The Friday Night Horror Movie: Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

hell of the living dead poster

George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) was a huge international success. It made over $1 million in Italy alone. In 1979 Lucio Fulci made an unofficial sequel, Zombi 2 (Dawn was titled Zombi in Italy). It was quite successful as well and for the next few years, the Italians began churning out one zombie film after another.

In 1980 Bruno Mattei got into the game with Hell of the Living Dead, aka Virus, aka Night of the Zombies, aka Zombie Creeping Flesh, aka half a dozen other things. It is, well it is a mess, but kind of a glorious, ridiculous, god-awful mess. It’s also a lot of fun in a late-night weekend kind of way.

The plot, such as it is, involves a research facility in Papua New Guinea that accidentally releases an experimental gas called “Operation Sweet Death” which turns the recently deceased into flesh-eating monsters.

The government sends in an elite SWAT team to take care of business. Along the way they run into two reporters and together, they make their way through the jungle, battling hordes of monsters, to the research facility to…well it’s never exactly clear what their ultimate goal is, but there sure takes a lot of gore-filled violence to get there.

Most of the plot makes very little sense. The dubbed dialogue is hilariously bad, and the acting is atrocious. There is a ton of very obvious stock footage of animals and natives thrown in to boost the run time. The score is by the very excellent band Goblin, but all of it is recycled from various other films.

The characters make ridiculous decisions after ridiculous decisions. Though early on they figure out the only way to kill the zombies is to shoot them in the head, they constantly shoot them everywhere but the brain pan. One guy liked to taunt them and dance around them for some reason. Whenever a zombie attacks the other characters literally just stand there for the longest time watching them eat their friends until finally decide to act. Etc,. etc.

I’ve seen a lot of bad horror movies. I’ve seen a lot of bad zombie movies. This is one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen. And yet, under the right circumstance, in the right mood this film kind of works.

Detective Montalbano: Episodes 23-26

detective montalbano

For a brief period, I was reviewing a lot of international crime dramas from around the world, all released by a company called MHZ. The shows were usually good, the DVDs were pretty bare-boned, and the cover art was often terrible. I mean just look at this image. My daughter has better design skills, and she’s only 11. It looks like someone took a random screenshot and then added the most generic-looking text on top of it and called it a day.

The show, as you can read in this review, was pretty good.

Foreign Film February: One On Top Of The Other (1969)

one on top of the other poster

While I obviously like horror films, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a super fan of the genre. I’m no horror hound who goes to see every horror film as soon as it is released. I’m not exactly a snob about it either, as there are plenty of really terrible horror films that I love. But for most of my life horror wasn’t necessarily something I set out to watch on a regular basis. I watched new horror films that were getting good reviews, and I tried to watch the classics, but weeks or even months would go by sometimes between my viewing of that genre.

Then sometime in the last few years, I started watching horror movies on Friday nights and that became the Friday Night Horror Movie and now I am seeking horror films on a regular basis. More than ever before I’m actually seeking out new horror films to watch. That’s allowed me to not only watch some of the classics that have been on my list for a while, but to find new films, or to dig deeper into certain directors’ catalogs.

Lucio Fulci is one of the godfathers of Italian horror. I’ve now seen 18 of his films. I wouldn’t consider any of them masterpieces. Some of them aren’t very good at all. They mostly slide into that good, but not great category, with bonus points being given to the great practical effects he uses for the large amounts of gore he likes to add to his films.

One On Top Of The Other is more of a crime film than a horror one. It feels like his attempt to remake Vertigo as a film noir with a copious amount of sleaze and a terrifically wonky jazz score.

A wealthy doctor has a sick wife and a pretty girlfriend. The wife dies and he gets a large insurance settlement. An anonymous tip leads him to a strip club where one of the dancers bears an incredible resemblance to his recently deceased wife. The police have been following him due to the insurance money and when they discover the doppelganger, well, things start to get hairy for our hero.

There are a lot of cool twists and turns in the story and it all looks and sounds good. But Fulci seems more interested in watching the women take off their clothes and get sexy with various men than he is in paying attention to the story. This is too bad because there is a pretty great film hidden underneath all the sleaze.

Foreign Film February: The Bicycle Thieves (1948)

the bicycle thieves

The Bicycle Thieves is generally considered one of the greatest films ever made. It topped the Sight & Sound (often considered the best, or most important of these types of polls) list in 1952, the first time they made a poll. It has since slipped further and further down that list, but it is still highly regarded amongst critics directors and cinephiles.

It has been on my list of films to watch for a very long time, but I’ve always put it off. It has always seemed to me to be a film that would be difficult to watch – in that way important films can sometimes feel like homework. I knew I’d need to be in the right mood to watch it and that mod never seemed to come. It is part of and is often considered the best example of, the Italian Neorealism movement. As the name implies these are films that were designed to be as realistic as possible. They were shot on location, used non-professional actors, were generally about the working class, and dealt with social and political themes.

