Category Archives: Giallo
American Nightmare 1981
Directed by: Don McBrearty
Starring: Michael Ironside, Lawrence Day, Lora Stanley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is the earlier of two slasher movies in circulation that have the title American Nightmare. The more recent one was unleashed amongst the mass of Scream imitators and disappeared fairly quickly, whilst this entry from the golden years looks to have suffered a similar fate. With a score from Paul Zaza and a cast that included (then) up and coming talents like Michael Ironside, Lora Stanley and Lenore Zann it came as a surprise to me that it didn’t grab any of the buzz that served its compatriots like Curtains, My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train so well.
The son of a wealthy local businessman returns to his hometown after receiving a letter from his younger sister that begs for help. Upon arrival, he learns that his sibling has disappeared (brutally murdered in the pre-credits) and asks a stripper to help to locate her. Unbeknownst to them, her murder was the first at the hands of a vicious psychopath that is butchering local hookers.
I have been collecting slasher movies for longer than I care to remember and as the list on a Slash above shows clearly, I’ve worked hard to uncover a share of the hidden ‘gems’. I didn’t know that this even existed until fairly recently and I was quite surprised that I’d never come across it before. American Nightmare is a misleading title in more ways than one, because the film was actually a Canadian production that was shot in Toronto and it plays like a European Giallo. It has very little in common with Slashers from the US and this is most obvious in the disguise for the killer and characterisation of the key players. We do have a final girl, but she’s no Laurie Strode. In fact, she’s a stripper, which is an unusual touch for a film of this style.
Another way that it feels more closely aligned to its European counterparts is in its excessive use of sexual psychology as a backbone for the story. The victims are all degenerates of the kinky variety and the motive is one that you’re more likely to find from the films of Southern Europe. McBrearty tries hard to develop a sustainably sleazy tone, but he goes about it the wrong way and the runtime instead becomes needlessly repetitive and in all truth, slightly tedious.
The majority of the female victims are killed whilst in a state of undress and in between there are a lot of scenes that take place at a seedy strip bar. Whilst it makes sense to use this location in order to develop the atmosphere, the director includes long sequences from nude dancers as a form of padding. Now padding, much like ice in a vodka and coke, is something that looks like, feels like and smells like what it is – unnecessary. It doesn’t help that these parts are flatly directed and dull, and whilst I appreciate that bare skin is part of the exploitation package, the choreography was mind-numbing and the girls were not the hottest. At first, I wanted to acknowledge the realism, because let’s face it; bottom-dollar prostitutes are not going to be as beautiful as roses. Needless to say, if you are going to pack your feature with overlong set pieces of chicks whipping off their kit, it may be an idea to at least make them worth watching.
It was also a struggle to relate to the story as neither of the key players shine in any way at all. Staley is fine as the heroine, but she is given very little that makes us want to bond with her, whilst Lawrence Day is colourless and weak in the lead. The majority of the picture is shot with the creativity of a soap opera and lacks any va-va-voom, so the pace remains stagnant for extended periods. This changes drastically when the shadowed psycho gets to work and the killings are surprisingly well executed and mix an unnerving level of brutality with a superb, but sadly underused score from Paul Zaza. One of the later murders is almost unwatchable due to the visible suffering of the victim and at times it almost feels like these parts are too good to be have been shot by the same guy that has bored us rigid during the development of the characters and the mystery.
I didn’t manage to work out the identity of the maniac, but this is one of those films where I did think it may well be her, but then I kept changing my mind as the plot unravelled. I am not sure if this can really be credited as great screenwriting though, as it was hardly a shock once the big unmasking scene came around. I remained eager to see who the sadistic slayer was though and I guess that’s what matters most.
What American Nightmare does brilliantly is give depth and a face to a horror film cliché. Think about titles like Maniac, The Burning, Close your eyes and prey and, well, I could go on but the list is endless. Prostitutes in these films are always introduced as lowlifes that can be killed without anyone batting an eyelid, whereas here we are given more of a look into their lifestyles. Some, (but not all surprisingly), want to leave the game behind and they work the streets out of desperation, which makes a refreshing change from the norm. Our hero even gets a scene where he realises his error in pre-judgement and I liked this concept very much.
To be honest though I’m not quite sure what to rate this one. It has some really unique, sharp and brilliant moments, but struggles with the basics a bit too often to be a classic. I think it could be so much better if it were twenty minutes shorter, but at just shy of an hour and a half, it’s hardly Dances with Wolves. It’s a shame, because there’s stuff here that is worthy of Argento, but it’s the little bits, you know, those that aren’t so much fun to film, where we lose that momentum and focus. I’m reminded of my review of Grim Weekend, where I mentioned that the trailer had me fooled into believing that I was in for a good time. It feels here like McBrearty was only interested in the parts that were setup to convey horror and although he does well to build suspense and trepidation at the hardest of times, he strolls through the rest of the movie in first gear like it doesn’t matter.
If you haven’t seen American Nightmare then you should track it down. I just get disappointed when something comes within smelling distance of greatness, but throws it all away in the midriff. With better lighting and pacing, it could have given Curtains a run for its money, as it stands, it sits alongside Evil Judgement as an obscure Canadian picture that hits the right switches, but only on occasion
Atração Satânica 1990
aka Satanic Attraction
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Emilia Mazur, Gabriela Toscano, Ênio Gonçalves
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Completely off topic, but Brazil can boast a peerless reputation for producing some of the greatest soccer idols that mankind has ever known. Pele, Ronaldo, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and the magnificent Romario are just some of the football legends that have worn the fluorescent yellow shirt of their five-time world cup winning country. Being a massive football fan and former player means that I have the greatest respect for my Latin cousins from across the pond and whenever I go out in central London, the hottest parties are those at my favourite Brazilian club on the Charing Cross road.
With their notorious flamboyant lust for life and excellent titles such as City of God already very popular amongst critics, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this late addition to the slasher cycle. Shock Diversao Diabolica was an interesting entry from 1982, but nowhere near good enough to rival the key players from the US during the boom years. But Spain, France and Italy – three other great football nations – can boast slasher output that is nearly as good as their World Cup winning squads, which made the initial signs look promising for Satanic Attraction.
It kicks off in traditional satanic fashion in the midst of a crowded ritual. A masked figure makes his way through a pack of dancers and heads down some underground stairs to host a bizarre black mass in front of a crowd of hooded revellers. The strange cult leader picks up a huge dagger and heads over to a pair of blonde beaming twin children. The mysterious stranger then slices the wrists of the youngsters and pushes their arms together, presumably to link the pair with a bond of blood. The crowd look on in anticipation as the twins grin sadistically.
