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

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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

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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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 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

Hell Of The Living Dead (1980)

Now there's a tag line I can get behind

Now there’s a tag line I can get behind

Aka – Apocalipsis canibal, Cannibal Virus, Hell of the Living Death, Night of the Zombies, Virus, Virus cannibale, Virus – L’inferno dei morti viventi, Zombie Creeping Flesh, Zombie Inferno, and Zombie of the Savanna (!)

 

This is very much a movie of two halves, but not the way you might think. The first half is the zombie makeup, and associated special effects. Those guys are amazing, as it’s chock full of very gross blood and gore which had this jaded reviewer grimacing a few times, with the mutilated faces looking very “realistic”. The second half is, sadly, everything else.

 

This movie is spectacularly bad. Even the least discerning zombie movie enthusiast will be shouting abuse at the screen before all is said and done, and it contains a scene of such blatant sexism that my wife (a zombie movie enthusiast) lost her cool and went “fuck this movie, and fuck all men who make movies”. So strap in, readers, and get ready for a few hundred words of angry disbelief!

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First things first, Papua New Guinea. A beautiful and fascinating place, no doubt, but not really the place to situate your chemical research lab (called “Hope Centre”), and not just because there’s pretty much zero infrastructure (especially in 1980). You’d have to hike for days through the jungle to get to the coast, to sail to Australia, to then drive for several days through the bush to get to a city, if you needed repairs doing, or supplies. How do you build a massive factory in the middle of the jungle? How did they transport the thousands of tons of steel and concrete? As we see, there are basically no roads. Anyway, this is just the intro to this wonderful movie, which could be summed up with “they really thought this was good enough to release? Really?”

 

The research centre that definitely isn’t an abandoned factory outside Madrid is trying to figure out eternal life, I think. Honestly, this movie is so garbled that you ought to be happy to be just getting that much information. Two sleazily sexist safety inspectors are looking round “the most sterile part of the facility” when they find a rat, which immediately savages one of them, killing him and zombie-ing him up sharpish. Now, haz-mat suits are usually to cover the entire body, but this movie couldn’t find any, so they just put the hood part on, with skin and shoes exposed – plus, there’s a corrugated iron wall visible, with light bleeding out from underneath. Did they not even try to dress the set?

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I’ll give them credit, though, we see zombies going hog-wild on humans by the 8 minute mark, an almost unheard-of speedy first appearance – not speedy in terms of movement, though, these are good old arms-out shufflers. They give you a flavour of what the actual living humans in this movie are going to be like in this scene as well, where a second group go looking for the first group, fully armed and ready. A zombie rises up from the floor and munches on a guy’s neck, and the guy behind them, who is both armed and can see everything that’s going on, does absolutely nothing. If you take a shot every time a human doesn’t respond to very obvious and very imminent danger, you’d probably be drunk enough to enjoy this movie quite quickly.

 

In what I thought was going to the other thread of plot, but is really just a quick way to introduce…the heroes?…we see a bunch of euro-terrorists holding up the US consulate in Spain, who know about the Hope Centres and their genetic experiments. Interpol has a group of four commandos who get sent in to clear them up (take a shot when the terrorists just let the cops shoot them without raising their guns or defending themselves). These four, after such sterling work, are sent to Papua New Guinea to find out why the Hope Centre isn’t communicating with the outside world.

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The other main group is a TV crew, sent undercover to film what’s going on in Papua New Guinea. After two of the TV crew get eaten (take a shot) thanks to their kid turning into a zombie, it’s commandos, TV star, and cameraman, wandering through a few local villages and then the Hope Centre. The village scenes are entirely for the purposes of padding the running time, and feature footage from a few other “documentaries”, showing real funeral rites and what looks like real cannibalism, along with footage of animals which may or may not be native to the island. When one of the dead-but-not-buried comes back to life, the villagers show they’re just as good at not defending themselves or running away from zombies as Westerners (take several shots).

 

So much of this movie is people doing dumb things or stuff happening for no reason. Take the entire time on the island as an example. The commandos are moving across poor terrain to get to a river to get to the Hope Centre. The problem is, when we see them put their dinghy in the river, it’s very clearly an ocean, and when their little trip ends, it’s an ocean too. Why didn’t they just get dropped off right outside the base rather than on the far side of a zombie and cannibal-infested island? Then there’s the scene where main lady Lia has to strip naked, paint herself a bit, then run in front of the car – allegedly to protect them from violent villagers, the jiggling boobies just being a bonus (this is the scene that caused my wife so much anger).

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All-time no.1 “oh my god, you people are too dumb to be able to remember to breathe in and out” moment is the shooting of zombies. They figure out headshots are the way to go admirably quickly, but throughout the rest of the movie the apparently well-trained commandos waste endless bullets shooting zombies in the chest, needing to be angrily reminded to aim for the head on several occasions. When the guy who looks like a methed-out Klaus Kinski shoots a bunch of zombies in the chest, then acts surprised when not only don’t die, but grab him and start eating him (although not surprised enough to bother fighting them off), I wanted to throw something heavy either at the TV or my own head, to wipe out the memory of this terrible terrible movie.

 

When you’ve got over the entire cast being unwilling to lift a finger to save themselves from being eaten (and how the commandos are scum, which really means the heroes of this movie are zombies), you can dwell on such things as the producers putting a real live cat inside a fake dead body then getting it to claw its way out, obviously extremely distressed; how they find a house in the jungle full of old (dead) white people, and how at least a few of the villagers are white guys painted up; or the extremely weird UN meeting, with about five countries attending despite it being about the literal end of the world.

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I guess we ought to be impressed this movie got made at all. Originally, it was going to be about the entire Third World being zombies, and the West having to fight them; but that would have cost way too much money. Then the finished movie made absolutely no sense, so the producers sent another director to shoot some more footage and splice in the ethnographic stuff and eventually, we ended up with this. I’ve not mentioned the acting, because it’s so poorly dubbed I feel bad laying into it, but there are some excellent overactors in this too.

 

I had quite a lot of fun shouting abuse at the screen, but you need to really like “so bad it’s good” movies to get something out of this. Best watched with a group of people with relatively strong stomachs, but everyone will enjoy the woman getting her tongue ripped out, then a hand shoved into her skull and her eyeballs popped out from the inside.

 

Rating: sort of a negative thumbs up, if that makes sense