Violent Shit (1989)

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This review is inspired by my friend Rhys, who took great delight in telling me of this movie’s existence, while seeming to have no interest in actually watching it. Well, readers, you know if there’s a weird corner of the cinematic world, we’ll have a shuftie at it, and this seemed like a particularly weird corner.

 

Andreas Schnaas was 21 when he made this; a lover of genre cinema from a young age, his New Zealand pen-pal told him “all you’re making is violent shit” (in relation to an early movie experiment, one presumes) and the name stuck. In what’s a hefty coincidence, one of his later movies was released under the alternate title “Zombi 7”, so we’d have probably encountered him in a few weeks anyway. “Violent Shit” was filmed over four “very long” weekends by Schnaas and his friends, and is sort of fascinating. I think the plot recap could go on for thousands of words, so we’d best get going!

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A young kid is playing in the woods, and his Mum is upset at how late he’s out, so he kills her with a meat cleaver. 20 years later, he’s in a police van being taken back to a lunatic asylum from…somewhere, and when the driver stops for a pee, he just escapes through the unlocked door. Come on, you coppers! Security is important! Anyway, our hero, listed in the credits as “K The Butcher Shitter”, goes into the woods, and walks a bit then kills someone, walks a bit then kills someone, repeat for a shade under 70 minutes. The other three minutes is the plot, and involves a flashback where a demon who claims to be his father tells him to kill his mother; a scene where he hacks open then climbs inside Jesus, stuck on a cross in the middle of the woods; and then the end, where he collapses, claws his own skin off (which has been somewhat inexplicably decaying over the course of proceedings), then rips open his own stomach and produces a gore drenched baby. The end!

 

Want me to recap it again, only a bit slower? Yes, it’s safe to say Schnaas’s interests were not narrative, and it’s pretty impressive what he manages to achieve with a micro-micro-budget – gore, gore, gore, and a bit more gore. His extremely fake-looking meat cleaver (which looks like a piece of sheet metal stuck to a wooden handle) is buried in heads, arms, chests and groins – memorably, he hacks off a penis and eats it, then a little later chops open a woman starting at the vagina. We see everything! I mean, you’re unlikely to mistake the head he chainsaws into pieces for a real head, but just the attempt at doing this extremely messy gore is to be commended. Should extreme gore be your cup of tea, I suppose.

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A lot of your enjoyment of this will depend on your willingness to watch a non-actor with a bit of plastic inexpertly glued to his face shuffle round the woods, as that’s a good half of the running time. His victims are introduced quickly – it’s a woman walking through the woods because the guy giving her a lift was a creep! It’s a couple of workmen who complain constantly about everything! It’s…some guy! – and then dispatched relatively slowly, with most of the time being taken up with him trying to saw through a neck or a wrist with his cleaver. Oh, and blood. Everything is drenched in the stuff, to the point I imagine Schnaas and his friends must have been sick of the sight and smell of whatever blood substitute they used.

 

Don’t bother questioning it – why is it so easy for him to escape, and why is no-one bothered about finding him? – because that’s not what the movie is about. It’s a gorehound, making the sort of movie he wanted to see, and although you might be happy that not too many movies are made where a woman gets hacked apart starting in “that” area, it’s nice to know that someone exists for whom the boundaries of good taste are but a distant memory. And it’s also good to know he’s just like every other low-budget filmmaker, chasing that dollar – as of this review, there are five “Violent Shit” instalments, which I’m betting have backstory and real characters in them. Boring! There’s something to be said for the purity of a movie like this. And honestly, I’m not sure I care about watching the rest of them to be proved wrong or right.

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A fun thing to look out for during proceedings is hashtags. The subtitles use a # when there’s two people’s dialogue on screen at once, so you can relieve the boredom during one of the very few scenes with talking by pretending they’re talking on Twitter, and often saying #What? Okay, it’s not the funnest thing you’ll do that day, but we low budget movie fans must occasionally make our own entertainment.

 

It’s as much fun as a very well-done home movie can be, I suppose. There’s a couple of scenes where the cameraman is chasing K The Butcher Shitter through the woods, and the swinging of the cheap camcorder could induce vertigo…although, it’s not something you see in movies every day, if you want new experiences. The sound was recorded afterwards in a tin bathtub, too, but it’d be even weirder if the sound was recorded well. It all fits. Every now and again, to either break up the monotony or because the effect they filmed was too rubbish even for them, they’ll pixelate the image pretty heavily too, or slow it down. It’s an ugly film to look at, which I guess means mission accomplished.

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It’s sort of weird judging it in 2016, when everyone and their dog has released an ultra-low-budget movie about a psychopath chasing women through the forest. This is apparently the first straight-to-video release in German history, and was a huge success, giving Schnaas a career he’s still involved in today. If he’d made it last year? Who knows. But as a pioneer as well as a man who did some spectacularly gross things with no money, he should be commended, and provided you’ve got a strong stomach and no inner ear problems, this is worth 72 minutes of your time (okay, maybe like 60, watch it at 1.25x speed because it doesn’t exactly go at a ripping pace).

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Zombi 3 (1973) (aka The Hanging Woman)

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This is, as far as I can tell, the last of the part 3s. To recap for those of you reading this site for the first time (weird review to choose to join us on, but whatever), “Dawn Of The Dead” was released as “Zombi” in Italy and elsewhere in the world, a version edited by Dario Argento. Since Italian law allowed movies to claim themselves as sequels to whatever they liked, the distributors of “Zombi” immediately knocked out a “Zombi 2” (the genuinely brilliant “Zombie Flesh Eaters”), and since then, it’s been pretty much a free-for-all. There’s an “official” part 3, 4 and 5, but for reasons which I’m now beginning to regret, I decided to review every movie that’s ever claimed to be part of this series. This is the sixth “Zombi 3” (behind “Zombie Flesh Eaters 2”, “Nightmare City”, “Nights Of Terror”, “The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue”, and “Zombie Holocaust”), and much like all of them – deep breath – is known by a variety of titles.

