TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CONQUEST (1983)

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CONQUEST (1983)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Sword and sorcery flick from Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci tells the story of Illias (Andrea Occhipinti) who travels to a dangerous land as part of a coming of age ritual. With only a magic bow, he enters a dark land ruled by witch Ocron (Sabrina Siani). Along the way he meets warrior Mace (Jorge Rivero) and the two team up to try to defeat Ocron, who has set her sights on Illias and his bow.

Directed by Fulci from a script and story by four people, no less, there is actually very little plot here considering all that collaborated on it. Like most of Fulci’s flicks it is atmospheric and there is plenty of his trademarked gore, but it’s hard to get involved in something which has so little story to get involved in. Illias, at first, has no real goals entering this dark land and only finds a purpose once he sees the effects of Ocron’s influence and becomes a target of she and her werewolf-like minions. Visually the flick appears to be filmed entirely through smoke and a gauze filter, though Fulci’s visual style still comes through even with minimal sets and costumes. No better example than Ocron herself who is a beautiful nude woman who wears a spooky gold mask and seems to have a snake fetish. Sexy and creepy! The gore FX are solid as in all Fulci films, but the animation effects, and creature costumes are cheap and cheesy. Frequent Dario Argento collaborator and Goblin keyboardist Claudio Simonetti provides the music and Alejandro Ulloa provides the murky cinematography. The cast are all fairly wooden, with only Jorge Rivero adding some life to the roguish Mace and Sabrina Siani’s natural charms making for a visually tantalizing villain.

With a career of mostly horror flicks this was an unusual project choice for Fulci. The film has a lot of his trademarked elements, but suffers from having what barely qualifies as a plot. The costumes and sets are minimal and the non-gore FX are cheesy at best. The acting is also sub-par and the film oddly switches focus from Illias to Mace in the last act, which negates any interest we might have had in the young lad’s quest. The film is still watchable and there are some things to enjoy, but it is another sign of the legendary director running out of gas after delivering so many classics just a few years earlier.

-MonsterZero NJ

Beautiful Italian actress Sabrina Siani, sans creepy mask.

Rated 2 and 1/2 arrows from a bow far more magical than the film it’s in.

 

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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: FULCI FOX DANIELA DORIA

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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FULCI FEMME FATALE DANIELA DORIA

This installment of Cult Classic Cuties is going to be a little different as it won’t profile an actress in a particular role, but in a series of roles for the same director over a short period of time. Italian actress Daniela Doria made only a handful of films between 1976 and 1982, but interestingly enough, a number of those films were with Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci. In fact, she appears in four films in a row, between 1980 and 1982, for the gore master. While none of the roles were major ones, Daniela caught one’s eye with her beautiful features, not being afraid to bare her natural charms and the fact that she seemed to always meet a grim fate. Daniela’s four Fulci films are City Of The Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell), The New York Ripper, House By The Cemetery and The Black Cat! Since a lot of her scenes are NSFW and she left acting over 30 years ago, it was not easy finding photos…

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Wandering around The House By The Cemetery is not a good idea.

Seconds before her classic gore soaked demise in City of the Living Dead.

“Oh, hello Mr. Fulci!…you have another unpleasant death scene for me? OK!”

Doria in one of her rare clothes on and sans gore moments for Lucio Fulci!

Daniela as prostitute Kitty in another grim predicament in The New York Ripper!

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Not much is known about the actress before or since her Fulci days. She wasn’t afraid to be photographed or filmed “au natural” and certainly was brave enough to perform in some unpleasant death scenes for Fulci, including a few in the vulnerable state of being nude and/or bound. She played her last film role in an Italian comedy in 1982 and then disappeared from acting, or at least in films, after that. She was a beautiful young woman who apparently caught Fulci’s eye and was, from appearances, a good sport about disrobing in spooky settings and being splattered with plenty of trademarked Fulci gore. Either that or she simply found the legendary Lucio Fulci…a director to die for!

The beautiful Daniela Doria!