Sometime later we meet Fernanda, a radio announcer who hosts a controversial show on which she tells creepy stories to a captivated nationwide audience. Some listeners believe that her ramblings are dangerous and could result in violent consequences, while others are just happy to see so many people turning to radio for their source of entertainment. Her latest tale concerns a dark figure roaming the town and murdering young women with various gruesome weapons. The killer then uses the victim’s blood to reanimate his deceased sister in her beachside grave. After dismembered bodies begin turning up around the local town, Fernanda realises that her stories are somehow connected to identical murderous events that are taking place at exactly the same time as she speaks on air. What connection does she share with the ritualistic psycho and what links the killings to the hapless DJ?
Satanic Attraction looks to have been produced on a fairly decent budget and it’s immediately apparent that director Fauzi Mansur didn’t scrape the barrel for the effects that he decided would make his movie a hit. A few of the murders are extremely gory: meat cleaver through the head, dismemberment, gooey throat lashing’s and a spear pushed through a love making couple a la Friday the 13th II. The killer is seen mainly from behind and dresses in traditional Giallo-like black psycho-garb. Although part of the plot concerns searching for the maniac’s identity, the whodunit aspect is mostly left simmering on the backburner. Even though things stick closely to the typical Giallo/slasher rulebook, Mansur manages to mix in a share of supernatural elements that are both interesting and utterly confusing in equal measures.
As this is a Brazilian production, the original vocal soundtrack is in Portuguese and the producers didn’t opt for subtitles to export the feature to English speaking nations. Instead the movie has been dubbed by a gang of wooden planks, sorry, students from America and the United Kingdom. Obviously it’s impossible to tell what these guys were studying, but one thing’s for certain; they definitely weren’t considering a career in drama. This has to rank along with Samurai Reincarnation as the worst dubbing in cinema history. But that’s not Satanic Attraction’s only problem. The movie is nearly two hours long and a huge majority of this time is spent listening to the aforementioned ‘actors’ warble their way through a poorly translated script, with characters popping up all over the place without any rhyme or reason. The net result is an overlong dreary feature that takes an hour and a half to finally shift into gear as the killer goes on an excellent maniacal spree. When we reach the film’s conclusion, it just gets silly as one twist that was easy to predict gives way to yet another.
Unfortunately, Satanic Attraction is a major let down in every respect. It’s hardly worth tracking down for the excessive gore and all that’s left is a long corridor of confusion and horrendous acting. Put it this way, I think even Jag Mundhra’s Open House, which also incorporates a DJ could be better – seriously!
I’ll stick to watching Brazilian football for now…
Final Girl √√
Nightmare Beach 1988
aka Welcome to Spring Break
Directed by: Harry Kirkpatrick
Starring: Nicholas De Toth, Sarah Buxton, John Saxon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Along with Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount, Joe D’Amato’s Absurd and Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, NightmareBeach is a mostly Italian produced slasher film that avoids its native ‘giallo’ trappings and instead goes all out to be as American as possible. Shot in 1988, one of the most prolific years on the slasher time line, it never came close in terms of popularity to the other titles that I mentioned and in effect is rarely noted by enthusiasts.
As time has gone by, it has become wrapped in something of a mystery as to who directed it. Check the IMDB and you’ll see that is credited to Umberto Lenzi. It was marketed however as the work of an unknown by the name of Harry Kirkpatrick. It is not unusual for European exploitation directors to have a list of aliases as long as a desert highway. Joe D’Amato, Jesus Franco and Bruno Mattei would regularly release films under ‘Americanised’ names to assist with exposure to wider global audiences. (Franco used them mainly because he would make two, sometimes three, features from one production budget). It was believed for many years that this was just Umberto operating under an assumed identity, but he recently said in an interview that Mr Kirkpatrick DID in fact exist and that the majority of this feature was shot by him with Lenzi only assisting in places.
This intriguing insight raised more questions than it did answers. After reading about it, I immediately began to try and find out a bit more about Harry Kirkpatrick. A quick browse on the IMDB brought up three people that have used that name. The first and most popular is Alec Baldwin, who adopted that pseudonym when he was displeased with the way that his directorial début ‘Shortcut to Happiness’ was cut during post production. Baldwin does like to reinvent himself every now and then, but shooting a cheesy slasher movie at the peak of his eighties screen persona prowess? No way – it definitely wasn’t him. Next up, we have Signor Lenzi, the guy who logic dictates would be the most likely ‘Kirkpatrick’. According to his own words though, he was barely involved with the actual development of this picture, so unless he is telling fibs, then we can cross him off from our list. The third and last that appears on the IMDB search is James Justice, who has only two cinema credits and one is as the screenwriter of Nightmare Beach.
So armed with that information, I did some further research and discovered the truth of the matter. Lenzi was hired by his Italian counterparts as the ideal lead for this project. Unfortunately, he had a huge falling out with the US-based producers and threatened to walk off the set after only three weeks. The only friend he had from the American side of the crew was the aforementioned writer of the screenplay, James Justice. Justice used his bond with Lenzi to keep him on set as a consultant and with the film having to be finished quickly, he took over the reins with the experienced Italian by his side. So ‘Harry Kirkpatrick’ turned out to be two people pretty much. Mystery solved.
We launch seeing a guy get strapped in to an electric chair. Eduardo ‘Diablo’ Santor, the leader of a gang of vicious bikers, has been accused of murder by the over zealous Police chief, John Strycher. The victim’s younger sister, Gail, is in the stands to watch him fry. As the executioner prepares to flick the switch, Diablo shouts that he has been set up and swears vengeance from beyond the grave. Sometime after, a killer dressed in motorcycle leathers with a tinted helmet begins stalking the local beach and slaughtering random teenagers. When the friend of one of the fatalities begins searching for clues, the maniac begins to target him and Gail…
This is another title that I reviewed around ten years ago, but wanted to check out again to see what I would make of it now. My post today is not so much an update as a total re-write of my thoughts on the movie, but there’s one thing that I said then that I still agree with: The best way that I can describe Nightmare Beach to you is like an episode of Baywatch with a hooded killer running amok in the background. The action takes place around a beautiful Florida beach and the runtime is packed to the brim with bikinis, bad hair, muscle bound jocks, stupid pranks and metal music. They even manage to chuck in a wet T-shirt contest! The ‘metal music’ that I mentioned isn’t the worst and in fact, it’s arguably the only rock slasher playlist that I can remember, which didn’t make me want to turn down the volume to avoid a headache. The bands (including Rough Cutt) are pretty decent and were obviously captured on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, where glam and sleaze was hot stuff in 1988. To put it short, it’s more Faster Pussycat than Slipknot, which is cool by me.