 

AKA – Beyond the Living Dead; Dracula the Terror of the Living Dead; Bracula The Terror of the Living Dead (not a misprint, there’s a minor character called Bracula in this); The Orgy Of The Dead; Beyond The Evil Dead, and these are just the English-language titles.

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The curiosity doesn’t stop there. Made in Spain under Franco’s fascist dictatorship, but filmed in Macedonia (if the few road signs I saw were to be believed) and according to a few other reviewers, set in Scotland? I’m not sure anyone who was involved this movie had ever been to Scotland, seen a photo of Scotland or were aware there was a country called Scotland before production started, but never mind that, as the locations are one of the unqualified wins for this movie – what looks like a preserved medieval village is the backdrop, and there are some superb ruins used as backdrop near the end. It’s the sort of landscape and building you really rarely get in modern horror cinema, which is more bothered about being as cheap as possible, artistry be damned, so kudos to “The Hanging Woman”.

 

So it’s a real shame when the rest of the movie doesn’t bother supplying the same atmosphere. Serge Chekov (what a wonderful Scottish name) is off to his Uncle’s house for the reading of his will, and if you’ve ever seen a Hammer horror film, you’ll know exactly what comes next. Weird characters behaving in red-herring-y ways, mysterious beautiful women, an odd fellow with his own lab in the cellar – okay, that’s not too common – and an odd-looking servant who knows more than he’s letting on. That servant, Igor (yes!) is played by a fellow called Paul Naschy, and he’s beloved among fans of Spanish horror for a lifetime of creepy performances like this one. He’s the only really interesting character in the whole movie, with his, er, “closeness” to the female corpses in the family mausoleum. I’m happy to report that the title of this movie is entirely correct – Serge does encounter a hanging woman on his way to the house, the daughter of the dead man (Igor seems to enjoy having her around, as it were).

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A lot of people will defend this sort of thing as “gothic” horror, but unless “gothic” has changed meaning to “stultifyingly dull” in recent years, I’d have to disagree. When you’ve seen one set of overdressed late-Victorian people arguing in a drawing room, you’ve seen em all, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a BBC costume drama or a Spanish “zombie” movie, it’s equally boring. Static shots, ugly rooms, actors hampered by poor dialogue and dubbing – it’s embarrassing how little actually happens in this movie.

 

A quick word about women, once again. By the way, I’ve seen so many European 70s / 80s horror movies recently that I think I accidentally turned into a sexist. There are two women in this movie, one’s a slutty gold-digging witch (literally, in the case of the witch thing), whereas the other is absolutely useless and exists solely to be saved by Serge. I’m sick to death of movies that treat women like this, and while they’re more likely to just be the object of lust these days, there’s still many more decent parts for women than there were – I think the “Final Girl” trope is problematic, but wow is it ever better than this.

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For absolutely no reason that I can see, as it makes him a villain from even a casual viewer’s standpoint, Serge (who’s inherited the house by this point) demands that the sweet, innocent girl takes her clothes off in front of him, because she said she’d do anything to allow her father (the scientist fellow) to stay in the house and continue his research. He sits there, casually smoking, while this extremely distressed girl gets topless in front of him, then when he’s done so he reveals he’s already agreed to let the father stay, and she should put her clothes on and get out, as she’s making him angry. You know, like heroes do! The entire scene takes place with no music, which makes it even weirder, as there’s nothing to distract you. That the two of them fall in love later is a pretty dumb development.

 

I’ve barely recapped the plot, have I? Or talked about zombies? Well, in the first case, it’s a simple “who’s killing everyone in the house?” and in the second, it’s because the zombies don’t show up til…63 minutes in. 63 minutes! Screw you, movie! The last ten minutes or so is pretty good fun, as Serge keeps burning zombies, only to have the police show up seconds after they stopped moving, making him look guilty as hell. If you’re interested, it’s to do with a capsule implanted in the brain which gets the corpse walking round again, but leaves them blind (doesn’t touch those nerves). If you’re wondering how scary it is to have blind zombies slowly chasing you, the answer is “not very”. No matter how much melodramatic music they slap on these scenes, it’s just “run round them, try not to make any noise, and you’ll be fine”. Oh, and it’s got one of those garbage “they’re not all dead!” endings that flies in the face of the logic the movie bothered building to that point. Ho hum. Although I did like the permanently drunk soldier, clearly slotted in for comic relief.

 

Director Jose Luis Merino knew what he was doing with his exteriors, which look fantastic and very unique, and I suppose the rest of the movie is shot fine, with the exception of day and night changing almost constantly, which even my wife (who had stopped paying attention quite early on) noticed. it just feels really old fashioned. With a few minor edits for nudity, gore, and – I suppose – strongly implied necrophilia, it could easily be one of those deathly dull TV movies that always seemed to be shown on rainy Sunday afternoons. It feels much more like a very weak Hammer movie than it does a sequel to two of the greatest horror movies of all time.

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I think, most of all, the blatant false advertising annoyed me. Calling this “Beyond The Evil Dead” is an absolute joke, and the distributors (no doubt tricking some people, with a copyright-mocking VHS cover) are scum. Let’s stop pussy-footing around, we deserve better than this, and every time we allow people to make money from tricking us, and then play it off as fun or a bit cheeky, we allow money that could have been spent on something good into the hands of people whose sole interest is that money, and not decent entertainment.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 3 (1980) (aka “Zombie Holocaust”)

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It’s (not very good) joke time!

