Masacre En Rio Grande 1984
aka Massacre in Rio Grande, Chacal 2, Caceria de un Criminal
Directed by: Pedro Galindo III
Starring: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada, Cristina Molina
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So this is the sequel to La Muerte Del Chacal, which I reviewed a week back and gave an impressive four star rating. Many sites have both films listed as being released in 1984, which I think is slightly inaccurate (Chacal was 83), but either way, it shows that the producers were keen to maintain the intrigue that the first entry had generated and get a follow-up out as soon as possible. In order to keep up with the pace that they set, I decided to post a write-up of Masacre now, so you could enjoy full coverage of the series.
Chacal’s synopsis included a twist that had a huge impact on the way I perceived the feature and its follow-up continues to run with the ramifications of that revelation. So as not to ruin the surprise if you haven’t yet seen part 1, I’m going to refer to the killer as The Jackal (El Chacal). I strongly recommend that you don’t watch this one first even if it is, unfortunately, much easier to find. I’m so glad that I bought both on VHS together many years back and was able to see them in order.
Following from the events of the last picture, The Jackal survived the confrontation with Sheriff Bob and is picked up in the sea clinging to a buoy by a passing fishing vessel. Once on-board, he (gorily) makes quick work of the two crewmen and mutilates then dumps one of their corpses so that the authorities will believe that he’s truly deceased. He heads back to the abandoned boat that he calls home, befriending a generous vagabond called Old Joe that feeds and shelters him. Before long he’s back up to his old tricks and slashing anyone that he comes across. It’s left up to Bob to put a stop to him once and for all…
As I stated in my review, I think La Muerte Del Chacal is a solid slasher and much like Halloween, I knew would that it would be tough to extend that level of panache into a franchise. That doesn’t mean that Masacre is a bad movie, it’s just that it’s enjoyable in a different, somewhat cheesier, kind of way. The first instalment worked because of the subtle rivalry between the goaded Sheriff and the deadly killer. It’s logical that the screenwriter had run the emotional aspect dry and the attempt to rekindle it here just isn’t as effective. We get to meet Bob’s alcoholic mother who I guess was supposed to fill the void of the authentic bond that we saw with Muerte. Despite the fact that she’s actually quite an enjoyable character and plays a key part in latter events, she’s no substitute for what we had last time and they try a bit too hard for the same undercurrent of intrigue.
Another thing that doesn’t work is that Sheriff Bob refuses to believe that El Chacal is still alive and spends the entire movie aggressively confronting anyone that levels that hypothesis. It could be argued that psychologically he just couldn’t accept that truth, which would make sense, but in that case he should have been removed from the investigation by his superiors. This would have opened up a far more palatable plot pathway that we could have digested convincingly. Throughout Muerte Del Chacal, we had sympathised with Bob’s despair because he was such a genuine and moral protagonist. Watching him deflect clear evidence here and behave like a bimbo from a more basic slasher premise minimises the semblance of heroism that made him so popular. It’s kind of like Rick Rosenthal turning Laurie Stroud into a brother-adoring slut for Halloween II. It just wouldn’t have been the person that we remembered.
Despite these limitations, Masacre is still an entertaining stalk and slasher. Obviously aware that the level of quality had slipped a bar, to compensate, Galindo ups the gore factor with some audacious kill scenes. One guy gets power-drilled through the cranium and there’s a fast-paced triple machete slaughter of three English-speaking models. Their initial introduction leads to an absolutely mind-bending cheese-fest of a sequence, within which a group of six males break dance on stage in a strip club to a synthesiser monstrosity that sounds like it was helmed by an inebriated Jan Hammer. In fact, Nacho Mendez gave us many different shades of musical accompaniment for this movie that consistently interchange as the runtime lengthens. Juxtaposed together, they create a strange aura, because one moment we’re in the realms of Paul Zaza and then in the next it sounds like a clip from a seventies kids show.
The Jackal, who’s given a bit more screen time here, dresses in military fatigues and murders pretty much everyone that he comes in contact with. He doesn’t even spare the few that attempt to help him, which further demonstrates his malevolence. It would have been nice to understand his true motivations and maybe get an explanation as to why he feels the need to kill, because overall he ends up looking a little aimless. It’s hinted that his rage is genetic, because we learn that his dad was also a bit of a loon, but I still felt like something was missing. Sure, we know he wants to murder Sheriff Bob, but he gets various opportunities to do so and waits until the final stand-off to try. When a screenplay lacks the imagination to conceal the fact it’s been structured to fit, well, a screenplay, it can be a bit disheartening. I’m sure that the fact that it had to be written extremely quickly didn’t make things easier. With Chacal, it didn’t matter that victims weren’t given much of an introduction, whereas here, perhaps because of the lesser story elements, it’s a lot more visible that they’re rolled out only to be dispatched. This does remove a level of unpredictability from the overall package and dampens the shock factor.