Beach is a slickly produced feature and shows literally *zero* signs of its Italian heritage. The music by Claudio Simonetti of the Goblin fame is unrecognisable from his previous work, there are no European cast members and the humour and tone tries its hardest to come across as 200% American. Put it this way, if you hadn’t read somewhere that Lenzi and co were involved, you’d never guess that to be the case. Keeping that in mind though, there is one interesting reference that I noticed. A gang of bikers play a huge part in the delivery of the plot and they are called ‘The Demons’. In a not so sly nod to Lamberto Bava’s film of the same title, the troupe have that name embroidered across the back of their leathers using the same logo.
On top of those nuisance motorcyclists who at one point raid a Police station to rescue their leader in a scene obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, we are given a whole host of other characters and our maniac killer. His method of slaughter is electrocution and he works his way through a large number of victims. He rides around on a motorbike that has an ‘electric chair’ contraption on the back, but funnily enough he only uses it once or twice. The effects from Gary Bentley are cheesy as hell, but gory and some of the murders are actually quite brutal. I liked the death of the Police Chief played by John Saxon the best. It is always a pleasure to see him turning up in slasher movies and he has done a fair few. I have liked him since I saw him in Enter the Dragon when I was a young child, but always thought that he was wasted in titles like Baby Doll Murders, Beyond Evil and Blood Salvage. It could be argued though that he was a fan of low brow horror, because he did in fact direct Zombie Death House from 1987.
With so much going on, you won’t fall asleep whilst watching Beach, but in honesty it does feel somewhat disjointed. I’m not sure if this was due to the problems behind the scenes? The characters are well written and with a cast that includes Lance LeGault, Michael Parks AND John Saxon, you’d think that the dramatics wouldn’t be an issue. The effort from everyone seems to be somewhat lacklustre though and the runtime is a bit limp because of it. The two leads have absolutely no chemistry and Nichols De Toth is useless as the hero. It’s worth noting that he doesn’t drink, rejects advances from a hot busty eighteen-year-old who throws herself at him and doesn’t really do anything throughout the whole film. A boring actor playing a boring persona. 10/10 to the casting team then! I much preferred his friend, Ronnie and his constant quips about nailing hotties and being on ‘beaver patrol’. He died far too early in the story and even if, admittedly, it was a pretty cool gore scene, his presence was missed when we were left with only Señor Tedium carrying the rest of the story.
There’s not really much suspense in any of the killings, the mystery is far too easy to figure out and it also makes literally no sense when it is revealed. With that said though, Nightmare Beach is a fun slasher flick with eighties action as bright as the photography of the sun kissed sandy beaches. It falls someway short of being a good addition to the category, but it’s worth watching all the same. Killers in motorcycle helmets have been here since Strip Nude for your Killer and I personally quite like the guise. Terror Eyes from 1981 also used it, but my favourite would have to be the wonderful duck-taped goofball maniac from Nail Gun Massacre. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.
Something of an overlooked entry, I say give it a shot.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
aka Corpse Mania
Directed by: Kuei Chich-Lung
Starring: Piao Chin, Yung Chung, Ni Tien
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I can tell by the messages I receive that you peeps who read my site are extremely knowledgeable on all things stalk and slash. You are well aware that 1981 was the rock and roll year of the category, but over the next few weeks, I’m going to feature a couple of films here on a SLASH above that you may not yet be aware of. No, really.
First up with have Si Yiu, a Giallo/Slasher hybrid that chucks in only a few of the stereotypical trademarks of eighties Chinese horror. It’s from the legendary Shaw Brothers studio, which was basically the Warner Bros. or Paramount of Hong Kong movies. (They even copied the Warner logo!). From their distribution plant in Singapore, they supplied countless classic Martial Arts and Action features and continue to be involved in the broadcast industry to this day.
Director Kuei Chih-Hung worked exclusively for Shaw and left a legacy of exploitation films before his retirement in 1984, including a few horror titles throughout the early eighties. He co-directed the brilliant Fen Nu Qing Nian with Chang Cheh, a movie, which quite obviously influenced the later work and successes of John Woo. His horror output was fairly diverse, but there’s little doubt that Si Yiu is by far the most superior of his terror filmography; both technically and in terms of logical and Westernised plotting.
After a corpse is discovered in a house on a quiet street, the Police become concerned when the autopsy reports signs of necrophilia. As more bodies turn up, it seems a serial killer is on the loose. The Inspector is sure that he has his prime suspect in a husband who had been previously imprisoned for abuse of a corpse. His ability to avoid detection however is proving too much for the force and it’s left up to one man to track him down.
It is not unusual to see sequences and soundtracks from American Cinema cut, copied and reproduced in Chinese flicks from this period. 1982′s Devil Returns has become notorious for literally duplicating numerous scenes from John Carpenter’s Halloween and if it had been released globally, I’m sure Moustspha Akkad would have sued. Kuei seems confident enough in his own ability not to tread that path and Si Yiu has some stand out moments of credibility. Hsin Yeh Li’s cinematography is absolutely breathtaking throughout and the use of pulsing crane shots mixed with superb lighting creates some decent tension and stylish visuals. The extravagant blend of rich colours and signature environments help to make the screen come alive and the action flows at times like an elegant carrack upon the ocean.
Whilst there’s no doubting that the Giallos of Argento and Bava seem to be the key sources of inspiration, Kuei also chucks in a wealth of slasher movie references. There’s a rehash of the age-old ‘killer in the backseat’ chestnut and the psycho mimics Michael Myers movement to superb effect. There’s a neat slo-mo stalking sequence, where the darkness of a secluded alley is brightened only by the odd street lamp reflecting from the maniac’s huge kitchen knife and one exceptional jump scare is built from a highly tense set piece that sees him hide underneath a victim’s bed. Whilst Kuei films have always incorporated lush photography, Si Yiu feels like the fruition of all that hard work. Some parts, like the one where a character powders down the corpse of his wife before committing the ‘evil deed’, are bordering on cinematic abstract art.
