by Steve Habrat
In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez introduced mainstream audiences to exploitation cinema or “grindhouse” cinema with their sleazy double-feature experiment Grindhouse. Their experiment failed to resonate with audiences, at least at first, but in the wake of Grindhouse, there was a growing interest in exploitation cinema from the mid 1960s until the mid 80s. Glorifying sex, violence, and depravity, “grindhouse” movies were “ground out” in dingy old movie palaces or rickety drive-in theaters while a wide range of colorful audience members smoked dope, pleasured themselves, mugged other audience members, heckled the screen, and relieved themselves in soda cups to avoid a trip to the creepy bathrooms. Ranging from spaghetti westerns to European zombie movies to cannibal films to blaxploitation flicks to all out pornography, exploitation had many forms and a good majority of them were absolutely awful. However, there were more than a few stand outs that managed to hold up over the years and earn respectable cult followings. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s ten best grindhouse films of all time. Take comfort in the fact that you can watch them in your own home, far away from the junkies of 42nd Street!
WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC IMAGES
10.) I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Israeli director Meir Zarchi’s stunningly graphic rape/revenge flick has become one of the most infamous grindhouse films ever made. The film notoriously enraged critics upon its release and even caused Roger Ebert to write one of the most scathing film reviews of his career. I Spit on Your Grave is trashy, sleazy, mean, brutal, and harrowing, with plenty of sex and violence to fuel a dozen exploitation pictures. So what makes it so awesome? Folks, when this poor woman unleashes her fury, it will have you simultaneously cheering her on while covering your eyes and reaching for the barf bag. I Spit on Your Grave was remade in 2010, but the polished presentation and evidence of a studio budget failed to pack the punch of the gritty original.
9.) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one seriously scary movie. Believe me, folks. It may also make you want to take a shower, become a vegetarian, and never go anywhere near the Texas border. Wielding a nerve-frying sense of realism, this grim and grimy tale about a group of young friends who come face to face with a family of murderous cannibals led by Leatherface was inspired by the heinous crimes of real life serial killer Ed Gein and famously spooked the horror-hating critic Rex Reed. Surprisingly, Hooper adds little gore to the mayhem and instead relies on the thick Texas heat, dilapidated brans, abandoned meat packing factories, and rusty family-owned gas stations to keep us on our toes. Wait for the final fifteen minuets, with a gut-churning family dinner, star Marilyn Burns screaming herself horse, and Leatherface doing a dance of death in the middle of a highway.
8.) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Sexploitation king Russ Meyer’s snarling Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of the funkiest films you are ever likely to see. It has just about everything an exploitation fan could want: ass-kicking go-go dancers, drag races, fist fights, big breasts, sadistic backwoods males, and switchblades. It is like a living, berating cartoon that wouldn’t hesitate to rip your throat out. It is precisely this pulpy, comic book touch that makes Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! such an essential grindhouse thrill ride. The action is breakneck, the fights are bone-snapping, the races are smoking, and the go-go dances will have the male viewers hot under the collar. The middle section of the film begins to sag, that I will admit, but the curvy Varla and her no-nonsense attitude keeps the entertainment level as high as it will go.
7.) El Topo (1970)
The film that started the midnight movie craze, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo is a work that you can’t even begin to fully understand or truly put in words. It’s a spaghetti western that really isn’t a western at all. At times spiritual, at times existential, at times beautiful, but almost always brutal beyond belief, El Topo follows a lone gunslinger named El Topo (played by Jodorowsky) on his quest to confront a handful of cunning warriors lurking out in the desert. At the time of its release, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were very vocal about their love for El Topo, and over the years, it has caught the attention of David Lynch, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Marilyn Manson, and Bob Dylan. There is no doubt that El Topo will shock, swoon, and appall all who see it, sending the viewers away to discuss and debate the surreal string of images that Jodorowsky springs on them. You truly won’t believe your eyes.
