Sunday, September 30, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 6: FULCI FIRSTS


Although known primarily as the "Godfather of Gore," a legendary provocateur of '70s and '80s Italian exploitation horror cinema, Lucio Fulci earned his early directorial chops largely in the comedy genre. Crime capers, sex comedies, slapstick spy stuff. There were even a few uncharacteristically chaste historical costume dramas and family adventure films nestled in his pre-'80s filmography. They say horror and comedy are closely related, pratfalls and jump scares two sides of the same coin. Therefore, it should probably come as no surprise that Fulci had considerable facility in both of these "low arts."

Up until this past month, I was pretty well-versed in his horror and western output from the early '70s onward, but light on the earlier, sillier parts of his filmic resume. Partly because many of these films never made it to the States in any digitally watchable form and partly because...well, sloth, I guess. September was the month I decided to correct my slothful ways and watch a bunch of Fulci "firsts." 

Felonious gangs, funny fangs, and fetching Fenechs. Here's some early Lucio for you, nitrous oxide not included...



#57 - I LADRI (1959)
Lucio Fulci

Fulci's first bona fide feature directorial effort, a crime comedy starring Italy's then "Prince of Laughter" Totò. Italian-American gangster Castagnato (Armando Calvo) gets kicked out of the States for stealing and stashes his loot in jars of pineapple jam (yum!) bound for Naples. A family of bumbling Italian thieves working the docks stumble onto his stolen cache and broker a deal to help him get it out after he arrives. Meanwhile, wily Commissioner Gennaro (Totò) has his eagle-eye trained on Castagnato's condiment-intensive movements. The prerequisite caper movie double-crosses and vault safe switcheroos ensue. It's all good-natured and uncharacteristically benign, but then this is the earliest of early Fulci. A breezy 70-minute sit, despite the fact that the bootleg copy I watched was missing half the subtitles. Maybe somebody stashed those in jam jars too?

Grade: 


#58 - I MANIACI (1964)
Lucio Fulci

In case you ever wondered what a Fulci-directed version of The Groove Tube or Kentucky Fried Movie might look like, I present to you The Maniacs. This loosely connected series of broadly comedic sketches (most of them very dated) has more misses than hits. There's a kinda funny skit about an office boss making a bad bet which requires him to accidentally pimp out his stuffy wife to one of his employees. Then another amusing one about a bourgeoisie couple that go antiquing in a monk's abbey. At the very least, there's the lovely Barbara Steele (eating spaghetti no less) to ogle in one or two scenes.

Grade: 


#59 - OH, THOSE MOST SECRET AGENTS (1964)
Lucio Fulci

An oversexed government robot accidentally implants a secret formula into the teeth of two Italian dolts who everyone (the Russians, the Chinese, etc.) mistakes for master spies vacationing in the French Riviera. Cue the sunburn jokes, the early waterboarding techniques, more invasive dentistry than in all of Marathon Man. This is one of many screwball joints Fulci did with legendary Italian comedy duo Franco and Ciccio but the first to get U.S. distribution. Think Dumb and Dumber meets Spikes Like Us but several decades earlier. Side Note: I watched Oh, Those Most Secret Agents while nibbling on an "O, That's Good" frozen Oprah pizza. So, yep, I kept it "on brand" with this one. Incidentally, the movie was much better than the Winfrey's cardboard-flavored Italian munchies.

Grade: 


#60 - OPERATION ST. PETER'S (1967)
Lucio Fulci

Spirited Catholic caper comedy starring Lando Buzzanca as a low-level thief who all too easily steals a giant Michelangelo statue from St. Peter's Basilica only to have shell-shocked American crime capo Edward G. Robinson nick it out from under him. Little does Robinson realize, the Vatican has a veritable army of regional priests on motorcycles ready to hunt them down. There's even a parade float Jesus who hops off the cross to steal a kid's bike and join in on the pursuit! This unofficial sequel to Dino Risi's Operation San Gennaro is solid Saturday afternoon holy heist comedy fun. Some confessional booth truth for you: I enjoyed this more than Ocean's 8.

