Monday, November 29, 2010


(Lucio Fulci, 1987)
What do you get when you mix equal parts Aussie horror flick "Patrick" and Argento's Phenomena, and add a bucket of snails? Yup. Aenigma, Fulci's *ahem* ode to Dario Argento (and I use that term loosely).
The film starts tenderly enough with some easy listening music and a brief montage of a young couple helping their friend Cathy get ready for her big night out. We know it's her big night as the lyrics in the opening song say so. It hurts already, but we'll get through. It turns out her "friends" have set her up for a night of humiliation, one that accidentally leaves Cathy in a coma.
Though unable to speak or move, Cathy somehow develops some nifty supernatural powers, and possesses St Mary's College's new student, Eva (Lara Naszinski). Through Eva she enacts her revenge on the other students, and does them in in various creative, albeit nonsensical, ways (ie: animating artwork, creating a clone from someone's reflection, and of course the infamous "Death By Snails" sequence, one that may well leave the viewer in tears!)
As I said before, Aenigma is a Fulci version of the superior Dario Argento film Phenomena, nonsensical and far-fetched as that title is. Eva's arrival at the school, the mentioning of her previous psychiatric problems, and the girls' getting caught smoking (not to mention a teacher who looks like she walked right off Argento's set) are just audacious in their mimicry. Even the soundtrack by Carlo Maria Cordio alternates between soft, synthy nature music and thrashy heavy metal!
On the plus side, some of Argentos better qualities must have rubbed off on Fulci as this is easily one of his best-looking films of the 80s. He made good use of crane shots, colored gel lighting (in blue and green), and his compositions seem more mature than in previous works. It's a pity he didn't have much of a story to work with. In all, I'd leave this until you've seen Fulci's better (earlier) work, and of course, after you've seen Phenomena. Second hand copies may still be purchased here.

Friday, November 26, 2010


(Umberto Lenzi, 1991)
College kids Kevin (Keith Van Hoven), his girlfriend Jessica (Sonia Curtis) and her brother Dick (Joe Balogh) are in Brazil researching the rites of Macumba/ black magic. After getting lost and running into an old blind man and his assistant, Dick is invited to a ceremony that night. He records the procession, is given an amulet by the old man, and imbibes fresh chicken blood, whereupon he faints and is somehow taken back to his hotel room.
The following day, our three adventurers take off into the jungle. Their vehicle breaks down, but they are rescued by Jose and his girlfriend Sonia, owners of a nearby plantation house where they live with their maid Maria. They are invited to stay the night, much to the chagrin of Maria, who takes an instant disliking to Dick and his amulet.
That night, after everyone has fallen asleep, Dick, obviously possessed or in a trance, wanders out to the graveyard on the property where he proceeds to play back the Macumba recording and raises the corpses of 6 African slaves who were tortured and buried there. It seems that once risen, the slaves will not rest again until they have killed 6 white people. Yet again, more political incorrectness on behalf of Mr Lenzi!
Black Demons is an all-Lenzi affair replete with his trademark skulls, spiders, gouged eyeballs, random explosions, and perky-nippled girls who scream far better than they run. The film itself looks, sounds, and feels like it might have been made in 1981, despite the 1991 release date. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as most late 80s Italian horror films look really bright and washed out, whereas Black Demons makes great use of light and shadow.
As with any Umberto Lenzi film, Black Demons is bogged down by some long, talky stretches and the usual hammy acting. I actually found the non-white cast members far more convincing in their roles than the protagonists (zombies included). That aside, the film does contain some genuinely creepy aspects, such as the faint rattle of chains that hint at the slaves' approach. The zombie slaves are very ghoulish and effective, if a little well-preserved given their age. My prime complaint here is that, despite the heavy amount of gore, the death scenes are few and far-between. It's a dreadfully slow film. I'd only recommend this to Lenzi completists, not the uninitiated. Buy it here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

...But Which Is The Creepiest?

We all know kids are creepy; don't argue, they just are. Former child actors Nicoletta Elmi and Giovanni Frezza, who appeared in a number of Italian horror films in the 70s and 80s respectively, were no exception. Not surprisingly, they both had roles in Lamberto Bava's Demons, after which both retired from acting (Elmi appeared in her last film in 1989). David Colin Jr, who appeared in only two films, still deserves mention as he was one seriously demented-looking kid. Peter Bark (Burial Ground) was disqualified from this contest on the grounds that he was actually an adult in a wig, but still gets a cookie for trying (Mariangela Giordan's got the milk!)

