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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Zombies At the Gates of Hell

After producing some well-received giallo pieces in the 1970s, Lucio Fulci’s standing as a horror director reached its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s – elevated on the back of a horde of zombies. Brought in as a hired gun to direct Zombie Flesh Eaters, the movie turned out to be Fulci’s international breakthrough. He was able to use this new stature to produce his famed Gates of Hell trilogy was born – this being City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House By the Cemetery.

Every one of these ended up caught up in some level in the UK’s video nasty controversy – Zombie Flesh Eaters and The House By the Cemetery were on the Department of Public Prosecutions’ “Section 1” list of material successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, The Beyond was on the “Section 3” list of material which had not been successfully prosecuted in and of it self but which police could confiscate under a “less obscene” charge, whilst City of the Living Dead, whilst never on the official list, was sometimes seized by the police anyway since it was a Fulci movie and often lumped in with the others.

For this article I’m going to cover both the Gates of Hell trilogy and the movie which made the sequence possible.

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Though the franchise this kicked off is known as Zombie Flesh Eaters in the English-language market, it was promoted in its native Italy and some other markets as Zombi 2 – in other words, a supposed sequel to Dawn of the Dead, whose Italian cut was released under the name Zombi. This sleazy action on the part of the studio kicked off a naming mess tha’ts almost as controversial as the content of the film itself (and of the many films which tried to freeride on its infamous reputation).

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Turning Dross Into Cat Food

In A Cat In the Brain director Lucio Fulci stars as none other than Fulci himself, with his biography here more or less in line with his biography in real life: he’s an ex-medical student turned movie director, he’s deep enough in a horror rut that if he even tried making more genteel and wholesome material he’s convinced nobody would pay to see it, and even though he’s gained a substantial international reputation his fortunes are a little faded and he’s stuck cranking out material in his standard mode. Even as he lavishes attention on his movies, using his medical knowledge to make the gore look as realistic as possible, Fulci is beginning to feel the strain, with terrible dreams and even waking hallucinations finding the themes of his movies worming their way into his real life – why, it’s even putting him off his steak tartare.

It’s time he talked to someone, and so he decides to talk to Professor Egon Swharz (David L. Thompson). Unfortunately, the professor isn’t an ethical psychiatrist so much as he’s a crazed hypnotist, and far from helping Fulci put his brain in order he sees Fulci’s condition as the perfect cover for his own project. You see, Swharz really wants to get out and do some serial murder of a viciously misogynistic variety, and Fulci is the perfect fall guy – he just has to hypnotise Fulci so that Fulci is caught in a morass of hallucinations, causing him to see himself as the killer, and then Swharz can go as kill-happy as he pleases and Fulci will practically convict himself.

Except, of course, everyone knows that Fulci is a horror director and a weaver of wild fantasies… so even when he tries to confess to the murders, will anyone believe him or will they take it as just a tasteless publicity stunt?

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Ænigmatic and Œverlooked

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.

St. Mary’s College in Boston is a posh school for girls – specifically, girls of that late teen sort of age where they’re played by twenty year olds in movies like this so they can show their tits and their school has lecture theatres like a university but restricts their freedom in a manner more reminiscent of a residential high school and the headmistress, Miss Jones (Zorica Lesic), looks younger than some of the students. The school maintains a facade of tight discipline, but – perhaps because of Miss Jones’ incredible inexperience due to her being, like I said, startlingly young to hold such a senior position – the students basically do what they want and are occasionally utter shits to people.

For one thing, they are flagrantly disrespectful to Mary (Dusica Zegarac), a mute woman from New Orleans who works as the school janitor and who they like to refer to as being “retarded”. For another, they’re even meaner to poor Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), Mary’s daughter, who is a student at the school (presumably by dint of her mother’s employment there) – they arrange for her to go on a hot date with studly Fred Vernon (Riccardo Acerbi), the ethics-free gym teacher, only to jump out at her when she’s getting all overexcited about him and embarrassing her. (Teenagers are weird: only they would consider “Ha ha, you got to make out with someone you are massively attracted to” to constitute some sort of hilarious joke.)

Then they chase her in their cars because they are incredibly irresponsible and there’s a nasty accident, which leaves Kathy in a coma in a hospital which, based on the incredibly cheap quality of the model work on exterior shots, might as well be Darkplace Hospital. Clearly there is only one reasonable course of action for Kathy to do: use her psychic control of both Mary and new arrival Eva Gordon (Lara Lamberti) to get bloody revenge on her tormentors, and perhaps joyride a bit as Eva exercises her personal priority of getting it on with as many hot dudes as she can – including Dr. Rick Dagless Robert Anderson (Jared Martin), the doctor responsible for Kathy’s care. Sooner or later, though, Anderson comes to realise that strange spikes in Kathy’s vital signs happen whenever these nasty accidents happen at the school – but will he make the logical leap to suss out why this is the case, and can he really do anything about it once he pieces it all together?

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Quoth the Kitty, “Nevermeow”

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.

Italian horror is a deep well, and several different companies have done well dredging it. Leading the pack in the UK market is Arrow Video, whose blu-ray releases of various classics of the field are generally excellent restorations of movies who sometimes haven’t been preserved all that well.

One of their oddest concepts for a bundle release of late is Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cats, bringing together two movies – 1972’s Your Vice Is a Locked Door and Only I Have the Key and 1981’s The Black Cat – whose only common feature is that they purported to be riffs on the Poe story, despite not really being that similar at all. Having reviewed a decidedy smoochypaws-relevant giallo yesterday, now’s the perfect time to take a look at these.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) is a wealthy novelist who lives in a big villa. He likes to relax by inviting over the libertine biker hippies who live in a nearby commune for drunken parties which degenerate into him waffling about his dead mother, sexually and racially abusing his maid Brenda (Angela La Vorgna), humiliating and bullying his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg), and then watching as the hippies get their ritualistic freak on.

In short, he is a deeply unpleasant human being who dishes out violence and rape on the women in his home whenever he has a mind to. Things only get more unpleasant and tense when Oliviero and Irina find themselves caught up in a series of murders; first Fausta (Dianiela Giordano), a former student and current lover of Oliviero’s, is murdered at a time she was supposedly keeping an appointment with him, and when the police come asking questions Irina covers for Oliviero by saying he was home even when he wasn’t (he insists he was just delayed due to a flat tire). Then Brenda ends up killed inside the home itself – Oliviero swears to Irina that he didn’t do it, but also insists that they can’t take the matter to the police because they won’t believe he’s innocent, and forces her to help him bury Brenda in the cellar.

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