Archive for Italian Horror

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Barbara Steele, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, European Horror, Family Secrets, Ghosts!, Gothic Horror, Italian Cinema, Italian Horror with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965) bbbtcposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

First of all, this movie has one of the greatest titles in the horror pantheon.  Come on, who wouldn’t pay good money to see TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)? There’s gonna be terror, creatures of some sort, and possibly some graves.  This title is up there with some of Al Adamson’s best movie monikers, like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970) or BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  Fortunately, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is a much better film than anything Adamson ever attempted, and there’s actually quite a bit of truth in that unbelievable title.  TCFTG is one of many European gothic horror films that found their way across the pond.  These movies, made with little money but lots of imagination, were often stylish and bizarre.  The women were beautiful and possessed only costumes with plunging necklines.  The heroes were strong-jawed, masculine men with hair all over their bodies.  The doctors were all mad.  The castles (of which Europe has in large quantities—hurray for cheap locations!) were always decaying.  And the zoom lens was quite often hyperactive.  It was as if France, Spain, England, and especially Italy were attempting to out-Hammer Hammer Studios.  Sometimes, they did, but often they fell short.  Still, they were dripping with gothic atmosphere and sheer spookiness.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE has an ace in its pocket, however, as it stars the lovely Barbara Steele, Queen of Euro-horror and the main attraction of such other films as BLACK SUNDAY (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (1975), and the original PIRANHA (1978).  Her face was all ice-queen, innocent one minute and warped with wickedness in the next, with cheek-bones that could cut glass.  She often played more than one part in these films: the good sister and the bad or the burned witch and the woman she later possesses.  And she could pull it off!  She had a sort of otherworldly look to her that prevented her from becoming a true box office star, but she could work those horror movies (and the fans) like nobody else, becoming a cult figure later in life.  She’s still working, too, having just starred in THE BUTTERFLY ROOM (2012), an Italian/U.S. co-production that is a disturbing psychological horror film.

Anyway, Barbara Steele is fabulousness personified, and if you’ve never watched her movies, go and rectify that immediately.  Now, on to today’s feature presentation, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE!

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Filmed n gloriously moody black and white, we don’t even have to wait five seconds before we get our first fast camera zoom!  A man having a drink in a tavern sees a hand outside the window (Zoom in on that hand!), and he dons his hat and coat and rushes outside into the streets of some unnamed village circa 1920 or so.  He stumbles to his horse, and the animal decides it doesn’t like him any longer, rearing back and kicking the man in the face, opening up his skull in a gruesome scene. 

As credits roll, so does a man driving a primitive automobile to a decaying castle (natch), Villa Hauff.  This is strong-jawed, young attorney, Albert Kovac, played by Walter Brandi (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR,-1965, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, 1960, CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS, 1962…oh the sheer joy of those titles!).  He greets the daughter of the deceased Dr. Hauff, Corinne, played by the lovely Mirella Maravidi (I KILL, YOU KILL, 1965).  Albert has been sent for to look over Dr. Hauff’s will, and he isn’t even disturbed that the man is now dead…or by the box of disembodied hands in the foyer!  The daughter takes him to her step-mother, the doctor’s second wife, Cleo, played by the wonderful Barbara Steele.  She informs him that Dr. Hauff has been dead for a year after falling down the stairs.  So, who sent the message to Albert’s office?

A storm comes out of nowhere, and the attorney is invited to spend the night until the weather breaks.  The women are at the villa to transfer Dr. Hauff’s corpse from his grave in the ground to the family crypt, per the dead man’s wishes.  It turns out the good doctor was a practitioner of the black arts, a kind of sorcerer.  And the villa was erected on the ruins of a fifteenth century hospital where the victims of the plague in the area all died after having their hands cut off so they couldn’t spread the disease. 

Before going to bed, the attorney finds a recording from the doctor all about the plague victims that were buried in the garden.  He also claims that he’s summoned the victims from their graves and now he is among them.  Corrine bugs out, claiming she’s seen her father walking the hallways.  Mom, however, doesn’t believe in the supernatural and calms her down a bit. 