Calling this movie “Zombie Holocaust” is like:

 

We’re up to the fourth movie to be called “Zombi 3”, or as my wife described it this morning, “is it the one in the jungle? Or the one in the Peak District? Or the one with the creepy man-child who eats his mother’s breast? Or the other one in the jungle?” Dear reader, I can confirm that this is “the other one in the jungle”, and I can also confirm that had it gone under a more literal title, say “The Idiots, The Cannibals, The Mad Scientist and Maybe Two Zombies”, I probably wouldn’t have bothered watching it.

 

Movies like this are the reason I had a rule of zombie movies – that if one doesn’t show up in the first 20 minutes, unless it’s really really good, I’m turning it off. The first zombie doesn’t show up til 48 minutes into an 84 minute movie; and the first act is entirely different to what comes after, with all sorts of setup which leads nowhere (in other words, padding). What this movie is, of course, is a weak rehash of “Cannibal Holocaust”, perhaps the most notorious of all the “video nasties”, and one which I’d struggle to watch again (especially as I’m a vegetarian now). I’d struggle to watch this again too, but that’s because if someone put it on in my presence I’d assume I was being tortured or had died, and was in Hell.

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The first portion of the movie is set largely at a teaching hospital in the city, where someone is stealing body parts. This bit also features one of my most hated things – the university lecture which operates as exposition, pitched at a level so basic children would understand it, much less medical students (the professor talks about the shape of the stomach, for example. Really?) So a corpse gets wheeled in, missing a hand, and the students make a joke about it, to which the professor gets super-annoyed and tells them a sick sense of humour has no place in a hospital. What? Pretty much the only thing I know about doctors is they have sick senses of humour!

 

Anyway, blah blah blah, they catch a guy in the process of eating a heart, he jumps out of a window to his death, but he’s got a weird symbol branded onto his chest, the same as the symbol on the sacrificial dagger that the movie’s “star”, Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli) has on her wall. Her apartment is like a 70s nightmare, with all the faux-African items everywhere, and is therefore the most amazing set in the entire movie.

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Because the symbol leads them to a jungle island where a cannibal culture still exists, who hate any attempts at imposing Western culture. Or something. Honestly, I was irritated with it by this point, and nothing that happened the rest of the movie improved my mood at all. Lori, Dr Chandler (Ian McCulloch), who I think works for the police?, Dr Chandler’s assistant who I can’t be bothered to learn the name of, and Susan, the reporter (Sherry Buchanan, who was way too beautiful and talented to be 5th billed in garbage like this) all head off to the Caribbean to meet Dr Chandler’s old friend, the definitely-not-a-lunatic Dr Obrero (Donald O’Brien).  That he’s called “Dr Butcher” in the US version, and the movie is also known as “Dr Butcher MD”, might be a slight clue that he’s not on the level.

 

Bloody hell, recapping this is miserable. Anyway, the island has cannibals on it. Dr Butcher is turning some cannibals into zombies with his brain transplant technology (but he only manages two, so the movie tells us). Susan becomes Queen of the cannibals and there’s a big fight between the cannibals and the doctor. I think a few people escape, although I’d genuinely given up by that point. A lot of people will tell you how OTT and therefore brilliant Dr Butcher’s performance is, but those people are liars.

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They copy as much of the gore from “Cannibal Holocaust” as they can manage, and it’s plenty gross – people get their eyes eaten, body parts are flung about willy-nilly, and most of the cast get their chests torn open and their guts ripped out at some point. It’s well done, I guess, and if your sole interest is seeing as much of that sort of thing as possible, this will be an adequate entertainment for you. The zombie makeup is pathetic, though, consisting solely of “masks” of skull and rotting flesh put over the top of peoples’ heads, with no other colouring to the rest of the body or anything like that.

 

One interesting thing is that this movie used the same sets as Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2”, which we loved. I didn’t even notice til I read it this morning, which indicates how much I enjoyed Fulci’s movie and how little I enjoyed this. In “Zombi 2”, the jungle looked alien and atmospheric, but here it’s just sort of flat and boring, and even the buildings – although they’re the same buildings – look rubbish. It’s interesting to see how two movies, filmed reasonably close together in the same place, can look so different.

 

The thing that made “Cannibal Holocaust” interesting, on top of the is-it-real gore and animal slaughter, is the central conceit, of it being a discovered film from a group of people who went missing. Sounds unoriginal now, but blame “Blair Witch” for that. With that, there was no real letup from everything trying to kill them, or other things around them being killed; “Zombie Holocaust” just rubs your face in the gore, shouting “look at me! Look at me!” but the stuff in between those sections is tedious. And the first half, especially, is nothing – you could recap it in ten seconds and not miss a thing.

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All this could be related to the director, one Marino Girolami. He retired from filmmaking a couple of years after this came out, and was 66 at the time of filming, which is pretty old for a guy trekking through the jungle filming guts being eaten. Girolami got his start making knockabout comedies (it seems Italy had a thing for movies made up of multiple “sketches” in the early 60s), then followed then followed trends for the rest of his career – westerns, gangster movies, and gore. Until some site is really hard up on articles and can’t write about one of the big directors again, he’s unlikely to have his career looked back on with much fondness.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Queen Crab (2015)

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This is from the good people at Wild Eye Releasing. You want indie horror movies to keep getting made? Then you might want to consider dropping a few £££ on their stuff – they’ve got the fantastic “They Will Outlive Us All” and “President Wolfman”, among many others. Check their site out here.

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Sometimes, to be generous, I’ll say “this movie could have been good, if more money had been spent on it”, when I really mean “this sucked, but at least they tried”. In this case, though, there’s a genuinely brilliant horror-comedy lurking just under the surface, weighed down by a miniscule budget and less-than-professional acting, although that great film does pop through from time to time.