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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Dawn Of The Dead or Zombie, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Previously, I’ve compared David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here), the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator with the B-movie sci-fi/horror Without Warning (link here)and finally the classic Evil Dead and it’s 2013 remake (link here). Now I’d like to compare two classics that are related in an interesting way. In 1978, George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was unleashed upon the world and was called Zombi in Italy. It was a hit and in 1979, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci made his own zombie epic, one that was sold as a sequel entitled Zombi 2. But Zombie, as it was titled here in the U.S. when released in 1980, is it’s own movie and a classic horror in it’s own right. Now decades later, let’s take a look at Romero’s horror classic and Fulci’s unofficial Italian “sequel” and see just how different…or alike…they actually are…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Romero’s film focuses on four characters (Ken Foree, David Emge, Gaylen Ross and Scott Reiniger) and their efforts to survive during a zombie outbreak in progress. Dawn is never clear whether this is a new outbreak, or if the outbreak started in the original Night Of The Living Dead has been ongoing for the last ten years and is starting to spiral out of control. Actually, we’re never sure the two films are even related as Dawn never references Night. Ken Foree’s Peter at one point announces that his voodoo practicing grandfather once said “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead with walk the Earth!”, but the cause of the zombie outbreak in the original film was radiation from a fallen satellite. Dawn never clarifies the actual cause as our characters barricade themselves inside a giant shopping mall. Romero’s tone is a bit satirical in this installment and there are moments of humor and satire throughout the film.

Zombie opens with the harbor police in NYC boarding a seemingly deserted craft. One of them is savaged by a zombie onboard who is subsequently shot and falls off the boat. The daughter (Tisa Farrow) of the boat’s owner, teams up with a reporter (Ian McCulloch) to find out what happened to her father. This leads the duo and another couple (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) to the small Caribbean island of Matul, where they soon find, to their horror, that the dead are rising to eat the living. In Zombie, or Zombi 2, the cause of the outbreak is clearly voodoo as the drums beat continuously and characters warn that the local witch doctor has something to do with it. Aside from the dead rising, the villagers are all taking ill and dying, too…only to rise again with a hunger for flesh. Fulci makes no social commentary here and his tone is bleak and nightmarish with an absence of any humor to speak of.

Except for both films being about flesh eating zombies whose bite spreads the infection, the stories are vastly different.

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THE ZOMBIES

Dawn Of The Dead‘s zombies give the impression that we are dealing with the recent dead. Possibly due to budget limitations or artistic choices, the walking dead here are simply bluish with sunken eyes and a few show signs of being partially eaten or scarred themselves. They eat the living and there are hundreds of them wandering through the mall and it’s parking lot and they can only be stopped by decapitation or simply shooting them in the head. They seem to be mostly acting on instinct, showing only the most basic thinking, if it can be called that at all.

Fulci’s zombies are far more frightening looking, resembling decomposing corpses far more than Romero’s, with rotting flesh, hollow eye sockets and some covered in maggots. A stop at an ancient graveyard during the film proves even those long dead are rising and they too are ravenously hungry. There are somewhat fewer than in Dawn, but their appearances in fog shrouded deserted villages and their ghoulish make-up, makes them even more intimidating. They too can only be killed by decapitation, bullets to the brain and being burned completely.

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MAIN CHARACTERS

Both film’s focus on four main characters, though Zombie has some supporting characters as well, such as Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), and his wife (Olga Karlatos).

Dawn‘s four main characters are newswoman Fran (Gaylen Ross), and her boyfriend and helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge), who are traveling with two S.W.A.T. team members, Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). They are taking the helicopter and running, which brings them to find safe haven in a massive shopping mall deserted all but for the dead. While Fran and Stephen have little or no training with firearms, Peter and Roger are well armed and expertly trained, which gives the four an edge.

Zombie‘s four have no such edge. Peter (Ian McCulloch) is a newsman given the story of the deserted boat and dead cop. Anne (Tisa Farrow) is the daughter of the boat’s owner, a doctor last seen on a small tropical island called Matul. They hitch a ride to the island with vacationing couple Brian (Al Cliver) and his pretty wife Susan (Auretta Gay). Neither couple has any idea what they are getting into, as opposed to Dawn‘s four, who are fully aware and prepared for what they may face.

