Category Archives: Italy

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

Director: Marino Girolami

And now for some classic Italian zombie action, albeit using the word “classic” loosely… This would’ve been much more accurately named Cannibal Holocaust, but a certain obscure and barely known other film had already scooped that title by appearing in cinemas just a few weeks earlier, which goes to show how timing can indeed be everything… oh well. This came near the end of a long career for Girolami, who apparently started as an actor in 1941 if his IMDB credits are right; as well as siring future director Enzo G. Castellari, he seems mostly to have worked in comedy as far as I can tell, with a handful of other genre titles, so I’m buggered if I can work how he came to make this. I daresay he had not much idea, either; the whole thing seems to have come from producer Fabrizio de Angelis, who’d looked at the box office returns from the recent crop of zombie films and cannibal films, and decided there was probably money to made from a film with zombies and cannibals. The only thing was, in the end result, we don’t actually see our first zombie until, oh, about 49 minutes into this 84-minute film, and they don’t actually do an awful lot.

But if you’re here for the cannibals, there’s plenty; indeed, the whole film stems from the discovery of a Southeast Asian cannibal dining on corpses at a New York hospital. The investigation regarding same leads eventually to the island said cannibal came from, where a bit of mad doctoring has been going on, which is where the zombies finally come in (being the products of said mad doctoring). This is really not a very good film, and yet there’s something bizarrely entrancing about it that I can’t explain. It’s absolutely derivative and does nothing terribly original apart from the outstanding and applause-worthy use of an outboard motor engine as a weapon, and for all of that something about it remains watchable. Maybe it’s a “so bad it’s good” thing cos I can’t really think of many positive things Zombie Holocaust has going for it, and I found myself enjoying it anyway. Can’t work it out.

The New York Ripper (1982)

Director: Lucio Fulci

So, at last I come face to face with one of the nastiest of the video nasties (yes, I know it wasn’t an actual nasty, SHUT UP), and possibly the late Lucio’s most notorious film… which is quite something when you look at some of the films he’d made before it. Ripper saw him stepping away from the supernatural and back into the murky waters of the giallo, and I don’t think there were many gialli murkier than this; by this time the slasher film (which was, of course, heavily influenced by the giallo) was in the ascendant and Fulci seemed determined to respond to that, and go further in the process (did any American slasher have a killer with… you know… THAT voice?). And it’s very much one of those films whose censorship history precedes it; it was banned here until 2005, and it was famously escorted out of the UK after James Ferman refused to even look at it… even now there’s that one scene which the BBFC still won’t allow to pass uncut.

To be sure, Ripper lives up to its rather horrible reputation in a lot of ways; you can argue about the extent to which it is or isn’t misogynistic—the Shameless DVD has an interview with Fulci’s daughter, who says it isn’t, and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, who says it is but disavows responsibility for it being that way—but I don’t anyone would deny that it is, basically, hugely unpleasant. Maybe some of his previous films are a bit more spectacular on the gore front, but the general vibe of Ripper makes its violence seem so much worse and so much nastier (and that final scene of the little girl in the hospital crying for her daddy—the killer—who’s never going to answer her call because, you know, he’s dead by that point is, somehow, far more disturbing than anything in Fulci’s undead quartet). Like Cannibal Holocaust, it’s well-made enough that I can’t just dismiss the film as a repugnant piece of shit conspicuously lacking in redeeming features, which is what most critics seem to do. It’s good enough that I can’t just, you know, pretend it’s not. Equally, I also can’t pretend I actually liked it as such; indeed I’m not sure when I last saw a film quite so reluctant to ingratiate itself with the viewer, who it almost seems to hate at times. Well-made, but determined to be unloveable, and it surely succeeds on that count…