6.) The Streetfighter (1974)
You can’t have a list of the best grindhouse films of all time without including this wickedly savage Sonny Chiba classic. The Streetfighter is a mess in the plot department, but you’re not here to for a mind bending story. No, you’re here to watch Sonny Chiba, who seriously makes the best facial expression ever while throwing down with a sea of bad guys, rip some guys balls off, rip another dude’s vocal cords out, and sock a guy in the gut so hard that he barfs (trust me, there is a hell of a lot more). It’s great and it is even better if you watch it with a group of friends that howl every time someone memorably bites the dust. The Streetfighter ended up being the first film ever to receive an “X” rating for violence and even by today’s standards, it would make most splatter directors blush. It stands proudly as one of the greatest kung-fu films ever made.
5.) Halloween (1978)
Believe it or not, John Carpenter’s icy tale of the Boogeyman in suburbia was indeed a grindhouse movie. Made by an independent studio and on a shoestring budget of $325,000, this terrifying slasher pic is widely considered to be the most successful independent feature of all time. Halloween is the ultimate example of less-is-more and it inspired a slew of holiday-themed slashers that emerged in the wake of its popularity. There is so much to love here, from the spine-tingling score to the seemingly supernatural Michael Meyers, and plenty to give the viewer nightmares for a week. Halloween was followed by a number of sequels, two of which are worth checking out, and a gritty, ultra-gory remake in 2007 by shock rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie. There have been countless imitators, but the original Halloween remains the scariest slasher film ever made.
4.) Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)
One of the more extreme and sexually graphic films on this list, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, was one of the original women-in-prison grindhouse films. Directed by Don Edmonds and shot on the leftover sets of Hogan’s Heroes, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS has earned its reputation through its borderline pornographic sex scenes, prolonged sequences of torture, its surprisingly serious approach to the silly material, the grim ending, and Dyanne Thorne as the sadistic Ilsa. Seriously, wait until you get a load of Thorne’s Ilsa. If taken for what it is, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is pretty entertaining even if you’re constantly closing your eyes or watching with your jaw on the floor. In October, I actually had the pleasure of meeting Dyanne Thorne and she was a gigantic sweetheart even if she was dressed in her Nazi uniform. For those looking to cut their teeth on the savage stuff, make sure you get ahold of the blood-splattered Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. It is the real deal.
3.) Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974)
Would you believe that director Bo Arne Vibenius, the man behind Thriller: A Cruel Picture, once worked with Swedish art house director Ingmar Bergman? If you’ve seen Thriller: A Cruel Picture, you probably can’t. The ultimate rape/revenge film, Thriller would chew I Spit on Your Grave up and then spit it out, place a double barrel shotgun to its head, and then blow its brains clean out. The tagline warned viewers that Thriller was “the movie that has no limits of evil” and it really meant it. Following the beautiful young Frigga (played by bombshell Christina Lindberg), who is abducted and forced into a life of drug addiction and prostitution before she snaps and goes on a killing spree, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is about as rough and tough as a motion picture can be. Vibenius unleashes graphic sequences of sexual intercourse (complimented by a shrill static sound effect to make the viewer cringe) and slow-motion shots of Frigga’s tormentors tumbling through the air while gore spills from the bullet wounds. He also gouges the eye ball out of a real corpse. So, do you think you have the stones to go up against Thriller: A Cruel Picture?
2.) Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Ruggero Deodato’s “found footage” gross-out Cannibal Holocaust was so realistic, that when the film premiered in Milan, Deodato was arrested and charged with obscenity. Certainly not for everyone, Cannibal Holocaust has become the most controversial movie ever made and it lives up to its reputation. Featuring strings of unblinking violence with barely a cut to be found, real footage of animals being killed (this aspect of the film particularly disturbed me), and the most repulsive sex/rape scenes every filmed, Cannibal Holocaust is the film that goes all the way and doesn’t even consider looking back. Believe it or not, Cannibal Holocaust is a shocking reflection of the violence lurking in even the most “civilized” human beings, something you’d never expect from a film that seems content to wallow in depravity. The film sparked a number of copy cat cannibal films that emerged out of Italy throughout the 80s, but none could match what Deodato created. Deodato has since stated his regret in making the film, but Cannibal Holocaust has earned a fairly respectable cult following. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.