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for these two film’s couldn’t be more different…

Dawn Of The Dead takes place in rural Pennsylvania, mostly at it’s massive Monroeville shopping mall which is near Pittsburg, where Romero went to college and made many of his earlier films. Here Romero uses his setting to make social commentary about class and consumerism.

Zombie‘s setting is the total opposite. While it opens and closes in New York City, the film takes place mostly in the Caribbean, on a small tropical island called Matul. Here, the only place our four have to hide is in an old church turned infirmary and that doesn’t provide them sanctuary for very long when the dead follow them there.

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THE OPENING SCENES

The opening scenes for both movies are effective in their own way but vastly different.

Dawn starts the tension by showing us Fran’s news station slowly coming apart as the situation outside spirals out of control. Rescue stations are closing and people are running from their desks scared. Panic is setting in as news to report becomes scarce and what news they are getting is too horrible to believe. The dead are returning to life to eat the living! This creates an atmosphere of dread long before we see the first zombies.

Zombie‘s opening sequence goes for the jugular…literally. It opens with a gun being fired at someone, or something, rising from under a sheet, drums beating in the distance. We then cut to an apparently deserted sailboat entering New York harbor. Once boarded by the harbor patrol, one officer is savagely bitten on the throat by what appears to be a walking corpse. Fulci gets us tense and grossed out right away with a graphic and savage attack in the first few minutes. We also get some early glimpses of what’s happening on Matul at Dr. Menard’s infirmary, so we know what is waiting for the two ill-fated couples before they arrive.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. One film does it by showing it’s blood and gore right away, while the other, by showing us the mounting chaos before we are thrust into the S.W.A.T. team assault scene where we see our first zombies in action.

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with down or ominous endings…

After a pitched battle with a motorcycle gang that invades their mall sanctuary and lets the zombies back in, a surviving Fran and Peter fly off in the chopper knowing they have very little gas and nowhere really to go. There fate is left uncertain, but things aren’t looking good for the pregnant Fran and the demoralized Peter. Dawn Of The Dead leaves their fate to our imaginations, but with the dead slowly gaining the upper hand, we don’t imagine much of a happily ever after for our two survivors. The film closes on a shot of the mall parking lot filled with the undead implying all may soon be lost.

As with it’s opening, Zombie‘s climax leaves nothing to our imaginations. After a bloody battle with the living dead in the old church, survivors Anne and Peter find their way back to the boat with a bitten Brian in tow. Once back in New York harbor, they are treated to a radio broadcast proclaiming the zombies are everywhere, just as the newly risen Brian starts banging on the cabin door. The film closes with a haunting scene of zombies crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into the Big Apple while things are left fairly grim for Peter and Anne. Apocalyptic and still chills decades later.

Here the films have stark similarities as both endings are bleak and present little chance or hope of our survivors finding an escape!

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IN CONCLUSION

Interesting as how one of these films was made as an unofficial sequel to the other, yet both are vastly different and both are considered classics. Dawn Of The Dead‘s success in Italy under the title Zombi gave Lucio Fulci the opportunity to direct Dardano Sacchetti’s script and have it be a sequel in name only, released as Zombi 2. He made his own movie, his way and it is considered one of the greatest zombie films of all time right next to Dawn. Despite Italian audiences, at the time, being led to believe they are related, they are completely different films with different stories and different tones. There are similarities, too. Both are famous for their abundant gore set pieces, such as Zombie‘s splinter in eyeball and Dawn‘s exploding head…not to mention both films’ zombie dining scenes. They are also both known for their haunting soundtracks, Dawn‘s by Italian rock band Goblin and Zombie‘s creepy score by Fabio Frizzi. And who could forget Zombie‘s shark vs zombie sequence or Dawn‘s zombies vs biker gang finale. Regardless of how Romero’s zombie classic may have given birth to Fulci’s in a way, horror fans got two unique masterpieces from two legendary filmmakers.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)

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THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

After making some true horror classics like Zombie and The Beyond, Fulci lost his way and this flick is a sad example. The story has a vicious killer stalking sexually active women in New York City. One who carves up their bodies in vile ways and makes ominous phone calls to the detective (Jack Hedley) investigating the case. The killer both kills and makes his calls while quacking like a duck…you read that right…and no woman seems to be safe as Det. Williams is baffled by this sadistic killer and his reign of terror.

