Sunday, August 22, 2010

BUIO OMEGA aka Beyond The Darkness

(Joe D'Amato, 1979)
This is an Italian horror classic, hands down. It gained a bit of infamy after rumors circulated that actual human corpses were used in the effects sequences, which can either attest to their realism or to the stupidity of the general public. In this case it's a bit of both, as the effects are quite gruesome and eerily realistic for such a low-budget production. Anyone who'd seen the film on gritty old VHS could have easily been fooled. Also, actress Cinzia Monreale's portrayal of the dead Anna is quite convincing. Gory bits aside, Buio Omega stands apart from the rest as it's one of the few (but not only) necrophiliac love stories to come out of Italy between '79 and '81.
Francesco (Kieran Canter) is a taxidermist who has just lost his girlfriend Anna to a mysterious illness brought on by black magic. Rather than allow her to rot, he digs her up and does to her what taxidermists do best: gut, flush, and stuff! His actions don't go unnoticed, however, as the funeral director espies him injecting Anna's corpse with preservative and takes up his own investigation. Francesco's demented housekeeper/lover Iris (Franca Stoppi) plays along as she intends to marry him, and helps dispose of the corpses that begin to pile up as more noses come sniffing.
How Joe D'Amato manages to make such a simple story last for 90 minutes is a skill in itself. The majority of Buio Omega, like his other films Anthropophagus and Absurd, is spent stretching out every death scene to maximize the viewers' disgust. In the case of Buio Omega, the gory bits don't detract from the story and don't seem inserted merely to extend the running time. Joe's experience behind the camera is evident in many of the shots and gives a slight sheen to what might otherwise have been dull, exploitative tripe. The shadowy sequence at the end, as in Anthropohagus, seems to have come from some other film as it is heavy on the atmosphere and dread (and gore, naturally!)
On a final note, my favorite aspect of Buio Omega is the electronic score by the legendary Goblin. One may recognize the track "Quiet Drops" from Luigi Cozzi's Contamination AND the track "Strive After Dark" from a re-cut of the original Dawn of the Dead. Buio Omega has an engrossing story, nasty violence, necrophilia, curiously arty camerawork, and a menacing Goblin score. If you aren't already shopping for it, get to it. Buy it here.

Friday, August 13, 2010


(Giovanni Simonelli, 1990)

I present to all you Fulci freaks out there the most obscure of the Fulci Presents series, Hansel E Gretel. Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the Fulci Presents series was SUPERVISED by Fulci, not directed by him, and the end results are uneven and unsatisfactory for most viewers. Remember, Massacre and The Murder Secret were both part of the series and they sucked balls!

Hansel E Gretel is a pretty average revenge-from-beyond-the-grave movie with a couple good ideas and a lot of filler. The titular siblings are abducted by a black market organ ring, killed for their sweet innards, and buried discreetly on the grounds of the operation. Their pasty-faced, pie-eyed ghosts rise from the ground and cause fatal accidents for all those connected to their deaths (and for a clandestine operation there are many involved!) Sounds promising, right?

With so much fodder traipsing about the grounds, one would think the film would move at a brisk pace. One will be disappointed to learn that the majority of the film focuses on two cops and a rather unattractive group of 30 and 40-somethings who can't seem to die fast enough. Or badly enough! One would assume the kids' ghosts would be pissed off and vengeful, but they just walk slowly towards their victims with blank looks on their faces. With the exception of one popped-out eyeball (thank you, Lucio) most of the deaths are dry and lackluster. Someone slips in the tub and smacks her head. Someone gets run over with farm machinery (and comes out as an animal carcass after - I want a transmogrifying tractor too!) Oh yes, and someone falls in the pool and drowns. Shivers!!

Sad to say, but the film wasted much of its potential on boring character development, which normally makes a film more interesting, but in this instance killed all tension and atmosphere. The production is painfully low-budget and the effects not so special, which may explain why it's never had an official release or even been dubbed in any language other than Italian. Recommended for Fulci completists and genre die-hards, and even then only if one has a basic grasp of Italian or doesn't really care about dialogue.

NIGHTMARE CITY aka City Of The Walking Dead

(Umberto Lenzi, 1980)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again; 1980 was a milestone for Italian Horror, as some of the wonkiest examples of the genre were released that year, and Nightmare City is no exception. It features some of the WORST writing, dialogue, acting, and special effects you will ever see in a feature film, yet it is endlessly entertaining and choc-full of unintentional humor. It was also one of the inspirations for Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror.

Reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) has been sent to cover a story on one professor Hagenbach's return. The professor's plane lands, but it's immediately clear that something is wrong with the man as he starts hacking up military personnel upon arrival. Out of his plane spill a rowdy, crusty-faced mob that proceed to dispatch the remaining military in no time at all. Dean races back to the TV station, and so begins our adventure!

He gets back to the studio and interrupts a dismally painful European Dance TV program with news of the mutant invasion, but his broadcast is terminated by General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), who feels it would be best to NOT tell the public that they are all soon going to die. We then cut to a rather tender scene between Major Warren Holmes and his much better-looking wife Sheila, a woman possessed of dubious artistic ability. It seems her latest sculpture is an omen of sorts, as it gives them both the shivers...a premonition of crappy art to come?

Back in the studio the sh*t hits he fan as it is overrun with mutants, none of whom seem impressed with the dancers' blue spandex or the kitschy Stelvio Cipriani disco music. Dean narrowly escapes by throwing an explosive TV set, and sets off for the hospital to find his wife, Dr Anna Miller. Meanwhile, the military have run some tests on some corpses and deduced that atomic radiation has given the mutants rapid regenerative powers and their taste for blood. We are then needlessly introduced to Gen Murchison's daughter and her dippy husband, who believe the whole "State of Emergency" thing is a joke and decide to take off in their camper to meet some friends.

Dean gets to the hospital, but only moments before the mob of mutants does. He and Anna escape, and the remaining 30 minutes of the film follow the couple as they stop for gas, sit for a cup of coffee (!), visit a church, and visit an abandoned amusement park. Yes, really. I won't give away the ending, as it will either severely piss some viewers off or make them groan in despair. Yes, it IS that bad!

So why would I recommend this to anyone? Because it's SO MUCH FUN! Any zombie movie where the zombies are smarter than their prey is just bound to be a riot, and Nightmare city doesn't disappoint in that respect. The zombies here run and jump, use guns and other weapons, keep appointments, and manage to destroy the city's power station. They even look like they're having a blast while they're at it, all smiles and grins and wide eyes! The special effects in Nightmare City are just that...special. The zombie makeup seems to consist of porridge and wilted lettuce pasted to the actors' faces with varying degrees of skill. I was also amazed at the lack of gore in many of the kills, as throats are slashed bloodlessly and heads bashed without consequence. That's not to say there isn't ANY grue, as there are a number of scenes that will have gorehounds howling. Eyes are pulled out, heads are axed and blown off, breasts are mutilated, and one poor surgery patient is eaten while he's still open! If you're looking for classy entertainment, look elsewhere. If you want cheap laughs and nonstop action, pick up a copy of Nightmare City, and let the Nightmare begin! Buy it here.