As this is a Kuei joint, you would be right to expect a lava of goo; and in this aspect, the film doesn’t disappoint. Paint red crimson is sprayed everywhere on numerous occasions and there’s a cool decapitation, a brutal stabbing, a slashed throat and a graphic image of a hugely disfigured face. If you think that sounds fairly outrageous, then watch out for the corpse shots that show two naked women covered in bundles of worms and wiggling maggots. I am guessing that they used dummies for these effects, but if they were actually performed by stunt women, then all due respect. It made my skin crawl just looking at it. They even find the space for a brief kung-fu fight, just to add a flash of self-culture awareness.
Because we are knee-deep in Giallo territory, we would be hoping for a good puzzle with numerous red-herrings. Well, the conclusion is very well staged and totally unexpected and refreshingly not in an audience cheating way. You must keep in mind that this is a Chinese version of an Italian sub-genre and not only that, but it’s from one of the most daring (dare I say maddest) director’s of the entire Shaw catalogue. This means that it doesn’t strictly play by the rules and I guess whether you enjoy it as much as I did will mostly come down to your experience and in effect acceptance of Hong Kong cinema.
I totally loved watching Si Yiu and it turned out to be even better than I had expected. Even fans of cheese will get a kick as the dialogue in some places is absolutely hilarious. My Mandarin is only very basic, but I knew that at times, what I was seeing in the subtitles was not what they were saying on the screen. I also liked the fact that the Inspector’s ‘official car’ was a London Black Taxi! It all adds up to a rarely mentioned slasher from the peak year that should be sitting on your shelf. My VCD was hard to come by, however I understand that it was released on DVD quite recently, so shouldn’t be too tough to track down.
Killer Guise: √√√
The Icebox Murders 1982
Directed by: Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo
Starring: Jack Taylor, Mira Miller, Manuela Jiménez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
A lot of people assume that the slasher boom of the early eighties was mainly populated by the American and Canadian movie industries. Although in terms of major investment and quality of output they’re right, some of the craziest examples of low budget fun were also found in the most unlikely of places. ‘The slasher plague’ was a global cinematic epidemic and if you search hard enough, then you get to uncover titles such as Fen Ku Lou that were really unique and interesting.
Spain’s contribution to the genre is often overlooked, even though we were equally responsible for our fair share of output. The first offering to grace the category from España was Jesus Franco’s Bloody Moon, which found notoriety after achieving the cult status in the United Kingdom of joining the infamous ‘video nasty’ list. Hot on the heels of Franco’s effort was the equally bloody Pieces and the decade closed with Jose Larraz’s fairly decent slasher/mystery, Edge of the Axe. However, there was a film from that ever so fruitful period that slipped by completely unnoticed by completists and critics alike, which was called, El Cepo or The Icebox Murders.
It originally secured a small release on the long defunct Mogul label, which also gave life to slashers Satan’s Blade and Lucifer aka Goodnight Godbless. It never found an audience outside its country of origin and like so many of its less fortunate cousins from around that time, it soon vanished from existence. Eventually it became one of those rare gems that sell for big bucks to die hard collectors on Internet video-search agencies and eBay, due to their impossible to locate status.
Admittedly, the fact that it had become so obscure only helped to evoke my curiosities about the picture and an impressive and intriguing title also led me to begin a mission to track down a copy. After months of hearing absolutely nothing, finally, I stumbled across a VHS on show in a charity shop window (!) and simply couldn’t believe my luck. I picked it up and immediately headed home. On the way, I gazed longingly at the cover and hoped to discover if my patience could be rewarded with the bonus that I’d found an all but forgotten slasher masterpiece.
They say that when a film disappears, it’s never without good reason and they’re usually right with that assumption. But this time I kept my opinions open, because every now and then I’ve uncovered a rarity that’s turned out to be a whole lot more than I ever expected. The audacious cover artwork and blurb that offered so much only heightened my spirits, so I slipped the cassette into my much-overused VCR and cracked open a chilled bottle of Smirnoff for the journey.
Despite the fact this was a Spanish production, the movie’s actually set in Paris, France. It kicks off with a girl running down a dimly lighted corridor. She’s fleeing a slow stalking camera shy maniac, who eventually catches her and puts his hands around her throat. She screams and then the shot ends. Cut to a news report, which helpfully informs us that she’s the sixth woman to be butchered by this unseen menace and it looks as if he has a taste for slashing beautiful young ladies and leaving their corpses in public places.
Next up we meet a prostitute called Chantelle who boasts that she’s found a goldmine in a man who buys her presents without wanting anything in return. If this generous gent (played by cult favourite Jack Taylor no less) isn’t an over-zealous advertisement for a could-be psychotic killer, then I don’t know what on earth is. He walks with a cane and his dress sense amounts to a pitch-black suit with dark glasses. This makes him look like a peculiar cross between a secret service agent and an especially morbid undertaker. The hooker pops round to his apartment and he informs her that he doesn’t like the way she dresses so provocatively. He tells her that she should give up that ‘ridiculous profession’ and he wants to whisk her away somewhere and ‘help regain her youth’ (Awesome chat-up line!). She agrees to the vacation as long as she can bring her friend Sylvia along. That night, Sylvia has a dream that ‘the undertaker’ has some murderous ambitions up his sleeve and the next day she remains wary of his true intentions. Soon we learn that he isn’t actually a grave-filler or secret agent by trade, but he’s actually a doctor – unfortunately.
They arrive at a mansion that’s conveniently secluded miles from civilisation and we meet another suspicious character that shares the spacious abode. John the twitchy caretaker takes an interest in the young ladies’ appearance, but is warned off by the solemn doctor, who beats him with the aforementioned cane. The peaceful serenity gets a bit depressing for the spirited girls and they head out to the local discotheque, where we meet yet another possible suspect – a smooth talking local that tries to engage in flirtatious conversation with the moody Sylvia. When they return later that night, she sees two silhouettes carrying a suspicious shape into the icebox. Could it have been a dead body? Do fish swim in the sea? Not a lot happens from here on out, it’s mostly just a whole heap of talking, which is painfully dragged out and mind-numbingly boring.
