Thursday, October 17, 2019


(Claudio Fragasso / Bruno Mattei, 1990)
Melanie Beck's marriage is on the rocks, her daughter is in the care of another couple, and she has been receiving lewd phone calls. Things take a turn for the worse when she is attacked by masked murderer who beats and sexually assaults her before being scared away. The incident leaves Melanie in a shocked mental state, unable to recall who or where she is. Severely depressed, she attempts suicide, but is thwarted by an obsessive stalker named Axel. He then locks her in a motel room, where he makes his sordid intentions more clear.
The dream team of Fragasso-Mattei strikes again. Night Killer is as wonky and titillating as any of their past material. The expected terrible overdubbing of characters' voices is woefully absent in Night Killer, given the American cast, but the laughable dialogue and delivery remain. Realism is again thrown out the window, and the no-buget effects will provide some laughs. One may also notice a sprinkling of scenes taken from other films, most notably the scene in Demons wherein a woman is running about backstage, clutching at her throat. The acting, though strained and hammy, is still some of the best in Fragasso's films. Also, there's a lot of boobs on display.
Though originally written and directed by Claudio Fragasso, when producers noticed the finished product was too short and needed some trashier horror elements, frequent collaborator Bruno Mattei was called in to create and shoot more material. You can tell who directed which scenes - Fragasso spends more time developing characters, while Mattei provides the gore. Overall, it's a silly attempt at an erotic psycho-thriller that provides more chuckles than chills, but still gold for those who dig the dream team.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


(Frank Agrama, 1981)
As a cruel Egyptian ruler is laid to rest, a curse is placed upon his golden treasure - that he and his former slaves will rise from the dead and destroy anyone who disturbs it.
Skip ahead to 1981. An American tomb robber and his helpers have located and opened the tomb. Their activity first draws the attention of crazy old Xena, then another trio of would-be thieves, followed by a group of fashion models and photographers who are out for a photo shoot in the desert. This proves bothersome for the robbers as they try to keep their intentions a secret from the fashion set, who impose themselves the moment they find out they have an undiscovered tomb at their disposal. The mummy and his undead servants soon rise from the grave.
The story is very straightforward, and plays like a zombie movie with a mummy theme. It's a very low-budget affair, and the lack of effort is seen in the mostly static camerawork, sparse lighting, misogynistic characterization, and over-the-top acting. I'll speak to those last two, for a moment.
The female characters in Dawn of the Mummy are among the most shrill and defenceless in the annals of Italian horror. They scream uncontrollably and excessively, to the point of not being able to move or, worse yet, collapse in a fit a shrieking and writhing about. It's painful to watch. Fortunately, two of the models redeem themselves by fighting back - with explosives.
Despite budgetary restraints, the mummy himself is quite creepy. He is freakishly tall, and the makeup by genre regular Maurizio Trani is effective. Sadly, Trani's gruesome work on the undead servants' faces might be overlooked as one will be distracted by it not matching their bodies at times. The previously mentioned lack of proper lighting, paired with the poor quality of existing prints, also makes a lot of the gore effects hard to see. I'd like to see this cleaned up and re-released one day. It's by no means a classic, but worth a watch.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

CATACOMBS aka Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (David Schmoeller, 1988)
In the Abbey of San Pietro En Valle, in 1506, a frighteningly powerful man possessed by Satan is sealed in a room, in the catacombs, which is then walled-over. About 400 years later, a young teacher named Elizabeth is invited by forward-thinking Brother Orsini to study at the monastery. This angers the cold and austere Brother Marinus,the only priest who believes in the legend of the demon trapped in the catacombs. He believes that it has escaped, and will use Elizabeth as its vessel, but is laughed-off by Orsini and outsider priest Father John. Indeed the beast has escaped its prison, and is lurking in the catacombs, waiting for unfortunate souls to take.
This Italian-American production was made during the decline of horror's popularity, Italian horror's especially. It was filmed entirely in Italy, but looks distinctly American due to better production values and multinational cast. The cinematography was handled by veteran Sergio Salvati, and the soundtrack composed by Pino Donaggio. The acting is also better than expected, but far from perfect.
On the downside, there is little bloodshed, and the film relies heavily on atmosphere and a sense of dread, both of which are continually generated and then ignored. The buildup never pays off. Many of the spooky goings-on occur, and are then forgotten - missed opportunities for scares or adding depth to the story. I found the hasty ending to be a letdown due to a brief and weak Final Battle. So what might be of interest to potential viewers? The sacrilegious content, of which there is much, whether it be employed in a comedic or horrific sense. The Killer Jesus scene, though foreseeable, was still a nice touch.
I wasn't thrilled by Catacombs, but it was better than I expected, given familiarity with late 80s films of this sort.