 

“Queen Crab” is brought to us by low- and no-budget royalty. First up is writer/director Brett Piper, who got his start on such gems as “A Nymphoid Barbarian In Dinosaur Hell” and “Raiders Of The Living Dead” , and has been working steadily in exactly the sort of genres we love ever since (2009’s “Muckman” looks solid, we’ll try and track it down to review it soon). Producing and editing are the Polonia brothers, who’ve been in a similar field  since the mid 80s – starting off with “Splatter Farm” all the way through to “Sharkenstein”, recently shown on the SyFy Channel. I’m going to let it slide that Mark Polonia edited one of the worst movies we’ve ever covered (and you know that’s saying something), “Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast”.

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20 years ago, young Melissa was playing by the lake next to her house, while her parents argued inside. Mum was complaining that Dad was a useless layabout who needed to find a job, and Dad was complaining that people were interrupting his experiments in finding a way to make things bigger – he wanted to solve world hunger! Anyway, Melissa plucked a few grapes from a tree in Dad’s lab and fed them to her new friend, a crab called Pee-Wee. Yada yada yada, the house blew up, killing her parents, and the grapes caused the crab to grow to massive size, eventually.

 

The rest of the movie is set in the present day and is moderately standard, such as these things go. Melissa has become withdrawn and lives alone (apart from the crab), but an old friend of hers from high school, Jennifer (Kathryn Metz), who’s now an actress in cheesy low-budget movies, comes to visit, drags her to the pub, and she’s not there to do her naked dance which apparently soothes the savage beast. The crab (which seems to be stop-motion, a lovely thing to see in an era of CGI – this is apparently a specialty of Piper’s) doesn’t seem especially aggressive unless provoked, but eventually people figure out what’s going on and it’s stop-the-monster time. If you were wondering why the plot bears no resemblance to the IMDB summary (about an asteroid disturbing the crab’s aeons-long slumber, then…I’ve got no idea either. Best guess is they submitted the plot summary to IMDB while the movie was in pre-production, and then came up with a better / cheaper idea for it and no-one bothered changing it?

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For such a cheap film, they’ve really tried with the characters. The Sheriff and his Deputy, despite the Deputy being a whisker away from being a full-on rapist, are fun characters and have an easy rapport; the bar’s locals actually have character, a trait so rare in micro-budget movies that it deserves celebrating, and despite a few of them not being quite as strong as they could be (sadly, Melissa is a bit wooden in the lead) it’s a pretty big achievement. Obviously, the crab is the best actor in it, but everyone at least puts the effort in. My favourite was the lovely gentle-looking old man who happens to own a fully loaded tank, and turns up when it’s all hands on deck to kill the crab time.

 

I think Brett Piper is a better writer than he is a director, although it might be easier to say you’re more likely to have a good script than good direction when you’ve only got $75,000 to play with. Lots of fun lines – saying someone has a “Craig Ferguson accent” and the entirely straightly delivered “so you’re taking the crab’s side now?” The direction is solid and functional, which I know sounds like damning with faint praise, but when you’ve seen films like…well, “Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast”, you realise basic competence is by no means a given.

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There are flaws, of course, that go beyond the rotten acting and lack of budget. Every man in this town is a sex pest – the Deputy appears ready to hang one of the women in his basement and abuse her body for a few weeks; and the barman’s a piece of crap too. It’s a tiring trope, and the constant threat of sexual violence that hangs over the heads of every female character must put women (who have to deal with remarkably similar stuff on a daily basis) off from watching low-budget monster movies like this. I just don’t buy the only way to generate tension between men and women is the threat of rape, is all.

 

I’m sorry. I appreciate some of you reading this are going “you’re still talking about a low-budget giant crab movie, right?” But when you see as much of this stuff as I do, it starts to wear on you after a while and you need to vent. I’m done. I think with more of a budget, this could have been a very good SyFy Channel movie – which makes me look forward to “Sharkenstein”, directed by the same guy and shown on SyFy a couple of weeks ago. It has the same light touch and quick pace as a Mike Mendez movie, and given how much I’ve enjoyed them that’s a very big plus point.

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As this is on Wild Eye, I would love to get my name on a future DVD cover. So, consider the review over – go buy it and enjoy it immediately – and let’s try a few cool pull-quotes for a potential DVD re-release. “Chuffing hell, it’s great!” “I’m keen for this Queen!” “I’m vegetarian, and I wanted to take a bite of this!” Nope, I’m no good at it. Let’s just stick to:

 

Rating: thumbs up

Zombi 3 (1974) (aka The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue)

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Also known as: “Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue”, “The Living Dead”, “Don’t Open The Window”, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, and “Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead”, among many others (no idea what “Don’t Open The Window” was referring to, perhaps just a general safety request).

I can now say I’ve visited the location of one of the classic Italian zombie films. Yes, dear reader, part of “Manchester Morgue” was filmed in the beautiful village of Castleton in the Peak District, a short drive from my house and home to the Blue John Caverns. Not quite as glamourous as Rome, but lovely nonetheless. Most of the exteriors were actually shot in my part of the world – some scenes at the beginning were shot in Manchester city centre, before moving on to the Lake District and Peak District.

 

We’re on to the fourth “Zombie 3”, now, this one bearing that title in Brazil. “Wait, fourth?” I hear you ask. “Did I miss one?” No, don’t worry, I’m just referring to the previously reviewed “Nightmare City”, which went by “Zombie 3” in some markets. We’ve got one more to go – “Zombie Holocaust”, aka “Dr Butcher MD”, has also used the name at one point, and features someone who was in “Zombi 2”, making it more of a sequel than the “official” part 3. All this number talk is beginning to bore even me now (and I love this sort of nonsense) so let’s get on with things.

