Eyes Without a Face 1994
aka Madness aka Gli Occhi Dentro
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Starring: Monica Seller, Gabriele Gori, Emy Valentino
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If you look at the majority of films from the Italian exploitation directors of the late seventies and early eighties, many of them worked within similar – if not identical genres. After Fulci’s ‘Zombi 2′ was a major box office success, Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City), Marino Girolami (Zombie Holocaust), Andrea Bianchi (Burial Ground) Claudio Fragasso (After Death) and Joe D’Amato (Erotic Nights of the Living Dead) all jumped on the bandwagon to helm their own gory genre-additions. The same could be said about Ruggero Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust, which led to the production of movies like Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi), Mountain of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino) and Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse.
But still by far their biggest contribution to Horror cinema has been the Giallo, which to those that don’t know is basically the Italian version of the American slasher movie – only the Giallo came first. You can blame Mario Bava. His 1963 and 1964 murder/mysteries (The Girl who knew too much and Blood and Black Lace) are in fact credited with launching the cycle. If you check through the filmography of any of the Euro exploitation titans that were working throughout the years that followed, then you’re sure to find a Giallo lurking in there somewhere.
It came as a surprise then when I learned that Bruno Mattei (arguably the sleaziest filmmaker of them all – and the first to jump on the bandwagon) – hadn’t blessed the genre with his own contribution right up until 1994. Now I know that the Italians kept working with the slasher/Giallo category long after the Americans had realised that the cash-cow had been well and truly milked – but by 1994, pretty much the entire world was aware that masked killers were truly a thing of the past. Perhaps that explains why Eyes without a Face or Madness (Gli Occhi Dentro – surprisingly NOT a remake of George Franju’s classic of the same name) has become such a tough little cookie to track down. Even the copy that I eventually found was coverless, subtitled in French and was almost unwatchable due to the poor quality.
Artist Giovanni Dai (Monica Seller) comes under fire from the media when a masked maniac begins emulating the murders committed by the lead character in her comic Doctor Dark. It tells the tale of a murderous schizophrenic that spends his days working as a Pagan professor, but spends his nights murdering babysitters. The assassin then removes his victim’s eyeballs and places broken glass over the bleeding sockets. Before long the slaughters begin getting closer and closer to Giovanni and her boyfriend and it’s left up to the dedicated detective Callistrati (Anthony Zequila) and his squad to stop the psychopath before he finally reaches her…
Madness begins with a surprisingly engaging scene, which hints at the argument that violence in home entertainment has a huge effect on behaviour in the community. This is a popular debate that has stretched from books to cinema and more recently video games and it still rages on even today. “If they kill someone with a power drill, do they take it out on Black and Decker?” Giovanni asks sarcastically. I guess that it depends on your own personnel views whether you agree with that statement or maybe you look at it from a different perspective. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that this topic is being discussed by a character in a movie directed by Bruno Mattei; a filmmaker that has never been credited for showing intelligence in his works. In fact, this feature does a fair amount to disprove the fallacy that Mattei doesn’t have a shred of talent in his body and is just an exploitive hack – something that his critics will always leap to acknowledge. Some of the photography is smartly planned and exciting, the score’s brilliantly orchestrated, the gore’s fairly restrained and he even manages to create a large amount of suspense in a number of the stalking scenes.
The mystery is fairly well constructed and should keep you guessing up until the slightly over ambitious climax. There are also a few moments when Mattei unleashes a few of his trademarks. The first murder victim suffers a particularly graphic eye impalement, which brought back fond memories of Margit Evelyn Newton’s infamous fate in Zombie Creeping Flesh. It doesn’t take too long either for Monica Seller to rip off her clothes and jump on top of her boyfriend – another of Mattei’s necessities. But that’s all you’ll get in the gore and nudity department, even if the other murders are hardly ‘family viewing material’. The inspiration for the feature looks to have stemmed mainly from Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball; however the killer dresses in a black mask and fedora like a more familiar Giallo bogeymen. He also heavy breathes like an American ‘slasher’ – so it’s obvious that Bruno had taken a dose of the genre’s American counterparts before production.
After a promising start the pace does huff and puff somewhat until the climax and a few more murders would have been nice. It’s also a shame that this was yet another victim of abysmal dubbing for the English speaking market, which made the movie even tougher to appreciate.
Even so, the net result is a fairly decent murder mystery that should push the right buttons for fans of the slasher/Giallo genre. It’s only a shame it’s as rare as a bus in the rain, because it may have done a fair bit to boost Mattei’s debatable cinematic reputation. Give it a try if you can manage to track it down. You may even find that you’re pleasantly surprised…
Final Girl √√
THE MUTILATOR 1984
Directed by: Buddy Cooper
Starring: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martínez, Frances Raines.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When it comes to reviews and rankings, Horror is a genre like no other. If you are a bit of an enthusiast and you are reading this then I doubt that you can honestly say to yourself that you have always taken critical negativity as a sure fire sign that a movie is rubbish and have therefore avoided watching it. It’s the only style of cinema where critics can write anything that they want and people (me in particular) will still give it a go.