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Director: Sergio Leone

Goddamn, no wonder I wasn’t enamoured of Leone’s films back in the days of VHS when I last saw them, they just don’t work that way. I don’t regret the investment in HD editions of them at all, especially after seeing this again (and it’s not like they were hugely expensive anyway). If For a Few Dollars More saw Leone leaping ahead from his first western, GB&U represents a further jump, and probably a more successful one in that some of the things I think he was trying to do in the earlier film, he actually succeeds at pulling off here. Such as the feeling of epic; the considerably greater length (178 minutes) doesn’t feel as long as the 130 minutes of FFDM sometimes did. In some ways, this is actually a kind of small story: basically, it’s three men on a quest for hidden riches. It’s just that, well, there are a couple of complications: the exact knowledge of where said riches are hidden are split between them (two know the money’s in a cemetery but not in which grave; one knows the grave but not which cemetery), and it’s also the middle of the American civil war. Indeed’s Leone’s introduction of the period setting and his gradual building on it as our “heroes” become mixed up in it in varying ways is one of the most fascinating things about the film. It’s a big backdrop, but Leone is totally in charge of it. Clint Eastwood is more “Clint” than ever, and Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef are able co-leads; all three bring just the right degree of black humour to the proceedings. And, of course, the whole thing is topped off by one of Ennio Morricone’s most iconic scores; “Ecstasy of Gold” in particular has always been a favourite piece of music, but seeing the visuals that accompany it as Tuco races around the cemetery makes it even more thrilling and moving. Hugely enjoyable stuff, and one of the most successful revisits I’ve had to a film I hadn’t seen in years for a very long time.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

Director: Sergio Leone

Now my records indicate I have seen this—I would’ve done so most likely in ’95 when I was doing film studies at UNSW and that particular class on film genres, wherein we studied the western and Fistful of Dollars was one of the films we looked at, and I do recall watching the rest of the “Dollars trilogy” and OUATIW as additional viewing—but damned if I could remember anything about it, other than the fact of having seen it some 20 years ago, so this was one of those rewatches that may as well be a first viewing… Anyway, a few days after I recently rewatched Fistful, ABC wheeled out this one late at night, but it was a pan/scanned print and I knew that wasn’t going to pass muster, so I invested in a proper digital edition for tonight’s viewing. This was clearly the right decision, cos more than a few of cinematographer Massimo Dallamano’s compositions (this being one of his last films in that job) would’ve suffered terribly from being cropped (even more so than in Fistful). This time Clint’s man with no name has a name, albeit one that no one’s entirely sure of apparently, and he’s kind of partnered with Lee Van Cleef as an army colonel turned bounty hunter; both of them find themselves in pursuit of the same criminal with a high price on his head, though for one of them the money isn’t the main attraction. The scene in which the two meet kind of sums the film up in some ways, taciturn hard men being taciturn and hard while letting their weaponry do the talking; if you ever thought guns acted as a kind of penis substitute, well, this scene is an outstanding bit of dick-swinging. Leone has clearly progressed from Fistful, and the film exudes a feeling of much greater confidence; he was clearly unafraid to let the film carry on with longish stretches of minimal to no dialogue. If the film does feel a bit self-conscious in some of its moves, and if in the end it’s perhaps slightly longer than necessary, it was still very pleasing to revisit; at least now I know what happens in it…

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Director: Sergio Leone

I’ve seen this a few times over the years, but tonight might be the first time I’ve watched it and actually enjoyed it. Not the first spaghetti western, but the one that seems to have really made the form viable in Italy, where there was still a market for westerns despite the genre fading in the US, even if they were ripped off from Japanese films. Or Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo in particular. Kurosawa’s studio did not appreciate “Bob Robertson” lifting from their film, despite Yojimbo itself being a knock-off of two Dashiell Hammett novels, and the legal battle kept it off American screens until 1967, whereupon star Clint Eastwood—already an icon in Italy—suddenly became a major drawcard. And yeah, it is, basically, just Yojimbo all’Italiana; the similarities are too great to deny. It does nothing particularly original, except perhaps make the hard-boiled style of Hammett’s novels a major part of the film’s style and tone. It might be a blazing hot near-desert setting but the film itself is cold as can be. Awfully well-shot coldness, mind you; even American critics who loathed it on its initial release (apparently most of them) admitted that little. And maybe that’s why I finally got it tonight. Any time I’ve seen it over the last 20 years has been a shitty cropped version (even the version I saw a few years ago on TV was cropped for widescreen broadcast). Short of seeing an original film print, the best way I was going to see it would be an anamorphic digital version on a widescreen TV, and tonight I finally did that. And I could see that it’s not particularly a masterpiece or anything, but it actually is a well-made film within its admitted limitations—it was clearly not a hugely expensive production—certainly better than I once would’ve given it credit for being, and the screen compositions are great and also bound to suffer if viewed at any less than this evening’s conditions. Clint? Well, he kind of plays himself, I suppose, always did, but he’s kind of perfect for this “man with no name” gunslinger character. It’s kind of amazing that Eastwood was something like the tenth actor Leone approached for the role, he being the first that was both willing and able to take it (not to mention cheap enough for Leone to afford), cos he just seems so right. So yeah, after 20 years, I think I finally get some of the fuss at last… I’ll take that.

