The VRAs: Delirium (1979)

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This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about their content. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

When I discovered that one of the video nasties was filmed and set in St Louis, soon to be my home (if I don’t get turned down for a visa, that is), I had to watch it. It manages to reinforce my belief, though, that the films caught up by the Video Recordings Act might as well have been names drawn from a hat, with a few exceptions. In other words, if I’d spent any money tracking this down expecting a gore-drenched classic, I’d have been very sorely disappointed.

No-one seems particularly interested in saving this movie from utter obscurity, with the exception of people like Tom Stockman, the St Louis film historian / cult movie expert who did a public talk on the movie a little while ago. This huge gulf between its brief notoriety over here, and the almost complete indifference to it in its home country, is sort of interesting – probably a lot more interesting than the movie itself.

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Anyway, a rather sad looking fellow called Charlie (Nick Panouzis) goes for what appears to be an interview, and ends up picking up one of the secretaries there, even though he’s almost completely mute; taking her back to her place, and then when he struggles to get an erection, murders her with a conveniently placed spear. Charlie does a whole bunch more killing throughout the first hour of the movie, including one bit where he picks up a hitchhiker, frightens her by driving too fast, then just leaves her in the car to go and sit by a lake. Rather than running the hell away, she joins him, gets naked and goes for a swim, inviting him in (he accepts and murders her).

The thing is, the killer isn’t really the focus of the movie. It’s a “Star Chamber” style group of local businessmen, who have decided to take the law into their own hands. The main guy in the group, a bald chap by the name of Eric (Barron Winchester), is an old army buddy of Charlie’s, and he’s been using him as a sort-of-mercenary for the last year, since his escape from a mental institution. Yes, the Vietnam war traumatised them both, which would have been a very recent memory for Americans of the time. Oh, and one of the group is the guy Charlie was having his interview with at the beginning, which is the tenuous thread holding all this together.

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The final spoke of the wheel is a cop, Larry Mead (Terry TenBroek), who’s got the major hots for the first victim’s roommate, Susan (Debi Chaney). Because he wants to have sex with her, he figures he ought to try and solve the case, so he and his partner go to interview the boss, realise there’s something fishy going on, and keep pulling at that thread.

“Delirium” feels like during its production it was taken over by different people, who all wanted different things. You’ve got a traumatised Vietnam vet movie; a serial killer movie; a vigilante movie; and a cop drama. Honestly, you could cut all the serial killing stuff out, literally all of it, and the movie would be largely the same; this is an indication that something went wrong somewhere. The pieces just don’t fit together – perhaps the best indication of this is, Charlie is killed during a random break-in a little before the hour mark, and it doesn’t change anyone’s motivations or actions at all.

If I was writing this review 15 years ago, I’d have made a lot of hay out of how “Sabotage”, the Beastie Boys music video, borrows footage from this for one segment and rips it off in another; “Delirium” was so obscure even by then that I don’t remember a single mention of it (and that video was talked about for ever by the music press).

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And if I was writing it at the time of its release, I’d have gone “hold on! That’s the Mastermind theme music!” British TV quiz show “Mastermind” (started in 1972, continuing on to the present day with a hiatus or two) used a piece of music called “Approaching Menace” by a composer called Neil Richardson for its theme. It was taken from a library music LP – compilations in various styles, where anyone can licence the music for a low rate (copyright resting entirely with the publisher, as the composition was a work for hire). If you’re reading this in the USA, the most famous use of library music is probably the theme tune to “Monday Night Football”; whereas “Mastermind” is the most famous in the UK, which makes it popping up when a gang of scumbag businessmen are torturing someone quite unusual.

As you can tell by my spending several paragraphs not talking about the movie, it’s sort of a tough one. The action is slow and horribly disjointed, with gore that’s laughably quaint by today’s standards. If they’d figured out which of the multiple plots they wanted their movie to actually be about and concentrated on that, it could have been interesting; but it’s a lot of very wasted effort.I’ve got absolutely no idea why it was banned, unless right-wing businessmen revenge-killing criminals was in the news at the time?

 

A quick note about the cast – most of them appear to be St Louis natives who have this as their only real credit (and there are stories on IMDB about one of them walking round malls with a parrot on his shoulder, like he expected this to be his big break). There’s some weak links, but they’re mostly fine.

