Friday, November 30, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 8:
DIAL 911 D-E-O-D-A-T-O


Hello, Operator? Yes, I'd like to report a crime. A cinematic crime perpetrated against a filmmaker who himself could be considered a criminal. Or an unrepentant sadist. At the very least, the top entry on PETA's Director Shit List. His name is Ruggero Deodato, although he sometimes goes by the name "Roger Rockefeller" or "Roger Deodato" or "Roger Franklin." The crime in question? Neglect, With Intent To Revisit. 

You see, I watched his classic gore-fest Cannibal Holocaust many years ago and even blogged about a second viewing of it on this very site. In fact, it's still far and away the most visited post on this poorly attended blog (for specious pictorial reasons, no doubt). Then, I watched his massively entertaining (and massively problematic) poliziotteschi film and proceeded to collect a number of his other flicks on disc. 

Cut to seven years later, and I still haven't done my Deodato DVD due diligence! Time is running out for the man (he's almost 80) and for My Year of Italian Exploitation (it's almost December!). I would hereby like to surrender myself to the proper authorities. Or at least the improper Ruggero. Please come and arrest me. I'm at the phone booth on the eastern corner of the Roman Colosseum, near Via Labicana, wearing a cornflower blue sweater, lightly tinted aviator shades and a wide, gregarious smile. Goodbye...

(click, dial tone)



#76 - PHENOMENAL & THE TREASURE OF TUTANKHAMEN (1968)
Ruggero Deodato

Deodato, directing under his Clark Kent alias "Roger Rockefeller," delivers a mildly diverting addition to the superhero/supercriminal trend of late '60s Italian cinema. A rich count (Nicola Parenti) occasionally dons a full-length black body stocking and becomes "Phenomenal," foiling robberies Batman-style to bubbly lounge music. This time, he's after a King Tut mask that's gone missing from a Parisian museum. It's not nearly the delirious fun of Bava's supercriminal offering Danger: Diabolik the same year. But, if I HAVE to watch superhero shit, I'd rather sit through a swift 90 minutes of this than the equivalent, bloated dreck of 50 years later (Venom, Avengers, the entire DC universe, etc.).

Grade: 


#77 - ZENABEL (1969)
Ruggero Deodato

This swashbuckling sex farce landed like a wet thud in the Summer of Love and, more appropriately, the same week as the Piazza Fontana bombing. Producer's wife Lucretia Love plays a lusty 1600s heroine, Zenabel, who discovers she's of noble blood and gathers an army of virgins to help her take revenge on the Spanish baron (John Ireland) who killed her Duke father. Some critics cite this film as the first one in which Deodato displayed an identifiable directorial style. You could argue from the opening slo-mo, tracking shots of Zenabel and her comely crew of maidens disrobing before a waterfall that, yes, they might be right. But what could've been a spirited celebration of take-charge feminine empowerment soon gets undermined by some seriously misguided male directorial choices. Zany slapstick music played during a gang rape? A fox and hound hunting chase where the foxes are nude ladies and the hounds very hungry looking pit bulls? This type of stuff obviously would not wash in 2018, but I doubt it even went down as successful satire in the free-spirited '60s.

Grade: 


#78 - WAVES OF PLEASURE (1975)
Ruggero Deodato

Take the tense three-way in Polanski's Knife in the Water, add another beautiful woman in far less clothing, then crank the horniness volume past 11, and you might have a pretty good idea what you're in for with Deodato's seafaring sex-thriller Waves of Pleasure. Silvia Dionisio and Al Cliver play a vacationing couple who "befriend" a rich asshole playboy (John Steiner) and his subservient girlfriend (Elizabeth Turner), then get themselves invited on his yacht with nefarious intentions. It's a great set-up for some naughty maritime noir, but Deodato and Co. seem a bit more concerned with clothes-shedding scenes and wife-swapping intrigue than any kind of labyrinthine plot. Waves is a lot closer to softcore than noir, but who can complain when there's four gorgeous people swapping spit and being shitty to each other against such lovely oceanic scenery?