1981’s House By The Cemetery was a lesser effort by Fulci and he followed it up with this sleazy and perverted slasher that seemed to be more mean-spirited than anything else. Gone is the artistic flair the Italian horror maestro directed his previous classics with and instead this is a vicious little movie that mixes some very nasty kill sequences with the silly premise of it’s killer quacking and talking like a cartoon duck when committing his horrifying acts. The mix of extreme violence and this comical plot element is unsettling, but not in a good way. Fulci’s films were always filled with blood and gore, but they had class. Here his camera lingers on perverted acts such as an unnecessary sequence of a promiscuous woman (Alexandra Delli Colli) being foot raped by a thug in a bar and the vicious savaging of a bound and gagged women with a razor blade. When it comes to exploitation, sleazy can be just fine, but here Fulci seems to be reveling in these misogynistic acts and it makes one uncomfortable as it has an edge to the viciousness that goes beyond trashy entertainment. Once we get our climactic reveal, the killer’s motivations really don’t make sense and the explanation is extremely convoluted. He doesn’t even have a solid reason for his butchery…or his disturbingly comical choice of vocalization. It doesn’t really work as it’s just a weak excuse for all that has preceded it.

One a technical level, the film is well made enough for a modest budget and the gore is top notch as always in a Fulci film. Hedley and the rest of the actors are all fine for an Italian horror and there are some very pretty women in the cast, though some meet very gruesome fates. The beautiful cinematography of Sergio Salvati is sadly missed as are the atmospheric scores by Fabio Frizzi. Instead we get adequate but unremarkable cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller and a functional but forgettable score by Francesco De Masi. The script was written by Fulci and three co-writers and yet still seems weak despite all the collaboration, including Dardano Sacchetti, who worked on all of Fulci’s best films.

Overall, this is a lesser effort by a man who only a few years earlier made at least three films now regarded as Italian horror classics. Sadly, the maestro would never reach that pinnacle again, though his legacy as one of the horror greats is solid, just based on his work from 79-81. This film is effective, though sometimes not in the rights way and does have the extreme gore Fulci’s fans look for. Unfortunately, it can also be a mean-spirited film and one which wallows a bit too much in perversion and sleaze and comes across as somewhat misogynistic with it’s extreme brutality towards women. Not to mention the killer’s silly M.O. Worth a look if you are a horror fan discovering Fulci, but sadly a film that signals the beginning of a lesser chapter in Fulci’s legacy that he would not really recover from.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 razor blades.

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BARE BONES: THE EDITOR

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THE EDITOR (2014)

Flick from writer/directors Matthew Kennedy and Adam Brooks is a tribute to the italian horror/Giallo films of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci that succeeds in certain areas, but fails in others. The film tells the story of legendary film editor, Rey Cisco (also Adam Brooks) who is currently working on a bloody murder mystery film, when he becomes embroiled in one in real life. The case is being investigated by hot shot detective Peter Porfiry, (also Matthew Kennedy) who thinks Rey is the prime suspect.

The film, co-written with co-star Conor Sweeney, creates the look and feel of the Italian chillers of the 70s and early 80s excellently, with some dead-on camera angles, shots and lighting, along with a perfectly fitting electronic score. There is also a bevy of lovely ladies with very generous amounts of nudity and excessive gore. Where the film goes wrong is that not only is it tedious and dull, with it’s gimmick wearing out it’s welcome early, but it also is played for laughs where a straightforward recreation probably would have been far more entertaining. The homages to Argento, Bava and Fulci are certainly well intended…thought there are also nods to Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Nakata’s Ringu that seem a bit out of place…but as a movie in itself it’s gets boring after the first half hour with the story awkwardly changing focus from Rey to Detective Porfiry and losing it’s grip. Too bad, the flicks heart is definitely in the right place.

Overall, while the tribute is certainly heartfelt and Kennedy and Brooks know their subjects well, the film they have created from that admiration fails to entertain like it’s influences. Also stars Nurse 3D‘s Paz de la Huerta, American Mary‘s Tristan Risk and the legendary Udo Kier.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BIRTHDAY BEST OF LUCIO FULCI!

