Cat in the Brain (1990)
by Steve Habrat
If you’re one that has ever sat through an entire Lucio Fulci film, you understand that the Italian horror director was something of an acquired taste. The “Godfather of Gore”—as he is often referred to—took great pleasure in painting the movie screen red with globs of entrails, buckets of candle wax blood, jellied brains, rotting skin, and showers of wiggling maggots, something that he was often criticized for. Surely, a man that crafts ultra-violent films such as these must have, well, a cat fiercely clawing, scratching, and chewing away at his brain! Near the end of Fulci’s long and varied career (he made everything from comedies to gialli to spaghetti westerns), he released Cat in the Brain (aka Nightmare Concert), a meta-gorefest that finds the cult filmmaker reflecting upon his gruesome body of work and the toll those gory films had on his psyche. Strung together with horrific snippets from his earlier gialli and horror films, Cat in the Brain is surprisingly well rounded and clever for a film that threatens to act as a sort of highlight reel for Fulci’s most revolting kill scenes. Yet the splatter master smartly builds a thought-provoking thriller around these recycled sequences, and the end result is a standout release from the twilight of his career.
Cat in the Brain finds Fulci playing himself, Dr. Lucio Fulci, a horror director who is well known for his ultra-violent genre films. One day, after filming a particularly nasty sequence involving cannibalism and a questionable steak, Fulci decides to go to a nearby upscale restaurant for lunch. Upon arriving, Fulci orders up a steak, but his appetite is quickly curbed when his mind wanders back to the gruesome sequence that he was filming just moments before. Some time later, Fulci suffers another flashback after glimpsing a gardener slicing up some logs with a chain saw. The flashback triggers a nervous breakdown that prompts the horror director to seek out the help of a local psychiatrist by the name of Professor Egon Swharz (played by David L. Thompson). Swharz suggests that Fulci try hypnotism to aid with these terrifying flashbacks, but as it turns out, Swharz has a much more sinister plot in store for Fulci. Swharz plans on committing a number of heinous murders and using the hypnosis to trick Fulci into thinking he committed the murders, pushing the already fragile director to brink of madness.
With Cat in the Brain, Fulci is fiercely aware of his fan base, composing a grand old opera of sex, violence, and depravity almost exclusively for them. It also finds the director recognizing the fact that he wasn’t exactly held in high regard in many circles, as he was often attacked for the exploitative nature of his horror films. In response to the criticism, Fulci conjures up a tidal wave of carnage that features chain saw mutilation, beheadings, cannibalism, melting faces, surging guts, a cat gnawing away at a brain, and various other segments of bloodshed that will have his devout fans floating on cloud nine and his harshest critics groaning is disgust. While there are various points of Cat in the Brain that send a chill or two (a certain graveyard sequence comes to mind), the endless barrage of grindhouse violence seems to be Fulci’s way of taunting his critics—looking them square in the eye and saying, “You thought my pervious work was vicious? Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” Of course, his response comes off as light-hearted and comical, as he presents himself in the opening credits as a perverse mad scientist hunched over a pad, conjuring up various death scenes to use in future movies. This transitions into a close up of a cheesy-looking cat devouring Fulci’s glistening brain matter, a ravenous and cartoonish madness that just can’t be tamed.
Then we have Fulci’s sympathetic performance as himself, a role he seems to take great pleasure in playing. In between his bouts of insanity, Fulci portrays himself as a nice guy who is just doing his job. To his friends and neighbors, he is simply that guy who makes those horror movies, yet everyone seems to have a general fondness and respect for the artist. When that cat starts hissing and clawing around upstairs, Fulci really gets to have fun with people’s perception of him. When directing a Nazi orgy, he presents himself in a misty medium shot as he manically whispers orders to his bare-naked cast members. Other times, he is stricken with disgust over the visions he suffers from, clutching at his heart like he is fending off a sudden heart attack. The stand out scene comes when he wanders around a friend’s house in terror, gasping at visions of the friend’s family members getting chopped, stabbed, sliced, and diced like a couple of Thanksgiving turkeys. (This sequence also appears to feature a bloody tribute to the shower sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho) The puppeteer behind Fulci’s madness is David L. Thompson’s Professor Swharz, a grinning madman who hypnotizes the poor director into thinking he is on a killing spree. Thompson is surprisingly creepy in the villainous role, a sadistic psychiatrist who uses other people’s demons to his advantage. One thing is certain; Fulci doesn’t think much of shrinks.
While Cat in the Brain’s self-reflexive structure seems a bit disjointed and slightly puzzling in places (Would you expect anything less from the “Godfather of Gore?”), Fulci still manages to produce a final product that effectively blurs the lines between what is a hallucination and what is real. This makes Cat in the Brain seem like a playful horror exercise, one that simultaneously toys with the viewer like a ball of yarn, while advising other horror directors who may have suffered light trauma from their violent work to opt for a sunny vacation with a pretty girl over a trip to the dreaded psychiatrist’s office. Another admirable aspect is the fact that Cat in the Brain is able to overcome the trap of acting as a highlight reel. It actually takes on an identity all its own, as Fulci meshes the gooey clips seamlessly with his freshly shot footage. Overall, Cat in the Brain is far from Lucio Fulci’s best work, but as a late-career effort from a man who was past his glory days and grappling with deteriorating health, it’s something of a high point. This is a delightfully deranged and darkly hilarious horror rendition of Federico Fellini’s celebrated art-house classic 8 ½, with an overflowing ladle of sex and sleaze drizzled on for extra zing.
