Oasis Of The Zombies (1982)

A lot of lies in this poster

A lot of lies in this poster

Dear reader, my masochistic streak re: terrible movies has given you yet another review. I was under the impression that the Nazi zombie genre was fairly small, but after un-enjoying “Zombie Lake”, I discover there’s loads of the bloody things. We won’t be reviewing “Dead Snow”, because I watched it just before starting with the ISCFC and hated it, but at the urging of no-one (okay, my wife likes zombie movies and hates Nazis, so there was a little encouragement) I’ll review every Nazi zombie movie I can lay my hands on. I want no-one to have a bad entertainment decision and blame me for not writing a thousand words of nonsense about it!

 

We’ve done underwater Nazi zombies, but this is their sand-dune dwelling cousins. A pair of beautiful holiday-makers in a jeep stop to stretch their legs, and clearly our fascist undead friends are horny, as they pop up from the ground and get to eating.

01-1

Er…hold on a minute. This sounds a bit like “Zombie Lake”, right? And by “a bit”, I mean “they’re pretty much the same movie”. Let’s do a list of ways they’re the same:

 

  • Zombie nazis
  • Roused by hot females
  • A very long flashback to WW2, where a soldier has a baby with a woman who dies in childbirth
  • At the end of the flashback, some badass Allies whup Nazi ass
  • Stupid ending where all the Nazis are wiped out, after appearing indestructible to that point
  • Involvement of Jess Franco

 

I don’t know what went on, but Franco, after quitting “Zombie Lake” due to the tiny budget, went back to work for Eurocine the next year and appears to have re-used significant portions of his own script. It’s really extremely similar, so I’m presuming there’s a good story behind it (well, better than the story they chose to put on screen). At least this one didn’t have a chuffing dead Nazi as the romantic lead!

500px-oasis_of_the_zombies_tank_1

The reason all these people want to go into the desert is down to good old Nazi gold. It turns out that the transport we see in the flashback had $6 million worth on it, although the Allies never bothered searching the trucks or anything like that. The sole survivor of the Nazis decides after 35 years he probably ought to swing by and pick the gold up, so he goes to the sole survivor of the Allies, gets the map and then just kills him. I don’t know, if you can’t trust a fascist, who can you trust? He also seems pretty chill when the other guy tells him his soldiers might well be zombies now, expecting they’ll still listen to his orders (spoiler: they don’t).

 

I wrote in my notes “looks like two groups are converging on the gold”, but that might have been slightly fun and exciting, so it doesn’t happen. The son of the dead English soldier, who’s now a student in London, also learns about the gold and decides to round up a bunch of his student friends and go too, but they don’t arrive til the other group are pretty much slaughtered, and don’t really do much of anything themselves. There’s an idea that the zombies are protecting the gold, although who they’re doing it for is a conundrum never solved.

15-1

There’s a couple of incidents which date this movie better than a receipt from opening night. The flashback involves the Allied soldier meeting and falling in love with a Muslim woman – there’s even a sex scene where she goes full frontal. Could you imagine the storm of abuse such an image would get in a movie today? It’s perhaps handy to remember that in the post-WW2 period, there was a lot of that Eastern eroticism sold to Western audiences, and pre-revolutionary Saudi Arabia (for example) was seen as a bit of a pleasure palace. This sort of casual indifference (to modern eyes) to Islam extends to when the son gets to Africa, and he and his friends stroll through a group of men kneeling in prayer, literally striding over them in a few instances. It’s perhaps the most shocking image of the entire thing!

 

There’s one really cool-looking zombie in this, an obvious model of a skull with half a jaw, and bits of skin hanging off. Most of the money must have gone on that, because the rest of the zombie makeup appears to be glue and a smidge of white paint, smeared all over the face – better than “Zombie Lake”, but then everything is better than “Zombie Lake”. They look pretty good, though, so I shouldn’t be too mean, even if their hair isn’t very 1940s military, more late 70s hipster. The location is interesting too – after seeing dozens of bloody jungle zombie movies, to see one set in the desert is interesting by the mere fact of its uniqueness.

 

You’ll need to really hold on to that small segment of positivity, though, as this movie is just dull. Way too much padding, way too little real incident, and there’s one line which makes me fear for the European youth of the 1980s – “let’s make Molotov cocktails, like in school”. No one element is really really awful, but it all comes together to just suck the life out of you. It’s not like there’s even much of the tricks of the exploitation director’s trade on display – no gratuitous nudity, barely any gore. There’s a moderately funny bit where, after burning all the zombie corpses, our main couple get horny and have sex very close to the piles of undead – not the moment I’d choose, but whatever. The end also has some scenes shot from above, where the sand is very clearly a few handfuls thrown on a sand-coloured blanket, indicating re-shoots (or a very lazy set designer).

17-1

The thing is…it ought to be pretty easy to make a Nazi zombie movie. The 20th century’s greatest villains when they were alive, and now they’re dead? It should be a no-brainer. In both this and “Zombie Lake”, the uniforms the zombies were wearing was the least relevant thing about them. Why not try and make them a bit Nazi-like? Or use more of the trappings of their political creed, have them attack someone wearing a Star of David first? Anything other than this dull nothing would have been preferable.

 

Another movie which looked great on video shelves in the 1980s, but really ought to have stayed there.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Advertisements

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

alt1_usher_big

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

 

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

I wouldn't say it was THAT funny

I wouldn’t say it was THAT funny

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

 

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

revengeusher001

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

 

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

REVENGE IN THE HOUSE OF USHER  (30)

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

 

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

revengeinthehouseofusher_maid

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

 

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

 

Rating: thumbs down

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

VirginAmongTheLivingDead

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

 

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

VIRGINAMONGTHELIVINGDEAD-009

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

 

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

 

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

VIRGINAMONGTHELIVINGDEAD-019

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

 

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

12 funeral

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

 

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

vld

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

 

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

cursed

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

 

Rating: enthusiastic thumbs up

vlcsnap-2604888