themselves despite having a gun right next to them, and of course, our favourite, women being absolutely 100% useless at every single moment. I feel like if you were trying to deprogram a feminist, showing them the “Zombi” movies would have them be a raging misogynist inside a week.

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As well as the laugh riot that is sexism, this is racist, even by the standards of the genre. Not only is it the common-or-garden racism of all the “natives” being voodoo priests or zombies, there’s also how, when some of the white folk get turned into the undead, they can sort of talk, think and use weapons, tricks the locals never managed. I think someone realised how awful this was, so the lone black main cast member (who’s a massive pothead, stereotypically enough) gets a heroic sacrifice near the end, but it’s way too little, way too late.

 

According to the director, this was the “last gasp” of the gore-drenched Italian zombie movie, and judging by the evidence, it ought to have died a few years previously. It’s not just poorly made and a bit boring (although it’s definitely both those things), it doesn’t really make any sense either – I feel I might have worn out the question mark button on my keyboard with all the incredulity a few paragraphs up. Jungle-voodoo-zombie movies belong in an earlier, less enlightened era, and I’m tired of reading people making excuses for them.

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Rating: thumbs down