Monday, April 30, 2012

MY DEAR KILLER (Tonino Valerii, 1972)
George Hilton heads this 1972 giallo by director Tonino Valerii, in the role of Luca Paretti, an inspector drawn into a series of murders that begin with the decapitation of an insurance investigator who was dredging a quarry, for reasons unknown. When the hired dredger is found hanged, all evidence points to suicide, but clever Luca deduces that the man had also been murdered, likely by the same person. A previously unsolved double-homicide and a kidnapping are soon linked to the new deaths, providing Peretti with a surplus of witnesses, most of whom are knocked off just before they can reveal their secrets.
My Dear Killer is a typical giallo that leans a bit more towards cop drama than horror. It's a bit talky, and the majority of the film is spent following the police's investigation, as well as Peretti's relationship with his girlfriend Anna. I'm not implying that it's a boring film, but there is a major lack of action despite a few nifty death scenes, one of which features a power saw. Here Valerii seems more concerned with creating a film with a relaxed feel to it, occasionally punctuated by scenes of violence. Ennio Morricone's simple, chilling score, paired with the rather flat colour scheme, lend to this theory. And on a final note, I might mention that there's a bit of self-aware humour inserted into the story, and a couple of false starts involving gloves and fedoras toy with giallo conventions. I wouldn't advise one to rush out and acquire My Dear Killer immediately, but it's suitable for the more experienced viewer.

Friday, April 27, 2012

PSYCHOPHOBIA (Stefano D'Arbo, 1985) When Eva's husband dies in a radioactive plane crash (mmHmmm... hate it when that happens), she is left alone to care for their children, and to continue paying the monthly installments on their house. With no income or support, the stress starts to get to Eva, especially when her lecherous mortgage broker is found dead in his car shortly after making a pass at her. Then, a series of bizarre incidents befall her. She hears shuffling on the rooftop. The kids wake up, screaming in pain in the middle of the night. A creepy old man, who knows far more about Eva's house and children than he should, invites himself to tea. Oh, and a few more people die. But crazy ol' Eva, stubborn girl that she is, refuses to leave the house, and so must discover the source of the disturbances.
*Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrooooan* Sorry, fell asleep there. When I came across this obviously straight-to-VHS title awhile back, I was (faintly) optimistic about possibly discovering another golden, juicy Italian horror nugget. I found a nugget, for sure. A big brown one. The moment I saw the film quality, lighting, acting, and dubbing (all terribly sub-par... sub-sub-ap, actually), I was reminded of another 80's VHS spaghetti horror craptrek: Carlo Ausino's Don't Look In The Attic. It's one of those movies that I recommend only for the most fanatical completists, and even then only if they have the required stimulants and painkillers to get through it. Psychophobia is ridiculously boring. With the exception of one burst melon, the few deaths that do occur happen offscreen, and there's no blood. The story seems to be yet another mishmash of then-popular horror elements, and has one of the most retardedly anticlimactic twists I've been subjected to. There's nothing frightening about Psychophobia - except the acting. The one advantage it does have over DLITA is just a dash of retro appeal. It's strange, but while watching this I felt as though the director had wanted to make a giallo since the 70's, and got his chance to in the mid-80's - except with the script for a crappy psychic thriller. Despite the extremely lazy camerawork, many of the scenes are colorful and have a giallo stlye to them, and it's all topped off by a soundtrack that just flew in from 1974. And to think it was all produced by Orgaro Wax Museum! Seriously, though, steer clear.

Monday, April 23, 2012

KILL, BABY...KILL! (Mario Bava, 1966) Dr Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is summoned to a shadowy, secretive village, after the residents begin to die under mysterious circumstances, and coins are found embedded in their hearts. Paul finds the townsfolk less than cooperative, and frightfully superstitious. They inform him that the town is haunted by the ghost of seven year-old Melissa Graps, whose apparition causes the death of anyone who beholds her. Being a man of science, Paul thinks the story ridiculous - a sentiment seconded by the police inspector assigned to the case. But reason gives way to nightmare as Melissa appears to the doctor and his love interest, Monica (Erika Blanc), both of whom must uncover the town's guilty secret before the vengeful spirit strikes again. Kill, Baby..Kill! is another Bava Gothic classic, and one that uses more chills than spills to provide the frights. Bava's innovative lighting and subtly creepy imagery come together to form a memorable film, though it's general lack of action and gore might add a touch of tedium for some. There's also a rushed feeling about Kill, Baby...Kill!, a certain sloppiness (jerky shots, corpses' eyes fluttering, lazily-made sets, etc) uncharacteristic of Bava, though it doesn't much detract from the viewing experience. Worth a gander.