Cat in the Brain (aka Nightmare Concert) is available on DVD.
Anti-Film School’s 15 Best Zombie Movies of All Time!
by Steve Habrat
With director Marc Forster and Brad Pitt’s epic World War Z swarming the global box office, I thought it would be a good time to countdown the 15 best zombie movies of all time. Now, if there is one thing that I know in this world, it is zombies. I love ‘em. I cut my teeth on Night of the Living Dead when I was just a little sprout and I never looked back. I’ve dabbled in everything from the Italian splatterfests of the late 70s and 80s to all of Romero’s heady zombie romps. I’ve thrilled at the sprinting zombies and I’ve chuckled right along with the new string of “zom-coms.” Hell, I even religiously watch The Walking Dead when it is on AMC. So, without further ado, I give you my picks for the top 15 zombie movies of all time. I do hope you’re craving some brrrraaaaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnnssss!
15.) Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Director Jorge Grau’s surreal 1974 chiller doesn’t feature the undead in thick hordes like many of the films on this list. No, this film was made when the zombie subgenre was still suffering from some growing pains. However, it is still a massively chilling, impeccably acted, and brutal zombie movie made in the wake of the collapse of the counterculture. With an alien score that would have been perfect for any 50s science fiction flick and spine tingling wheezes creeping over the soundtrack, this go-green atomic freak out is an absolutely must for zombie fanatics and horror freaks, especially the final blood-soaked twenty minutes.
14.) Grindhouse-Planet Terror (2007)
In early 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino unleashed this passion project into an America that frankly didn’t get what the duo was trying to do. Well, America, you missed out. This scratchy double feature kicks off with a gooey bang in the form of Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a pus-filled tribute to zombie godfather George A. Romero and Italian goremaster Lucio Fulci. Brimming with tongue-in-cheek violence, melting penises, machine gun legs, and kerosene action, Planet Terror is a self-aware charmer that is guaranteed to churn your tummy. Keep an eye out for an extended cameo from Tom Savini, who did the make-up effects in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.
13.) Shock Waves (1977)
Way before Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies took the world by storm, this little-known but unnervingly creepy tale about a troop of goggle-clad SS ghouls patrolling an abandoned island snuck into theaters and then was largely forgotten. Fueled by a ghostly atmosphere and flooded with horror icons (Peter Cushing! John Carradine! Brooke Adams!), this sun drenched chiller doesn’t feature the same old flesh-hungry ghouls ripping victims limb from limb. Nope, these guys march out of the water, sneak up on their victims, and then violently drown ‘em. Trust me, they are VERY cool. With a score guaranteed to give you goosebumps and an immensely satisfying last act, this is a low budget B-movie gem that deserves to be showered in attention. Track it down and show your friends!
12.) 28 Weeks Later (2007)
It seemed like an impossible task to try to do a sequel to Danny Boyle’s terrifying 2003 game changer 28 Days Later, but that didn’t stop Hollywood from giving it a try. Surprisingly, 28 Weeks Later, which was produced by Boyle and directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is an intimidating follow-up that goes bigger and louder than the previous film. Clearly crafted for a summer audience, 28 Weeks Later is an effects heavy blockbuster that finds much of London being reduced to ashes, but the acting is top notch, the smarts are in place, and the zombie…sorry, INFECTED mayhem will leave you breathless and shaking for days.
11.) Day of the Dead (1985)
The third installment in George A. Romero’s zombie series was a bomb when it was first released and unfairly dismissed by many critics including Roger Ebert. You should know that the shockingly dark and cynical Day of the Dead has many tricks up its sleeve. Perhaps the angriest zombie movie ever made, Day of the Dead is the work of a man who has completely lost his faith in humanity and our ability to work together. Did I mention that it also features an intelligent zombie? Yeah, wait until you meet Bub. While much of the zombie carnage is saved for the shadowy climax, Day of the Dead is still a film that spits fire. I’d even go so far to say that it is one of the most important films of the Regan Era.
10.) Return of the Living Dead (1985)
This punk rock “zom-com” from writer/director Dan O’Bannon passes itself off as an unofficial follow-up to Romero’s 1968 treasure Night of the Living Dead. The characters all openly acknowledge the events of that film, but they do it all in neon Mohawks while snarling rock n’ roll blares in the background. With plenty of gonzo action and a swarm of ghouls that howl for more “braaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnssss,” Return of the Living Dead is like a living, breathing cartoon. If that doesn’t convince you to attend this ghoul shindig, wait until you catch a glimpse of the tar zombie, one of the most visually striking zombies ever filmed. Rock on!
9.) The Dead (2011)
The newest film on this list is actually one of the most impressive throwbacks of recent memory. The Dead is basically a road movie smashed together with Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and a forgotten spaghetti western. It could also be the most beautiful zombie film on this list (aside from Dellamorte Dellamore). Taking place on the parched African landscape, The Dead will send shivers as its zombies slowly shuffle along in the background of nearly every single shot, making you wonder if our two silent protagonists will ever make it out of this situation alive. While the last act dips, The Dead never lets up on the intensity. Just watch for a scene where an injured mother hands her infant child off to Rob Freeman’s Lt. Murphy as zombies close in around her. Pleasant dreams!