Eventually things liven up a little, when poor old John gets gunned down by an unseen sniper and Sylvie spies ‘someone’ with a decapitated head in his tool shed. Of course no one believes what she saw, and on inspection, it mysteriously disappears. Some time later, Chantelle discovers a collection of human trophies in a cleverly concealed cupboard. This results in the killer having to reveal himself and the traditional fight for survival ensues…
Right that’s it. Finally I’ve learned my lesson. Never again will I be enticed by a movie that has (rightly) been banished from wise-minded collections, thinking that it was just an unfortunate twist of fate. The Icebox Murders is as rancid as a geriatric sewer rat – and just as stinky! Even the title and the tag-lines are outright lies to trick unsuspecting victims (such as myself) into believing this could be an impressive premise for a slasher flick. The cover says that a maniac murders women and stores their bodies in a freezer. Total BS!! There’s just two on-screen killings in the whole film and the only corpse that’s found in the said icebox belongs to an animal – no fair! This isn’t even really a slasher flick, seeing how the second murder is committed with a gun, so I urge all genre completists not to bother adding this one to your collection. There’s truly nothing here that would warrant even the most adamant fan to hunt it down, no matter how much you want to own every genre piece that was ever transferred to cheap videotape.
Let’s get this straight, now. This isn’t just a painfully long and irritating epic of nonsensical dribble with the oomph of a squished slug. Oh no, it’s flawed in just about every respect that a motion picture possibly can be. It looks to have been edited by someone using a seven year old’s ‘my first stationary’ kit, the theme-music plays randomly, with no apparent acknowledgement of the scene it’s accompanying and it boasts the directorial flair of gibbon holding an iPhone. By far the worst aspect of this monstrosity is the abysmal quality of the acting, which is best described as the dramatic equivalent of a Desperate Housewives blooper real. – Yes it is that bad. They could have packed the whole story in about twenty-five minutes of screen-time, which probably would have made a fairly watchable short. But instead it drags on – like a two-legged camel – for an hour and a half, as we watch a pair of marginally interesting females continually express their distaste at being cooped up in a mansion that they could have left whenever they felt the need to. Sadly, they were too dumb to work that out, so we have to look on as they (slowly) come to the conclusion that they’re heading for a slashing if they hang around the cane-clenching weirdo for much longer.
In fairness, it’s actually meant to be more of a character study or a slow paced Giallo and I guess it’s not really the fault of the film-makers that Mogul packaged it as a piece of slasher trash. It’s Spanish title is El Cepo or ‘The Trap’, so who knows where the ‘The Icebox Murders’ came from? It was, most likely, an ambitious marketing ploy from the distributor and an attempt to give the film more of an allure aimed towards the stalk and slash audience. In my review of The Ghostkeeper, I mentioned that the UK box art had absolutely *nothing* to do with the film inside and Mogul have done a similar thing here. They’ve taken everything that would appeal to the slasher genre and put it on the cover of a title that’s basically the equivalent of a boring and poorly produced TV movie. Even the music sucks. Another interesting thing is that I saw a VHS copy of this for sale on Amazon for $180 and a couple of days later it was gone. $180 for this is really quite an amazing price. If it’s become a collectors item, then maybe it makes sense, but if it was bought by someone hoping to find a forgotten splatter classic. Well, I would pay to see their reaction when the final credits rolled. It would have been a darn site more dramatic than anything that happened here.
As I’ve already said, this is not much of a slasher movie, which begs the question, why did I post a review of it? Well due to the aforementioned misguided marketing, chances are most collectors have already come across it or will do soon. I wanted to stop you from making the mistake that I and am sure many others did. Little remains to be said, except steer well clear of this misinterpreted, misguided and mis-advertised waste of a production budget. There’s really only very little to be salvaged from this sabotaged slasher, unless you enjoy watching how terrible Spanish fashion sense was in the early eighties. I was born and lived there back then, so I could smirk, but I doubt that any of you will. Especially not for $180…
I cannot warn you harshly enough about the dangers of mis-judging what lurks within the cover of The Icebox Murders. It’s as unforgiving as an ex-partner that you ruthlessly dumped – and you’ll want to avoid it just the same! Be afraid… Be very afraid…
Final Girl: √
Midnight Killer 1986
aka Morirai a Mezzanote aka You’ll Die at Midnight
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Valeria D’Obici, Paolo Malco, Eliana Miglio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In any industry, I think it’s always hard to follow in the footsteps of your father. It must be especially tough though if he’s an outright legend that’s credited with not only defining a genre, but also launching one. No matter how well you and your dad get along, there’s always going to be a little bit of friendly rivalry. Plus you can virtually guarantee that critics will always compare the works of a senior with that of his son. That’s why it must’ve been hard for Lamberto Bava to escape the consistent comparisons and make his own name in Italian cinema. But Morirai a Mezzanotte (Midnight Killer) goes some way to showing that talent certainly ran thickly through the genes of the Bava family. It’s just a shame that Mario was not alive to witness his son’s worthy addition to the category that he created.
Now in all honesty, despite being extremely knowledgeable about the slasher cycle, I must admit that I have spent very little time researching the Giallo. But I have still thoroughly enjoyed the likes of Mystery in Venice, Eyes without a Face, Too Beautiful to Die and Blood and Black Lace. It wasn’t until after I’d been impressed with this rarity that I began tracking down other genre classics. So you could say that Midnight Killer was something of a turning point for me…
It opens with a middle-aged woman shopping for some lingerie in a bustling town centre. Her husband Nicola (Leonardo Treviglio) sees her walking the street and begins following her. He buys a flower and waits outside the shop to give her a charming surprise. He certainly didn’t expect to see another man enter the changing rooms and he is even more shocked when they sneak out of the rear exit and shoot off in the mysterious stranger’s car. Later that night when she finally returns, the couple has a violent argument, which ends with Nicola storming out of the flat. After he has left, a black gloved assailant creeps into the apartment and brutally murders the promiscuous female with an ice pick. Inspector Pierro Teri (the always intriguing Paolo Malco) immediately suspects Nicola as the killer and so he enlists a psychological profiler named Anna Berardi (Valeria D’Obici) to help him crack the case. Berardi is a good friend to the Detective and she also teaches his daughter’s college course. She doesn’t think that Nicola is the guilty party, instead she suspects Franco Trebo – a serial murderer that was supposedly killed in a fire eight years earlier. As the bodies begin piling up round the city, it’s looking more and more like Trebo is back from the grave. The most worrying thing for inspector Terzi is that this bizarre maniac seems to have a viscous taste for his youngest daughter Carol (Lara Wendel). Will he be able to stop the ruthless psychopath before he tracks down his daughter?