Grade: 


#61 - BEATRICE CENCI (1969)
Lucio Fulci

A dull but intermittently bloody historical patricide drama that affords Fulci an early opportunity to work on his future "Godfather of Gore" sobriquet. The U.S. title for this release was Conspiracy of Torture, and, true to its name, there is both conspiracy and torture to be had, much of it enacted upon poor Tomas Milian. I'm kinda surprised Lucio skipped out on the titular heroine's legendary beheading, instead choosing to fade out before she met her dome-toppling demise. I'm guessing the Fulci of '79 or '89 wouldn't have exercised nearly so much tasteful restraint.

Grade: 


#62 - WHITE FANG (1973) 
Lucio Fulci

About the time Fulci was starting to hit his early '70s animal-themed giallo stride with Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Don't Torture A Duckling, he threw his talents to the wolves with two back-to-back, kid-friendly Jack London adaptations. It's a better fit than you might suspect, and he gets a solid assist from writer/adventurer Franco Nero, drunken priest Fernando Rey, devoted nun Virna Lisi, and the wonderfully corrupt Yukon robber baron John Steiner (who I hear can put you in a lovely Beverly Hills duplex for the right price). But the real star of the show is the courageous canine himself, played by one very brave German Shepherd (or multiple German Shepherds, most likely). Not only does this pooch survive frostbite and dog fights, but he tangles with a bear and manages to escape raging river rapids in scenes that look a little too real for comfort (do PETA violations have a statute of limitations?) All that, and the poor pooch doesn't even get a name check in the credits! Fulci, you heartless bastard, what the fudge?!

Grade: 


#63 - CHALLENGE TO WHITE FANG (1974)
Lucio Fulci

This shotgun sequel to the wildly successful Zanna Bianca the year before finds Fulci back to his old kinda-sorta-but-not-really kid-friendly tricks. This time, White Fang has a shared adoption sitch going with an annoying white kid and Franco Nero, all while being forced to endure bar brawls, angry mobs with wooden sticks, an eagle attack that temporarily blinds him, an avalanche, and a vicious dogsled race. Once again, our ready-for-whateva German Shepherd(s) gets absolutely no love in the credits. Can someone get this poor pup in touch with Old Yeller's manager?! He is seriously the Tom Cruise of canines.

Grade: 


#64 - DRACULA IN THE PROVINCES (1975)
Lucio Fulci

A superstitious toothpaste tycoon travels to Romania for some business/pleasure. After a night of drunken debauchery at the castle of the mysterious Count Dragulescu (John Steiner, again), he awakens to find he has a taste for blood…and men's buttocks! Panicked that he may now be a homosexual—not so much that he may be a vampire—he visits a psychologist, crackpot mystics, conniving family members, angry employees, and leather-clad prostitutes, hoping to find explanations as well as sanguinary release. Italian sex comedy star Lando Buzzanca may not reach the same levels of cockroach-eating mania that Nic Cage achieved in the similarly-themed Vampire's Kiss, but D in the P is still pretty fun with a solid punch line ending. Fulci may have gotten more mileage out of Buzzanca's talents a few years earlier as a handsy politician in The Eroticist

Grade: 
 

#65 - LA PRETORA (1976)
Lucio Fulci

Imagine Judge Judy but 50 years younger with French Vogue cheekbones and an identical twin who does porn on the side. That's the gist of this randy courtroom sex comedy starring the exceptionally easy-on-the-eyes Edwige Fenech as a stern small town Italian magistrate who gives a con artist a sentence so stiff that he is compelled to track down her free-spirited sister in order to pull a bedroom blackmail scheme that will permanently oust her from the bench. Fenech does fantastic double duty (and then some) in the dual sister roles, but it's dirty old man Fulci who's obviously having the most fun here. If this movie were made today, Lucio's perpetually leering long lens would be immediately jailed for extreme contempt of court.

Grade: 

***Stay tuned for more gore in the month October, as I finish out Fulci's '80s/'90s horror resume just in time for Halloween!!! 🎃 🎃 🎃

Sunday, August 26, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 5:
CARBONARA COWBOYS (Bava, Baldi, Fulci, Corbucci)


It's been a bit of a spell since the last post, but rest assured, dear Cashiers readers, I've still been eating my spaghetti. July and August found me occasionally ducking out of the 100+ degree heat to catch up on some overlooked westerns by the likes of Mario Bava, Ferdinando Baldi, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Corbucci. Six-shooters, sweaty Stetsons, stolen loot, sassy saloon prostitutes...you know the drill.