1.) Zombie (1979)
Legendary Italian horror director Lucio Fulci has been widely considered to be the “Godfather of Gore” and he certainly lives up to that reputation with Zombie. Released in 1979 and marketed as the sequel to George A. Romero’s zombie epic Dawn of the Dead (the films have no connection), Zombie is about as fun and icky as a zombie film can get. It is gratuitous with its blood and guts as well with its nudity (breasts are flashed for seemingly no reason at all). Zombie certainly lacks the sophistication of a Romero zombie film and absolutely no one expects it to make a profound statement about society, but it does get the zombie action right. Rotten corpses claw out of the grave, freshly infected shuffle through rickety tropical ghost towns looking for victims, a zombie battles a shark (yes, you read that correctly) and ghouls rally together at the climax to infiltrate a bordered up makeshift hospital. And boy, does it feature some nasty looking zombies. A midnight movie of the highest order, Zombie is balls to the wall insanity. Fun Fact: Zombie‘s trailer promised queasy viewers a barf bag with their ticket!
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.
by Steve Habrat
Why horror fans and critics don’t make a bigger deal over Lamberto Bava’s fantasy-becomes-nightmare horror romp Demons beats the hell out of me! I haven’t had this much fun watching an 80’s gore flick in quite a while and Demons matched the gruesome insanity of Evil Dead every step of the way. Demons is shamelessly loaded with plot holes, something that actually adds to the fun that you will have while watching this thing. Produced by Dario Argento and directed by Mario Bava’s son, Demons is never just coasting along. It isn’t particularly concerned with establishing much of a plot or any real underlying meaning; it’s just out to have a head banging good time. If you don’t find yourself possessed by the madness here, you are way too uptight.
Demons picks up in a Berlin subway where a college student named Cheryl (Played by Natasha Hovey) bumps into a mysterious masked man who resembles Kano from Mortal Kombat. The man hands her two movie tickets to a recently renovated movie palace and then disappears. Cheryl decides to attend the movie that evening, bringing along her friend Kathy (Played by Paola Cozzo) who complains that the movie that is showing better not be a horror movie. When the girls arrive at the theater, they are pursued by two young men named George (Played by Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Played by Karl Zinny), who tell the girls they will comfort them if the movie gets scary. In the lobby of the theater, there is a mysterious set up that acts as a promotion for the film they are seeing. A young woman decides to put on the mask and when she takes it off, she ends up with a strange cut on her face. The movie begins and sure enough, it is a horror film about demonic possession. Shortly after the film begins, audience members begin finding themselves infected with a strange virus that turns them into demonic killers. As the demonic numbers rise, Cheryl, Kathy, George, and Ken have to band together and stay alive until help can arrive.
This variegated bloodbath is a pure 80’s artifact, a film that packs the macho hero, relentless carnage, a samurai sword (of course), and a blaring heavy metal soundtrack to get your adrenaline pumping. It packs tons of impressive special effects and make-up work, the ghouls ending up simple yet foully intricate. Wounds ooze pus and blood and the ghouls vomit out green slime, any gross touch thrown in just to show off what the special effects crew is capable of. The film also manages to be a little freaky at points, Bava’s camera peering down foggy staircases and dank alleyways, a silhouetted ghoul creeping in the shadows here and there. Demons turns out to be an energetic kaleidoscope of energy that is undeniably contagious. The lunacy reaches its max when our hero begins chopping off heads with the sword and a helicopter comes crashing through the ceiling of the theater. Are you intrigued yet?
Demons has lots of incoherence littered about its eighty-eight minute runtime. Who is the strange masked cyborg man handing out the tickets? Are these people from the future? Another realm? And what about the suspicious theater usher? Don’t bother trying to figure any of this out and just roll with the punches. Demons harkens back to a time when going to the movies was an immersive event, to a time when the seats where rigged with a vibrating device to spook audience members (The Tingler) and barf bags where provided for the insanity (Zombie). This is a film that should play in theaters today and feature some kind of gag to get the audience involved, much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show! The film is cool enough on its own to watch in the comfort of your own home, but if you showed this to a theater that interacts with the screen while downing a few beers in the process, you’d have a hell of a night at the movies.