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An opening segment tells us of environmental woes. The shots of Manchester city centre feature several people with facemasks on, juxtaposed with belching chimneys and car exhausts…and then a streaker runs through the streets for absolutely no reason whatsoever. By the time the movie had ended, I’d completely forgotten about her, so as I was pondering it this morning, her appearance became even more puzzling. Anyway, it eventually gets going for real, and we meet our two “stars”, the Scumbag Biker and the Wet Blanket.

 

They have real names, and I think Scumbag Biker is supposed to be a good guy, but that’s the roles they played. He’s George (Ray Lovelock) and she’s Edna (Cristina Galbó). It turns out he’s an antiques shop owner on his way to sell some pieces, and she’s…a wet blanket. Sorry, I didn’t write the damn script! So, she backs into him on a garage forecourt in her Mini, so he just insults her, then demands a ride to where he’s going, then tells her he’s going to drive because she’d probably go the entire way in reverse. The entire rest of the movie, they act like a feuding couple who’ve been married for years, and she, much like every woman in a European horror movie of the era, does absolutely nothing. Ye gods, she’s useless, spending the entire rest of the movie crying or frozen in fear.

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There’s another woman in similar circumstances, a pale, sad-looking thing who’s apparently being held semi-hostage by her husband. He’s a photographer and she, in a rather odd twist, is a heroin addict. He’s only keeping her there because she begged not to be sent to a clinic, although where she’s going for heroin in the middle of the rural North-West of England is a matter never brought up. I guess Manchester and Liverpool are a drive away, but there’s no indication she has access to a car…it’s a curious sub-plot, for sure. His photographs are often of the countryside, but are also of his wife, naked and looking rather upset – a creepy little detail which is sadly glossed over. Other reviews seem to think she’s a prostitute? Perhaps the version I watched was more heavily edited, because I didn’t get that at all.

 

The zombies are popping up as a result of an experiment from the “Agriculture Ministry”. To stop the tyranny of insects eating crops, some boffins have figured out a device to emit radiation into the ground which excites their very primitive nervous systems, and gets them to kill each other. You know who else has a very primitive nervous system still firing, after death? Human beings! They do try and explain it, and it’s not the stupidest idea in the world, I suppose. This ties in to the environmental message, and while it’s a touch on the heavy-handed side, I’m not going to give them too much of a hard time about it.

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A tramp who fell in the river and drowned is patient zero, but these zombies aren’t your average, oh no. Shoot em in the head? They laugh that off (well, stand there with the same vacant expression on their faces). Shoot em anywhere else? Same. They’ve got rudimentary tool skills (not as good as the guys and gals from “Nights Of Terror”, of course) and the only way you can finish them off is burning them. I like their slowness and deliberation, and the makeup is spot-on too. They’re fresh-ish corpses, so you don’t need body parts hanging off and bit s of skull showing, you just need some good makeup and a vacant expression, and “Manchester Morgue” provides that in spades. The way the zombies show up in scenes, then disappear, makes it feel more like a very violent ghost story than it does a zombie-thon, too.

 

I guess it would be better if you watched the Youtube video, if you’re fussed about spoilers. Although it’s over 40 years old, you guys really have no excuse. People start dying, but despite you thinking the first zombie was caught on camera, all of the developed shots just show its victim. Are they vampires too? When the police are brought in, you’re going to struggle to do anything other than notice their accents, and in fact all the accents in the movie. The main cop is sort of Irish / American; there’s a doctor who’s Mexican / Indian; the woman who runs the petrol station is Scottish; there’s a few which sound like they’re roughly area- appropriate but so many more who you can be sure were just handed off to voice actors who were told to do whatever they wanted, as long as it was English. It sounds like TV show “Eurotrash”, only they do it deliberately for laughs. The cops seem to think they’ve got a Manson-style hippie murderer on their hands, whose exploits would have been fresh in peoples’ minds at the time, so it’s also interesting to see how the director defends Scumbag Biker, who’s an atheist environmentalist, from the forces of small towns and small minds.

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Almost despite myself, I liked this. It’s the sort of slow-paced movie I’d have hated in my youth, but the atmosphere is extremely well done and there’s enough stuff to keep you interested. Scumbag Biker tries to save the day, Wet Blanket sits around and doesn’t do much, the radiation device slowly spreads its area of effect and more zombies start showing up. The gore is excellent, but relatively rarely used – director Grau definitely watched “Night Of The Living Dead” a few times, as there’s a few little borrows (for example, the first zombie lumbering out of a graveyard, and the zombies in a circle all munching on guts. Oh, and a few people trap themselves in a building and board it up, but it lasts only a few minutes so I’m not sure it counts). There’s a fantastic bit where one of the cops, a brave fella who hopes his actions prove to Scumbag Biker that the police are okay, really, runs out of the building to go and get his radio and call for help…and makes it about five feet before getting a gravestone to the back and going down for good. And the ending! Wow, they really throw a bleak ending in there, and this stands out in a genre known for its bleak endings.

 

This wasn’t bad at all. As long as you go into it not expecting a zombie death-fest, you’ll probably have a good time. Or if you’re interested in what Northern England looked like in the mid 70s (although this is perhaps too small an interest group to cater specifically to). To cheer you up after that ending, see if you can spot the non-deliberate mistake in this still from the movie:

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Rating: thumbs up

Zombi 3 (1981) (aka Nights Of Terror)

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Also known as “The Zombie Dead”, “Burial Ground”, “Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror”, “Return Of The Zombies”, etc.