*NICOLETTA ELMI (Born Feb 13, 1964)*
WHO SAW HER DIE? (Aldo Lado, 1972)
BARON BLOOD (Mario Bava, 1972)
ANDY WARHOL'S FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (Paul Morrissey / Antonio Margheriti, 1973)
FOOTPRINTS ON THE MOON (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)
DEEP RED (Dario Argento, 1975)
THE CURSED MEDALLION (Massimo Dallamano, 1975)
DEMONS (Lamberto Bava, 1985)

*GIOVANNI FREZZA (Born Sept 8, 1972)*
MANHATTAN BABY (Lucio Fulci, 1982)
A BLADE IN THE DARK (Lamberto Bava, 1983)
DEMONS (Lamberto Bava, 1985)

*DAVID COLIN JR (Born July 1970)*
BEYOND THE DOOR (Ovidio G Assonitis/ Robert Barrett, 1974)
SHOCK (Mario Bava, 1977)

*PETER BARK (Born 1955 or thereabouts, according to IMDB)*

Sunday, November 14, 2010

HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD aka Night of the Zombies aka Virus

(Bruno Mattei/ Claudio Fragasso, 1980)
"Operation Sweet Death must be considered a complete failure," intones a scientist as the Hope Center research facility is enveloped in a cloud of toxic gas and overrun by a mob of zombies. With a name like Operation Sweet Death, one would assume it was a resounding success, but I digress.
Somewhere else in the world, a group of eco-terrorists have taken hostages and demand that the Hope Centers are shut down. Their plans are foiled, however, by an anti-terrorist task force in a sequence eerily reminiscent of the opening shoot-out in George Romero`s Dawn of the Dead. With this pointless detour aside, the four soldiers (Mike, Vincent, Zantoro, and Osborne) are sent to New Guinea on a new top-secret mission (*stifled giggle*).
We are then introduced to another group of irritating characters, this time two parents (Josie and her bitchy, nameless husband), their ill son, and their reporter friends Lia and Max. Josie`s son has been bitten by a zombie (guess where this is going), and the group have stopped at an abandoned mission to find help (I repeat, guess where this is going). Naturally, they are attacked by the living dead, but Lia and Max are saved in a nick of time by the Fearless Four. They take off into the wilderness, where our lucky viewers are treated to a seemingly endless torrent of stock footage of animals and tribes NOT native to New Guinea.
Lia, in a flash of anthropological genius, advises the group that they can seek help from a nearby tribe, but only after she has introduced herself to them. By introduce I mean she removes her shirt, paints herself up with makeup she just happens to have, and JOGS into the village topless. See it to believe it, folks!
The group are invited to sit around and celebrate (as the forest crawls with zombies, no less), but the party is soon interrupted by the reanimated corpses of the recently dead that are on display in the village. The absolute highlight of this scene is when, after being alarmed by the panicking villagers, one of the soldiers (with gun in hand!) actually pushes a native down as he tries to escape. In the ensuing jeep ride out of the village, the protagonists actually say that the natives had it coming as they kept the corpses of family in town! Politically correct this is NOT!
The remainder of the movie follows our hapless heroes as they drive around, tour empty buildings, drive around, and tap dance in drag before being consumed like screaming cans of Fancy Feast. End of film. Thank Gawd!
Hell of the Living Dead is a racist, sexist, and altogether pointless film. To call it a cheap Dawn of the Dead knock-off would be a disservice to George Romero AND the word cheap! Romero`s not the only one emulated, though, as Mattei and Fragasso also clearly tried to cash-in on the success of Lucio Fulci`s Zombie and City of the Living Dead. They also borrowed most of the music from Goblin`s Zombi and Contamination scores. On a side note, the electronic pieces that were actually created for Hell of the Living Dead are pretty good; now back to the cons.
The acting here is decidedly sub-sub par, and I`m sure cardboard cut-outs of actors could display more range. The dialogue, a continuous source of unintentional hilarity throughout, is daft, offensive, and poorly translated. The story itself is a poorly-conceived hodgepodge of scenes from more popular films that is padded out with nonsensical detours and lapses in logic and continuity. In short, EVERYBODY needs to see this movie! The gore and zombie makeup are actually fairly well-executed, and few viewers can experience Hell of the Living Dead without busting a gut and possibly shedding a tear or two. Buy it here.