I was speaking recently about Mexican slashers with Haydn Watkins and they’re an untouched pool that I really need to spend more time investigating. Aside from the obvious entries that are out and out stalk and slash, there are many Crime/Thrillers that include deranged maniacs (A Garrote Limpio/Atrapado con el Asesino etc). Masacre plays like one of those, because it has a drug bust and a lot of elements that were surely included to pad out the runtime. There were moments whilst watching when I felt disappointed with the quality comparison between this and it’s predecessor, but the totally freaky ending redeemed things and left me feeling satisfied. Taken as a stand-alone, Masacre en Rio Grande is a cheesy (and momentarily gory) eighties slasher. It’s putting the two together though that makes them a SLASH above the rest.
Además, si lees mi página y vives en México, me gustaría hablar contigo sobre la posibilidad de escribir reseñas o ayudarme para encontrar películas de allá. Obviamente yo os voy a pagar todo lo que puedo o podéis escribir algo en a SLASH above. Mándame un correo si estás interesado y nos vamos a hablar. Saludos
La Muerte Del Chacal 1983
aka The Death of the Jackal
Directed by: Pedro Galindo III
Starring: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada, Christina Molina
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My review of Bosque De Muerte from a couple of weeks ago got me thinking. There’s no doubting that the best overall slasher films are from the United States. However, because America has also unleashed so many ‘challenging’ entries, like Curse of Halloween, Angus Valley Farms and Fever Lake, the quality percentage on average of their entire output has taken something of a battering. It’s unfair of course to compare a country that’s not far from quadruple figures with a country with only a hundred or so releases. My point is that Mexican slashers, in general, are pretty damn good. The few that I’ve reviewed on a SLASH above (Bosque, Trampa Infernal, Dimensiones Ocultas and Ladrones de Tumbas) are all well worth a watch; and La Muerte del Chacal is yet another.
Directed by prolific horror (and slasher) craftsman Pedro Galindo III, Chacal was arguably the first Mexican entry to truly show signs of a John Carpenter influence. Like many of its hermanas from south of the US border, it was unfortunate not to have garnered a subtitled global distribution deal and therefore remains barely seen. I noticed that there has been a recent DVD release, but from the listing I found on Amazon, it doesn’t look to have been dubbed or translated in any way, which I thought was a shame.
A psychopathic killer in traditional Giallo garb is stalking the local port and murdering anyone unfortunate enough to wander close to an abandoned ship where he resides. Sherif Bob is struggling to uncover any clues to the maniac’s identity and so he enlists his brother Roy to help him capture the maniacal assassin. Before long Bob become the target for the boogeyman and decides to set a trap to stop him once and for all…
I feel really bad for saying this, because I understand that the majority of my readers don’t speak Spanish. Well, start writing emails to Anchor Bay and the like right now demanding an accessible copy, because Chacal is an outstanding slice of eighties entertainment. Like many European and South American titles of the peak years (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche/Shock Diversão Diabolica), director Galindo either didn’t recognise or care to display the subtle differences between the Giallo and the Slasher. The killer’s guise, shadowy presence and the in-depth investigation that follows him are all elements lifted from the Bava/Argento school of murderous motion pictures. On the other hand, the utilisation of the ‘have sex and die’ rule, heavy breath POVs and the inclusion of a lone female as the final target are trademarks of the Stalk and Slasher. In fairness to Galindo though, his addition also adds a few of its own unique ingredients.
I’m not going to tell you the identity of the boogeyman because it comes as a shock, even though it’s revealed quite early in the runtime. It was essential for Gilberto de Anda’s script to unmask its antagonist prematurely, because the twist adds a unique level of emotional involvement to the final stretch toward the finishing line. Galindo ups the ante by including a speed boat chase, an asylum break-out and a fair few murders that may lack graphic gore but are still smartly conveyed. Some structured camera placement makes the killer’s lair (an abandoned boat), seem creepily isolated and the fact that he is accompanied by a trio of vicious Doberman Pinchers makes him seem all the more indestructible. A few set-pieces deliver sharp shades of suspense and there’s no better example of this than the slaughter of a female and her mother in a spacious living room. Nacho Mendez’s score is at times reminiscent of the best of Paul Zaza’s work and when he’s not ruining it by incorporating weird sci/fi-alike tweaks, he compliments the overall atmosphere superbly.