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

The next morning, Albert finds that an owl has flown into the engine of his car and destroyed it (What? Does this happen often in Europe?).  During the day, Albert falls for Corinne, Corinne freaks out several times, seeing her father stalking the countryside, and various villagers shake their heads and mumble about the anniversary of Hauff’s death.  The village’s new doctor is murdered, discovered by Corinne and Albert (who don’t seem very worried about it).  The coroner states it is a case of heart failure, even though there are long scratches covering the man’s face and acid burns on his cheeks.  The villagers believe anyone who was present at Hauff’s death (such as this new doctor) is marked to die.  Sure enough, three of the five people who were in the house when Hauff tumbled down the stairs have died mysteriously.  The fourth person on the list of witnesses is murdered and felt up by a pustule-ridden rotten hand.  There is a fifth witness signature, but it’s illegible.  Who will be the fifth victim of the Hauff Curse?

Albert, still hanging around after two days without a client, is present for the disinterment of Dr. Hauff’s corpse.  The gardener opens the casket, revealing an empty grave.  Cleo, wearing one fabulous hat, is stunned by the revelation.  Albert figures out that the fifth name on the list is his boss, who was busy and didn’t come to the Villa Hauff when summoned.  Only, now he really is coming to the moldering manse.  When the attorney, Morgan, shows up, he is instantly attacked by Hauff.  Only, nobody else sees it!

When night falls, all the secrets behind Dr. Hauff’s mysterious death will be disclosed.  Passions will be ignited, and the handless plague victims will rise from their graves to avenge the doctor’s name while unleashing a virulent new strain of the plague.  It’s a creepy, surreal finale that does include terror, graves, and creatures!  Will anyone survive?

Only—if the plague victims’ hands were chopped off and displayed in the foyer—then why do they have hands when emerging from their graves? 

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is full of spooky atmospheric touches like a maid with her own secrets, cobwebbed corridors, violent thunderstorms, curses, a mute gardener, sweeping music, one eerie song about pure water, odd dubbing, elaborate sets, and creepy sound effects.  Despite the effectiveness of the movie, the director, Massimo Pupillo (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) didn’t like the end product, so the film was originally credited to producer Ralph Zucker.  In a weird twist, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE played on a double bill in America with BLOODY PIT OF HORROR!  Wouldn’t that have been a fantastic night at the drive-in?

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE isn’t the best Euro-schlock-horror to be made in this period – it’s no BLACK SUNDAY – but it’s an eerie little film, buoyed by terrific atmosphere and the wonderful Barbara Steele. 

I give it three owls in engines out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2011, Action Movies, Cannibals, Grindhouse, Italian Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , on December 15, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS (1982)
Support Your Local Veterans!
By Nick Cato

Besides an overabundance of slasher films, the early 80s was also a hotbed of DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE rip-offs, and if you lived in the right places, these (mainly) euro-schlock offerings seemed to be released every week.

Although zombie-mania is mainstream today, in 1982 it was still cool to be a zombie geek.  And upon seeing the above ad in my local newspaper for something called CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS, my geekdom hit an all-time high.  Here was a film I hadn’t read a thing about in any horror magazine or fanzine, and it starred John Saxon, an actor I had been a fan of since his stint as a robot opposite Lee Majors on the TV show THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (1974-76 episodes).

Thankfully one of my buddies’ older brothers smuggled us into the Fox Twin Theatre, another defunct twin here on Staten Island that’s now the site of a multiplex.  For a Saturday afternoon, CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS was packed…but by the halfway point the theater had all but emptied.  The fools should have stuck out the slow middle…

I should point out—before I go any further—that I eventually discovered this film was a HEAVILY edited version of a 1980 Italian production released in Europe as CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, and eventually released on VHS in America, still edited, as INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS (got all that?).  As far as I know, this is the first Italian cannibal film to be shot almost entirely in Atlanta.  I forced myself to watch (okay—SCAN) through Image Entertainment’s uncut DVD version (under the title CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE) back around 2002, and am happy to report that the “uncut” version didn’t enhance or change my opinion of the film.  In fact, anyone seeking a gory cannibal/zombie outing can do themselves a favor and look elsewhere.