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As is sadly traditional, a final word about the role of women. I mentioned it briefly above, but they’re absolutely only there to be sexual objects or murder victims. There’s a woman who works for the police who’s clearly brilliant at her job (retrieving ancient paperwork, quickly) but the male cops just thank her, then ogle her as she walks away. And she gets off lightly compared to the hitch-hiker. It couldn’t be any more of its time, with all the negativity that entails, if it tried. I feel bad for the women in director Peter Maris’s life, to be honest – Maris is the only person from this movie who had a “proper” career, directing as late as 2007 (this makes him an ISCFC two-timer, having also helmed 1986’s “Land Of Doom”).

You’re not likely to stumble on this any time soon. As the years pass from the video nasty moral panic, the movies that achieved brief fame are increasingly only of interest to movie historians; you can find worse violence and better movies on Youtube in a few minutes. Still, it’s the only slasher movie to feature the Gateway to the West, the arch that dominates the St Louis skyline, so it has at least one thing in its favour.

Rating: thumbs down

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Zombi 6 (1981) (aka Absurd)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Urgh

Urgh

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

 

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

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Rating: thumbs down

The VRAs: Contamination (1980)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

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If ever there was a film which showed how stupid the whole video nasty thing was, it’s “Contamination”. After being caught by the Video Recordings Act and banned, it was later re-released, uncut, with a 15 certificate. Maybe it was one generation of film censors mocking the previous one? Anyway, I’d have been happy if this stayed banned everywhere in the world, forever.

After seeing a helicopter fly round New York (it’s always a little sad seeing the World Trade Centre on film) we then cut to whatever Italian city they filmed this in. A deserted boat drifting into New York was used in “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, released around the same time, one of those weird bits of cinematic synchronicity. Or one of them ripped the other off, I’m not checking either way. Anyway, the boat is full of boxes from some South American coffee place, but inside them all are weird green eggs- after killing most of the people who do the initial investigating, the ship is secured by some people who are like a special part of the Army, or the Government, or something. Anyway, they’re mainly represented by Colonel Stella Holmes, who has a bit of a flirtatious thing going with the sole survivor of the initial investigation, plucky New York cop Tony.

I wish that gory horror films like this would realise that their plot and acting aren’t really enough to keep people interested in the damned thing. While Tony and Stella meet and befriend Ian, an astronaut who came back from Mars…a changed man…the film steadfastly refuses to get much above a snail’s pace, and the mostly dubbed acting is pretty rubbish, with the honourable exception of Ian McCulloch as Ian. The eggs aren’t in it enough, but when they are they explode and anyone who gets any goo on them will explode a few minutes later – and it’s these explosions, with the really bad special effects that go with them (people who explode have hugely bulky blood/guts packs clearly visible under their clothes) that presumably caused the film to be banned. Or perhaps it’s the brain-buggering stupidity of this exchange:
IDIOT 1: “Don’t touch that, it could be dangerous” (referring to pulsating alien egg)
IDIOT 2: “Don’t worry, it’s fine” (EXPLODES)

Those of you with an eagle eye will have noticed “space”, and “weird exploding eggs” and will have thought of “Alien”. Well, give yourself a pat on the back, as this film was initially conceived as a cheap rip-off of “Alien”. When writer / director Luigi Cozzi realised the budget would be nowhere near enough, he decided to set it on Earth, so that’s what we have. Yay?

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It turns out that Ian and Hamilton, the other astronaut, saw something alien during their mission to Mars, but the top brass is hushing it up – oh, and Hamilton brought a seed back which grew into an alien “queen” which is producing eggs at a rather alarming rate. The South American coffee plantation from before comes into it, which means we get a seemingly endless scene of them getting on a plane, going there, messing about in their hotel, etc. It’s so slow!

This film really feels like it’s from the 1950s. The ludicrous cheap rubber alien (SPOILERS!), the way that Tony literally slaps some sense into Stella, or how she goes from Army colonel to simpering love interest as soon as there’s men around to do the actual heavy lifting of the film. Considering how much time is spent on them finding the right hotel room, a bit of information on how they got to Mars and back would have been nice? Ah, who cares.

“Contamination” is another film that really ought to have been forgotten by history, and were it not for its inclusion in the video nasty list, it would have been. “Stupid and boring” is being kind to this one.

Considering it was once banned, that it’s now available to watch on Youtube for free makes that initial decision seem even stupider. Anyway, should you be a glutton for punishment you can fill your boots here:

Rating: thumbs down

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The VRAs – The Driller Killer (1979)

drillerkillerA chilling portrait of a grunting power tool-wielding psychopath that repelled audiences across the globe. Nope, it’s not 90s Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement, but Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer.