 

Italy, it turns out, had a weird / wonderful copyright loophole for a while, which allowed anything to call itself a sequel to anything else. This is the reason all our non-sequel sequels (“Alien 2”, “Terminator 2”) came from there, and it’s the reason that allowed the “Zombi” series to exist. So, a few producers went “hey, why are the Zombi guys having all the fun?” and decided to release their own instalments, after the extraordinarily good “Zombi 2”. Which leads to the fun you’re going to see over the next few days, as we cover all the movies that renamed themselves to capitalise on that particular title. There’s a heap of 3s, two 4s, and two 5s, and then if we’re extremely brave, a 6 and two 7s. Oh, it’s annoying me just thinking about it, check out this Wikipedia page and see what you think.

 

“Nights of Terror” is a beloved movie of my youth. Discovered in a video shop, my friends and I watched it many times, and revelled in the fact the zombies don’t mess about in this one. What’s interesting about watching it now is how it’s both amazing and absolutely terrible, often at the same time. And the plot is simple, because who cares?

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Three couples (one of whom has a “teenage” son) go to a country house for the weekend, and almost immediately, zombies start attacking them. It turns out the owner of the house, Professor Ayres, found a buried tomb, opened it and let a bunch of the undead out, who immediately killed him. The rest of the cast show absolutely no instinct for self-preservation at all, with the honourable exception of George (Roberto Caporali), who at least blows up a few heads with his shotgun, before he runs out of shells. When I saw one of the guys try and fight off a zombie – which he’d seen survive a gunshot to the chest – by hitting it with a bit of pipe on the shoulder, I nearly lost my cool and shouted at the screen.

 

I would be remiss as a reviewer if I didn’t mention Michael (Peter Bark), the son of Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano). To get round the labour laws, they hired a 25 year old midget to play the 12 year old boy, and whether by accident or design they created one of the creepiest characters in the history of horror. He’s a pathetic little whiner with a major Oedipal complex, which snowballs to him putting his hand up his mum’s dress, kissing her and fondling her breasts (thank heavens they didn’t have a real 12 year old doing all this, I suppose). Later on, after he dies thanks to freezing in place and crying about it rather than doing anything to save his own life, he shambles up to Mum, who’s decided that yes, she’d be happy with her son sucking on her breasts, and has an obviously sexual reaction to it…up to the point he bites her entire breast off. Her husband died way early on when she abandoned him in the middle of a room full of zombies and she never so much as mentions him again. Nice!

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It’s just a bunch of people you don’t like getting eaten, and that’s why the movie works so well. Apart from an initial 10 minutes (after the “cold open”) where the characters are being set up – pretty badly, to the extent I can’t remember any of their names – it’s just zombies, zombies, zombies. No subtext, no wider meaning, no real plot of any kind, just “here are some people, and here are some zombies. Go!” At one point, the idiots figure the zombies are after something inside the house, not them, so just let them in and hide for a minute (SPOILER: it doesn’t work).

 

I said it was both great and terrible, and a good way of looking at that is the makeup. The zombie makeup is absolutely amazing, the most grotesque faces and hands, looking like a nightmare of what the long-buried would turn into. But…if you look closer, you can see it’s just masks, with necks and arms of lovely healthy pink flesh occasionally exposed, and in closeups you can see the mouths of the actors underneath the zombie mouth of the mask, and it looks bad. Definitely a film that ought to be watched on a smaller screen, not in HD; but saying that, some of the effects (like when the zombies get their heads caved in) are brilliant and very gross.

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The zombies are an odd bunch in this. They’re the slow kind, which I like, but can use tools and work as a team, which I don’t understand at all (it’s not like they’re talking to each other). There’s one inadvertently hilarious scene where some characters are talking outside, and clearly visible in shot are a few zombies, just hanging around the cars, not moving. I like to think when they were alive, they were automobile enthusiasts, and just wanted to know what sort of engine these cars were packing; and not that they were just actors who’d been given no direction.

 

What we have is perhaps the purest distillation of what zombie movies are, in 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it’s not quite all fun, and the biggest problem is the treatment of women. Admittedly, it’s not like the guys are action heroes, but the women are just there to scream and die and after the tenth example of it happening, it becomes intensely tiresome. There’s a weight attached to this sort of thing, the weight of being told by entertainment you’re nothing but window dressing for men, who do all the important stuff, and I’m delighted things are different nowadays (although not by as much as I’d hope). And there’s quite a bit of padding here and there, too – including one scene where a servant gets some candles, and we see all of them lit in excruciating detail.

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A quick word about director Andrea Bianchi. He liked the more erotic end of things, having directed such no-doubt-gems as “Strip Naked For Your Killer” , “Exciting Love Girls” (which seems to have an awful lot of rape in it) and “The Seduction Of Angela”. I guess we ought to be pleased that this just features gore?

 

I’ve perhaps been a bit too negative. It’s loads of fun, and the gore is strong. It’s certainly a great deal better than the last “Zombi 3” we reviewed! Sit back, enjoy and remember what zombie films used to be like before they needed plots and characters you liked. And if you like bleak endings, this one has the bleakest – there is absolutely no hope in this world. It does, admittedly, feel like they chopped off an ending where they discovered the tomb and were able to close it, but this works out too. Check out this magnificent misspelled final intertitle:

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Rating: thumbs up

Zombi 3 (1988) (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters 2)

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9 years is a long time in the movies. Kevin Smith went from “Clerks” to the thoroughly miserable “Jersey Girl”; David Gordon Green went from “All The Real Girls” to the unfunny “Your Highness”; Will Ferrell went from “Anchorman” to “Anchorman 2”; Michael Paul Girard went from “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” to “Different Strokes: The Story Of Jack And Jill And Jill” (okay, I was reaching a bit by the last one). The point being, many a great / promising career has fallen off the rails, and so it would seem at least initially with Lucio Fulci. “Zombi 2” is a genuinely brilliant film, a horror classic, whereas this, well, isn’t.