Demons doesn’t ask much of us as viewers and is only concerned with our enjoyment of the content. The embellished final act is a must see, especially since while watching the first half, I couldn’t imagine things getting any wilder. The fact that the film is game to take this twist on is enough to call this a blemished horror classic. Demons turns out to have all the makings for the craziest party you’ve never been to. Even a white suited pimp with a fu manchu shows up to play hero for a while! If you are an individual who detests horror, believe me when I say there is enjoyment to be found in the gross out shticks that Demons is so fond of. This is, without question, an infectious experience, making it very easy to fall in love with this beast of a horror movie.
Demons is now available on DVD.
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.
by Steve Habrat
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Mondo cane, Cannibal Holocaust, and Dawn of the Dead were thrown into a blender and then the mixture was combined with vomit, maggots, inappropriate stock footage and horrible dialogue? You would have Bruno Mattei’s (or Vincent Dawn’s, according to the opening credits) Hell of the Living Dead, a Dawn of the Dead wannabe that is so desperate to be Dawn of the Dead, it even has commando heroes and lifts the iconic Goblin score from Romero’s masterpiece. A grind-house classic of the highest degree, Hell of the Living Dead is the anti-Romero, a film so blank, slapped together, and poorly dubbed, it’s a wonder it has even seen the light of day. Rising from the grave in Italy, this ziti zombie film is practically the definition of a guilty-pleasure midnight movie, only for those who are zombie fanatics.
Hell of the Living Dead picks up at a research facility called Hope #1 in Papua New Guinea where a chemical leak and an infected rat cause the entire staff to be turned into flesh eating ghouls almost instantly. After the accident and the loss of contact to the facility, an elite SWAT unit led by Lt. Mike London (Played by José Gras) travels to the island where the research center is located. When the commandos arrive, they find the island infested with zombies and the local tribes in mass hysteria over the outbreak of this strange virus. After teaming up with a beautiful journalist named Lia (Played by Margit Evelyn Newton), the group sets off through the jungles to find Hope #1 and discover the secrets behind the mysterious chemical named Operation Sweet Death.
Hell of the Living Dead is a film so bad, so outrageous, and so asinine that it actually manages to be bareable in a weird way. It is almost like seeing a horrible car accident that you just can’t look away from even though you desperately want to. The film tries to pass itself off as a horror film but there isn’t a scare to found. Well, that is unless you find cross-dressing terrifying. Truth be told, there are a few scenes in Hell of the Living Dead that echo with slight potential. A zombie army descends on a secluded home in the jungle and it manages to be properly claustrophobic and eerie even if every character acts like a complete moron. Some of the shots of zombies staggering out of the jungle are slightly uncanny but quickly grow corny due to their uniformity.
Whether you’re shaking your head at missed opportunities or gaping at the dreadful dialogue the film is notorious for, the reason the film is at the bottom of the barrel as far as zombie films go is because it is so desperate to be Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, it even slathered its zombie extras in blue make-up. To be fair, Romero’s blue zombies were not intentional. Make-up artist Tom Savini wanted them to be a pale, grayish color but when they were photographed, they turned out blue. In Hell of the Living Dead, I feel like it was no mistake. The film brazenly lifts Goblin’s iconic score from Dawn of the Dead, completely out of place for this film. Mattei’s use of blue jumpsuit clad soldiers is also glaring noticeable. If you are new to zombie films and you begin with Hell of the Living Dead, it is best to shut it off and put in Romero’s epic classic instead of watching this. But if you are a seasoned pro when it comes to this stuff, my advice is to make a drinking game with your buddies. Call it “Spot the Romero Reference!”
Hell of the Living Dead has it all for the exploitation fans. It has senseless nudity, jaw-dropping gore, and copious overacting from elapsed actors. The film has also become infamous for its improper use of stock-footage that serves only to add a few more shocks to an already fairly deplorable experience. It doesn’t help that much of the plot is unintelligible either. Long forgotten by most, Hell of the Living Dead isn’t a film for staid film viewers. You’ll be turning it off in the first five minutes of its runtime. If you are like me and you get a kick out of forgotten Z-grade pictures like this, then seek out Hell of the Living Dead. I enjoy making the film a beer drenched double feature with Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, as it creates a nice balance between beyond awful and surprisingly respectable. Hell of the Living Dead falls into the beyond awful even if it does make the trash fan in me smile.