Grade: 


#79 - LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (1977)
Ruggero Deodato

They say we're in the midst of  "horror renaissance." But I'd be hard pressed to find any scene in the current CGI-scares landscape more terrifying than the one in LCW where Massimo Foschi wakes up after a dose of bad jungle mushrooms to find himself stripped naked and chained to rock, his very real genitals being poked and prodded by a pack of hungry cannibals. Deodato's first bite into the mondo cannibal genre is still as stomach-churning as it was when I first saw it at least a decade ago. And even more #problematic. There's the bat that gets squeezed to death and eaten whole by the anaconda. The toucon that gets pelted with rocks. The crocodile that gets bonked on the head, then gutted and skinned alive by hungry natives. The dead eagle that gets pulled from its belly. Oh yes, and let's not forget the humans! Those fearless thespians who Deodato puts through the Philippines jungle ringer nearly as much as their animal kin. Maybe Massimo and Me Me Lai aren't the best actors out there, but I can say with certainty they are among the bravest in film history.

Grade: 


#80 - CONCORDE AFFAIRE '79 (1979)
Roger Deodato

Director "Roger" Deodato definitely rides coach on this second class attempt to milk the lucrative American Airport franchise of as much filthy lira as possible. A greedy businessman (Joseph Cotten, coasting on Geritol highballs) is sabotaging Concordes and crashing them mid-flight in order to drive up the stock on his own South American airline. Investigative journalist (James Franciscus) stumbles on the plot and, eventually, the underwater wreckage. Can he get the story out before baddie Cotten tanks a second jet? Who cares? I mostly fly Delta! I've never seen any of the legit Airport franchise films, so I can't weigh in on how this one stacks up. But I can "Shirley" say it's nowhere near as good as the Zucker Bros spoofs of same. Over Macho Grande? No, I don't think I'll get over Macho Grande…

Grade: 


#81 - THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980) 
Ruggero Deodato

🎵Sweetly oh sweetly
Sweeter than a rosebud
Love and hope you bring me
Sweetly oh sweetly
Summertime is coming
Happy and carefree
Waiting just for you🎵

Grade: 


#82 - RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS (1983) 
Ruggero Deodato

A trigger-happy mash-up of The Road Warrior, Escape from New York, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Zardoz with maybe a quarter of the directorial finesse displayed in any of those aforementioned classics. When a Russian submarine somehow raises the lost island of Atlantis from the sea along with a bunch of mohawked, leather-clad "Interceptors" on motorbikes, two thieves and a group of scientists must ban together to…oh, never mind. Just listen to this delightful OliverOnions theme song and check your brain at the door  for 90 minutes.

Grade: 


#83 - CUT AND RUN (1985)
Ruggero Deodato

The last entry in Deodato's unofficial "cannibal trilogy" is a decidedly mixed bag. It basically slaps the storylines of Last Cannibal and Holocaust together like mismatched skin grafts, adds a few extended cameos (Richard Lynch, Karen Black and the Hills Have Eyes bald guy), throws in some cocaine smuggling, a weak kidnapping plot, a few Jonestown references, along with the usual savage hordes of bloodthirsty third world cannibals who, truth be told, do a lot more dart gun blowing than intestine munching in this one. The intrepid film journalists (Lisa Blount and Leonard Mann) this time are a video crew with clunkier Betacam equipment. Now it's John Steiner who gets ripped in half between two trees instead of some complete unknown. It feels like Deodato got a fatter budget than usual and blew it all on casting and helicopters, leaving only $2.50 for the afterthought script. My hope is that he spent even less on Zapped! and Charles In Charge star Willie Aames, who is truly terrible here, despite playing a role so close to home…an out of his element California rich kid. 

Grade: 


#84 - THE LONE RUNNER (1986)
Ruggero Deodato

Tarzan/Ator star Miles O'Keefe trades in his loincloth for a cowboy duster and a crossbow as Garrett, "The Lone Runner," a desert desperado who's part Lone Ranger, part Rambo and not much for small talk. He materializes out of a Middle Eastern sandstorm to dispatch Bedouin bad guys and help a local king retrieve his pricey diamonds and lovely blonde daughter from the clutches of rapacious thieves (vamping John Steiner again). The plot is entirely disposable and updated/lifted from many a better western, but there's some minor fun to be had watching Miles execute half-assed martial arts moves, fire explosive grenade arrows and twirl the occasional double-sided spear. If nothing else, it's proof that Deodato can deliver decent straight-to-video action.