I am not the biggest fan of the genre. Cinema works best to me when it is, at least somewhat, unrealistic. I don’t necessarily mean it needs to be pure fantasy or science fiction. Simple plots about real people can still bedazzle us with unique camera movements, or music, or stylistic choices. I love the cinematic aspects of cinema and so a more naturalistic handle on the material isn’t as interesting to me. I don’t want to belabor that point, as I could come up with plenty of naturalistic films that I love, but The Bicycle Thieves’ neorealism is one of the things that kept me from watching it.

Until today.

Like almost every film that is universally beloved, I liked The Bicycle Thieves quite a lot. There is a reason certain films are considered the best of the best, and it is rare that I really dislike any of them. But I definitely didn’t love this one.

The plot is simple. In post-war Italy Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) is desperate for work He stands in line with dozens of others every day hoping the employment office will have something for him. On this day it does, he’s offered a job putting up advertisement posters throughout Rome. But he needs a bike, it is necessary for the job.

Antonio has a bike, but it was pawned. His wife tears off the sheets from their bed and folds most of their linen up. They take it to the pawn shop and sell it. The camera follows the worker as he climbs a ladder and places their linen in a huge pile with hundreds of other sheets they have purchased. They use the money to buy back the bike (which likewise is in the shop next to a long line of other bikes. Pawning one’s stuff is necessary for so many just to survive another day.)

She visits a Wise Woman, kind of a fortune teller, to pay her respects since earlier the Woman had told her that he would get a job. Antonio leaves the bike in the street and follows her up. We expect the bike to be gone when he returns but the film is playing with us, the bike is still there. It does get stolen on the first day on the job. While Antonio is putting glue on the poster a young man swipes it.

The rest of the film follows Antonio and his young son as they wander the streets of Rome looking for it. They go to the police but all they can do is take a report. His friend shows him some open-air markets where thieves often try to sell stolen bikes. He eventually runs into the thief but without proof that he stole the bike, there is nothing anyone can do. As the day goes on Antonio gets increasingly desperate and exasperated.

I won’t spoil the ending but the final moments are incredibly moving.

Director Vittorio De Sica shoots the film naturalistically. He shot on location in Rome. All of the actors were not professionals. The camera acts as an observer and there is nothing splashy about any of the filmmaking. It is a simple story told simply. This was startling to audiences at the time who had grown accustomed to the style and glitz of Hollywood films. It was exciting to see a film stripped down to its essence. Or so I’m told. Watching it now, that excitement has been washed away. What we’re left with is a very nice story, one that can be quite moving even. But not one I’ll be voting for as the best ever made.

I will admit that had I watched it in a different way my feelings may be different. Had I watched it in a movie theater where I could pay sole attention to it instead of my bedroom where distractions abounded I might have tuned into its simple pleasures more. Or were I in a different headspace I may have found the story more emotionally engaging. But for now, I can only recognize that it is a good film, but perhaps not entirely for me.

Detective De Luca

detective de luca

I love a good crime drama. There is something very satisfying about watching someone try to solve a murder or some other heinous crime. The conventions of the genre are somehow comforting as you more or less know what is going to happen (a crime will be committed, questions will be asked, and the criminal will be caught). The best stories find ways to subvert those conventions and do something interesting.

I also love that crime dramas work well all over the world. Just about every culture that makes movies and TV shows makes crime dramas. MHZ used to put out a lot of DVDs of crime dramas and mysteries from all across Europe and other countries. They might still do that, I’ve just lost touch with them. I know they do have a streaming service and I’ve been meaning to give it a try.

Detective de Luca is a cool little series of detective movies from Italy. I reviewed it several years ago and now you can read my thoughts here.

31 Days of Horror: Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (1965)

Lady Morgans Vengeance Poster

If you paid any attention to my last post then you might have noticed that this film does not appear on my list of horror films to watch this month. That’s because it is part of a four-film boxed set from Arrow Video entitled Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror which appeared in my mailbox today. I’ll be reviewing the entire set for Cinema Sentries in a few days or so, thus I’ll not say much about it here.

It is a surprisingly good film about a woman who marries a man she doesn’t love and finds herself in an old Scottish castle. Her husband and her staff begin gaslighting her, and she starts seeing spooky things and hearing spooky noises, and then she’s killed. Her ghost seeks some pretty fun revenge on those responsible for her death. I’d say that was a spoiler but those details you’ll find on the back of the box so it isn’t really a surprise.

I love a good gothic horror story and this has plenty of creeping sets, shadowy lighting, and billowy gowns. It is definitely worth checking out if you are into that sort of thing.

Rogue Cops and Racketeers: Two Crime Thrillers by Enzo G. Castellari

rogue cops and racketeers
Arrow Video is one of my favorite boutique labels putting out Blu-rays today. What’s great about them is that they find fairly obscure genre movies, restore the audio and video, give them a bunch of special features like audio commentaries and interviews with the filmmakers, and then put them in great little packages.

Sometimes they create boxed sets of similar type of films. They recently put out a couple of Italian crime dramas and boxed them up in a set they called Rogue Cops and Racketeers. I wrote a review of it, which you can read here.