Monday, September 30, 2019


(Ruggero Deodato, 1988)
Michael York is Robert Dominici, a pianist who is rapidly aging due to a genetic defect. As if losing his hair and virility weren't enough, he is losing his mind as well. After killing his doctor to prevent word of his condition from spreading, his mental health continues to deteriorate, causing him to indulge in murderous acts. His rapid degeneration does have the positive aspect of making him unrecognizable to the police, which is handy when playing cat-and-mouse with Inspctor Datti (Donald Pleasence).
The film contains several fantastically gory set pieces, yet never dives into slasher territory. Some of the effects are on the cheap side (the mannequin in a dream sequence, notably) but the main gore pieces are satisfactory in their realism and execution. The bloodshed alone, however, isn't what makes Phantom of Death work. It is an interesting concept, and a competently, if safely, made film. It's the acting, strangely enough, that I enjoyed most. I don't often say that about these films. Deodato made good use of York, Pleasence, and the lovely Edwidge Fenech, whose real voice can be heard here. I found this to be one of the better Italian-made thrillers to come out of late 80s.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

DEMONIA (Lucio Fulci, 1990)
During a seance, archaeologist/occult enthusiast Liza Harris (Meg Register) has a vision of 5 nuns being crucified by a mob of torch-bearing villagers in a crypt. When she reports it to her contemporary, Paul Evans (Brett Halsey, of Fulci's "Touch of Death" notoriety) he dismisses it as hocus-pocus and chastises her for such silliness. Shortly after, they and a group of fellow Canadian archaeologists travel to Sicily, where they are currently digging around some ancient Greek ruins. Upon arrival, they are greeted by one of the locals who warns them that the other townsfolk are less than keen on the idea of having anyone poking about the ruins, what with there being a cursed medieval nunnery nearby and all. He warns them of the possibility that the villagers might even kill to keep the dead in their place, but this does little to deter the crew.
In a sort of daze, Liza wanders over to the monastery and starts poking around. An imperfection in one of the murals leads her to start hammering away at the wall (like a true archaeologist would) and behind it she discovers the crypt from her vision, complete with the corpses of crucified nuns. As she sleeps that night she dreams of Paul trying to warn her to stay away from the crypt, but she tells him she can't. Methinks she be possessed.
Either intrigued or bored (or possessed!), she goes to the local library to do some research into the history of the site, but finds the records missing. There she encounters a mysterious older woman who tells her what's missing from the books: in 1486, five nuns entered into a covenant with Satan and sacrificed an infant. The villagers caught on, dragged the nuns down into the crypt, killed them, and sealed their bodies away from the world. Liza's was no chance discovery; she's come back to finish what the nuns started. See? Told you she was possessed!
Besides the fact that Demonia looks like it was shot on tape, it's not as bad as I anticipated upon looking at the DVD cover. In true Fulci fashion, it's incredibly slow-paced, often cheesy, and delightfully gory. People get ripped in two (up the middle!), impaled on beds of spikes, harpooned, and mutilated by angry cats. And so forth. Bless you, Lucio. Keeping in style with his later films, the ol' soft focus lens is frequently put to use. Brett Halsey aside, Italo horror connoisseurs will recognize actors Al Cliver (Zombie, The Beyond) and Lino Salemme (Demons, Demons 2). Again, Fulci makes an appearance in his own film, as a police inspector.
Demonia does have it's share of shortcomings, make no mistake. It's one of Lucio's most derivative efforts, with scenes recycled from his previous gems, City of the Living Dead (the seance and fainting thereafter), The Beyond (crucified corpses), Manhattan Baby (the spike trap in the crypt) and The Psychic (hammering through the wall - though in this instance it looks as though he ripped it off of Dario Argento's Deep Red). As previously mentioned, the sluggish pace gets annoying at times. At least 40 minutes' worth of unnecessary dialogue and Liza wandering about in a daze could have been trimmed. Some of this excess footage actually provides unintended laughs. While Liza lies in her tent, trying to sleep, the rest of her team sing an irritating Irish song by the campfire. She and I must be on the same level, because as the song goes on her facial expression progresses from annoyed to angry to "I KILL YOU!!" Then they start up ANOTHER song and she looks absolutely...horrified. Laughed. My. Ass. Off. I wasn't crazy about Demonia but I've seen much, much worse.