The Raiders of Atlantis (1983)

Director: Ruggero Deodato

So after the kerfuffle surrounding Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato found himself unable to make films for three years for a few years (I presume House on the Edge of the Park, which appeared in the same year as CH, was already in the can before Deodato was barred from going behind a camera again). This was his return to the world… and oh dear, three years away from filmmaking doesn’t appear to have been good for him. Or maybe there wasn’t much that could’ve been done anyway? I don’t know. Basically, as the title may indicate, Atlantis turns out to not only have been real, it’s still real and making its own return to the world, having been “revived” somehow by radiation from a Soviet nuclear submarine that’s gone astray. The story takes place for no discernible reason in 1994, which looks remarkably like 1983; the cast, headed by a couple of apparent career criminals, find a small island town basically laid waste by some gang of Atlantean invaders with new wave hairstyles, three-wheeled choppers, tricked out convertibles, and a disconcerting amount of echo on their voices when you kill them. The whole thing makes astoundingly little sense, from the putative “futuristic” setting to the Atlanteans’ inexplicable need for one of the human party—a historian specialising in pre-Columbian writing—to assist their return to the surface; it’s so mind-bogglingly stupid I’m actually kind of angry at it. Don’t think I need or want to say any more about it.

The New Barbarians (1983)

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Now Isaac Asimov held that science fiction was not so much a genre unto itself, rather that it was a kind of flavour you applied to other genres. This film is actually a good illustration of that principle; indeed, right from the start I felt it was, at its core, a western (the opening scene really is Indians circling the wagons, isn’t it), albeit an obviously mutated one. Not just because Castellari’s roots were in spaghetti westerns (he made one of the last, Keoma, in 1976), but just because it felt that way (and I was right, too, Castellari actually calls it a “future western” on the DVD commentary)… even though, frankly, no western I know of ever dressed it characters like THIS:

I don’t often resort to pictures on this blog, but for once I had to; trying to describe those togs in words is something I don’t think I could’ve done…

Anyway, it’s the year 2019, the apocalypse has been and gone, not much of humanity is left, and one particular portion of the survivors is determined to wipe the rest out. The logic of the Templars (the white-suited freaks in the top picture) is that, since humanity caused the nuclear war, it’s up to the Templars to avenge the world by killing off what’s left of humanity… and since the Templars themselves are evidently as gay as fuck, there’s no danger of them adding to the stock. It’s up to a renegade Templar, aided by Fred Williamson’s explosive bow and arrow and the irritating kid from that Fulci film (dubbed just as badly in this one too), to save a group of religious idiots in search an apparent outpost of civilisation from being stopped en route by George Eastman’s army of padded pooves and WTF wigs. Really, this is about as trashy as Eurotrash gets; I always thought the trailer made it look special, and it surely is in many ways… not the least preposterous thing about it is the remarkable way no one in this post-apocalyptic world seems to have any trouble finding fuel for their vehicles. Hugely silly but undeniably entertaining stuff…

Macabre (1980)