Hell of the Living Dead is available on DVD and yes, it is a part of my exploitation collection.
by Steve Habrat
What do you get when you throw LSD dropping devil worshippers, shotgun packing children and old men, rabid dogs, zombies, and heaping piles of severed limbs into a blender? You get the trashy I Drink Your Blood, a grind house picture with an ADD plot and bug eyed acting. This everything-and-the-kitchen-sink film is a fun flick to watch when you and your friends are looking for a good film to laugh at between sips of beer. Hell, getting a nice buzz may actually enhance the quality of I Drink Your Blood, a film that would be right at home on a double bill with Sugar Hill or Rabid. Made in 1970, the film follows the perspiring, claustrophobic, and granular aesthetic that was heavily popular during this specific era. At times it is reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre even though this came out way before Tobe Hooper’s nightmare was unleashed. And yet even though the film is absolutely awful, if you are like me and adore this strain of cinema, you will find yourself admitting that I Drink Your Blood is so bad it is almost, well, good!
A group of wacky Satanist hippies lead by the bloodthirsty Horace Bones (Played by Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury) roll into what appears to be a fairly conservative and largely abandoned small town. After the gang captures a local girl Sylvia (Played by Iris Brooks), who was watching the group perform a satanic ritual in the woods, they proceed to rape the poor girl. The next day, Sylvia stumbles from the woods, bloodied and rough up. She is discovered by Mildred (Played by Elizabeth Marner-Brooks), a woman who runs a local meat pie bakery, and Sylvia’s younger brother Pete (Played by Riley Mills). Mildred and Pete take Sylvia home to her grandfather Banner (Played by Richard Bowler), who swears he will get revenge on the group for what they have done to his granddaughter. Armed with a double barrel shotgun, he goes out to find the group, who has taken up shelter in an abandoned and supposedly haunted house. The group soon discovers Banner sneaking up on them and consequently he is the beaten, tortured, and force-fed LSD. Pete follows his grandfather to the house where he tries to rescue his grandfather and the two barely escape. While Banner recovers, Pete takes his grandfather’s shotgun and kills a rabid dog, taking its blood with a syringe and proceeds to inject it into a batch of meat pies. Pete then offers the meat pies to the hippies and soon after eating them, members of the group begin changing into rabid, infected psychos who just want to dismember anyone in their path.
Vaguely evocative of the Manson Family and part cautionary tale about the side effects of LSD, I Drink Your Blood is a repulsive gross out film with very little aptitude. It is never insinuating, as at one particular moment, the young and naïve Pete asks about LSD and a whole background is given on the drug. It doesn’t help that it packs the most outrageous plotline ever conceived. Yet it achieves cult status much like films like Burial Grounds, Zombie, Cannibal Holocaust, and I Spit on Your Grave. It has to be seen to be believed. That is if you can stomach it. Filled with pointless sex scenes (The film stops part way through to deliver for the nudity craving viewers) and graphic gore (In one scene, a leg is hacked off and it is a bit too real), it is no wonder this film was slapped with an X rating upon its release.
I Drink Your Blood is a film of memorable scenes rather than a substantial work of art. You will never forget a hoard of construction workers flailing through a field looking for someone to hack up. How about the moment with cult movie starlet Lyn Lowry (Of The Crazies fame) sawing off someone’s hand and carrying it around and examining it? How about the pregnant Satanist stabbing her own bulging, pregnant stomach? Or a mouth foaming psycho carrying a severed head around showing it to terrified citizens? Pretty sick stuff, huh? There are moments that have been influential (I’m fairly certain that Rob Zombie was inspired by the final firefight and added a nod to it in The Devil’s Rejects. He also samples a bit of the synthy score in his song “Feel So Numb”) and some that are harrowing (The final shot of the film sticks with you).