The story is that of struggling New York artist Reno (also played by Ferrara) who lives in a scummy Union Square apartment with his two girlfriends – oh, the 70s! He’s slowly driven mad by his neighbourhood’s descent into dereliction, the cost of living crisis (PRESCIENT) and the relentless noise from post punk pseuds The Roosters practicing in the next room. We’ve all been there – I used to live next door to a prime irritant who played bongos along to Paul Simon’s Graceland 24/7.

In those days artists couldn’t fill their endless spare time by shitting up Instagram with urban sunsets and ‘found objects’ or updating their inane videoblogs, so instead Reno fantasises about showering in the blood of his enemies. But there’s one problem: cordless technology was still a pipedream in 1979 and even a 30m extension lead is a real nuisance for the busy serial killer on the go. Fortunately, in a scene which could have looked clumsily inserted in the hands of a lesser director, he catches a late night infomercial for the Porto-pak battery unit and bish bash Bosch! He’s holstered up and ready to go.

He begins his reign of terror by donning a pair of red trousers (they’re always the ones you have to watch – again, PRESCIENT) and taking his masonry bit to the homeless and the vagrants. His method of cleaning up the streets may seem extreme, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s nothing compared to the policies Rudy Giuliani would implement in later years.

Like most artists he’s a surly pretentious manchild drunk on his own importance and soon he just can’t stop himself, dealing with one critic in particularly brutal fashion – take that, Brian Sewell! Finally he exacts revenge on his now ex-girlfriend’s wet blanket beardy kimono-wearing, herbal tea drinking boyfriend – frankly that guy deserved it. Bafflingly the only person who escapes is the lead singer of the Roosters, even though he’s a sub-Richard Hell bore given to performing tedious spoken word pieces.

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Banned on video in the UK largely by dint of its iconic gruesome cover rather than its contents (I guess the crusty old Director of Public Prosecutions never got the book/cover memo) its appearance on the ‘video nasties’ list is pretty much all it has in common with its banned brethren.

It’s more psychological chiller than horror film and has none of the dramatic beats (or indeed humour) of the slasher pics that would follow. There’s no real tension, threat or breath-taking shocks, very little gore, and it doesn’t fit the mysterious bogeyman trope either. You know what those arthouse fucks are like, they think they’re better than us. Not for them the conventional slow reveal, narrative drive and dramatic conclusion – this is a rambling whydunnit? And Ferrara doesn’t really provide any answers, instead littering the film with the religious themes and iconography which would go on to inform his more celebrated later work, but which here are pretty meaningless and just randomly Jackson Pollocked at the canvas.

The most effective part of the film is the look of it. Borne as much out of budgetary necessity as artistry, the lo-fi filming nonetheless suits the grimy setting perfectly, and it’s an authentic evocation of the late 70s NY scene when every no-mark with a Telecaster, a trust fund and a dog-eared copy of On The Road was stinking out a Greenwich Village warehouse with their scratchy two-chord meanderings. And there’s some pretty decent stabs at social commentary too, like highlighting the sky-high energy costs of the time by having two girls resort to showering together, in a scene which was by no means totally unnecessary or gratuitous.

As you’d expect for a microbudget B-movie the performances are pretty ropey. Ferrara is passable to a point – he’s a suitably hollow cadaverous presence but he struggles when asked to emote and definitely made the right decision in retreating behind the camera. Carolyn Marz as Carol is by far the best of the bunch – she has the look of a young Catherine Zeta Jones about her and can at least recite a line, though I’m always suspicious of somebody’s acting chops if their real name is the same as that of their character. Baybi Day on the other hand is a total car crash. The archetypal B-movie plank, she looks like she’s reading her lines off an optician’s chart in the middle-distance, and makes Heather Graham’s character in Bowfinger look like Meryl Streep.

Without the notoriety it earned based on its banning rather than its cinematic content, it’s doubtful The Driller Killer would have been more than a forgotten footnote in Abel Ferrara’s career. Whilst by no means unwatchable it’s no great shakes as either an amusing popcorn flick or challenging, thought-provoking arthouse classic. Worth watching for curiosity value alone, but then I expect you could say the same about his unofficial feature debut: 9 Lives Of A Wet Pussy.

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.