Grade: 


#85 - BODY COUNT (1987)
Ruggero Deodato

Deodato gets into '80s slasher game too late in the decade, bringing little new blood to the table. The set-up is your basic cabin in the woods, horny/disposable teens on vacation scenario. Exploitation vets Charles Napier, David Hess and Mimsy Farmer are on hand to provide adult supervision and a mostly superfluous three-way love triangle/adultery plot. Other than one or two mildly interesting kills, Ruggero does nothing to advance the Jason Voorhees' playbook. The problem lies mostly in the film's goofy masked antagonist, an "Indian shaman" who stalks the woods lugging a backstory that's never really explained. By the time the inevitable unmasking/twist comes at the end, you've long since stopped counting bodies and started tallying the "Time Left On Video" minutes.

Grade: 


#86 - DIAL: HELP (1988)
Ruggero Deodato

I hate my phone. It's a piece of shit Android with terrible AT&T service that exists merely to field daily telemarketing calls and unsolicited phishing texts. I hate it even more now that AT&T's Time Warner merger has effectively killed FilmStruck. But, after seeing what poor Charlotte Lewis (of The Golden Child fame) goes through in this movie, I feel that perhaps I should complain a bit less. British fashion model Jenny contends with a phone that not only kills all the goldfish in her aquarium with a high-pitched dialtone, but also strangles her, seduces her in the bathtub, nearly goads her into suicide, shoots quarters like bullets into people's faces, and somehow manages to tie her down with magnetic tape in a room full of docile pigeons and out of control ceiling fans. I'm still not exactly sure how all this occurs—something to do with excess electricity bursts and "psychic energy." Needless to say, I won't be purchasing one of her '80s Giorgio Armani brand landlines anytime soon. But I may be committing this delightfully cuckoo Deodato phone horror joint to my permanent DVD collection.

Grade: 


#87 - PHANTOM OF DEATH (1988)
Ruggero Deodato

Even a top-shelf cast (Michael York, Donald Pleasance, Edwige Fenech) can't do much to save this boilerplate neo-giallo with a progeria syndrome twist from Deodato's deo-dismal direction. York plays a talented concert pianist who goes on a murder spree after contracting a rare, rapid-aging disease which eventually turns him into a cross between Brundlefly and Benjamin Button. but with clunkier makeup. While it's nice to see Pleasance get a break from chasing Michael Myers to pursue Michael York for a spell and fabulous to see Fenech doing just about anything (despite her impossible to parse French accent), this Phantom of the Opera knockoff sadly suffers from a terminal case of Severely Squandered Potential.

Grade: 


#88 - THE WASHING MACHINE (1993)

An oddly intriguing neo-giallo/softcore sleazefest about a very gullible Budapest police investigator who gets involved with three wackadoo sisters after one of them reports finding a dead gangster named Yuri in her washing machine. The supposed Maytag murder turns out to be a hallucination (or is it?!!), an elaborate excuse for the three siblings to collectively fuck with the inspector's head (and literally fuck him individually). There's also a nifty twist involving Yuri, blackmail and some counterfeit money which I promise not to spoil 25 years after the fact. The Washing Machine feels a bit like Deodato remade The Witches of Eastwick for late night cable—not necessarily a bad thing. He seems to do his best non-cannibal work when paired with inanimate objects/appliances (first telephones, now laundry machines). He hasn't been that active on the big screen recently, but I think he's still got one more gem in him. Someone get him a FitBit-focused horror script, before it's too late!

Grade: 

You're not watching Ruggero unless Ruggero is watching you!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 7: FULCI FINALE


It's only a few days till 🎃 All Hallows' Eve 🎃. What better time than now to finish out Lucio Fulci's viscera-soaked filmography?

The following ten films are the horror "stragglers" on his resume I never got around to during my initial Fulci binge years ago, either because I'd heard bad things or had yet to dig up decent digital copies. Most of these films are from his late '80s, early '90s "declining years" when illness, age and industry fluctuations began to sap his output. That said--trick or treat!--I was pleased to find that there are still a few yummy Kit Kat bar caliber flicks in the mix. It's not ALL rotten caramel apples stuffed with razor blades (though there are a few of those too). 

At this point, I've seen every Lucio Fulci film that is readily available out there. Or at least all his horror stuff. All that's left (according to Wikipedia) is a handful of comedies and musicals that haven't received any kind of DVD/U.S. release. Maybe someday some benevolent media conglomerate will release an all-inclusive 57-film box set or start a streaming Fulci channel. Obviously, it won't be FilmStruck (R.I.P./F-U AT&T!). But, hey, a horror fan can always dream.

Until then, let's dig into the last of the Lucio candy bag, shall we?