8.) Re-Animator (1985)
It seems that 1985 was the year of the zombie. We were treated to gems like Return of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and Stuart Gordon’s cheeky horror-comedy Re-Animator. A bit more restrained that some of the films on this list (but not by much), Re-Animator is a big glowing tribute to science fiction and horror films of years passed. It has a little something for everyone, all wrapped up in a big Sam Raimi-esque wink. Did I mention that it can also creep you out big time? Featuring a must-see performance from Jeffrey Combs and a zombie doctor carrying his own head, Re-Animator is a science-lab romp that will have you shrieking one second and giggling the next.
7.) Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder’s speedy remake of George A. Romero’s masterpiece was probably the most expensive zombie movie of all time until World War Z came crashing into theaters. It was also much better than it had any right to be. While it will never trump the heady original, Snyder makes an energetic gorefest that will make horror fans giddy with delight. The film has a stellar opening sequence that is followed by grainy news reports of a world going to Hell, all while Johnny Cash strums his guitar over bloody credits. From that point, Snyder lobs one gory gag after another at the audience, the most fun being a game of spot a zombie that looks like a celebrity and then turns its head into hamburger meat. Oh, and if the film didn’t have enough blood and guts already, wait until you see the chainsaw accident near the end of the film. It’s a doozy.
6.) Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man (1994)
From the late 70s through the mid 1990s, Italy had severe zombie fever. In the wake of George A. Romero’s massively successful Dawn of the Dead, the Italians cranked out more knockoffs than you can shake a severed arm and leg at. Many of them were cheapie exploitation movies that lacked artistic vision, but right before the craze died off, director Michele Soavi released Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man, a gothic zombie fantasy that truly is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Surreal, sexy, and episodic, Dellamorte Dellamore borders on arthouse horror and has earned fans as high profile as Martin Scorsese. The last act of the film is a mess and it seems like Soavi wasn’t exactly sure how to bring the film to a close, but this is certainly a zombie movie that you have to see to believe.
5.) Shaun of the Dead (2004)
In 2004, American audiences were introduced to British funnyguys Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright, and we were all the better for it. The first “romantic comedy with zombies,” Shaun of the Dead is a side-splittingly hilarious romp that can also be quite terrifying what it sets its mind to it. Loaded with nods to classic zombie movies (each time you watch it you will spot another tip of the hat), endlessly quotable jokes, and some eye-popping gross-out gags, Shaun of the Dead is a surprisingly sweet film with a core romance you can’t stop rooting for. Also, Romero has given it his approval, which automatically makes it a zombie classic.
4.) Zombie (1979)
Lucio Fulci’s 1979 grindhouse classic Zombie (aka Zombi 2) was the first Italian knockoff inspired by George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It is also the best Italian zombie movie out there. Entitled Zombi 2 in Italy to trick audiences into thinking that the film was a sequel to Dawn, Zombie is a beast all its own. Without question the most violent and exploitative zombie film to emerge from the Italian zombie movement, Zombie is a tropical blast of excess that will have your jaw on the floor. Gasp as a zombie has an underwater battle with a shark (you read that correctly, in case you were wondering) and dry heave as a woman has her eye gouged out by a piece of splintered wood (shown in an extreme close up). And that is Fulci just getting warmed up! Approach this sucker with caution.
3.) 28 Days Later (2003)
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is not technically a zombie movie. The red-eyed, blood-spewing maniacs that dash through the streets of devastated London are suffering from a virus known only as “RAGE.” Still, the ghouls are very zombie like as they sprint towards their victims like coked-out marathon runners. Gritty, grim, and absolutely terrifying, 28 Days Later is an impeccably acted and smartly directed apocalyptic thriller that astounds with each passing second. The climax has split viewers, but in my humble opinion, it is an unflinching glimpse of human beings at their absolute best and absolutely worst. This is an essential and influential modern-day classic.
2.) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
In 1968, George A. Romero crafted a film that would go on to lay the foundation for the zombie subgenre. Cramped, creaky, and infinitely creepy, Night of the Living Dead is a lo-fi horror classic that continues to sit securely on the short list of the most terrifying films ever made. Romero instantly throws the viewer into the chaos and flat-out refuses to give us any sort of explanation for why the dead-eyed cannibals outside are trying to pound their way into that boarded up farmhouse. All we know is that something is very wrong and the situation seems to be steadily getting worse. Brimming with Cold War anxiety and flashing images that would be right at home in a forgotten newsreel from the Vietnam War, Night of the Living Dead is a film that will stick with you the rest of your life. A true horror classic.
1.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Ten years after he shaped the subgenre, Romero returned to give audiences his ultimate apocalyptic vision. Often imitated but never duplicated, Dawn of the Dead is the king daddy of zombie movies. Set just a few short weeks after the events of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead begins with a flurry of blood and bullets ripping across your screen, assuring the viewer that once again, Romero is taking no prisoners. Once Romero decides to usher his four protagonists off to the Monroeville Mall, the satire kicks into high gear. Launching a full-scale attack on consumer culture, Romero dares to compare mall shoppers to his shuffling ghouls that wander the aisles of JC Penney. He also warns us that our inability to work together will be the death of us all. Featuring heavy character development, heart-pounding action sequences, and a devastating conclusion, Dawn of the Dead stands as a pulse-pounding masterpiece not only for Romero, but for the entire zombie subgenre.
So, do you agree? Disagree? Did I leave something off of the list? Feel free to leave me your picks! I’m dying to hear them!