Due to the amount of plop that’s littering the category, these features always have a negative reception and it doesn’t look cool to give a good review to a slasher flick. No matter what I read, I never really take it for granted, because – well you know my fellow slasher aficionados, they just don’t understand us. It’s us against the world!!!
Keeping this in mind, The Mutilator is an exceptionally unfortunate flick because not only does it get a pasting from the usual mob, but even most slasher websites don’t like it. It’s very hard to find any positivity anywhere related to this one, which I really can’t comprehend. It actually boasts something that not many others do, but I’ll get to that in a bit…
In the opening, a young child accidentally murders his mother whilst trying to clean his father’s rifles. Daddy returns home and wants to kill the youngster, but he escapes away before he has the chance. It ends with a grimly efficient shot of the dad drinking whisky and pouring in to his dead wife’s mouth.
Many years later, Ed invites his now adult son away to their beach house, because he wants him to clear the place up in time for winter. Little does Ed Junior know that his pa has violent plans for the youngsters and before long they are begin stalked and viciously slaughtered one by one.
There are so many versions of this flick floating about that depending on what cut that you see, may have an effect on your rating. I saw a heavily edited print many years ago and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but watching it in its uncut glory last night was a totally different perspective. As I said earlier, Buddy Cooper’s slasher is a tad different from many, because it delivers relentless gloom on a major scale and the killer is exceptionally merciless and cruel. The film has a credibly macabre feel to its runtime and excels in its morbid atmosphere. The scenes in which the father dreams of cutting his infant son’s throat with a battleaxe or when he impales the heads of his victims on spikes (like trophies) on a wall are genuinely quite gruesome. Seeing as most of his intended prey are innocent of any prior wrongdoing makes it seem all the more ruthless.
Mark Shostrom’s gore effects are the most distinguished thing about the feature and they are pretty damn good in all their full unedited glory. One guy gets a chainsaw through the stomach, there’s a decent decapitation and the conclusion sees someone literally ripped in half by a car. By far the most notorious is the nasty scene where a girl is gutted by a fishing gaff through the crutch. This sequence alone got the movie in trouble with various censors and it is still tough to track down the uncut copy. In previous versions that I had seen, the lighting was awful throughout most of the runtime so I could never make out what was going on. The Spanish VHS under the title of El Mutilador that i watched this time around is much lighter for some strange reason. It’s also completely un-tampered with, so all the gooey parts are intact.
Unlike the large majority of slasher titles, every murder featured has a special effect and some gore. You could mention Linda’s as being pretty dry, but this was no fault of the director who had initially planned that she be shot with a spear gun and then dragged to the bottom of the pool by the force of the impact. In the end, the effects team finally came to the conclusion that they couldn’t make it work. Buddy Cooper has said that he was first and foremost a gore fan and he wanted to make his movie accessible to those who had similar tastes. He is honest enough to admit that his synopsis was inspired by Halloween and Friday the 13th and the references are numerous (heavy breath POVS, Virgin final girl etc). I always hate it when directors that flagrantly ripped off Carpenter’s classic say that they had never even seen a genre piece and weren’t big fans of horror blah blah. Please stop it guys, you’re not kidding anyone. We all know who you ripped off!
The performances here are very poor and the whole production, aside from the special effects, looks overwhelmingly amateur. Frances Raines, previously from slasher Disconnected, provides the T&A, but the rest of the cast were total amateurs or first timers. The guy who gets slashed with a chainsaw is a REALLY bad actor and it made it all the more satisfying when he met with an especially grisly end. Funnily enough Matt Mitler, who played the Bruce Campbell-lookalike lead, went on to an exciting career thereafter and made a name for himself by doing voice work for the Pokémon series and directing his own feature, which was well received by critics.
Ruth Marínez as the final girl was overloaded with cliché. Much like Laurie Strode, she was shy, loyal, put up a great fight with the killer and was much calmer under pressure than her panic-stricken boyfriend. Put it this way, if she could act a bit, she would have been one of the most memorable of the cycle. In my Slasher Trappings ratings below, I gave her three ticks, just for effort! I liked the chemistry between the kids, even if they weren’t particularly convincing and it’s easy to see that they all had a great time making The Mutilator.
There’s not much suspense here, which is probably what the feature lacks most. It’s worth noting that musical accompaniment is more used as a sound effect than as a score and one has to wonder if it would have looked different with an operatic piece playing over some of the stalking scenes. The first studio that were shown John Carpenter’s Halloween without the score said that it just wasn’t scary, so look at the difference that his melody made. Perhaps this was more down to budget restraints? Buddy Cooper had decided on calling his début movie, Fall Break; but at the insistence of producers when it secured distribution it was marketed under this perhaps more fitting title.
The Mutilator is in fact a tad underrated and undeserving of its poor reputation. It does start slowly, but after 30 or so minutes of tedium, the film really comes alive with some gruesome gore effects and macabre tone. I can’t think of many slashers that manage such an unsettling and dark atmosphere, but also credibly mix it with some jaw dropping eighties campiness. – Oh yes the campiness, I’ll let you discover that for yourself, but trust me, the opening ten minutes are a cheese buffet!