With eight months vanished and 56 films under my belt buckle so far, it's going to be a race to the finish to hit the 100 Italian exploitation flicks by the end of 2018 that I originally promised. Four months left, 44 films to go. Can this tired old movie blogger do it?

Pull up a three-legged bar stool, pour yerself a sarsaparilla and find out...


#47 - THE ROAD TO FORT ALAMO (1964)
Mario Bava

A decent Italian oater about an outlaw (Ken Clark) who goes undercover as a Union soldier in order to grab a money shipment bound for the Alamo. He develops a conscience when he meets a saucy redhead (Jany Clair) on the Union wagon train, later attacked by "savage" Ozark Indians who turn the cash into little origami sailboats. Not bad for Bava's first western, a genre for which he's not exactly known (he's listed as "John Old" in the credits). The copy I watched was a Frankenstein assemblage of English/Italian prints with some of the soundtrack seemingly sourced from a cam-style movie theatre recording. Oh, the things a Bava completist will endure...

Grade: 


#48 - A GUNMAN CALLED NEBRASKA (1966)
Mario Bava

Another run-of-the-mill Bava horse opera again starring Ken Clark, this time as a wooden cowboy named Nebraska who drinks milk instead of whiskey and helps out a husband and wife beset by bandits. Once hubby's conveniently maimed and out of the picture, Clark falls for the brassy, redheaded wife (Yvonne Bastien), the only reason to stay awake in what could otherwise be a feature-length Gunsmoke episode. What is it with Bava and all these feisty gingers? I thinks me detects a fetish.

Grade: 


#49 - ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK (1970)
Mario Bava

Bandito frenemies Roy Colt and Winchester Jack have a begrudging respect for each another…when they aren't playing desert grabass and scrapping over who stole whose hat. When a map to a hidden cache of gold and a fetching young Indian woman comes between them, their love-hate bromance is put to the test. This is a much livelier affair than Bava's previous two westerns and all the better for it. More of a freewheelin' cowboy romantic comedy than a stiff wooden shoot 'em up. Brett Halsey and Charles Southwood are quite good as the titular desperado dudes. But the real keeper is Marilu Tolo as the wily "squaw" Manila who's always finding ingenious ways to scam these two cowpokes out of their stolen money.

Grade: 


#50 - DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN (1968)
Ferdinando Baldi

Terrence "Superfuzz" Hill plays the eponymous bounty hunter/coffin dragger who, in this iteration, doubles as a freelance hangman with a knack for helping wrongly accused men escape the noose. His scheme involves a pre-made vest with a hook atop which the condemn men wear under their clothes, a nifty idea although Baldi is a little elusive with the details of the vest's up-close operation. Django also tangles with a crooked politician responsible for killing his wife in a gold robbing scheme as well as the always game-for-evildoing George Eastman. The ending will please fans of the official, original Django. Probably some Rambo devotees too. Not quite as good as Questi's Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! but surely a solid entry in the crowded annals of unofficial Django films.

Grade: 


#51 - BLINDMAN (1971)
Ferdinando Baldi

Baldi stalwart Tony Anthony stars as a visually-impaired gunman who just wants his 50 women back (mail order brides stolen from him in transit). His blind tunnel vision will lead him to do battle with various bandits, the most prominent being Ringo Starr's lovelorn "Candy." For what is basically a spaghetti western twist on the classic blind samurai Zatoichi legend, Blindman is an enjoyably offbeat offering. It was produced by ABKO, the same lovely folks who brought us Jodorowsky's El Topo. While it's nowhere as inventive as that surrealist masterwork, I can say with certainty that Blindman is my second favorite Starr performance of all time. After his career pinnacle, Caveman, of course.

