Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Body Count (1986), aka Camping del terrore

This is the third film from director Ruggero Deodato to be featured in the Italian Horrorshow, after the unforgettable pair of Cannibal Holocaust and Jungle Holocaust. Both of those films were impressive in their storytelling and shocking visuals. Deodato must have had enough of cannibals after that, and instead turned his talents to an American-style slasher/cabin in the woods flick.

Written by many people, including Italian cinema stalwarts Sheila Goldberg and Dardano Sacchetti, Body Count tells the story of two groups of youths that are brought together by chance, to be chased around a derelict campground by a masked killer. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with horror flicks will have seen this plot, or something damned close, once or twice. This being the fifteenth year of the Horrorshow, on top of a lifetime of watching horror flicks, I figured there would be nothing all that special about this flick. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Body Count (1986), aka Camping del terrore”

Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: StageFright (1987), aka Deliria

Ferrari (Piero Vida) is producing, and Peter (David Brandon) is directing the most low-rent and desperate dance theater production ever to hit off-off-off-off-off-Broadway. It’s the story of an owl-headed serial killer who preys in the slums, raping hookers and Cinderalla alike, while Marilyn Monroe serenades the scene with a saxophone from above.

Such is the setting for George Eastman and Sheila Goldberg’s (writers) and Michele Soavi’s (directing his first feature) film StageFright. The film is a classic slasher, featuring a limited cast in an isolated environment, who are chopped to bits at regular intervals, before the whole thing is wrapped up in a bow at the end. There’s not much to set this film apart from the many, many slashers that populate the horror genre. The good news for viewers is that StageFright is a good film, with a swift pace, plentiful gore, believable characters, and a setting that works. Little foibles of Italian cinema show up here and there, mostly involving the motivations of the bad guy and the unlikely coincidence that introduces said bad guy to the plot, but, whatever. This is a fun flick. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: StageFright (1987), aka Deliria”

Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: The Wax Mask, aka M.D.C. – Maschera di cera

According to the internet, so it must be true, after Dario Argento saw that Italian film auteur Lucio Fulci was in ill-health in the mid 1990s, he decided to throw him a project. Argento and Fulci didn’t get along that well, however, so pre-production stretched on longer than it should have. Then Fulci died, and the project was passed to first-time director Sergio Stivaletti, who had been an established special effects tech for over a decade. The result was The Wax Mask, which was different enough from 1953’s House of Wax to keep Argento and the other producers from being sued.

The film opens on a grisly murder scene in Paris in the year 1900. A man and his wife have been cut to ribbons, with their young daughter a survivor and witness to the brutal crime. Fast forward to Rome a dozen years later and the girl has grown into a woman. Sonia Lafont (Romina Mondello) has arrived in Rome to seek a career as a costume designer. She gets a job at a soon to be opened wax museum run by the mysterious Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein), who becomes enamored with Sonia at first sight. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: The Wax Mask, aka M.D.C. – Maschera di cera”

Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: A Bay of Blood, aka Ecologia del delitto, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, or, The Real Estate Market is Cutthroat

Mario Bava was one of the greats of horror cinema. Not just Italian horror, but horror in general. Horror junkies the world over celebrate his more famous films as essential to the genre. Like with all artists, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. By the 1970s critics had begun to fall out of love with Bava, and that shows with the negative reaction to A Bay of Blood upon its release in 1971.

Contemporary critics and fans were hard on A Bay of Blood, as Bava had moved on from atmospheric gothic horror and into exploitation. Funny enough, though, this film proved to be as much an influence on later horror films as any other movie he had made. Viewers with more than a passing knowledge of American slasher flicks will see some of that subgenre’s genesis in A Bay of Blood. As such, it’s a film that garnered a much better reputation before the decade was out. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: A Bay of Blood, aka Ecologia del delitto, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, or, The Real Estate Market is Cutthroat”

Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Night Killer, aka Non aprite quella porta 3

Night Killer movie posterSometimes, one can tell the objective quality of an Italian horror flick by looking at its title upon release in the old country. Night Killer, from 1990, is a case in point. It was released in Italy with the title Non aprite quella porta 3, which translates as Do Not Open That Door 3, implying that this is the third in a series. The first film to use Do Not Open That Door in Italian theaters was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Night Killer is not related to Tobe Hooper’s classic in any way, but producer Franco Gaudenzi hitched his wagon to Hooper’s regardless. If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching all these Italian horror flicks for the Horrorshow, it’s that trademark law must be different in Rome.