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LUCIO FULCI

JUNE 17, 1927 – MARCH 13, 1996

The late, great Italian horror maestro was born on this day in 1927 and left a legacy of classic Italian horror/ gore films to remember him by. Check out my favorites right here…

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ZOMBIE (1979)

George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was called Zombi in Italy and was a hit so, when Italian Horror meister Lucio Fulci created his own zombie gore classic, it was released in Italian theaters as Zombi 2 to cash in on Dawn’s popularity, but, Zombie, as it’s known in the USA, is it’s own movie. The action and eating take place, after a bloody opening sequence of a zombie occupied boat entering a New York City harbor, on the remote Caribbean island of Matool and is the product of voodoo being used to raise the flesh eating dead from their graves. The boat entering NYC waters belonged to a doctor, and the story centers on a reporter (Ian McCulloch) and the missing doctor’s daughter (Tisa Farrow), traveling to the fictional island to find the doctor’s whereabouts. Once there, they and a couple whose boat they rented, soon discover a living nightmare and that a horrible fate may be in store for all of them. The gore is shocking and the zombies are far grosser looking then even Romero’s and while it is smaller in scope, it is very creepy and atmospheric when not splattering blood and guts all over the screen. Much like all of Fulci’s horror films, Zombie has a surreal nightmarish quality to it to go along with all the gore. The film’s nightmarish visuals are courtesy of cinematographer Sergio Salvati and has a haunting score by frequent Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi. The film has many shocking moments but, is most famous for the ‘eyeball’ scene and the underwater shark v.s. zombie scene witnessed by a shapely topless diver. I personally prefer the work of Fulci over the more popular but, in my opinion overrated, Dario Argento. One of my all time favorite horrors. Recently remastered on a beautiful blu-ray from Blue Underground!

4 Fulci zombies!

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WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY GRAPHIC!

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CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (also known as THE GATES OF HELL) (1980)

A priest hangs himself, a seance goes tragically wrong and the dead rise… all in the first 5 minutes of another gory and disturbing horror from Italian maestro of terror, Luci Fulci. Fulci’s trademark spooky visuals, as photographed by frequent cinematographer Sergio Salvati, and trademark gore fills this story of a small town priest’s suicide that opens the gates of Hell. Now a reporter (Christopher George) and a psychic (Catriona MacColl) must travel to a remote New England town to close Hell’s gates before the evil ripping the town apart spreads to the rest of the world. As usual this Fulci flick is loaded with atmosphere, gruesome gore, (such as a drill through the head and a woman vomiting up her own entrails) and zombies. Fabio Frizzi once again provides the haunting score. Not quite up to the standards of his Zombie or his next film, The Beyond but, a gory, creepy Italian horror none the less! Also, the only film I know of that contains a blizzard of maggots! Originally released in the US as The Gates Of Hell.

3 and 1/2 Fulci zombies

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WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY GRAPHIC!

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THE BEYOND (1981)

A young woman (Catriona MacColl) inherits an old Louisiana hotel not knowing that 54 years earlier, a group of frightened townspeople tortured and murdered a man staying in room 36, who, was suspected of being a warlock. Before his death, the warlock warned that the hotel sat on one of the 7 gates of Hell and he had found the key. Needless to say, efforts to reopen the hotel meet with tragic and gruesome results and there is definitely something unnatural going on in room 36. Italian horror master Lucio Fulci creates one his most nightmarish and surreal films in this story of a house haunted by a very powerful and ancient evil. As the young woman and a doctor friend (David Warbeck) try to unravel the mystery of the hotel’s sinister past, the evil force continues to provide gruesome fates to those that come into contact with it or try to warn our heroine. Fulci’s film is a disturbing supernatural tale with some very atmospheric and spooky visuals combined with some very shocking and inventive gore. Once more the cinematography is by Sergio Salvati and music by Fabio Frizzi. From carnivorous swarms of spiders to acid in faces to reanimated corpses, this film is a chilling and very unsettling horror from the first frames till the nightmarish last. Surreal at times but, always haunting. A first rate Italian horror from one of it’s masters and one of Fulci’s best. The spider scene still freaks me out!