Unable to evaluate the film on intellectual terms (The film sparks no intellectual thought at all), I Drink Your Blood knows its target audience and everyone else can go to Hell. It is a sour concoction that manages to offend in almost every way imaginable and I’m convinced that is the only reason it was made. If you are deeply disturbed by animal cruelty, I’d stay far away from this (And Cannibal Holocaust). I found myself chuckling at some of the lunacy but I suppose I take these films on their own turf and the more extreme they are, the more the burrow their way into the soft spot I have for them. Yet I would never consider I Drink Your Blood a good film or recommend it to anyone looking for a movie to watch on a Friday night. The craftsmanship is amateur, the score is repetitive, and the acting cartoonish, I Drink Your Blood is for fans of this genre only and especially ones who understand how to approach this material. If your mission is to seek out the most extreme forms of cinema and try to see as many of these films as you can, I Drink Your Blood will rank among some of the most twisted you will see. If there was ever a film that leaves the viewer thinking they need a shower, I Drink Your Blood is the one.
by Steve Habrat
You almost never come across a list of the scariest films ever made that doesn’t contain George A. Romero’s 1968 claustrophobic skin-crawler Night of the Living Dead. To this very day, the film still manages to be a Halloween night tradition that sends it’s first-time viewers away unnerved and scarred for life. Much has been written on the horror classic and every critic that is armed with a laptop has analyzed it to death. There is not a frame of this classic film that hasn’t been combed over. Perhaps it was seeing this film for myself (along with the 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead) that made me realize that there was quite a bit more going on in movies than meets the casual viewers eye. The film created quite a stir over its stanch, stationary scenes of gore and it’s is-this-really-happening? authenticity. To this day, it still is widely discussed and it is the Dr. Frankenstein to the Ziti Zombie films that started rising from their graves over in Italy (famed Italian film critic turned horror auteur Dario Argento reportedly loved this film). While there is some fun to be had at the Ziti Zombie buffet, they mostly descend into gory guilty pleasures which features dim characters, gratuitous nudity, and enough entrails to please the most bloodthirsty gore hound (I personally love the Ziti Zombie offerings, especially films like Burial Grounds, Zombie, and Hell of the Living Dead). Yet Night of the Living Dead’s violence is just understated enough and is more disquieting in black and white. This film’s use of black and white elevates it from minor to mighty. It shifts it from campy to coarse. It’s borderline too real for words. It resembles a newsreel that has been stored away in a dark, damp basement, away from the public’s eye. You feel as if we weren’t meant to see this film.
While I could just repeat what almost everyone knows about this film—how it evoked the images of Vietnam that ran across television nightly, the controversial casting of an African-American in the starring role, the Cold War comparisons, etc, I could instead explain to you why the film scares me. Why it grabbed me at an early age and never let me go. It scares me because it feels realistic, it’s in black and white, it’s claustrophobic, it never slows down, and it leaves more to the imagination than makes this viewer comfortable. This is quite an intricate film for the uninitiated. There’s the reason to see it because, yes, it is immensely entertaining and is quintessential for any horror fan. And yes, the gore is extreme and comes to a head in the form of a young girl eating her poor father’s arm off. I feel as though everyone who sees Night of the Living Dead is spooked by it for different reasons. It could play on the what-would-I-do-in-that-situation? or the planting of the idea that when the chips are down, the worst in people will come out.
The number one quality that has made Night of the Living Dead endear after all these years is it’s aesthetic. Due to the lack of a large price tag, the film, which boasts granular camera work, feels voyeuristic. The whole time, you feel as if you are a fly on the wall watching this group fight for their lives. Even the rag tag group the story follows feel like real individuals. You have levelheaded Ben (Played by Duane Jones, his head help high), the dazed Barbara (Played by Judith O’Dea), snappy Harry and fretful mother Helen Cooper (Played by Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman), the Cooper’s daughter Karen (Played by the iconic Kyra Schon), and boyfriend and girlfriend Tom and Judy (Keith Wayne and Judith Ridley). The lack of a prolific star within the film and the fact that the faces of these thespians look strikingly ordinary, add to Romero’s obtained authenticity and nightmarish vision. They look like people we could bump into on the street. Most empathetic is Barbara, who viciously looses her teasing brother Johnny (Played by Russell Streiner, who gets the film’s best line—“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”). Romero never allows her to grieve her loss. She instead has to fight for her life against a staggering zombie in a chilling graveyard sequence. Whenever she does get a moment to catch her breath, she is reduced to hysterics. It never once feels silly and its stone-faced tone always feels like what would really happen if a disaster of this magnitude ever occurred.