Written by Claudio Fragasso with an uncredited assist by Rossella Drudi, Night Killer is one of the more scatterbrained, nonsensical, and poorly acted horror flicks many viewers will come across. The quality of the acting I can lay at the feet of Fragasso, who also directed. When every performance, from leads to those with single lines of dialogue, is either over-the-top or feels like a first take, that’s the director’s fault. The storytelling foibles of this flick I can blame on Gaudenzi, who took Fragasso’s psychological horror flick and had Bruno Mattei add a bunch of gory kills in reshoots. These kill scenes are scattered throughout the film like disruptive guerilla attacks on the film’s pacing, doing little more than making things confusing for the viewer. As gore shots, they aren’t that convincing, either. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Night Killer, aka Non aprite quella porta 3″

October Horrorshow: Mountaintop Motel Massacre

It’s clear by now to regular readers that Missile Test is a big fan of regional cinema. It’s hard to overstate the stranglehold that large media companies have over the artistic content of the country. Sometimes the consolidation of media becomes so egregious that even the federal government gets involved to stop it. Not nearly enough to make an actual difference, but that’s a story for another day, perhaps after Disney makes a bid for DC or Image. Anyway…

Mountaintop Motel Massacre is regional cinema from Louisiana. Directed by Jim McCullough Sr., from a screenplay by Jim McCullough Jr., Mountaintop Motel Massacre filmed in the fall of 1982, or the spring of 1983, depending on the source. It then showed in some theaters in the south under the title Mountaintop Motel, before being picked up for distribution by Roger Corman and New World Pictures. They insisted on reshoots, including a new ending, ‘Massacre’ was attached to the end of the title, and the rest is history. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Mountaintop Motel Massacre”

Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Torso, aka I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale

Viewers of gialli would be hard-pressed to find a film that ticks more of the genre’s boxes than 1973’s Torso, from writers Ernesto Gastaldi and Sergio Martino, with direction by Martino. It has copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, a killer who stalks women, a final reveal of the killer’s motivations that makes little sense, and enough blood and guts that the film bleeds over into the slasher horror genre.

In Perugia, Italy, a killer sets his sights on lovely female students of a local university. The women are stereotypical free spirits of the age; into drugs, sex, and nude sunbathing. They stand out amongst the stodgier parts of contemporary Italian society, not least because their miniskirts reach nowhere close to the knees. Martino seems to take glee in showing the clash between the prudes and the debauched. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Torso, aka I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale”

Lo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Madhouse, aka There Was a Little Girl

New Orleans has been a popular filming location for horror flicks. Parts of that town have the patina of age and dire history that make it perfect for the genre. Don’t sleep on Savannah, Georgia, though. Its historic district is packed full of edifices built by the southern gentry of ages past, and all the baggage that implies. Just like every other American city in the 1970s and ’80s, decay and deterioration only added to the area’s horror bona fides.

Take Kehoe House, a Queen Anne mansion commissioned in the 1890s by immigrant industrialist William Kehoe. Not quite one of the Gilded Age piles that lined 5th Avenue in New York, it’s still an imposing structure that fronts an entire short block of Columbia Square. It’s a well-rated historic inn these days, but back in the early ’80s, it was rundown — close to being a wreck, and the ideal location for Madhouse, from writer, director, and producer Ovidio G. Assonitis. Writing credits were shared with Stephen Blakely, Roberto Gandus, and Peter Shepherd. Continue readingLo spettacolo dell'orrore italiano: Madhouse, aka There Was a Little Girl”

October Horrorshow: Zombie Island Massacre

Zombie Island Massacre plants its flag very early on. The funky James Bond-type intro, instead of going with the silhouettes of scantily-clad women, just shows us a transparent breast, instead. The message is clear. This flick is going to be trashy, and you will like it. Then, the very first scene features a nude Rita Jenrette showering and lathering up her buxom body. What a start to a Troma-distributed film. Knowing their tastes, and then seeing the title of this film, this is just the start of a raucous ride. Only, it isn’t. This scene is the high point of the movie. Afterwards, this flick is all promise, and little reward. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Zombie Island Massacre”

October Horrorshow: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

See that subtitle? The one that reads ‘Jason Takes Manhattan?’ There’s a lot of promise in a subtitle like that. New York City is a big place. It’s an assault on the senses like nowhere else in the country. It’s loud; it’s packed full of smells, strange, pleasant, and offensive; no matter where you are in the city, there is always something worth looking at. It’s a city that begs to be experienced every day one is there. It’s also an expensive place to film, so when writer/director Rob Hedden had his Friday the 13th sequel greenlit by the studio, they told him there could only be two days of filming in the Big Apple.

So, that subtitle? It would have been more accurate if it had read ‘Jason Takes a Pleasure Cruise’ or ‘Jason Visits the Alleys of Vancouver.’ Hedden was crushed by the studio’s decision, but soldiered on, delivering a movie that he knew disappointed fans, because it disappointed himself just as much. That’s the bad news. The good news is, after a string of films with loosely-connected plot threads and uninteresting premises, the Friday the 13th franchise returns to a more basic slasher formula, and one that works better. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan”