The Clumsy World of Bruno Mattei

Back in the 1970s, Italian horror cinema tended to have a good reputation – the greats like Dario Argento were producing some of the most aesthetically interesting entries in the genre, the “giallo” trend paved the way for the modern slasher movie but always seemed to be a touch more thoughtful than Friday the 13th and its imitators, and even the B-grade material had at least some interesting ideas underpinning it.

Then in the late 1970s and early 1980s, things changes. Whilst you still had good, thoughtful directors producing good, thoughtful films, the industry shifted and a greater emphasis on producing cheap rip-offs of more popular films took hold. A few islands of arthouse horror remained, but they were increasingly threatened by the rising tide of exploitation trash.

One of the most infamous producers of terrible B-movie trash in this scene was Bruno Mattei. Often working closely with his regular scriptwriter Claudio Fragasso – who’d go on to direct Troll 2 – Mattei would leave a trail of cinematic wreckage behind him. Astonishingly, some of these managed to attain controversy – in particular, Hell of the Living Dead actually made the Department of Public Prosecutions’ video nasty list, though a failed prosecution led to it being removed from the most serious category. This can only be due to confusion between Hell of the Living Dead and one of the various zombie films it rips off – for it’s more of a “video clumsy”, a piece offensive not because of inappropriate content so much as incompetent delivery.

Hell of the Living Dead (AKA Zombie Creeping Flesh, AKA Virus)

At a mysterious chemical plant an experiment that is not really explained to the audience in any way is in progress. (At one point it’s referred to as “Operation Sweet Death”, which is hardly encouraging.) Some of the scientists are conducting checks in hazmat suits with large, flappy hoods which aren’t actually tucked in or secured in any way – as a result of which the suits are not in any way airtight, watertight, or capable of resisting… say… an out-of-control zombie rat that jumps into one of their suits and starts attacking one of them, or for that matter a massive leak of toxic gas when the scientist who’s been attacked falls over in a bloody mess.

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Surprisingly Far From Greenwich

Content warning: this movie drops some rape at you from more or less out of nowhere.

Catherine Bomarzini (Sherilyn Fenn) has inherited a magnificent Italian castle with enormous statues in its gardens and interiors that seem to be constructed from second-hand sets from Labyrinth. Having lived there in early childhood before moving to America, she’s thrilled to return and catch up with Martha (Hilary Mason), the castle caretaker and her childhood nurse, as well as her old friend from art school Gina (Charlie Spalding) who moved to Italy a while back to work in painting restoration. As Gina visits, the two of them catch a travelling circus act, led by smouldering magician Lawrence (Malcolm Jamieson), and Gina is so taken with the act she gets Catherine to invite the performers over to the castle for dinner.

At this point the circus performers drug Catherine and Gina and rape them; specifically, Lawrence assaults Catherine but then switches places with his twin brother Oliver (also Malcolm Jamieson) to complete the act, and whilst Oliver is busy with Catherine, Lawrence rapes Gina for good measure. (It is also strongly implied that whilst Lawrence is busy preparing Catherine for Oliver’s attention, Gina is being gang-raped by most of the rest of the cast.)

Gina and Catherine aren’t thrilled by what happened but decide to not call the police and just deal with it themselves, and go their separate ways. However, Catherine soon finds herself adrift in waves of ghostly visions, as she tries to discern the difference between Lawrence, who looks like a gentleman but behaves like a beast, and Oliver, who behaves like a gentleman but sometimes turns into a terrifying monster. Meanwhile, when Gina gets back to work she sets to restoring an ancient painting donated to the local church that seems to depict an ancient scene that might shed some light on the tragedy of Lawrence and Oliver.

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I Swear I’m Not Trolling, This Movie’s Actually Good

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Unfairly overshadowed by the infamy of its sequel, I would actually go so far to say that Troll is a pretty good movie – certainly, from the mass of dreck that Charles Band’s movie empire has churned out of the years, it stands out as a particularly fun and imaginative one. The Potter family, presided over by one Harry Potter (Michael Moriarty) – no, not the Hogwarts one – and Anne Potter (Shelley Hack), are moving into an apartment building in San Francisco. Eldest child Harry Potter Jr. (Noah Hathaway) – no, not the Hogwarts one either – doesn’t do a great job of looking after his young sister Wendy (Jenny Beck) and she gets captured in the laundry room by Torok (Phil Fondacaro), a gross little troll.

Torok, it turns out, is a wizard, and he’s quickly able to hide Wendy away in the faerie realm he calls home and take on her form to make a bit of havoc in our world. In between bouts of terrorising Harry Potter Jr. – still not the Hogwarts one – and generally alternating between being adorable and a horror, Torok-Wendy one by one enchants the various inhabitants of the apartment building. Each time Torok slays an adult, they turn into a chrysalis from which emerges a twisted mass of vines, foliage, and fae creatures summoned. As one by one Torok turns the apartments in the apartment complex into elfin groves, Harry Potter Jr. – not the Hogwarts one – must face down Torok, save Wendy, and close off the gate to Torok’s realm again – with the help of Eunice St. Claire (June Lockhart, with Anne Lockhart as a younger version of her), the guardian witch who has stood guard over the apartment complex against the day of Torok’s return.

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This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Once upon a time the vampires of Transylvania were ruled over by the wise vampire king Vladislas (Angus Scrimm), who was able to exert his authority through the use of the Bloodstone – a stone that drips what is believed to be the blood of the saints and gives its bearer certain powers over and above those of a basic bloodsucker. Vladislas had two sons – his elder son, Radu (Anders Hove), is the son of a sorceress and thus bears some of her infernal powers, whilst Stefan (Michael Watson) was the son of a mortal woman and made a point of denying his vampire heritage as much as he could.

Come the present day and the region around Castle Vladislas is the site of an ongoing conflict between Stefan and Radu. King Vladislas wants to hand over his power to Stefan on the day of a great local festival, commemorating a battle when the vampires intervened to stop the Ottomans from conquering the area. Radu. who had been exiled from Vladislas’ realm, pre-empts this by confronting Vladislas and demanding the Bloodstone from him – which he takes after murdering Vladislas with the aid of the Subspecies, a trio of tiny devils spawned from Radu’s severed fingertips.

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