#66 - MANHATTAN BABY (1982)
Lucio Fulci

An Egyptian "evil eye" amulet wreaks havoc upon archaeologist George (Christopher Connelly) and his family back in Manhattan, temporarily blinding him with blue lasers and vanishing his daughter through a time-space portal somewhere in her bedroom. Cobras appear without warning in high-rise apartments, as do mounds of inexplicably imported Nile River sand. Manhattan Baby is an unholy mess of a movie, nowhere near the grindhouse pedigree of Fulci's similarly NYC-set slasher masterwork, The New York Ripper, released the same year. The script plays like a hastily slapped together horror mash-up of Raiders of The Lost Ark and Poltergeist but with all narrative coherence stripped away. That said, there are a few fun-size Fulci trademarks to enjoy here: the continued obsession with eyes/eye trauma, everybody's favorite blonde moppet Giovanni Frezza as the foul-mouthed little brother, and what might be the nastiest taxidermy bird attack ever committed to film.

Grade: 


#67 - THE DEVIL'S HONEY (1986)
Lucio Fulci

The Godfather of Gore goes softcore (with a touch of early torture porn). When a woman's concussed musician lover dies on the operating table thanks to a distracted doctor with marital woes (Brett Halsey), she takes the sleaziest S&M tinged revenge this side of Takashi Miike's Audition. There are upskirt saxophone seductions, handjobs on motorbikes, brain surgeons with prostitute addictions, and movie theatre three-ways gone terrifyingly wrong. While uncommonly light on the signature bloodshed, The Devil's Honey may be Lucio at his most nakedly romantic. It's syrupy and lurid in equal measures, like some mad combo of Love Story, Red Shoe Diaries and Lynch's Wild at Heart. Supposedly, this was Fulci's comeback film after a year of sick leave due to hepatitis. Judging from the content, I think that malady's biggest side effect was that it made him even more of a perv. Best Line: "My name is fear…but you can call me Jessica."

Grade: 


#68 - ZOMBI 3 (1988)
Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei

Revolving door protagonists. Wall-to-wall action and gore. Cut-rate Filipino zombies. A slo-mo end death scene straight out of Platoon. This is Fulci's scattered, confused version of Day of the Dead (i.e., militarized zombies) handed off to Bruno Mattei after a liver tumor or second bout of hepatitis (there are conflicting reports) made him unable to complete it. As expected, it's not nearly the caliber of its Romero rip-off predecessor Zombi 2. But I'd rather watch this on repeat than even the best episode of The Walking Dead. Scotch-taped together by two directors though it may be, Zombi 3 at least knows how to skip the bland, overly earnest dialogue and cut to the chase.

Grade: 


#69 - TOUCH OF DEATH (1988)
Lucio Fulci

Aging Lothario Lester Parson (Brett Halsey, again) spends his days wooing rich, homely widows, turning them into hamburger meat, then disposing their bodies and taking their jewels/cash to pay off his gambling debts. He spends his evenings watching the nightly news to make sure he's not the top story. He occasionally hears his own voice taunting him on dual cassette recorders and suspects he has a double trying to foul his schemes. But his foil eventually comes in the form of a younger widow, a real looker except for the fact that she possesses the crustiest harelip/herpes sore in all of cinema history. This made-for-Italian TV quickie is Fulci in his late career gore n' gags dark comedy mode. It's fun in spots, a bit tedious in others, like an extended, explicit Twilight Zone episode or a hastily lensed knock-off of Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Touch this flick (and that lip) at your own risk!

Grade: 


#70 - SODOMA'S GHOST (1988)
Lucio Fulci

Another made-for-TV Fulci quickie. This one begins promisingly, smack dab in the middle of Visconti Land during a cocaine-fueled Nazi sex orgy at a country house in the 1940s. The lurid proceedings are even being recorded for posterity in grainy 16mm. But it's all downhill 40+ years later when a group of teens stumble upon the same house, only to find themselves trapped in a hellscape of less-than-threatening SS "ghosts" tempting them with bedroom seductions, ancient stag films and Russian roulette poker games. It's all rather ho-hum and '80s Skinamax dull. The "Haunting of Heil House" this is not! Don DeLillo wrote a entire novel based on the same subject (the search for a lost Nazi porn film) called Running Dog. That I'd recommend.