Four of the Apocalypse (1975)
by Steve Habrat
Before Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci became known as the “Godfather of Gore,” the grindhouse/horror legend dabbled in a number of non-horror film genres. In the late 1950s and 60s, he directed a handful of comedies and then set his sights on thrillers and gialli in the early 1970s. In the mid to late 60s and early 70s, Italy was enamored with spaghetti westerns and it comes as no surprise that Mr. Fulci decided to contribute a few westerns of his own to the booming subgenre. Near the end of the spaghetti western craze, Fulci released Four of the Apocalypse, a surprisingly sensitive but brutal trip into the Wild West that plays by its own set of rules. Lacking a strong, silent hero going to war with a pack of snarling gunslingers, Four of the Apocalypse is heavy with character development and shockingly light on gunplay. If you’re a fan of Fulci’s gory later work, rest assured that Four of the Apocalypse has plenty of the blood and torture that many of his fans expect, but you will also be surprised to find that you get attached to the four main characters before you are blindsided by the pitch-black tragedy that looms over the second half of the film. It really proves to those who wrote off Fulci as a horror hack that the “Godfather of Gore” is capable of making films with some serious substance.
Four of the Apocalypse picks up in Salt Flat, Utah, with a big time gambler named Stubby Preston (Played by Fabio Testi) arriving in town looking to make some money. Shortly after arriving, Stubby has a run-in with the Sheriff and he winds up thrown in jail with a beautiful prostitute, Bunny (Played by Lynne Frederick), the town drunk, Clem (Played by Michael J. Pollard), and the local loony, Bud (Played by Harry Baird). That very evening, a group of masked bandits attack Salt Flat and leave the town a bloody mess. The next morning, Stubby cuts a deal with the sheriff and the four soon find themselves traveling to the next town, which is 200 miles away. As they make their way down the dusty trail, the colorful group gets to know each other and Stubby begins taking a liking to Bunny, who also happens to be pregnant. The lighthearted trip is soon interrupted by a mysterious bandito that calls himself Chaco (Played by Tomas Milian), who wishes to join and travel with the group. Chaco claims that he is an expert hunter and that he can defend the rag-tag group from raiders and bandits. All seems well at first, but Chaco soon reveals himself to be a sadistic bandit that leaves the group for dead. With no food or water and one of their group severely wounded, Stubby vows to track down and kill Chaco for what he has done.
While the spaghetti western was known for delivering plenty of shoot-em-up action, Four of the Apocalypse shies away from the relentless violence that made the genre so popular. While a gun is fired here and there, the only real action comes from the beginning of the film, with the masked bandits turning Salt Flat into a war zone. This early scene has plenty of Fulci’s signature gore, with holes blown through the bellies of drunken cowboys and gunslingers hung from buildings. It is actually a fairly creepy sequence, especially since the bandits seem to be attacking for no reason and they are sporting white masks with eyeholes torn into them. From there on out, Fulci leaves most of the gunplay behind and focuses on the sunny relationship between our four likable travelers. The downside to this opening explosive action is that the pacing is thrown off and the film seems to come to a screeching halt when the group hits the road. While the all-out action is pulled back, Fulci does darken the whole affair when Chaco rides into the frame. Chaco is certainly a captivating character, but with him comes torture, rape, and death, all of which shatter the innocence of the group. Things really get grim when cannibalism rears its ugly head in one of the darkest moments of the entire film.
Four of the Apocalypse also features some truly exceptional and memorable performances from nearly everyone involved. Fabio Testi really casts a spell as Stubby, the handsome and outgoing gambler that everyone seems to be familiar with (Even Chaco has heard of him!). A clean-cut guy who can’t say no to a good shave, Stubby is far from the conventional spaghetti western hero. When he mingles with a group of hardened outlaws near the end of the film, he is glaringly out of place but we can see that he may be considering going down the path that these men have chosen. Then we have Frederick’s Bunny, the beautiful prostitute who strikes up a romance with Stubby. Despite her line of work and her growing baby bump, she retains a youthful innocence that is rare when it comes to spaghetti western prostitutes. Pollard’s Clem is a pitiful soul, one who is a slave to the bottle and will literally do anything for a swig of whiskey. Fulci really focuses on his sad eyes, which easily pierce your heart. Baird’s sweet but simple Bud was probably the most sympathetic and naive character as he rambles on about speaking with ghosts in a graveyard. Yet the one that stands high above all these characters is Milian, who is absolutely unforgettable as the unpredictable Chaco. As sadistic as they come, Chaco is like a gun slinging Charles Manson, one who manipulates and violates with the aid of peyote.
What I absolutely loved about Four of the Apocalypse is that it really seemed to be playing by its own set of rules. The final confrontation between Stubby and Chaco is subtle and minimal yet strangely poignant and satisfying. You’ll also find yourself hanging on the hope and tragedy that blossoms out of Stubby and Bunny’s arrival in the town of outlaws, all of whom melt over the arrival of Bunny’s child. You will find yourself wishing that Fulci had paced his film better and that he would have pulled the distracting folk score from the film and replaced it with a jangly Ennio Morricone track. Over the years, Four of the Apocalypse has become sort of a midnight movie for some of the violence peppered throughout, but the film never seems overly interested in exploiting the bloodier moments, something that is very rare for Fulci. Overall, Four of the Apocalypse is an absorbing and emotional journey across a bleak and hopeless landscape. There are a few dry spots to be found but end result is a wildly disturbing character study that allows the film to set itself apart from the other films of this subgenre.
Four of the Apocalypse is available on DVD.