Chacal was filmed in Brownsville, Texas and it’s interesting that the characters all boast English-language names, such as: Roy, Bob, Joan, Sally and Jack. With that in mind, it seems strange that producer Santiago Galindo didn’t explore a wider release plan with dialogue translations because the film could have been popular on external shores. Still, they must have achieved a modicum of success because a sequel was released within twelve-months that continued the saga. I’m sitting looking at a copy right now and thinking that I need to pencil a review for you all shortly. In fact, it’s being inserted into my VCR as I type.
I guess the hardest question for me to answer for you is, should you watch Chacal in Spanish if you don’t understand the dialogue? To be honest, I would say, no. It’s not that you won’t be scared by some of the stalking sequences and kept on the edge of your seat when the killer strikes. It’s just that de Anda’s script has invested heavily in adding an authentic undercurrent of shock, rivalry, despair, shame and sorrow to the synopsis that would be ruined without understanding the concept. I am cautious of making the movie sound better than it truly is, but I really bought into the idea of a hero that’s been thrust into a situation that demands so much more than personal sacrifice. It’s also worth nothing that Mario Almada does a superb job of bringing that persona to life. I’m so convinced of its quality that I’ve placed Chacal in my top 50.
Get writing those emails peeps. The power of the slasher fanbase got us My Bloody Valentine uncut, so let’s do the same here (I’m available to provide translations if the price fits ;)) haha
Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Starring: Gino Concari, Patrizia Falcone, Silvia Conti
Review by Luis Joaquín González
It’s somewhat ironic that Lucio Fulci supervised this belated entry to the giallo catalogue. Despite being two years his elder, Andrea Bianchi’s work has always made him look like something of a protégé of the notorious craftsman. There are many Fulci trademarks to be found in the works of Bianchi. Most notably the extreme use of gratuitous gore and a taste for barely logical plot points. Over the years many have labeled Fulci as an inept filmmaker that hid his directorial shortcomings behind the talent of his special effects team. But titles like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Zombi 2 have pretty much taken the gust out of that argument. If these critics truly believe that Fulci was an incompetent director, then gawd only knows what they’d make of Bianchi. His most famous movie – the notorious Burial Ground – is great fun if you love blood and guts. But if you judge it on it’s merits as a motion picture, then it fails in just about every department. The acting was diabolical, the direction non-existent and I don’t even think that it was filmed from a script. I hoped that Massacre would keep the gratuitous exploitation edge, but I was also looking for a little more credibility from Bianchi this time around.
Massacre kicks off with a gruesome murder that was re-used by Fulci along with other gore scenes in the bemusing Nightmare Concert. A guy wearing red gloves, shades and a beanie hat is seen cruising along a lengthy stretch of road. He pulls up beside a young woman in a skimpy dress who greets him with the classic line, “Hey cutie wanna make love mmmm!” Unfortunately, ‘making love’ isn’t exactly what this guy had in mind, and he proceeds to chop off the woman’s hand and then decapitate her with an axe. Next up we meet a film crew that are shooting a zombie flick in the area called Dirty Blood. There’s a whole heap of tension on the set because it doesn’t look like any of the employees seem to get along with one another. The lead actress Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone) is dating a Local Police Captain called Walter (Gino Concarni). We soon learn from him that this maniacal killer has already murdered four other victims, and the authorities don’t have a clue to his identity. Things really get nasty after the producer calls in a medium to hold a séance and teach his cast and crew the ways of the supernatural. The circle is broken when an evil spirit invades the sitting and forces the Medium to end the seance. Only hours later an unseen maniac begins slaughtering his way through the cast list one by one. Will any of them survive…?
Surprisingly, Massacre is not as bad as I had initially expected. Silvano Tessicini did a credible job with the photography and the director even managed to build suspense in places. No really. As this is a Bianchi joint, the exploitation is spread thick and fast, and there’s more female nudity than an Electric Blue omnibus. Look out for the scene where a victim flees the marauding killer with only a short skirt covering her modesty! The gory murders reveal a great flair for the macabre from the filmmaker and there’s a body count to rival an Arnold Schwarzenegger machine gun frenzy. You probably won’t solve the twist and turn mystery with ease, plus the boathouse massacre is a tremendous piece of mayhem, which deserves a second look. Massacre also boasts some wacky pre-politically correct dialogue, which will make even the most sinister viewer smile. It’s also worth noting the amount of American stalk and slash clichés that have been incorporated with the more typical native giallo platitudes. At one point a fornicating couple are slaughtered whilst parked in the woods – an indisputable trademark of the USA teen slasher.
But still this is far too bizarrely structured to be anything other than good in a bad way. As was the case with Burial Ground, there’s just too much inadvertent humor to allow this to join the giallo elite. The murders certainly could have benefited with a little more directorial flourish and the musical accompaniment was continuously monotomous to the point of frustration. Bianchi certainly has an eye for a beautiful actress, and he always tries to include everything from lesbian proposals to soft-core pornography. Only problem is that he seems to prioritize acting ability way below bra size. It’s a flaw that’s only too evident from the start.
The net result is a film that will satisfy forgiving fans that aren’t expecting anything along the lines of Tenebrae or even Eyeball. To put it another way, if you could sit through Burial Ground without cringing at the screen then you’ll probably enjoy this.
Final Girl: √
Dead End 1999
Directed by: Iren Koster
Starring: William Snow, Victoria Hill, Matthew Dyktynski
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with Jean Andrea’s Dead End from 2003, this Australian picture is barely acknowledged by fans, despite the fact that it received global distribution. I picked it up many years ago on VHS and it’s one of those that I’ve wanted to cover for a while, but my VCR Machine has seen better days and I haven’t had the time to pick up a new one. Recently though, I came across a shiny DVD whilst on vacation down-under and watched it on the flight back.
It tells the tale of a former detective turned author named Todd Russell that becomes involved in a spate of brutal murders. They are extremely similar to the last case that he worked on before retiring from the Force, called the Evergreen killings. The fact that he had so much knowledge of the original slayings makes him the key suspect and as the evidence and bodies begin to pile up, he is forced to get involved for a second time. Could it be that Todd Russell has lost his mind and moral compass?
I guess that the first question to answer with this feature is whether it qualifies as a stalk and slash flick or is it a thriller? Well whilst it doesn’t follow the traditional path of stranded teens against a malevolent force, it includes many Giallo trademarks, such as brutal slayings committed by a masked assailant, so for me it’s definitely on the right website here. Before watching it, I had sat through 1988’s Out of the Dark, which is generally considered a slasher and is almost interchangeable in terms of plot content and delivery. I would go as far as to say that this is even grislier in terms of its murders and therefore underlines the horror categorisation. Amongst those murders, whether intentional or not, we get a rehash of Al Filo Del Hacha’s car wash set-piece, only this time the killer strikes with a hook rather than axe. Later, we see the menace stalk a young girl in an elevator, which was similar in many ways to a scene from Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche. The assailant even looks the same in a dark fedora and mask and it made me wonder, was director Iren Koster a fan of Spanish slashers? That could well be the case.
Dead End’s biggest strengths can be found in its accomplished dramatics and ability to wrap viewers up in the enigma of its storyline. I did work out early on who was behind everything, but I was never 100% sure. There are numerous twists that pop up throughout the picture, which help to keep us engaged and the intelligent pacing works to sustain the tone of intrigue.
Perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more development into the choice of victims. One murder sees a girl literally walk on to the screen before she’s shot, so we really don’t know enough about any of them to care what happens. I would have hoped for at least one tense chase sequence, but there’s still a whole heap of suspense to be found in the complexity of the puzzle. The revelation part is handled well enough and I was amused by the survival techniques of one soon-to-be victim. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that if all else fails and you look like Victoria Hill, then remove your underwear 😉
A film so driven by its characters needed good performers in order to succeed. Snow and Hill rarely have a weak moment and they are given a few tough scenes to work with. The star of the show is Iren Koster though, because he directs with an energy that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Aside from the obvious, filmmaking is mainly about placement, blocking, length of shots and location. In all of these, he did a sterling job. He has another horror movie under his belt that I haven’t got around to seeing, but I’ll definitely be checking it out soon.
Without hesitation, I would give Dead End a thumbs up. Whilst it may not be slashertastic enough to rival Friday the 13th or its brothers, there is loads here to warrant a viewing. I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else, so therefore it is yet another a SLASH above exclusive 🙂
Killer Guise: √√√
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 almost impossible 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. 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 have 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 little girl?
Many critics have been disappointed with Lamberto Bava’s directorial work since his début feature (Macabre) pretty much flopped on release in 1980. I have begun to realise though 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. 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. As I said earlier, it’s a real shame he wasn’t alive to see it. Recommended…
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 of 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 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. We get a fantastic forest stalking sequence that is tightly crafted and full of suspense. It is aided by some off- beat scoring that 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. Of course, the killer is unaware that she is in the house, so she has to watch on in complete silence whilst he dismembers the corpses of her buddies with a hacksaw! Martino takes time to develop a pulsating atmosphere and it builds up to a pitch perfect closing scene. I liked the fact that the mystery is strong enough to keep you guessing and there is a good number of red herrings so that you won’t have picked your choice for the culprit 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 are 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, which is 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: √√√
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 √√