Grade: 





#52 - COMIN' AT YA! (1981)
Ferdinando Baldi

The title couldn't be more accurate. This goofy, made-for-3D western is all about projectiles flying into the camera lens. Bats, rats, snakes, bullets, arrows, red hot pokers, playing cards, yo-yo's, gold coins, falling corn. If you can chuck it, it will come...right at ya! Though I didn't see Comin' At Ya in its ideal format (old school "SuperVision" 3D), it's still pretty fun in a nice, flat 2D blu-ray transfer. The plot is a recycled throwaway: Tony Anthony has to save a bunch of women from baddies again, the most important damsel being his wife (lovely Victoria Abril of many a fine Almodovar movie). There are also a lot of black and white shots interspersed throughout for reasons inexplicable to this viewer. A purposeful directorial choice or leftover remnants of the old 3-D process? Don't ask me. While not as much of a hoot as Baldi/Anthony's 3D Raiders rip extravaganza, Treasure of the Four Crowns, it will definitely keep you awake...in that there's always some kinda shit flying right at your face.

Grade: 


#53 - MASSACRE TIME (1966)
Lucio Fulci

A bloodthirsty, early Fulci western that begins with a death by dog mauling and ends with a neck-snap plummet from semi-high heights. Peppered amid the many gunfights are bar brawls with blowguns and one honey of a bullwhip match. Franco Nero, fresh off his first Django success, plays a gold prospector called back home by a family friend to help his alcoholic brother (a capably soused George Hilton) and elderly mother who've been swindled out of their home by a wealthy fat-cat and his sadistic son. Long story short, a whole bunch of people are gonna get massacred. There are so many corpses that the town's Confucius-quoting Chinese undertaker can't keep up, shrugging off each new body with the line: "Confucius says (fill-in-the-blank wisdom), but then Confucius never lived in this town!" The script by a young Fernando Di Leo isn't Shakespeare or even Sergio Leone, but it gets the job done. And Fulci does not disappoint on the bloody action, despite not being on his home turf (i.e., the horror genre).

Grade: 


#54 - SILVER SADDLE (1978)
Lucio Fulci

The last and, IMHO, least of Fulci's western efforts. A bounty hunter named Roy Blood (Giuliano Gemma) who made his first revenge kill when only a tyke later hooks up with a scavenger (Geoffrey Lewis) and little blonde moppet due for an inheritance. Together, they intend to take down the same family of thugs that originally killed his Roy's pop. Toss in some kindly assorted saloon prostitutes and occasional routine gunplay, and you got yourself what could almost be called a Fulci "family western." It's not the best fit for the godfather of gore's talents, and as soon as the kid in the frilly frock comes along it's mostly downhill from there. Add to that a syrupy '70 softrock ballad by this guy who speaks-sings the entire plot in needle drops every five minutes and--oy vey!--somebody whack me in the head with a silver mallet!!

Grade: 


#55 - NAVAJO JOE (1966)
Sergio Corbucci

Burt Reynolds, in one of his first starring (and earliest wig-wearing) roles, plays a pissed-off Navajo intent on taking down a gang of bandits who've been scalping innocent Native Americans for sport, including his own squaw. When said bandits set their eyes on a small town's cash money cache, Joe lends a hand and a ferocious tomahawk to head them off, though the town of lily-livered white folks really don't deserve his help. Burt is in peak early form here, channeling his own Cherokee roots and doing more leaping than I've seen him do in any other movie. Corbucci doesn't shy away from the bloodshed and delivers a righteous "redskin" revenge tale from otherwise boilerplate script. Tarantino is said to be a major fan of this one, so keep an ear out for one very familiar "dum dum dum dum dum!" Morricone music sting.

Grade: 


#56 - COMPANEROS (1970)
Sergio Corbucci

A dapper Swede (Franco Nero) and a dirty Mexican revolutionary (Tomas Milian) team up to track down a pacifist professor (Fernando Rey) with the combination to a safe full of loot. Meanwhile, they are pursued by an opportunistic general named Mongo and oddball bounty hunter (Jack Palance) with a wooden hand and a pet falcon named "Marsha." If that description didn't tip you off, rest assured that Compañeros is a character-rich, spirited "Zapata western," more good-natured than Corbucci's grim The Grand Silence though not quite the yuckfest that is his later (and arguably greater) cop comedy SuperFuzz. It also contains perhaps the first instance of torture by prairie dog I've ever seen captured on film (hiding under basket in above pic). If raucous Zapata westerns are your bag, you may want to check out Corbucci's other fine kissing cousin western, The Mercenary (1968). In that one, Nero plays a crafty Pole, Milian is replaced by Tony Musante, and Palance is a baddie in a wavy black wig named Curly (but not the one from City Slickers).