Many critics have been disappointed with Lamberto Bava’s directorial work since his début feature (Macabre) pretty much flopped on release in 1980. But I believe that it’s only because they always compare his filmography to the seminal works of his father. It’s a shame that this murder mystery was not distributed to a much wider audience, as it is a little seen gem that deserves recognition. This is mainly due to a fantastic score from Brazilian composer Claudio Simonetti (of the Goblin fame) and some truly chilling set locations. The killer stalks his way through a neglected theatre, a sinister museum and a vacant hotel with relish and the atmosphere-engrossing musical accompaniment helps to create some decent suspense. He also looks extremely menacing in a rubber facemask and his victims usually suffer at the hands of a stylishly directed set piece. The acting is fairly good from the leads and credit to Bava for enlisting Lucio Fulci-favorite Paolo Malco to join a comfortable cast. Many previous Italian Giallos (Eyes without a Face/Massacre) have suffered from inept and poorly translated English voice-overs. Fortunately that’s not the case with Midnight Killer, which was dubbed with considerable thought for non-Italian viewers.
Fans of gore cinema may be disappointed at the minuscule amount of the old gooey stuff. Also the lack of any nudity will probably switch off exploitation buffs that have been spoilt over the years by the likes of The New York Ripper. The mystery-aspect is not as complex and intelligent as many of its genre forefathers have proved to be either, which may cause bedroom Agatha Christies to search in the opposite direction. But still this is a refreshing and fairly absorbing entry that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I do agree that Lamberto is a much better screenwriter than he is a director, but Midnight Killer is good enough to make his father proud if he had been alive to see it. Recommended…
Final Girl: √√√
aka Sound Stage Massacre aka Bloody Bird aka Aquarius aka Deliria
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Easily one of the best slasher movies of all time, Stagefright is as close as you will get to a perfect juxtaposition of the trappings that had created their own specific sub-genre throughout the seventies and eighties.
Born in 1957, seventeen-years after his idol Dario Argento, Michele Soavi experienced first-hand the golden period of the Italian Giallo in theatres. His love for these thrillers made-up his mind to move away from his mother and stepfather’s profession of art and he quickly developed a passion for cinema. After a chance meeting with the director who had inspired him, Soavi’s ambition impressed Argento so much that he took him under his wing and gave him the opportunity to be his second assistant on the 1982 hit, Tenebrae. Lamberto Bava, who had also worked on that picture and shared the belief in Michele’s ability, went on to hire him for a similar position on A Blade in the Dark. For the next few years, he continued to build his knowledge by accepting roles either within crews or as an actor until he finally had the confidence and the opportunity to shoot his own feature.
By 1987, the slasher genre, which was unarguably an Americanisation of the Giallo, was no longer only an enemy of critics but a failure with audiences too. This was the case almost everywhere except for Southern Europe, where there remained strong interest and popularity at box offices and on VHS. Soavi had been expected to shoot his début in the style that he had not only grown up with, but worked upon; however he surprisingly chose to create an effort that owed much more to Halloween than it did Blood and Black Lace. Stagefright delivers no mystery as to who is the movie’s antagonist and instead we are given a real bogeyman that much like Michael Myers has no motive outside of a lust for violent murder. The thing that perhaps separates this from almost all of its colleagues from that period is that it’s shot with the panache found more predominantly in European efforts and is by far the best crossbreed of those visions. The filmmaking heritage of the man in the hot seat means that the combination feels natural and takes the best of both methodologies to make an entry that succeeds on every possible level.
A group of amateur stage actors are rehearsing for a production of an ambitious musical. The director is frustrated that his cast are so far behind and one of the financiers is getting hot under the collar with the lacklustre effort from the people he has hired. That all changes however when one of them turns up dead in the car park outside; brutally murdered. The Police arrive and it is believed that the maniac has taken off into the night. After heavy persuasion, the actors decide to stay and continue with their preparation knowing that the events will bring people from far and wide with morbid curiosities. Before long there’s another murder and they realise that they are now locked in the theatre with the killer. How will they survive until morning?
Being that I have worked in sales for over ten years, I have been on many courses and learned from lots of different professionals. I have picked up a great deal of advice, but one of the most prominent messages that has stayed with me is ‘treat everyday like it’s your first.’ When you initially join a new company, you are brimming with motivation to prove that your boss has made the right decision in hiring you. You don’t take five minutes to check Twitter at lunch time and you can’t stop typing and hitting the phone. Soavi, as a first time director shows that he has that same bug for exuberance and every shot feels like it comes from a filmmaker who is absolutely brimming with flair and innovation.
Stagefright is a wonderful blend of stylish imagery and energetic ideas and it is this abundance of mastery that makes it an adept example of bringing the best out of an overused formula. Due to some well-thought out scripting, intriguing personas and witty dialogue, you can enjoy the moments when the killer is not on-screen almost as much as when he begins stalking. There are various notions explored that viewers can relate to, including each of the characters being broke and desperate for money, especially the young couple who discover that they are about to be parents for the first time. David Brandon is absolutely outstanding as the vainglorious and cowardly director and the players are split between those you immediately dislike and the few that you hope will survive. Mary Sellers’ Laurel is a great demonstration of a horrible personality and even with her final breath she illustrates a trait of selfishness that you will come across only too often in reality. I can’t think of any scene more symbolic than when the director mistakes the real psychopath for an actor that sports the same disguise and eggs him on during a rehearsal with lines like, ‘Go on, kill her!’ He then realises far too late that he has just rooted for the slaughter of one of his colleagues. This results in another great twist when the same guy comes across what he thinks to be the nut job sitting in the attic. I won’t ruin what happens, but the film is riddled with a large amount of false shocks and rule bending.
In fact it’s the knowledge of the genre’s typical values that allows Soavi to experiment so wildly. Even though this is by no means a parody, it does enjoy realigning your expectations and catching you out with its off-key hop-scotching through what you think that you know will happen. I like the way that the victims, upon realising that they are locked in with the psycho, decide to grab some weapons and fight back. The screenplay handles all the emotions you can imagine that there would be, including paranoia, fear, anxiety and panic. Even though some bonds are built between the characters, they are quickly broken if they find a chance to push the person next to them ahead in the queue to be slaughtered and the final girl only gets that opportunity because she is knocked unconscious by one of the people who is fleeing alongside her. This flaw in human nature seems to be something that Soavi has much interest in and there’s another sequence where the survivors begin violently shaking a girl who is bleeding to death because she knows where a hidden key is located. It’s an intriguing comment on how high some people value themselves over the lives of others. There are few heroes here, which to be fair seems much closer to the true nature of mankind than Hollywood would like us to believe.