The Beyond (1981)
by Steve Habrat
Italian director Lucio Fulci (the “Godfather of Gore”) is the man responsible for some of the most extreme horror films released in the late 70s into the mid 80s. Probably best known for his 1979 grindhouse gross-out Zombie, Fulci is also celebrated, at least by horror buffs, for his unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy. Beginning with 1980’s City of the Living Dead and ending with 1981’s The House by the Cemetery, the series peaked with The Beyond, the second film in the zombie-filled trilogy. Loved by both horror fans and exploitation gurus (Quentin Tarantino has said he is a fan and his Rolling Thunder Pictures even re-released the film into theaters a few years back), The Beyond is a surreal zombie nightmare that boasts a number of striking images combined with the director’s trademark carnage that every horror fan has come to expect when watching one of his films. It really doesn’t take the viewer long to understand why the film has earned the cult following that it has, especially when Fulci starts out by diving head first into a nasty sepia-colored crucifixion. Looking at The Beyond today, the effects are dated, the dubbing horrendous, and the acting about as over-the-top as you can get, but Fulci still manages to craft a fairly solid horror film that surprisingly gouges its way under your skin (that is, when you’re not chuckling at it).
The Beyond begins in 1927 Louisiana, with an angry mob storming the Seven Gates Hotel and brutally killing an artist named Schweick (Played by Antoine Saint-John). The mob believes that Schweick is a warlock, but little do they know that when they spill his blood, they will unknowingly open a gateway to Hell, which happens to be nestled underneath the Seven Gates Hotel. When this gateway is opened, it allows the dead to enter the realm of the living. Several decades later, a young woman by the name of Liza (Played by Catriona MacColl) has inherited the dilapidated Seven Gates Hotel and is planning on re-opening it once renovations are finished. As the renovations continue, strange apparitions spook the workers and some are seriously injured in freak accidents. To make things worse on Liza, the hotel comes with two suspicious servants, Martha (Played by Veronica Lazar) and Arthur (Played by Giampaolo Saccarola), who are constantly snooping around Liza’s room. When a plumber is brutally murdered and a rotten corpse turns up in the basement of the hotel, Liza teams up with Dr. John McCabe (Played by David Warbeck) to get to the bottom of the bizarre events. Their search leads them to Emily (Played by Sarah Keller), a mysterious blind woman who warns Liza about the hotel’s gruesome history and the dead who roam the basement.
In typical Fulci fashion, the plotline of The Beyond is an absolute mess, but you’re not really here for a satisfying story. No, if you’re stepping into Fulci’s world, you are there for the stomach churning gore, which usually revolves around the eyes (Fulci had a thing with the eyes). The Beyond is more than eager to deliver the violence we have all come expect from the “Godfather of Gore” and it certainly will have some reaching for the barf bag. Eye balls are gouged out, heads are impaled by jagged nails (complete with popped-out eyeballs), faces are eaten off by acid, people are crucified, one character is horrifically whipped with chains, another character has a massive hole blown into their head, man-eating tarantulas eat a character’s face off, and another character has their throat ripped out by a rabid dog. If that is not enough, wait until the zombie-filled climax, with the undead shuffling around a seemingly deserted hospital in search of an all-you-can-eat buffet of entrails. If you’ve seen Fulci’s Zombie or City of the Living Dead, you already know that these ghouls shuffle slowly, are decayed beyond belief, and moan through deep, heavy breathing. They certainly are impressive and Fulci is well aware that they are absolutely disgusting. Yet despite how gross The Beyond can be, Fulci still coughs up a few creepy images (as well as bloody vomit) that will certainly cause a few sleepless nights. Silhouetted zombies shuffle through the cobwebbed hotel, the blind Emily waits for Liza in the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and a rotting apparition appears in the bathroom of a supposedly haunted hotel room. It’s freaky stuff!
The Beyond also happens to boasts some fairly decent acting, a rarity in both Fulci’s work and exploitation cinema. MacColl is likable enough as the frightened Liza, a New Yorker who doesn’t believe in supernatural ghouls. Warbeck gets by as the pistol-packing doctor who just can’t seem to understand that you have to shoot the zombies in the head. Even if he never learns how to slay the undead, he’s good as the macho hero. Keller is easily the best as Emily, the blind girl with more than a few secrets of her own (her eyes will make your skin crawl). Her character gets the creepiest introduction, standing calmly right in the middle of the causeway as Liza’s car speeds towards her. Lazar and Saccarola are hilariously suspicious as the creepy servants that roam the hallways of the hotel. The best of the duo is easily Saccarola, who mopes around sweating and always looking terrified of something we never see. For horror buffs looking for a neat little Easter egg, keep an eye out for a cameo from Fulci, who appears as the librarian who leaves an architect to be eaten by an army of tarantulas.
Perhaps the strongest film from Fulci, The Beyond is certainly the artiest offering from the Italian horror master. He takes a little more care when putting his gothic images together and he really puts some effort into building a menacing atmosphere deep in the bayou. While the zombie climax is certainly fun, you can’t shake the feeling that it is a sequence that has been tacked on. Apparently, the film’s German distributor wanted to capitalize on the zombie craze that was ripping through Europe at the time, so they demanded that Fulci write in some undead cannibals. At least they look really creepy! You may also catch yourself chuckling at the music, which seems like it would have been more at home in a daytime soap opera rather than a ultra-gory horror film. Overall, The Beyond certainly has its fair share of goofs and flaws, but you just can’t resist its midnight movie appeal and its jaw-dropping violence. If you can, see it on the big screen with a bunch of horror enthusiast or watching with all the lights turned out. This one is guaranteed to make squirm even if you are laughing at the obviously fake tarantula eating a guy’s tongue out.