BUT: the film still has its moments.

Saxon locates a couple of P.O.W.’s in Vietnam.  To survive, the men resorted to cannibalism, and as Saxon tries to help one soldier out of a prisoner pit, he has a nice chunk taken out of his arm!  The theater DID go nuts over this opening sequence, which quickly ended and brought us back to modern-day Atlanta.  Giovanni Lombardo Radice (who would soon get a power drill through his head in Fulci’s THE GATES OF HELL (1983) ) plays one of Saxon’s ‘Nam buddies—and for some reason they’re both living in Atlanta.  When Saxon refuses to go out with him for a drink (apparently he’s still haunted by being bitten in ‘Nam), Radice heads to a local movie theater where instead of focusing on the feature, he watches some pervert lick his girlfriend’s body.  Radice has a flashback and decides to bite the poor girl’s neck, which causes the place to panic.  He’s chased by a bunch of crazed theater patrons, and a sorry-looking biker gang, into a thrift shop, where he’s eventually apprehended and sent to the hospital for observation.  DURING this fiasco, John Saxon is at home with a babysitter, who keeps giving him flashbacks every time she flirts by showing a little leg.  Knowing his wife is being unfaithful, Saxon gives in and goes down on her without literally eating anything, temporarily sating his cannibalistic urges with some playful nibbling.

At this point in the film, it became clear CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS wasn’t a zombie film, and while it moves well up to this point, the mid-section becomes quite tedious.  Patron after patron began to leave the theater, but my friends and I were confident something titled CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS simply HAD to have a pay off.

It does and it doesn’t.

The action slowly picks back up when Radice and the other rescued P.O.W. escape from a hospital along with a nurse they’ve bitten.  They run into the aforementioned biker gang right outside the hospital and a mini-brawl breaks out.  The trio goes on to infect unlucky citizens with their cannibal virus, and eventually meet up with their former captain, John Saxon.

The rest of the film turns into a violent action flick, complete with a nifty chase sequence through Atlanta’s sewers and a flamethrower battle at the finale.  The gore scenes cut out of this theatrical release (provided by ZOMBIE (1979) and THE BEYOND (1981)-alumni Gianetto De Rossi), which I finally saw on the DVD, include a gruesome close-up of Radice’s stomach after he gets a hole blown in it, a doctor having his tongue bitten off, and some sloppy mechanic having his leg sliced up like cold cuts at a deli.

I have no idea if director Antonio Margheriti was trying to make some kind of non-subtle point regarding the returning Vietnam vet as being the “real” monster, or if he just set out to make some cash by combining APOCALYPSE NOW and DAWN OF THE DEAD (both 1979).  What I came away with was a satisfying exploitation experience, despite the (then) lack of gore, which was made up for with uncomfortable sex scenes, plenty of action (despite the slow middle), and some of the worst left-over disco music ever to appear in a cannibal film (and THAT’S saying something).  I’ve read that John Saxon has publicly denounced the film, and co-star Radice has said Saxon seemed “out there” while the film was being shot.  Either way, CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS is must viewing for Saxon completists and lovers of so-bad-they’re-good grindhouse classics.  All others, stick to RAMBO

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

John Saxon discovers P.O.W.s just before getting bit in CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS!

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: Lucio Fulci’s THE GATES OF HELL

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2011, Cult Movies, Demons, Gore!, Italian Horror, Lucio Fulci, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Zombies with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
You’ll PUKE Your Guts Out!
By Nick Cato

During the spring of 1983, a black and white version of the poster seen above graced the film sections of NYC newspapers. While it didn’t take much to get us horror fans into the theater, it was even easier when a film came out UNRATED and was directed by some Italian guy only a handful of us had heard about. Remember, this was still the age of no Internet. The only sources of horror news came through FANGORIA magazine and, for a select chosen few, a small network of crudely-made underground horror film fanzines.