The photography is marvellous and is only bettered by a great use of sound. It is more than a gimick that the killer is stalking a musical, because Soavi attempts successfully to use his fantastic accompaniment to assist in the delivery of the change of moods from scene to scene. Included are some smart opportunities for suspense and a handful of very good jump scares and the owl mask starts out almost comically, but seems to get creepier as it gets more splattered with blood. I can’t think of many better postcards of the slasher craze than the shot of the killer listening to classical music in an armchair on the stage with a black cat on his lap and the corpses of all of his prey lying around him like trophies. It’s so good that it’s almost artistic. The film’s filled with enough blood to satisfy gore fans and the killer works with almost all the most notorious tools including, an axe (Friday the 13th), chainsaw (Pieces), drill, (Pranks), pick-axe (My Bloody Valentine) and every psychopath’s favourite, the bread-knife (Almost every slasher movie ever). Upon consideration, Stagefright could well be just a collection of elements from the following features: Whodunit? (the sleazy producer), House of Death (gut ripping scene), Halloween (the escape), Tenebrae (the ‘look who’s behind you’ trick) and Demons (the location). Then again, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of Michele Soavi’s stalk and slash effort. Although he would never be anywhere near as prolific as his contemporaries, he kept the quality levels high throughout his following filmography. This is by far my favourite of his work and I believe that you will rarely find a better genre movie. It has everything from moments of extreme creepiness (like when the killer and final girl come face to face for the first time) to hilarious dialogue (some of the one-liners are electric). Put it this way, style like this doesn’t come around very often. Not very often at all…
Final Girl: √√√
Los Ojos De Julia 2010
Directed by: Guillem Morales
Starring: Belén Rueda, Pablo Derqui, Lluis Homar
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I had been long anticipating the release of this one, as on paper it looked like exactly my kind of flick. Shot in my home country, by a director that had received rave reviews for his thriller, The Uninvited Guest and with links to Guillermo Del Toro, it sounded like a combination of the highest quality. Spain has enjoyed glorious recognition recently for our cinematic conquests under the likes of Almodovar, but I have always felt that we have been authentic with our style of drama, even when it was confined within Spanish borders. Although I’d be wrong to say never, I must admit that there’s rarely a middle-ground with our unique methodology. It’s either Oscar worthy or very, very bad.
Of late, I don’t read reviews before seeing a film myself, because I like to have a mind completely free of pre-judgement. Whilst waiting for my DVD to arrive however I had a quick browse at a write-up that started with, ‘Spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (he’s Mexican), returns to the horror genre with his next script (he didn’t write it). Oh the joys of researching your subject! After that, I read no more. Del Toro is at the stage now that he is so successful that anything related to him builds excitement. His work is deserving of such accolades, but it could be either a good or bad thing for an up and coming director like Guillem Morales. He would have to pull out all the stops to deal with the gargantuan expectations set by that reference and he may struggle to get the recognition that he could deserve in the aftermath.
After Julia’s twin-sister Sara commits suicide in her basement, her sibling suspects that she was actually murdered. They shared a degenerative problem in their eyes, which means that at any moment, they can lose sight if put under extreme stress. The Police believe that Sara had lost the will to live when an operation failed and therefore she had to come to terms with the fact that she could never see again. Julia decides to explore her sister’s private life, because she can’t shake the belief that a more sinister force is at work. She soon begins being stalked by an unseen menace and decides to prove alone that she is right before she completely loses her vision.
Ok so let’s clear up a few home truths. This is not a slasher movie per-say; it’s a thriller that utilises elements from the genre. Morales is gleefully aware of the trappings and proves it by including obvious references, such as a heavy-breath POV shot and some typical use of shadow play. Like most Spanish films, the plot here is brought alive through strong realistic performances and the ability to place the viewer in the shoes of the protagonist. Belén Rueda is superb as the ‘final girl’ and her portrayal is honest, heartfelt, colourful and note-perfect. The film touches on a juxtaposition of emotions from cheesy romance to teeth-clenching suspense and the simple transition is all down to the pedigree of the actors.
What makes up an adept Giallo? Well for me, it’s a compelling mystery, a dose of suspense and most importantly some panache in the photography. Los Ojos de Julia ticks all those boxes and excels in its capability to generate momentum. There are some great set pieces here, including a chase sequence through a corridor that makes good use of its lighting and there’s a terrifically creepy moment in a room filled with blind people that is startling in its delivery. Morales shows the flair of a young Argento and the technical knowhow to pull it off. Seasoned veterans may work out the mystery (I did), but there’s enough red-herrings to keep you transfixed.
At 105 minutes, this is no quickie, but it makes up for its possessiveness with runtime, by keeping you on the edge of your seat. I found it easy to keep track of the characters and I enjoyed the multiple moments of tenderness that break-up the suspense. Where Ojos does struggle is with its overuse of cliché in the final third. After such a great opening, the script seems to run up blind alleys quite a bit and an intelligent heroine is reduced to the usual run upstairs instead of out of the door antics. It has the cheesiest ending that I remember for some time, but for an old romantic like me, it was totally acceptable. The lack of a humongous body count (six killings) may be a deterrent for my regular readers, but this does include enough slasher moments in its wallet so that you won’t be that disappointed. There’s a couple of macabre killings and an unwatchable scene involving a syringe and an eyeball.
Los Ojos De Julia is a stylish modern return to the Giallo with a couple of decent murders and some neat suspense. It utilises some of the best parts of Spanish drama to keep the plot rolling and chucks in some nice sequences, camera tricks and even a few scares. It’s not perfect by any means, but as good as any of the Hollywood thrillers that have been chucked out recently. If anything, take a gander for the brilliant performance from the gorgeous Belén Rueda.
Kick the slasher genre as much as you want, but this proves that there’s still life in the old dog yet.
Final Girl: √√√√√
LA RESIDENCIA 1969
aka The Boarding School aka The Finishing School
Directed by: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Starring: Lilli Palmer, Christina Galbó, Maribel Martín
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I said in my review of Al Filo Del Hacha that Spain has an average track record with slasher movies and I still see no evidence to dispute that fact. However when it comes to the Spanish Giallo, I have a completely different opinion. Whilst we don’t boast a catalogue to rival that of our Latin contemporaries over in Italy, La Residencia is a seminal picture, which Dario Argento himself called an inspirational piece of film-making.
There are numerous reasons as to why the film is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the classic ‘Sei Donne Per L’Assassino’ or other such genre giants. The lack of any significant promotion outside its country of origin certainly didn’t help and although it isn’t particularly gory as opposed to some of the more notorious Giallos, most prints of that time excluded the stylish greenhouse killing. This is the same in principle as removing the clocks from Salvador Dali’s ‘La Persistencia de la Memoria’ and expecting it to still have the same artistic quality. I just couldn’t imagine the film without it. They also heavily edited out the subtle lesbian tone that is ripe in the full cut, which means that there are various incomplete copies floating around in different regions.