Grade: 


#71 - THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS (1989)
Lucio Fulci

A trio of teen thieves (two dudes and a lady) get more than they bargained for when they rob and accidentally kill a strange old couple at a secluded estate filled with antique clocks and a couple of hidden corpses. When the clocks start ticking furiously backward, time pops out of joint and the old fogies arise from the dead to seek revenge. Fulci directs this routine home invasion thriller with a time travel twist as if he himself is counting down the seconds to retirement. It's light on the gore by his theatrical film standards, but apparently still too bloody for Italian TV producers who released it straight to video. The best thing about this movie has nothing to do with clocks but a black cat suffocated in a plastic bag (the same gato from 1981's The Black Cat perhaps?) who get his own Toonces-worthy revenge in the final reel.

Grade: 


#72 - THE SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS (1989)
Lucio Fulci

A strong contender for the worst of Fulci's made-for-Italian-TV horror efforts. Sweet House begins with yet another botched home invasion resulting in the brutal death of the married homeowners. This time, it's an inside job (spoiler: it's not Michael Myers behind that flimsy mask but Guido the Gardener). The house is left to the couple's two bratty kids who eventually conjure the spirits of their dead parents, much to the chagrin of their aunt and uncle, various real estate agents and ghost whisperers. If you ever imagined what it would be like if Lucio directed a third-rate Spielberg flick, SHOH has got you covered. A bad fit for Goremeister's skill set. It seems the old sourpuss couldn't pull off whimsical and sweet.

Grade: 


#73 - DEMONIA (1990)
Lucio Fulci

A group of international archaeologists on a dig in Sicily unearth a gaggle of crucified nuns from the 1400s, upsetting the locals as well as some demonic spirits. Fulci's first '90s era effort was set to be his big return to theatrical films after several years toiling on the boob tube. Sadly, Demonia turned out drabber than a nun's habit and never made it past the straight-to-video bin, failing to excavate his career. The plot unfolds at a snail's pace, and the marginally interesting backstory (verboten nun orgies instead of Nazi orgies, this time) doesn't come until more than halfway in. For gore hounds, there are scant few reasons to stick around, other than one hilarious pack of cats attack and some poor fella getting ripped in half between two trees.

Grade: 


#74 - VOICES FROM BEYOND (1991)
Lucio Fulci

When rich prick patriarch Giorgio Mainardi dies of explosive hemorrhaging under dubious circumstances, he visits his favorite daughter Rosie from the afterlife (i.e., spooky voice-overs, hazy super-impositions) and enlists her aid in unraveling the mystery of his death. There are lots of suspects to choose from—cheating wife, duplicitous business partner, angry maid, angrier mistress, illegitimate brat kid who likes to crush up glass light bulbs. There are also plenty of juicy dream sequences shared among the cast—eyeballs floating in poached eggs, a sex scene that nearly turns into a child homicide, a cryptic callback to the days of Zombi 2. It's hard to watch this movie and not think it's Fulci simultaneously imagining his own death and attempting a summary of his career, though this turned out to be his penultimate film. Voices is perhaps the most narratively coherent/compelling of Lucio's later efforts and arguably contains his cleverest cameo (he plays an autopsy doctor). I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Reminded me a bit of Hitchcock's career-capping Family Plot. Best Line: "Your stupid face is putting me off my breakfast."

Grade: 


#75 - DOOR TO SILENCE (1991)
Lucio Fulci

If your idea of a good time at the movies is watching John Savage drive around rural Louisiana for 90 minutes in a mud-spattered Caprice with a bottle of Cutty Sark, have I got the snooze-fest for you! This barest of bare bones premises finds Melvin Devereaux (Savage) leaving his father's funeral and running into all manner of detours on the way home—road closures, rickety bridges, strange women who claim to know him, a hearse that may or may not be transporting his own dead body. A better title might have been "Road to Nowhere," because that's where this curiously uneventful, amateurishly lensed flick ultimately leads. The whole endeavor feels like an elongated student film that somehow managed to snag an name actor. Fulci's name is nowhere to be seen in the credits, the "Directed By" on the version I watched attributed to one "H. Simon Kittay." It's a crying shame Lucio went out on such a low note, never making it to his planned collaboration with Argento on The Wax Mask. But, hey, the Gorefather gave us plenty of innovative scares in his prime, and it's Lucio (more than Dario) I'll have in mind when I catch the new Suspiria in a couple days.

Grade: 

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
But how many is a bird in the head worth?