I had missed Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE (1979) when it hit American shores during the summer of 1980, and was tired of hearing people rave over how wonderfully disgusting it was. But three years later, here was another one from the same director with an equally as creepy ad campaign. To say I was psyched was putting it mildly (I later found out GATES had been released in 1980 in Italy, a year after ZOMBIE premiered there.).

Thankfully, THE GATES OF HELL opened at the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinemas, the easiest theater in all of NY’s five boroughs to get into if you were underage. And despite being UNRATED, the Amboy Twin still allowed me and my gang of pimple-faced freshman gore geeks to march right in on opening night.

Let’s back-track one more time: Everything about this film gave the theater itself an uneasy aura: from it’s startling title (that I still prefer over its official DVD release as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, as well as over twenty other international titles) to it’s threatening blurb at the bottom of its poster (“This film contains scenes which may be considered shocking. No one under 17 admitted.”). A brief NYC television ad even featured a Catholic priest slipping a noose around his neck as a luminous voice said “The gates of HELL are about to be opened!” In other words, there was no bootleg VHS copies available, no Pay-Per View previews on cable TV… just good, old-school advertising and a short & sweet trailer I’ve been trying to track down since the night I saw it on late night television. If memory serves right, even FANGORIA didn’t run pictures until AFTER the film had been in theaters.

While, at the time, none of us saw Fulci as the gore-god he would soon become known as, it was evident the guy wasn’t playing with even half a deck: I can’t recall any other film featuring a zombie apocalypse caused by a priest hanging himself. Well, maybe it wasn’t an apocalypse per se, as all the action took place in a small town.

The strong point of GATES is its constant sense of dread. As soon as the suicidal priest does his business, supernatural-type zombies began to appear all over the small town of Dunwich, ripping out unsuspecting people’s brains, shown in gooey, graphic detail that would become any gorehound’s glory. And just WHY this dead priest caused the dead to rise is anyone’s guess (if you’ve never seen a Lucio Fulci film, logic is rarely—if ever—something to bother looking for). But the audience and myself really didn’t CARE why, as we were having too much fun watching zombies rip out brains, and others become possessed: one poor woman begins to cry blood before puking her guts up (literally) in what seemed like a five-minute sequence. While I actually laughed as this happened, due to the ultra-fake looking teeth during the close-up, most of the audience screamed and gasped, causing me to laugh harder. But any laughs had during this cheap-looking effect were made up for in BUCKETS over the film’s most infamous sequence.

The mentally-challenged Bob (played by the soon-to-be Euro-cult film icon Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is thrown onto a table by his father. On the table is a stationary power drill, which Bob’s head is slowly—ever so slowly—pushed onto. The camera doesn’t cut away. The theater freaked out. I was glad when I eventually found out Giovanni was making another film as I was CONVINCED they had killed the poor guy for this scene! If you haven’t seen it, it’s arguably one of the most gruesome, realistic special effects ever devised for a film. Hats off to FX artist Gino de Rossi for pulling off one of the greatest gore sequences I ever had the pleasure of witnessing in a theater.

Now, despite all the fun we were having, and despite the non-existent plot (and DO NOT even get me started on the ridiculous, completely pointless ending), what TRULY bothered me about the film was its star, Christopher George, who plays a New York City reporter who, for some reason, is in New England covering the priest suicide story. While it’s true George has starred in numerous horror and exploitation films (most notably 1982’s PIECES and 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR), I’ve just always had a hard time buying him in any role. Thankfully, the lovely Catriona MacColl co-stars as a psychic who helps him discover what happened the night the priest hung himself at a local cemetery.

THE GATES OF HELL, with its slow-moving first half and horrendous acting, is truly an acquired taste. But once things get underway—and if you’re willing to ignore the fact there’s not much of a story to go with—you just might enjoy this gross, over-the-top splatter-fest from the “legendary” Lucio Fulci. And again, despite a few people attempting to explain the ending to me over the years…trust me: IT MAKES NO SENSE!

With all his flaws, I truly miss Fulci and his few films I was lucky enough to see during the Golden Age of the Splatter Films.

And THE GATES OF HELL was one of his better efforts.