Grade: 

Now that's what I call "eye-talian exploitation"!!! (rimshot)

Friday, June 29, 2018

ITALIAN EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION VOL. 4:
BIG DUMB PEPLUM


Summer's officially here. What better way to celebrate than to compare and contrast your pale, muscle-free movie nerd flesh against that of the beach-ready bronzed brutes and barbarian babes of the Italian peplum genre?

Peplum films, also known as "sword and sandal" flicks, were all the rage in the late '50s and early '60s after the first Steve Reeves Hercules ignited the movie-going public's taste for Greek mythological and Biblical era badassery. Hercules. Ursus. Maciste. Samson. Goliath. These were the Avengers of their day, and their superhuman exploits generally didn't run longer than 90 minutes or require a multitude of laborious post-credit teases. Later in the '80s, after the international mega-success of Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian, the genre saw a resurgence. Some (like me) would even call it a renaissance.

Over the last few weeks, I watched a baby-oiled pectoral's worth of pepla from both eras. Here are the results of my Herculean labors... 


#37 - HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959)
Pietro Francisci

A swift Google search told me this was one of the better original Hercules films, so I watched it purely as an O.G. Herc/Steve Reeves primer. For the most part, exposition trumps action making it kind of a snooze, though Reeves does fight a laughing giant, a few tigers, bends a steel lamppost, and pull down a balsa wood tower amid all the equally ligneous line readings. He also forgets who he is for much of the movie (Hercules Unbrained?), which is lucky for him. If only I could've done the same.

Grade: 

#38 - HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961)
Mario Bava

Maestro Mario Bava takes a stab at a peplum/horror mash-up and sends his Hercules (Reg Park) straight to hell (i.e., a Cinecitta studio festooned with fog machines and red/green gels). Herc's mission: Find the Stone of Pluto in order to save his beloved Dianara from evil King Lico (the always reliable Christopher Lee). Once there, Hercules does battle with a rock monster, a tree holding a golden apple, assorted ghouls, all while chucking tons of papier-mâché boulders. Far from Bava's best, but probably one of the better early-era Hercules films.

Grade: 


#39 - HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1964)
Antonio Margheriti / Ruggero Deodato

AKA "Ursus, Terror of the Kirghiz," one of many Ursus spins on the Hercules craze of the 1960s. Ruggero Deodato of Cannibal Holocaust fame served as AD to Antonio Margheriti and took the reins halfway through filming. You'll find very little of his gore-soaked ingenuity from that film on display in this dull peplum about Ursus/Hercules (Reg Park, again) battling a werewolf type creature (a guy with tufts of fake hair glued to his pecs) and assorted witches.

Grade: 


#40 - KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966)
Mario Bava

More of a "Viking western" than a straight-ahead peplum, Knives finds Bava favorite Cameron Mitchell sporting a bad yellow-orange dye job as the titular avenger/Nordic desperado who protects a mother and son from a ravaging horde while their papa is away. Instead of a six-shooter, Mitchell has about 60 knives on him at all times and is prone to hurling them with abandon. There's also some enjoyable WWF-style fight scenes amid all the flying silverware. Very watchable!

Grade: 


#41 - ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE (1982)
Joe D'Amato

One of the first mini-franchises to cash in on the '80s Conan craze, the original Ator stars Miles O'Keefe as an ancient hero/David Coverdale understudy destined for greatness due to the Mark of Taurin birth-splotch featured prominently on his gym-toned, loin-clothed physique. It seems Ator's in love with his "sister" (relax, they're not blood relations) and must team up with wily thief Roon (Sabrina Siani from Fulci classic Conquest!) and a bear cub with a white stripe on its head to save her from Spider Cult leader Dakar (not to be confused with Drakkar, the cheap Wal-Mart men's cologne). Lots o' dumb fun!