 

There are several explanations. Up til 1983’s “Conquest” (his first big-budget movie) he was pretty much untouchable, with gem after gem, but going to make that caused him to break off relations with his regular scriptwriter – everything he made after then seemed corny. Or maybe it’s his health – at some point in the mid 80s he began to suffer with diabetes, and this  along with other medical issues caused the early end of his career and can be blamed for the lack of effort shown in his later movies. It’s the second one that’s probably the case here, as he was unable to finish filming due to ill health, and production was handed over to…Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso!

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Yes, Mattei and Fragasso are firm “favourites” here at the ISCFC, having given us “Shocking Dark”, “Strike Commando” and “Robowar”, and while reports vary on just how big their hand was in “Zombi 3” (Fulci said they did minor reshoots, Mattei said they directed anywhere between a third and half the finished product), by quality it’s certainly right down there in their wheelhouse. But enough of my baseless allegations against dead Italians! We’ve got a movie to discuss!

 

A group of scientist employed by the military are working on “Death-One”, a virus which brings the dead back to life – although the movie never bothers mentioning it, one can assume it’s so the army can send a bunch of undead soldiers onto the battlefield. Oh, authority figures, when will you ever learn? The first test subject we see ought to have been listed in the credits as “overacting zombie”, because he goes all out with the gurning and the moaning, but he’s sadly not in it very much, as the main thrust of the plot comes from a different direction.

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Firstly, a guy steals a sample of Death-One and manages to evade the army security; then, when he’s been shot at, dropped the sample, and become infected with it, he bites a few people. The army captures and kills him, but decides to burn his body, letting his ashes into the atmosphere. This isn’t the first similarity to “Return Of The Living Dead” you’ll notice, released a few years before this and a big enough hit that it was mined for scenes by Italian exploitation-movie folk. It’s the military’s fault, and their incompetence allowed it to escape, after all!

 

The bulk of the movie is idiots slowly getting killed and being completely unable to defend themselves. A group of your traditional horror movie “meat” (hot girls, boring guys) meets up with three army guys in a jeep and they get attacked by a bunch of birds which were poisoned with the ash-cloud. Holing up in a hotel, they get the most astonishing good luck in movie history and just find a crate of guns; the girl who was pecked by the birds slowly gets worse and worse before “dying”. A few of them try to find a doctor but get killed on the way and then white-overall-wearing guys from the Army attempt to kill everyone in the entire area, infected or not.

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The more I thought about “Zombi 2”, the more I enjoyed it – a masterpiece of grungy horror filmmaking. This, on the other hand, is a catalogue of how not to do it, with a few “classic” mistakes, and a whole heap of new ones. From the notes I made, I could go on for hours, but I’ll try and stick to the main ones. Firstly, if you’ve got black people in your movie and you need to dub them, please pick an accent that doesn’t sound like the maid from the Tom & Jerry cartoons; because black people like watching movies too, and might not be too thrilled by that. If you’ve got a virus-based zombie-ism outbreak, then it might be handy to have all your zombies behave in roughly the same way – instead, we have slow zombies, fast zombies, zombies that jump from tall buildings, zombies that wield weapons, a zombie which is just a flying head (?!), and eventually zombies that talk. Also, it might be handy if it takes roughly the same amount of time to turn you from human to undead – but we see a few people take days to turn, but one woman go from human to zombie in what must have been seconds (the woman who falls into the water, if you decide to watch this to fact-check my review).

 

There’s a scene where two female survivors meet a heavily pregnant woman, and the obvious conclusion to proceedings is going to be “baby is a zombie”. So you wait, and wait, and then they send the woman with a bad leg off to find help while the healthy woman stays with the pregnant lady, and you wait, til eventually…an adult-sized hand tears its way out of the woman and throttles the remaining helper. What the hell? I suppose surprising is good?

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Those are new and fresh mistakes, but they sprinkle in a few classics too. The ending, where three people go for the helicopter which handily appears out of nowhere, has two people getting in and a third holding the zombies off. When he’s done his thing, he runs for the helicopter, which for some reason has decided to hover 10 feet off the ground, making it almost impossible for the third guy to get in (he doesn’t, and dies). Why not just wait ten more seconds, you assholes? But my favourite, my all-time most annoying thing about zombie movies, is the person who gets infected and decides to keep it to themselves. Seriously, you dumb git, what do you think will happen? Go hand yourself in, someone might be able to help you! Arrghh! Thank you, dear reader, if felt good to get that off my chest.

 

The biggest problem, though, bigger than a movie full of idiots with no sense of self-preservation, is the troubled production. Whether Fulci left due to ill health or arguments with the producers, it left a very bad final product. Because Mattei and Fragasso didn’t have access to all the actors, the “main” plot ends up feeling weirdly isolated in the middle of the movie, and all the stuff with the guys in white is obviously added afterwards. And there’s a subplot with a radio DJ which I get the feeling was added to explain what the hell was going on, and to give us more of a plot (it’s all to do with the environment, you guys). Aside: the set dressing for Blue Heart (the DJ) leaves a little to be desired – when we get a very brief glimpse of what’s on his set-list for the day, the only thing written on it is “play Beatles song”. Lovely!

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We’re left with a mess. Fulci’s section is the work of a director devoid of inspiration, fighting a studio and probably illness. If you think Fulci’s stuff was the gold, then I would like to point out that the flying head, as dumb an effect as a zombie movie has ever had, was his favourite scene. Mattei and Fragasso’s section is…typical work from the two of them, only not as much fun as the stuff we’ve covered so far (more “Hell Of The Living Dead”, less “Shocking Dark”). The acting, such as we can see through the dubbing, is flat, and nothing works.