The Beyond is available on DVD. If you can, try to pick up Grindhouse Releasing’s copy of the film.
Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Goregirl
Here is a little information on Goregirl:
Canadian broad who has had a lifelong obsession with horror films. Perpetually working on a screenplay, avid collector of soundtracks, belt buckles and wigs. You can find me on WordPress: http://goregirl.wordpress.com/, YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/goregirlsdungeon or follow me on Twitter: @ggsdungeon.
Goregirl’s Top Five Scariest Italian Horror Films
Nothing can whip me into an excited frenzy like finding an Italian horror and/or thriller I haven’t seen. I have hungrily devoured Italian horror titles like a rabid Ms. Pac-Man. It is getting more difficult these days to find films I haven’t seen. I am particularly fond of the Giallo of the 1970s. The word Giallo is Italian for “yellow”, which refers to the common coloring of cheap pulp fiction novels. The term “Giallo” is used to describe Italian literature and film that contains elements of crime, mystery, horror, thrillers or eroticism. I never miss an opportunity to talk about Italian horror! Italian horror generally speaking tends to be plot heavy with copious twists and red herrings and while the mood can be positively electric I don’t think I would classify most of these as “scary”. Coming up with five was more difficult than I anticipated. I wanted to insure five Italian directors were represented so I allowed myself just one title per director. After much inner debate I chose the following five horror films hailing from Italy that provide not just thrills but also chills…
THE BEYOND (1981)
Directed By Lucio Fulci
I could easily have filled this entire top five with Lucio Fulci films! His brilliant entries Don’t Torture A Duckling, Zombi 2, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and The Psychic all deserve high praise. I chose Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. In my opinion The Beyond is Fulci’s scariest, creepiest and goriest effort. The premise of The Beyond sees one of the seven gateways to hell being breached. This gateway lies beneath a hotel the main character inherits. Crazy shit happens, some of it’s illogical but every last bit is a fascinating, visual treat. People are nailed to walls, eaten by tarantulas, melted by acid, and of course there is classic Fulci eye trauma! And there are zombies! Beautiful, rotted wonderfully vial zombies! Don’t worry about a perfect logical narrative; just let the nightmare wash over you! The Beyond is classic Fulci at his gory best, but I can not recommend more highly checking out any of the aforementioned Fulci flicks!
BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
Directed By Mario Bava
Mario Bava is another favourite director whom I struggled to choose just one film for. Certainly his fantastic anthology Black Sabbath, the brilliant Kill Baby Kill!, the masterful The Girl Who Knew Too Much or his magnificent Blood and Black Lace would have all been great choices. I went with what is perhaps Bava’s best known film; Black Sunday. The stunning Barbara Steele takes on dual roles as Princess Asa Vajda and Katia Vajda. It is a wonderful richly gothic tale of a witch put to death by her own brother who returns 200 years later to seek revenge on her descendants. “The Mask of Satan” (which also happens to be one of its alternate titles) once pulled from the face of our witch makes for some grotesque visuals! Black Sunday was one of my dad’s favourite films and it absolutely terrified me as a child. While Black Sunday doesn’t quite have the same effect on me after 20ish viewings I think it is still one of Bava’s creepiest and most beautiful films.
Directed By Sergio Martino
No list of Italian films is complete without an entry from Sergio Martino. Anyone with even a casual interest in Italian horror probably knows the names Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava and Dario Argento but the lesser known Sergio Martino made several epic entries through the seventies. My favourite film by Martino is definitely The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh starring the gorgeous and sexy Edwige Fenech; Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail wouldn’t be far behind. I love these films but I would be hard pressed to say any of these are “scary”. Martino’s most frightening entry is Torso. College students are being murdered and the only clue to the killer’s identity is a scarf. A group of lovely ladies take refuge in the Italian countryside only to find themselves the killer’s target. The good old balaclava; headwear of thieves and serial killers alike! Torso has a balaclaved baddie, amazing scenery, plenty of skin and some impressive brutality! The final chase scene between the surviving female and the murderer is intense and exciting. Torso is gritty, sexy, suspenseful, violent and it has a great soundtrack to boot.
Directed By Dario Argento
What can I say about the great Dario Argento? The man knew how to construct a violent and visually stunning film. Argento’s Deep Red, Tenebre and Suspiria have long been personal favourites. Deep Red will always be my number one but for the “scary” category I would have to go with Suspiria. Suspiria takes place in a prestigious dance school where shenanigans of a supernatural nature are afoot. There is a feeling of unease established from the moment new student Suzy Bannion arrives at the school that doesn’t let up until the final credits. Its beauty is quite remarkable but is only one of its impressive qualities. Suspiria is claustrophobic, intense, suspenseful, thrilling and features some very impressive murder sequences! Suspiria is like an adult fairy tale and its impressive setting and props add a whimsical and yet terrifying sense of dread. Its brilliant soundtrack courtesy of Goblin is one of the best horror film soundtracks ever created! Performances are excellent across the board from Jessica Harper who plays Suzy, Stefania Casini who plays her friend Sara and great turns from classic actresses Alida Valli as Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc. Suspiria is part of Argento’s “three mothers trilogy” and I can not recommend enough also checking out Inferno, his second of the trilogy. Suspiria is a beautiful nightmare.