Make sure that you get the uncut version… Well, just make sure that you get it!
Final Girl √√√
The Dead Pit 1988
Directed by: Brett Leonard
Starring: Jeremy Slate, Cheryl Lawson, Stephen Gregory Foster
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok so I’m not trying to hide the fact that a SLASH above is a website dedicated to slashers. It’s easy to see because I mention the word in every other sentence (says a lot for my vocabulary, but hey!) The Dead Pit isn’t exactly one of those flicks, but for a fair part of the runtime it incorporates some of the genre’s defining elements. There’s a psychopathic, surgical masked serial killer that has the trademark heavy breath and only the heroine can see him, which obviously references Halloween. There are also some similar themed stalking set pieces, chase sequences and fairly gruesome murders that borrow all the standard elements that make up a stalk and slash flick. The film is like an insane mix of Exquisite Tenderness, Dawn of the Mummy and strangely enough, The Exorcist. But overall it’s a zombie movie; even if it’s an original one with an inventive surrounding for the plot to unravel in. I suppose the question that you really want answered if you’re reading this is, – is it any good?
In the beginning, Jane Doe is admitted to the State Mental asylum (sorry but they don’t give us the name) with amnesia. She protests that she hasn’t lost her memory, but it was in fact stolen from her! Her arrival spells bad news for the other inmates however, when an earthquake rocks the institution. Soon after, the patients start losing their minds even more rapidly and people begin to disappear although Jane knows that they have been brutally murdered by the deranged looking surgeon with a bullet hole in his head hanging around the complex…
The Dead Pit is essentially a patchwork of a movie and not just because it attempts to be a successful crossbreed of horror sub-genres. A claustrophobic and effectively eerie atmosphere is created at times, even though it feels like there are far too many ideas fighting for attention. There’s definitely some action here for a SLASH above readers, which is why I decided to review it for this site and I noticed that if you press stop at the fifty minute mark, you wouldn’t think that this was anything other than late-eighties slasher trash. I guess that the amalgamation of ‘a bit of everything’ can be put down to a director who, overflowing with enthusiasm for his début, wanted to try his hand at the styles of Carpenter, Romero and Friedkin.
It’s not all plain sailing though and the excellent lighting that is evident in the opening scenes seems to inexplicably evade the rest of the movie. The plot seems to crumble from imaginative to downright inept by the time that we get to the conclusion and it flies back and forth from sluggish to energetic throughout. Surprisingly enough, the BBFC – who were at their strictest in the eighties – were implausibly lenient when they gave this an 18 certificate. They left an astonishing amount of gore unedited and the story benefits from its presence.
This was Cheryl Lawson’s first movie and maybe it was a massive ask to leave the screenplay on such inexperienced shoulders. She spends most of the runtime in a tight T-shirt (obviously without a bra, I mean come on) and small knickers. That’s great for T&A lovers because she’s lick-lippingly gorgeous and exceptionally well endowed, but it looks especially gratuitous and somewhat unnecessary and subtracts from any credibility that she could have gained. (Name me an asylum where the females run around in their underwear?). She does ok with the script and is by no means the worst performer featured, but I think she would fare much better in a role that required less physicality. The entire cast here weren’t very good and I think it had more to do with a lack of direction, because they all seemed to be overacting like Al Pacino on speed.
Funnily enough, Cheryl once sent me a message on IMDB in reply to something I said in an earlier review, which was very kind of her. She did a little more acting, but became an extremely busy stunt-woman, appearing in big budget hits, such as Spiderman 2, 24 and Ocean’s Eleven.
Director Brett Leonard didn’t disappear after this like the myriad of other horror film-makers from the eighties. Instead he managed to climb on to other things – most notably Lawnmower Man. It’s obvious from his experimental photography that he is creative enough to offer something to cinema, but unforgivably at times he struggles to create suspense when it felt like it was most needed. He also co-wrote the screenplay, which is notable mostly for having more holes than a fisherman’s net. Some of those include: How did a doctor that was locked in a basement with a bullet in his head manage to find the time to erase Jane’s memory? How can he be dead for twenty-one years and keep up those youthful looks? (Demi Moore asked me to ask) And most importantly, were they deliberately aiming for paroxysms of laughter with their method for stopping the hordes of zombies? It has to be seen to be believed! Answers on a postcard please…
As I said, there are far too many ideas fighting for attention here, which leaves the best of them struggling to be realised. Huge potential that should have been further developed is sadly wasted by the film’s attempt to be a jack of all trades. There are a few redeeming features that prevent it from complete failure, but ultimately far too much has been crammed into far too little. It is indeed a shame, but what could have been a benchmark in horror history is unforgivably flawed.
I loved the beautiful final girl, liked the gore and also the typical stalk and slash set pieces, but brush those to one side and actually it’s not very good.
Zombie fans might like it more…
Final Girl √√√