Night of the Living Dead feels like a film you would find locked inside a chest in the basement of a sinister log cabin in the woods. The black and white helps conceal the cheap make-up effects and makes the gore seem all the more gruesome. Near the beginning of the film, Barbara stumbles upon a ripped-to-shreds corpse that looks a bit slapdash. It makes the zombie make-up more disturbing (Is that decay or a fresh wound?) and terror inducing. It also adds to the setting and the use of the darkness. Some shots of the film would make the German Expressionists crazy with envy. A shot at the end of the film is shrouded in shadows and turns an already ominous shot of Karen munching on her zombified father’s arm all the more horrific and otherworldly as Karen’s white dress contrasts with the black shadows (the power has been knocked out) around her. Her pale white face smeared with blood, she lunges out of the darkness, as Ben, also hidden in the shadows with a shotgun (his world has been consumed by darkness), readies himself to dispatch the ghoul. It makes our blood turn to ice. It also sends shivers when Karen dispatches her mother, shown only to us in shadows (In cinema heaven, Carl Theodor Dreyer, the director of Vampyr, was beaming when this scene played for the first time) on the basement wall that is also being spraying with her blood. It’s effervescent, redolent (old fashioned horror meets the bloody new school of the genre), and unforgettable.
The film also acts as a merciless adrenaline rush as it speeds by you. You barely have time to catch your breath in between the zombie attacks. They smash through windows and grab at Ben and Barbara, the lunge across the lawn, smash car lights, and pull their victims into their countless hungry hoards. What makes this agonizing and frightening is the fact that there is nowhere for anyone to go. Do we stay on the first floor or retreat to the cellar and barricade the door? The battle stews the entire film and I won’t reveal what is decided upon in the last blood soaked act, but it’s a doozy. Once the zombies get wise to the fact that there are survivors in that seemingly abandoned farmhouse, the action is cranked up full blast by Romero. The rush of action and the claustrophobia act hand and hand. You almost feel yourself losing your mind along with the panic-stricken Barbara. You may feel distressed when a fistfight between the survivors breaks out. You will feel your stomach drop when Ben gets locked outside the house and a group of growling ghouls closes in on him. The film is emotionally draining from its cramped setting and aggressive action sequences. It’s borderline paralyzing.
Night of the Living Dead is a film that also instills fear in us through its lack of a clear, rational explanation for the events at hand. We, as a society, always need an answer. Whenever there is a catastrophic event, our first question is “Why?” We need to drive home some form of ease because the unknown is something that we simply cannot grasp. The film generates real panic because the survivors trapped in the farmhouse have no clear elucidation for why the dead are returning to life. Even the revelation of the cannibalistic tendencies of these monsters comes at the survivors and the viewer as a curveball thrown by the devil himself. It’s just too much to bear. Barbara is already a character that is reduced to blubbering hysterics and shock and Cooper is already defensive and on the prowl for a fight. The idea of not knowing brings out the worst in people, even when they should be sticking together and attempting to device a plan to stay alive. Romero suggests that the unknown will ultimately be our collapse, another dour touch to a film that is already grim enough by the story alone.
Night of the Living Dead has shuffled on through the years, lived through multiple remakes and a senseless color version that looks like it was filled in with pastel crayons. No other film has ever or will ever be as long lasting as the original. No one will ever capture the trepidation that runs rampant through the film, the pessimistic tone, or the resentment that flows from it. No one can clock in a performance like Duane Jones did way back when. The despondency, the growing frustration, and the ultimate defeat will live on in the cinema history books from now until eternity. No film has ever and will ever be as era defining as Night of the Living Dead is. It truly is one of a kind and influential beyond words. A classic horror film that will continue to be passed down, all we can do is thank Romero for it. This is the granddaddy of zombie films and should be revered as one of the scariest films ever made. Grade: A+