Directed By Lamberto Bava
Lamberto Bava is the son of the great Mario Bava. While I enjoyed Lamberto Bava’s Macabro, A Knife in the Dark, and Delirium, in my opinion Demons is definitely Bava’s masterpiece. There have not been many effects-intensive creature creations from Italy so for that reason alone this film is special. There are however a lot of other reasons Demons is special. The premise is a simple one; a group of people are given passes to a screening of a horror film and become trapped inside the theatre with a bunch of demons. Demons is very high-energy, it doesn’t let up for a second. The gore is plentiful; the effects are outrageous and occasionally gag-worthy. Most importantly, Demons has some really freaking cool looking demons! The transformations are fantastic; polished nails being pushed out in favor of nifty new gnarly claws, teeth pushed out to upgrade to some nice big pointy ones. It is a beautiful thing! Demons definitely has its campy qualities but it only adds to its charms. Demons insane finale involving a dirt bike, a sword and a helicopter falling through the roof is not to be missed! If you enjoy Demons, there is also a sequel you can sink your teeth into. Demons 2 isn’t as good as the original, but it certainly has its moments! Demons is an orgasmic, goretastic joy!
Shock Waves (1977)
by Steve Habrat
If you’ve gotten sick of playing Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies and you’ve worn out your copy of the Norwegian freak out Dead Snow, you are probably looking for a Nazi zombie fix and FAST. Fear not, my dear readers, for I have the movie for you and that movie is 1977’s Shock Waves, a deeply unnerving and hallucinatory vision that has traces of Lucio Fulci’s island terror in its veins and the cynical outlook of a George Romero zombie flick in its rotting brain. What Shock Wave lacks in blood and guts (there is barely any to be found here), it more than makes up for in unsettling mood and some thoroughly ghastly ghouls. Largely forgotten by many and relatively unknown by most, Shock Waves is a true gem of the horror genre— one that I seriously cannot believe did not leave a bigger mark on the zombie genre. With its premise, you’d expect a serious camp fest that glides by on tons of gooey entrails and spurting arteries but director Ken Wiederhorn would rather slowly wrap you up in a damp and slimy grip that will curl your toes.
Shock Waves picks up aboard a commercial pleasure yacht, where a small handful of tourists soak up the sun and bicker with each other. Aboard the boat is The Captain (Played by John Carradine), first mate Chuck (Played by Don Stout), boat chef Dobbs (Played by Luke Halpin), tourist Keith (Played by Fred Buch), pretty Rose (Played by Brooke Adams), and testy married couple Norman (Played by Jack Davidson) and Beverly (Played by D.J. Sidney). After an eerie orange haze consumes the afternoon sky, the boat’s navigation system is sent on the fritz and then quits working. That very evening, the boat nearly collides with a ghostly ship that suddenly disappears into the darkness. The next morning, The Captain is missing from the ship and it is discovered that the boat is taking on water. The rest of the passengers on the boat head for a scenic tropical island where they find a deserted hotel that is inhabited by a skinny old SS Commander (Played by Peter Cushing) who demands that they leave the island. The terrified group soon finds themselves stalked by mute and decaying Nazi “Death Corps” zombies who sport wicked pairs of goggles and have risen from the ruins of a mysterious wrecked ship that strangely appears just off the beach.
Quietly intense with dreamy hallucinatory images that at times feel strangely like mirages, Shock Waves quickly takes hold of you then slowly tightens its grip. Director Wiederhorn allows his camera to act almost voyeuristic as it creeps through the trees to spy on the zombies that pop up from the murky water. They are presented as paranormal specters that are silhouetted by the blinding sun reflecting off the water. At times, we see them from an extreme distance, marching in formation and turning to barely acknowledge their gaunt commander as he pleads with them to stop their meaningless slaughter. It was these scenes that made me fall in love with Shock Waves, the film just subtle enough while every once in a while, getting right in our faces so we can see its soggy decay. We never see any scenes of mass carnage, the zombies preferring to drown their victims instead of gnawing at their flesh and sucking on their entrails. That fact that the film remains eerily tranquil throughout, never getting frantic or hurrying is what really makes this film such an effective little adventure.
For a film with such a B-movie premise, the actors all do a fantastic job being believable. Peter Cushing is at his menacing best as a scarred monster that regrets his work within the Third Reich. Carradine is perfect for the cranky old fart of a Captain who refuses to believe that passengers saw a ghost ship sail by in the night. I wish we would have gotten more of him and I would have loved to see his reactions to all the supernatural spooks that manifest. Stout plays the typical strong silent type hero Chuck who is always saving Rose from certain death. He is the thin layer of glue that attempts to hold the crumbling group together. Adams, who is mostly asked to prance around in a yellow bikini, is nice eye candy and the climax allows her to play crazy (I won’t say anymore on that). Jack Davidson playing an over-opinionated car salesman who likes to tell the Captain how to do his job is another standout. You’ll be rooting for him to come face-to-face with the undead terrors.