Grade: 


#42 - ATOR, THE BLADE MASTER (1982)
Joe D'Amato

In his second swiftly released outing, Ator (who's totally into science now) teams up with a Asian wise man named Thong and a warrior princess (who's totally not his sister) to save his old mentor from an evil warlord. Lots of lethargically choreographed swordplay ensues. There's a lame snake pit scene to rival the hilariously economical giant spider rescue in the first Ator, perhaps more sad because it appears to have been shot with a mere 1% of the Raiders of the Lost Ark Well of Souls budget. But Blade Master does feature a nifty hang-gliding scene and, if I read the ending correctly, Ator somehow manages to invent the future atomic bomb. Not quite as good as the first go-round but, hey, it's more Ator!

Grade: 


#43 - HUNDRA (1983)
Matt Cimber aka Thomas Ottaviano

After a pack of rapacious barbarian bros wreck her ladies-only village, Amazonian babe Laurene Landon (of many a fine Larry Cohen film) reluctantly sets out with her broadsword to find some suitable male seed to re-start her village's population. Unfortunately, cryopreserved spunk is not an option in Hundra's day, and her quest for top-shelf man goo will lead her to a testosterone-heavy fortress of pagan baddies who are keeping numerous women slaves under lock and key. Hundra must free her fellow feminists-in-waiting all while getting knocked up herself by a kind, "woke" village healer. Hands-down the most enjoyable sword and sandal offering I watched, Hundra is proof positive that ladies can do peplum just as good (if not better) than the men. This underseen gem is totally ripe for a #MeToo era remake. Get the GLOW ladies on it, stat! It's directed by Matt Cimber, for Pete's sake, the guy who Marc Maron plays in the show. Practically a Netflix Original no-brainer!

Grade: 


#44 - HERCULES (1983)
Luigi Cozzi

Exhausting and exteeeeeended creation of the mythological world intro narration aside, the '83 Hercules is a pretty amusing Cannon Films peplum that probably owes more of its specious DNA to Donner's Superman than Milius's Conan. Watch Hercules throw giant logs into outer space. Watch him throw the grizzly bear who killed his father into outer space! Instead of locking horns with Cretan Bulls, Hydras or Cerebuses (Cerebi?), this post-Hulk Herc played by Lou Ferrigno primarily does battle with robot monsters that look like knock-off Transformers. This probably has something to do with his nemesis King Minos (a delightfully over the top William Berger) being more obsessed with "Science!" than a mad Bill Nye on a mix of Adderall and DMT. Somewhere out there, Ray Harryhausen is surely rolling his eyes and stop-motion spinning in his grave.

Grade: 



#45 - THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES II (1985)
Luigi Cozzi

The rare sequel that's better than the original. Ferrigno's Hercules has more to do this time, tasked with the challenge of recovering seven of Zeus's world-stabilizing lightning bolts hidden inside seven monsters across the globe. These include the "Slime People," a shaggy ape-like creature, a spider lady and a cheaply sculpted Medusa sourced directly from the Clash of the Titans trim bin. King Minos is back from the dead and even more stoked on "Science!" than before. He and Ferrigno go green screen mano e mano in the ultimate deep space rotoscope Pink Floyd laser light show! It also doesn't hurt that Herc has not one but two beautiful barbarian babes, Urania and Glaucia, along for the ride. When our superhuman hero grows to 1,000 times his size and blocks the moon from colliding with the Earth, you will surely raise your goblet and cheer!

Grade: 


#46 - THE BARBARIANS (1987)
Ruggero Deodato

Brain-challenged barbarian twins Kutchek and Gore (the Paul Brothers) go searching for a sacred ruby stone hidden inside a dragon that will save their tribe from the evil ruler Kadar (Richard Lynch) and then be fit snugly into the belly button of their new queen (Eva La Rue). Along the way, they have myriad sword battles, arm wrestling competitions and occasionally bray like Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter for inexplicable reasons. Imagine if two steroidal Joey Buttafuocos put on a regional production of Excalibur inside a combination GNC/Gold's Gym somewhere in Secaucus, NJ. That is this movie. The absolute dumbest kind of peplum fun courtesy of Daddy-o Deodato.

Grade: 

"To burpee or not to burpee...THAT is the question."