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Fulci zombies

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WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY GRAPHIC

Source: MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

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WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

We Are Still Here is a supernatural indie horror that serves up some nice chills and surprisingly generous gore, though not quite living up to the internet hype that preceded it…but then again, little ever does.

Story finds older couple Paul and Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig and Barbara Crampton) moving from the city up to the small rural town of Aylesbury to escape the painful specter of their son Bobby’s recent death. They move into a secluded old house and immediately Anne starts to see and hear things and senses a presence she wants to believe is Bobby. Paul is skeptical and it only gets worse when a neighbor, Dave (Monte Markham) shows up and tells them that the house was a former mortuary and the owners were run out of town for selling the bodies and burying empty coffins. Paul is even slipped a note from the neighbor’s wife telling him “The house needs a family” and to “get out”. To get to the bottom of things, the couple invite their friends over, a hippie couple May and Jacob (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden) who have an interest in the paranormal. They come to believe there is a dark presence in the house and they are surrounded by death. What they don’t know is, that the dark presence was awakened long ago when the house was built and every thirty years must be appeased with the sacrifice of a family, or it’s darkness and death will spread from the house to infect the entire town. Is it too late for the Sacchettis and friends to escape…and will they be allowed to leave?

Horror flick is written and directed by Ted Geoghegan and supposedly inspired by the works of the late, great Lucio Fulci. Geoghegan certainly has the gore part down, as the film gets graphically bloody at times and does have a visual style that is atmospheric and effective. He also does provide a lot of chills and spookiness throughout and the flick is loaded with atmosphere. Geoghegan uses the familiar tropes of the small town with a dark secret, well and there are some extremely gruesome deaths, especially during the blood-spattered finale. So what holds this flick back a bit? First thing is there is a seance/possession sequence with Sensenig and Fessenden, it should be a major scene, but the sequence itself comes off a little clumsy and gets borderline silly. Part of the reason is that filmmaker Fessenden is not a seasoned performer…despite numerous small roles in his fellow filmmaker’s productions…and the scene needed someone with stronger acting chops to really pull it off. It’s not as convincing as it needs to be. The next thing is the gore-soaked final act. It certainly was fun, but it’s not as spooky as the more subtle things that come before it. Everything is out in the open and the blood and organs are flying, but it’s not as atmospheric as when Geoghegan kept things in the shadows with lurking figures and only hinted at the malevolence that surrounded the family. When his vengeful specters are in plain sight ripping people apart, it becomes something more outwardly visceral and less deeply bone-chilling. There is also some shaky dialogue spoken, especially during that sceance/possession scene, as well as, a few of the exposition scenes that weakens their effectiveness. That and if Dave wants the family to stay, why does he keep telling them unsettling stories about the house? Doesn’t make sense.

Technically, this low budget film looks good and the make-up effects by Oddtopsy FX are really well-rendered in presenting our dark spirits and their carnage. There is some very atmospheric cinematography of the New York State locations by Karim Hussain and a fitting score by Wojciech Golczewski (Late Phases). For a low budget flick, production value is top notch.

The cast work well here, for the most part. It’s great to see Barbara Crampton on screen again and she plays the grieving Mrs. Sacchetti very well. We like Anne and she is our emotional anchor for the story. Andrew Sensenig is adequate as her skeptical husband, but his Paul seemed a little bland at times. The character could have used some warmth to make him more accessible. Lisa Marie is a little off as May, but since the character is a bit eccentric to begin with, that may have been intentional and seems to fit the amateur medium. Larry Fessenden is actually amusing as the stoner Jacob and it is only in the seance sequence where his limited range hindered the effectiveness. TV and film vet Monte Markham is solid as neighbor Dave whose knows the truth and has his own agenda. He is our human villain of the flick and makes a good bad guy. There is some weak acting from some of the supporting actors, but it’s not enough to hurt the proceeding to any degree.

Overall, I liked this flick and give it a recommend. It has some really good atmosphere, provides some solid chills and splatters the gore and guts generously, when needed. It has some flaws that keep it from really firing on all cylinders, but it still works very well and certainly is effective enough to make it worth checking out. A solid enough indie horror that shows we may see some interesting things yet from Ted Geoghegan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scary specters.