Shock Waves, which was made in 1977, before Fulci’s Zombie and Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, is efficient with its hell-in-a-tropical-setting approach which it fuses with Romero’s beloved idea that our unwillingness to work together will be our downfall. A scene in which our small group is forced to put their backs against the wall is nice and claustrophobic, a scene that ends in a frenzied outburst and threats made from one group member to the other. The scene plays out much like the climax of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, survivor pitted against survivor. Also notable is the way that Wiederhorn plays with the alien tropical island to give us the creeps. Much like Fulci’s Zombie, there is this heavy feel of supernatural forces at play, a trait that is expressed in the sudden moans of spacey electronics on the soundtrack. In fact, the film would play nicely in a zombie double feature with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, or Zombie. Sounds like something I may have to try myself.
I really can’t praise Shock Waves enough even though there are a few minor imperfections to be found throughout its hour and twenty-five minute runtime. Most of these blunders can be overlooked and really are not worth mentioning here. With strong direction (Those underwater shots are stupendous!), surprisingly strong acting from everyone involved, unforgettable cinematography (those grainy zombie silhouettes will stay with me for the rest of my days) and some tingling moments of sheer terror (a Nazi zombie standing a little too still behind a closing door while a blinded victim is oblivious to its presence), Shock Waves builds itself into a sopping wet funhouse of aquatic devils leaping up from shallow waters to drag our protagonists into a watery hell. For fans of the zombie genre, Shock Waves is a true must, one that, if you have never seen it, is a macabre surprise and one that will scare the living hell right out of you.
Shock Waves is available on DVD.
The Dead (2011)
by Steve Habrat
How I was unaware a zombie film like The Dead snuck out without me knowing about it baffles me. The zombie horror genre has been overshadowed by the recent rise of teen vampires and “found footage” ghost flicks, the only life being found in AMC’s top-notch The Walking Dead. Basically, if you are a fan of George Romero’s original zombie trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (or basically any Italian ziti zombie film), then you need to rush out right now and pick up The Dead. You are going to be blown away by this thing. Certainly not a perfect movie but featuring an unmatched beauty, The Dead is for those who long for the days of the shuffling ghouls, not the sprinting, shrieking zombies that were made popular by 28 Days Later. For a fan of this kind of stuff, it was a blast to sit back and spot all the references and nods to Romero and Fulci all while directors Jonathan and Howard J. Ford carve out their own zombie classic. In all honesty, I haven’t been this excited about a zombie flick since 28 Days Later.
The Dead picks up in Africa, where the dead have risen from their graves and started feeding on the living. Everyman Lt. Brian Murphy (Played by Rob Freeman) is on the last plane out of Africa and just shortly after getting airborne, the plane plunges from the sky. Washing up on zombie-infested shores, Brian begins making his way through the beautiful landscape that has been desecrated with death, eager to find a way back to his family in America. He soon meets up with Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Played by Prince David Oseia), who is on a quest to find his son after his village is overrun by the creeping ghouls, and together they set out to protect and aid each other in their quest.
The Dead is simple and straight to the point, picking up in all the chaos that is tearing Africa apart. There is no lead in, explanation to be found, or an abundance of characters that we need to get to know. We just have Brian and Daniel, both men who have to set aside differences to band together and protect each other. There is not much said between the two men and when they do speak, it’s mostly because they have to. They reveal bits and pieces about their lives, enough for us to really pull for them when they get corned by a group of shuffling zombies. There has been much to do over the slow moving cannibals but the Ford brothers understand that if you always have at least two zombies in the frame, you’re implying that there isn’t much hope for refuge and salvation. These zombies are fairly basic, a little dirt smudged on their faces, a few wounds, dead eyes, and torn clothes. It adds a chilling layer of realism to The Dead. They make us think back to the original terrors that pounded their way into the farmhouse in 1968. They reminded me of the ghouls who forced their way into the Monroeville Mall in 1978. They were eerily similar to the cannibals who shuffled around the tropical island in 1979.
It may retain a traditional style, but The Dead also packs plenty of smarts to compliment the old fashioned approach. The film presents multiple moral situations that would be gut wrenching to face. The worst one we see is an injured African woman trying to flee a group of zombies who are closing in on her. She calls for help to Brian, who is reluctant to assist her, but his reluctance is tried even further when the woman hands him an infant whose cries attract the zombies. The woman forces Brian to take the child, and then forces him to put his gun to her head and begs him to shoot her. It’s scenes like this that makes The Dead such a force to be reckon with. It also mirrors our unwillingness to help those in need, those who are poverty stricken. It was never easy to watch Brian and Daniel put the ghouls down, especially in a place where disease and conflict are consistently present. Surely controversial and upsetting to some who watch it, The Dead understands that there has to be more than just gore to get under our skin, something that Romero certainly understands.
The Dead doesn’t reinvent the wheel and I didn’t really expect it to. That credit falls on the shoulders of Danny Boyle and 28 Days Later. There are a few moments where continuity issues are glaring and a few editing choices that may make you scratch your head. One scene in particular reeks of a tight budget, which seemed to force the Ford brothers to sacrifice clarity. At times, the acting from Rob Freeman is a bit hammy and a little too macho for a man in his situation. Prince David Oseia out acts Freeman in almost every scene and his character is infinitely more interesting. In a way, I sort of liked Freeman’s old-fashioned macho hero because he reminded me of Peter or Rodger in Dawn of the Dead. The Dead never lets up on the viewer; constantly keeping your stomach twisted in knots and you’ll find yourself keeping an eye out for the two heroes. With Romero grasping at rotten entrails and hitting rock bottom with Survival of the Dead, it’s reassuring–and terrifying–to know that there is a stripped down, straightforward, and smart zombie flick out there to satisfy the zombie fans.
The Dead is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.