Friday, April 20, 2012


(Umberto Lenzi, 1989)
Mark Glazer (Joe Balogh), a serial killer with unresolved mommy issues, passes the summer by cruising the Virginia Beach coastline, offering lady hitchhikers a ride in his Winnebago of Doom. After luring them inside, he drugs, rapes, and kills them, photographs their nude corpses, then feeds them to the gators.
After a fight with her boyfriend, Kevin, PYT Daniela (Josie Bissett) accepts a ride from Mark. His intentions become clear when she awakens, handcuffed in the back of the RV: Daniela bears a strong resemblance to Mark's absentee mother, and he has a bone to pick with her. Thus begins a game of psychological and physical torture, from which Daniela must escape or face certain death.
To sum up my feelings about Hitcher in the Dark, I have one word: Filmirage. Joe D'Amato's production company put out some of the cheapest, campiest Italian horror films of the late 80's, but HITD is one of the better ones. Like it's kin, HITD is heavily padded-out, this time with many pointless scenes of college kids enjoying Summer break. Well, I'm not sure that you could call standing around and clapping your hands to cheap-ass synthpop enjoyment, but they seem happy enough to do so. Oh, and there's even stock footage of frolicking squirrels, in case the viewer grows weary of all the wet T-shirts and other beach-related shenanigans. The camerawork is also a tad bland, as it lacks most of Lenzi's endearing visual style.
Storywise, HITD brings nothing new to the table. The writing's not half bad, and one may be surprised to find the characters not behaving quite as brainlessly as in other like films. Lenzi does manage to create a bit of suspense with the cat-and-mouse antics between Mark and Daniela, as well as her various attempts at escape and their repercussions.
Shoddy dialogue aside, the acting herein is also surprisingly decent... for a Filmirage feature, that is. HITD contains little in the way of bloodshed or hardcorer violence, and so relies heavily on the actors' performances. Josie Bissett, known for her roles in The Doors and Melrose Place, plays her part competently, switching from softspoken victim to clever escape artist a number of times. Joe Balogh, who also appeared in Lenzi's Black Demons, also gets a passing grade. His character mirrors Bissett's, in that he too switches from softspoken momma's boy to raging psycho at the drop of a hat. HITD is a fairly pedestrian thriller, and it's unsatisfying ending will likely frustrate even the hardiest of viewers. I don't really recommend it, but can't say that it's a terrible film either. It's just...sort of there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

ZEDER aka Revenge of the Dead

(Pupi Avati, 1983)
A writer named Stefano (Gabriele Lavia) receives a used typewriter from his girlfriend as a birthday present. He discovers that it formerly belonged to a priest who had used it to record findings on mysterious "K-Zones", places where time and the laws of life and death do not exist. Stefano is inspired to write a novel based on the idea, and sets out to track down the priest. His efforts, however, are severely hampered by a conspiracy of lies, false identity, and knife-wielding scientists intent on keeping their macabre experiment a secret.
...So, back in the day (when I was slightly younger) I found a horror VHS, titled "Revenge of the Dead" in the corner video store. I had no idea at the time that it was actually the retitled version of Zeder disguised as a zombie flick. On the cover there was a zombie tearing it's way up through the ground. I read the synopsis; by all appearances it was an old zombie movie I hadn't yet seen. Enthusiasm for the film dropped considerably, though, within the first 15 minutes or so. No zombies. Little gore. No scares that could compete with the gore-soaked horror and slasher movies that my brothers and I regularly rented. Everyone watching fell asleep, myself included. It wouldn't be until I was aware of Italian horror as a whole that I tracked it down again, for a second viewing.
The second time around I had no expectations, but was not disappointed. I found it a bit slow and talky, but was quite impressed by Avati's stylistic approach. Practically every other scene in Zeder is set in the dark, with minimal lighting, This, paired with the stringy sci-fi synth soundtrack by Riz Ortolani (and a lot of oldschool shrieks and moans) creates an otherworldly dark ride of a horror film.
My complaints are few: the dialogue, acting, dubbing, and special effects are, as expected in these situations, terrible. The story itself seems to be a rework of the concept for Stephen King's novel "Pet Sematary", which was also released in '83. The film is also incredibly low-budget, though Avati does manage to wring every drop of atmosphere and suspense from it, and with little need for excessive gore. I don't recommend Zeder for anyone who has no attention span, but for the few remaining who do, I say give it a try.