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) at the start of one of the most grueling sequences in horror film history.


GIALLO (2009)

Posted in 2011, Dario Argento Films, Italian Horror, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by knifefighter

GIALLO (2009)
A Film Review by L.L. Soares

GIALLO, like a lot of Dario Argento’s recent films, is a mixed bag. Referring to both the color yellow (‘giallo” is Italian for yellow), and the pulp paperbacks with yellow covers that featured the violent mystery stories which gave the Italian genre of books and films its name, GIALLO gives us a fairly straightforward tale of a serial killer known only as Giallo/Yellow (Byron Deidra), who drives a cab through the busy streets of Milan. He is drawn to beauty, and when a beautiful woman gets into his cab, chances are good she won’t be heard from again. In his apartment building, there are catacombs beneath the house that give him lots of places to hide his prey. He tortures them until they die, and then he moves on to the next one.

When a model named Celine (Elsa Pataky) becomes Giallo’s latest victim, her sister Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), who has just arrived from the airport, is determined that her sister will not become just another statistic. Refusing to give up, she turns to Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Oscar-winner Adrien Brody), a former New York cop who now solves the more gruesome crimes that arise in Milan. Allegedly a master of detection, Inspector Avolfi seems almost like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, except for one thing. Where Holmes was mostly infallible, Enzo is not always so good at his job.

Avoiding the kind of stylish visuals he is known for, Argento mostly plays things straight here. Too straight. There’s nothing especially unique about this film, nothing that really stands out, except for Brody, who turns in an okay performance in an otherwise pedestrian film. There is absolutely no evidence here that GIALLO was directed by the same guy who gave us SUSPIRIA (1977) or OPERA (1987). I’m really starting to wonder if the real Argento has been replaced with a pod person!

When we finally see Yellow, who gets his name because of jaundice due to a liver disease, he’s a guy with an awful make-up job and a giant nose. I guess he was supposed to be deformed, and this should explain to us why he hates beauty so much, but he’s  just incredibly fake-looking. Every time he was onscreen, I was reminded of those over-the-top goofy villains from the DICK TRACY movie (1990). That alone made me want him to get caught and get his comeuppance. Yellow, as a source of menace, is just plain laughable!

And the killer is not much of an adversary for Brody. He’s such a dim-witted fool he makes Enzo seem like a genius. But Yellow has one advantage—a thorough knowledge of the catacombs. And it is this knowledge that gives him the upper hand in at least one key scene.

I remember when Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS came out in 2009, some people gave me a hard time for praising it so highly. But the truth is, it was a rare time in recent memory when Argento seemed at all passionate about his work, instead of just going through the motions. Even if you hated the more campy elements of MOTHER, you couldn’t miss the fact that here was a stylist, having fun, perhaps at his audience’s expense. But at least it felt vibrant at times, alive. That’s been something rare in Argento’s recent work.

There’s no such feeling with GIALLO. It is drab and workmanlike. There is no art here to be seen. And it’s rather forgettable once the final credits roll.

For someone considered a master of disturbing visuals and surreal atmosphere, there’s none of that to be found. The only visual that we remember is of the killer – a preposterous fool whose appearance generates more laughs than scares. I haven’t seen this bad  a make-up job in a horror movie in a long time.

It’s ironic that GIALLO was pulled from distribution shortly after its release in America. Due to a financial dispute with the producers who failed to pay him, Brody’s contract stipulated that his image couldn’t be used by the film until financial matters were corrected. The irony is, Brody is the only really reason to see this one. I saw it on Cable OnDemand during its brief run here in the summer of 2010, but now it’s unavailable. It’s not that big of a tragedy, because it’s pretty forgettable, but if the money people behind GIALLO really want to recoup their expenses, they would best pay Brody what he is due. This is minor Argento, given a slight boost by the presence of an actor who deserves more respect than he got here.

I give this movie one and a half knives. The only actor who stands out in this one is Brody, despite that fact that this is not one of his more memorable roles. And I chuckled at the hilarious make-up job on Byron Deidra.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

LL SOARES gives GIALLO one and a half knives