 

Up next, all the other movies that have been released somewhere in the world as “Zombi 3”, two of those movies are favourites of mine (“Virgin Among The Living Dead” and “Burial Ground”), so the next week of reviews ought to be fun. And we finally get the answer to why Italy seemed to mock copyright for so long!

 

Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 2 (1979) (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters)

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One of the main reasons we don’t tend to review well-known films here is there’s plenty of very smart people who’ve already written about them, and we can be compared unfavourably to at least some of those writers. No-one with half an ounce of sense would choose to watch, for instance, “Witchcraft” past part 1, so we’ve got a great deal less competition there. “Zombie Flesh Eaters” is pretty famous, and is no doubt in a bunch of “best zombie movies ever” books, so even though I hope my words entertain, you might have read something similar before. But I’m also a completist, so to get to the Mattei / Fragasso made, almost certainly terrible, later instalments in the “Zombi” series, we have to do this.

I did spend the first ten minutes absolutely convinced I’d seen this before, but it turns out it was just incredibly similar to the beginning of “Contamination”, with an abandoned ship full of badness drifting into New York harbour; as they were both released the same year, plagiarism is possible, but I think it’s just a very large coincidence. The small sailboat here has a zombie on board, having a nice sleep apparently, because he doesn’t move til a Harbour Patrol officer boards and starts looking round. So the officer gets bitten, the zombie falls into the harbour, but these people are just the zombie-filled cold open to ease us into a zombie-free act 1 (damn you, old Italian zombie movies, and your leisurely opening pace). Fun, though! Great zombie makeup, tons of crazily red blood, enthusiastic thumbs up so far.

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The cast is a fine bunch. There’s ace investigative reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), and daughter of the boat owner Anne Bowles (Tisa “sister of Mia” Farrow). They team up and go to the Caribbean to investigate, having found what amounts to a suicide note from her father; while there, they hire the boat of Brian and Susan (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay), a couple who were just going on a holiday round the islands. Tracking her father to a clinic on the island, they meet the Doctor, David Menard (Richard Johnson) and his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos); Paola is desperate to get off the island and back to civilization, and drinks to escape the tedium of her life, and David is an angry zealot who’s convinced he can cure the mysterious illness that’s sweeping the island and…turning people into zombies!

First and foremost, and I can’t believe I’ve not just excitedly typed this out twenty times already, a ZOMBIE FIGHTS A SHARK! Unless it’s the world’s greatest model, it’s a real shark too (presumably one of the non-human-eating ones)! After being disturbed in his watery slumber by a nude diving Susan, the zombie gets up and, seeing a shark swimming by, decides to take a bite. Zombie vs shark! Thirty years later and it’d have been a meme, here it’s a surprisingly un-campy scene. That shark looks legit pissed off with the zombie too! The zombie was played by the shark’s trainer, so I guess there was some comfort level there, but it was an absolutely fantastic scene.

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There’s another famous scene, which may have helped it on to the “video nasty” list in the UK (the ISCFC is gradually reviewing all those as well, so feel free to follow this link to the “VRA” homepage) – Paola is left at her home while David goes off to look sad at a bunch of dying people, and she eventually gets eaten, but not before she’s dragged eyeball-first onto a piece of broken wood. It still shocks now, so I can only imagine how amazing it must have looked in 1979.

One of the things that sets this apart from its zombie movie brethren is the location filming. As well as actually filming in New York (admittedly, probably only for a day or two), they went to the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo (part of the Dominican Republic) and found the filthiest, most run down locations possible. The broken, knackered hospital; the “main street” of a village; everything other than the doctor’s house has an authentic nature to it that no amount of set dressing could recreate. Although, according to the doctor, the zombie outbreak has only been happening for 3 months, it feels like society passed this place by a long time ago. Oh, apart from the cemetery, which is embarrassingly cheesy, but never mind that.

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It’s not perfect. The women are absolutely useless, and it’s really quite frustrating to see them, time and again, stood still, screaming and waiting for their death rather than doing anything about it. I guess it’s a sign of the times more than anything, but it still irritates. And towards the end, despite the fact that David has been shooting the recently dead in the head since the beginning, when everyone meets up and they have to repel the zombie horde, they immediately forget what to do to put one down for good. Seriously, you guys, the chest is no good! Oh, and if I remember to take a screenshot, here’s the bit where zombies try to break down a door by doing a sort of weird pinball thing into it.

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But there’s an enormous amount of really good stuff about “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, it’s a genuine horror classic (while not being quite as good as its fake-prequel). The sense of doom that hangs over everything is cleverly manipulated, with credit due to the cinematography. The Caribbean has never looked less idyllic than it does here. Dr David is clearly making no difference at all, but it’s the only thing he knows how to do, and the same can be said for his wife and the rest of the locals who work in the hospital. In fact, David’s character steals the movie for me, despite him being a scumbag to his wife. The music is absolutely perfect (and has almost had a longer life than the movie itself, the composer tours it regularly). The zombie effects are almost as good as they’ve ever been, just filthy and gory and wonderful.

So, absolutely no reservations about putting this right at the very top of the zombie movie pantheon, a shade below “Dawn Of The Dead” maybe (which isn’t just the best zombie movie ever, but probably the greatest horror movie, and one of the most essential movies of the 1970s) but streets ahead of pretty much every other zombie movie we’ve covered here. It’s a straight-ahead blast of horror, no messing, with a real depth to it that so many filmmakers forget.

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Rating: enthusiastic thumbs up