A young woman joins a French boarding school for problematic girls and almost immediately begins to feel uncomfortable with the sinister head-mistress and the aggressive dictation of the elder students. At first it seems that the girls are running away one by one during the night in order to escape the disciplinarian modus operandi of the sinister staff, but soon it becomes apparent that the girls are falling prey to a vicious killer.
Despite La Residencia being over forty-years old, the film is a masterpiece of skilful direction and extreme suspense. Here, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador is not so much the director as he is an artist and he succeeds in rolling the viewer up in his optical illusion throughout the entire runtime. If his movie is an abstract painting, then the ‘greenhouse killing’ that I mentioned earlier is its focal point. It plays on the screen like a vivid nightmare and Waldo de los Río’s wonderful musical accompaniment achieves a cinematic portrait that has rarely been accomplished to such an exemplary level. Like all good artists, we get the impression that the final print had been viewed countless times by Serrador as he planned it in his mind prior to production and he must have been satisfied to have translated his vision onto the screen so successfully.
Accusations of exploitation are entirely unfounded as the movie never relies on gratuitous shock tactics. Despite an almost entirely female-populated cast there is no real nudity on display and the film is not misogynistic at all. In fact it is quite the opposite as the female characters have the more dominant personalities of the script. The performances are superb from a mixed European cast of stars and Christina Galbó Sánchez’s portrayal is both convincing and highly emotional.
Another plus point is how the film chews up the rule-book and throws it straight out of the window to achieve a totally non-stereotypical synopsis. The revelation of the killer’s identity is hardly shocking, but the motive clearly is and like the more modern films of Almodovar, La Residencia doesn’t escape your mind after the credits have rolled. Almost half a decade after, this conclusion feels somewhat old-hat, especially as it has been repeated many times throughout the Giallo and slasher genres of later years. But if you keep in mind that this was released way back in 1969, it proves that the film was somewhat ahead of its time.
Gore hounds may find the long excursions into character development rather disappointing and it’s true that the maniac killer is not the key point in the plot for the entire ninety-nine minutes. But with that said, when he does strike, the slaughters are excellently conveyed and the film’s approachable characters and Samson-like-in-strength performances make this something of a cinematic treat. It’s nice to see a movie where every shot has been painstakingly planned to perfection and the net-result is a visual masterpiece that excels from start to finish.
La Residencia was the first Spanish movie to be shot in English and it benefits from a strong and intelligent script. It has certainly improved with age and initial Spanish reviews upon its launch were mixed at best. But it’s undeniable now that this is an artistic and wholly recommended slice of cinema memorabilia and it deserves a higher seeding amongst the Giallo elite. It left its mark on horror through the countless features it inspired, which include the excellent ‘Suspiria’ and Juan Piquor’s ‘Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche’
Final Girl √√√√√
aka I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, Torso: Violencia Carnal
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Angela Covello
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, my motivation was to focus solely on the slasher genre and not branch too far outside the category. But with the differences being so slim between those and the Italian and Spanish Gialli flicks, I decided to post reviews of the titles that were most definitely inspiration to the style of cinema that we love today.
Being that I was first captivated by Halloween, I never paid attention so much to the European exploitation features that laid the groundwork for Carpenter’s classic. As I have aged and become accustomed to a higher level of filmmaking, I have grown keener on their classy style and twisted mysteries. Sergio Martino’s Torso or I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale is one of a number of my all time favourite Giallos and holds up superbly with the features released almost forty-years after.
A maniac in a white mask has been killing girls and mutilating their bodies around a college campus. After one murder, he leaves a scarf at the scene of the crime and Dani swears that she has seen it before. Soon after, she begins receiving anonymous and threatening phone calls, so she flees with four young beautiful girlfriends to the safety of an isolated country villa. Little do they know the crazed loon has followed them to the retreat and they’re next on his list.
Watching Torso is like seeing a making of feature for the entire slasher category. There is so much that was most definitely borrowed from this for the template and it is done here with such panache that you have rarely seen it bettered. The masked assailant stalking a love-making couple in a parked car has been conveyed a billion times since, but there’s something crisp about its authenticity here. The killer turning off the lights so that he could trap his victim launched a great set piece and the murder is bloody and ferocious. There’s also a morally ‘purer’ final girl who is left alone to fend off the killer and the have sex and die rule is in full effect here too.
Martino directs with a wonderful flamboyance and his lens soaks up the gorgeous backgrounds and architecture with a wide overflowing frame. Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography is adept and skilful, utilising lush tracking shots that glide across the screen like a ballet dancer. The forest stalking sequence is tightly crafted and full of suspense and the off- beat scoring helps to build the victim’s desolation. The smart finale shows the mastery of a tension maestro as Jane goes downstairs to find the corpses of her friends. The killer is unaware that she is in the house, so she has to look on in complete silence as he dismembers her buddies with a hacksaw. Martino takes time to develop a pulsating atmosphere and it builds up to a perfect closing scene. The script is strong enough to keep you guessing and there is a good number of red herrings so that you won’t have an idea until later in the runtime. There’s also a nice dose of the macabre as the killings are intercut with a creepy doll very similar to the one used a decade later in Curtains.
As you can imagine by the translation from the original Italian title, “Bodies bear traces of Carnal Violence” (in Spain it is called Torso: Carnal Violence), it has a nice load of gore in its uncut version. There’s throat slashings, an eye gouging, mutilation and one guy gets his head squished by a car! The effects look quite poor compared to more recent splatter, but during the times of extreme censorship that would follow, they are gruesome enough to get it cut in most countries.
I mentioned the eye-catching locations, but even they do not come close to the looks of the cast. I must mention the voluptuous Patrizia Adiutori whose mystique green eyes give her an outstanding beauty. It’s nicely acted from a strong European cast and there’s also mounds of nudity for T&A fans
I am very fortunate to have some great readers and I love speaking with you all by email. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of you prefer the more modern slashers, maybe that’s because at 30, I’m a tad older than you now. I urge you all however to check out Torso as it is one of the best thrillers available and was definitely inspiration for Carpenter’s Halloween.
Sergio Martino may not have the reputation of Argento, but this is a stand out classic and should be seen and seen again. It is sleazy, but has the class to get away with it
Final Girl: √√√