Director: Lamberto Bava

Not long before Mario Bava’s death, his son unleashed his own first directorial effort (apart from the uncredited stuff he’d done for his old man on Shock), and in doing so also unleashed some of the worst English dubbing of an Italian film probably ever. This review only slightly overstates it: “It’s like Lamberto Bava assigned a team that watched GONE WITH THE WIND and decided that was close enough to what all Southern accents must be like and then tried to recreate it with deaf people speaking the lines.” After a run of Italian films I could watch on DVD with Italian soundtracks, this was some hard shit to swallow. However, the dubbing was only one stumbling block I had with this film; even if I could’ve watched it in a subtitled Italian print, it would still be kind of grindingly slow. Macabre‘s claim to be based on a true story is, apparently, actually not unfair, coming from a news article Bava found about something… well, dubious that happened in New Orleans; Bava says he and Pupi Avati wrote the script as a bit of a joke after reading the story, but the studio loved it and ordered it be made. Essentially, a woman is having an affair with a man, and the latter gets killed in kind of horrible fashion; she spends a year recovering in a mental hospital and upon her release takes up residence the boarding house where she and lover boy used to have their trysts… but are they still having them? Unfortunately the pacing of all this mystery is kind of leaden—nothing much really happens until the last 20 minutes or so—and the “shock” revelation is only shocking if you haven’t seen the trailer, which spoils almost everything (except the very end of the film, which is nothing if not transcendently ludicrous), leaving not a great deal else… This other review praises the film for its taste and restraint, and maybe that taste and restraint is part of the problem; something as, well, macabre as Macabre probably needed a more garish handling than the comparative flatness of Bava’s treatment. Still, as he says in the DVD interview, Mario wanted to avoid influencing his son’s film in any way, and I must admit he succeeded in that…

Mannaja (1977)

Director: Sergio Martino

Actually watched this last night but by then it was so late that I decided I’d better hold off doing the review then. Anyway, this was a markedly bleaker example of the SW than the last couple of films we’ve seen, plus it comes from pretty much the end of the SW trend as well; if not the actual last spaghetti western, then certainly near enough. And the film itself seems to carry a certain sense of decline within it, too; the setting is a kind of crumbling and rotten town built around a silver mine; the spirits of the miners are pretty much kept in severe check by the tyrannical mine owner, McGowan, and their health isn’t helped by the unpleasant conditions of the mine itself. Into this decrepit shithole comes the man called “Blade” because of his weapon of choice (the hatchet; mannaja in Italian, apparently), on a quest for vengeance against McGowan, but when the latter finds himself screwed over by his own henchman (out for the old man’s silver empire and his daughter as well), both Blade and McGowan find their respective plans changing. This is grim stuff pretty much from the get-go; although Sergio Martino (who only had one other SW to his credit, his first feature in fact, before turning to gialli) says in the DVD featurette that the abundance of fog and rain was used mainly to try and hide the decrepitude of the village set (apparently the last one left in Italy by then), it actually adds something to the overall atmosphere of the film; it’s grey, it’s muddy, it’s gritty, it’s dusty, and pretty much the only bright thing in it is star Maurizio Merli’s improbably handsome dental work. Similarly, the characters are all kind of unprepossessing; even Blade seems to be the nominal hero mainly just because he’s not as bad as the rest. It’s actually a better film than I’ve perhaps made it sound, I did quite like it, but it’s not particularly cheerful stuff. And if this was one last look back at a genre that was pretty much done and dusted by the time it was made, Martino’s next film (Mountain of the Cannibal God) looked forward to Italian exploitation to come…

Companeros (1970)

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Our third Tomas Milian film in a row unites him on-screen for the first and only time with Franco Nero, who was of course long established as a star of the spaghetti western, and director Corbucci was one of the more notable figures in that field behind the camera too… so putting the three together should’ve worked out well, and so it did; we’re in “Zapata” territory again, various revolutionary factions have sprung up against the government—and against each other—and, as with the last film, the plot revolves around a substantial amount of wealth that’s being kept secure… so much so that no one can get at it. The only person left who knows how to get into the safe holding the goods is Professor Xantos (who’s inspired one of the competing groups) being held prisoner by the Americans; as such, his enemy General Mongo hires two men to go and rescue him. Said two men, Vasco and Peterson, are a distinctly odd couple, a Mexican bandit and a Swedish mercenary, with no particular love lost between them, but they have more problematic conflicts ahead of them, one involving a team of killers sent to wipe out Xantos for opposing the Americans, and one involving Xantos’ own pacifist principles in the face even of his own annihilation. Fernando Rey plays the good professor with straight dignity that contrasts with the greater broadness of Milian and Nero, and gives a certain weight to an otherwise fairly light and rollicking film, which is a huge lot of fun. It’s kind of sad the two stars never worked together again; as friendly as they later were, Nero was apparently unhappy with what he thought was Corbucci’s greater focus on his co-star than on himself, and evidently succeeded in getting Corbucci sacked as director of the next film they would’ve worked on. I suppose Nero’s star power counted for more than Corbucci’s…