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From Frights To Fun: The Evolution Of 80s Horror

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From Frights To Fun: The Evolution Of 80s Horror

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to my full reviews of the films referenced here!)

To me, the 80s is one of the best decades ever for horror flicks…with the 70s following right behind it. Sure, every decade since films started being made has it’s classics from 1922’s Nosfeatu to 2007’s Trick ‘r’ Treat, but in terms of sheer proliferation and the number of classics that came out of it, the 80s was an amazing time to be a horror movie fan and I am glad I was in my theater seat for it all the way. And as I have said before, it was a time where low-budget B horrors could still be seen in a theater, where they belong and a time I will always cherish. I will also admit there was a lot of garbage to sift through to get to the gold, but even those had their entertainment value, especially when you and your friends were sitting in your seats giving those lesser efforts the old MST3K treatment, years before that show even existed…and that classic show is also a product of the 80s, might I add. But the one thing I also find striking about 80s horror is a distinct tonal shift in the style of horror flicks as the decade wore on that can only be appreciated now as we look back in nostalgia. Darker and more somber slashers became flicks that were lighter in tone, more colorful and with far more of a sense of fun about themselves. Let’s take a look…

John Carpenter’s Halloween may not have been the first slasher, but it is the film whose success started the early 80s slasher trend as studios and indie filmmakers realized you could make a lot of money on a shoestring budget. The early 80s cinemas became filled with films that followed the slasher formula with the stories being set on or around a special event or time, such as the prom in Prom Night, or college hazing as in Hell Night, or a fateful day like Friday The 13th. And then, within that setting, having a group of young high school or college co-eds being stalked and cut down by a killer with a grudge, till one feisty young girl…or sometimes a couple…is left to fend off our killer. For the most part these films took themselves very seriously and had a somber mood and moderate pace with the violence level being anywhere from fairly tame, like in thrillers like Terror Train or over-the-top gory as in Willaim Lustig’s Maniac or Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day…though, let’s not forget that some of the gorier entries where a result of the success of George Romero’s ultra-violent Dawn Of The Dead which started it’s own trend of extremely violent horrors that predominately came out of Italy and was spearheaded by filmmakers like Lucio Fulci. There were some rare instances where a director had a more humorous approach like Joe Dante’s The Howling or An American Werewolf in London, but horror/comedy is nothing new and the early 80s horror films predominately followed a more serious direction at this point in time.

Monster movies like The Boogens or Without Warning or supernatural horrors like The Fog and  The Boogeyman also followed the slasher format with victims being isolated and killed off one by one, leaving a frightened heroine to fend for herself with the occasional surviving love interest to help her survive. And for the first two or three years of the decade, theaters where inundated with such horrors to the delight of screaming fans. And we got many a classic horror flick out of it. But like any trend, such as the 70s possession flick trend inspired by The Exorcist, these things run their course. But not only did 80s horror start to open up with more supernatural themed flicks like the A Nightmare On Elm Street films, that cleverly added an incorporeal villain and surreal elements to the slasher formula, but the films started to reflect the overall buoyant mood of the 80s with brighter cinematography, more humorous tones and even began to reference and acknowledge past films and filmmakers. The first ‘inside’ reference I can remember was Sam Raimi’s subtle shout-out to Wes Craven by having a The Hills Have Eyes poster displayed in the basement of the old cabin in 1981’s The Evil Dead…to which Craven responded by having Heather Langenkamp watching Evil Dead on TV in the first Elm St movie. In terms of the lighter tone, the first time I noticed it was back in 1982 with Friday The 13th Part 3. When I saw it at my beloved Oritani Theater, I was kind of taken back by it all. The film had a very colorful production design, had a lot more humor than the first two installments…including characters that seemed to be there just for comic relief…and seemed to almost be having fun with the fact that we’ve been through this twice before. Jason went from a creepy, deformed backwoodsman to a hulking comic-bookish monster complete with iconic hockey mask. The film’s trademark kills were a bit more elaborate and far-fetched, as if the filmmakers were getting a bit playful with Jason’s M.O. The tone shift seemed to be starting, but without knowing what was to come in following years, I was simply disappointed with the flick and had no idea the trend would continue.

And the shift did continue with the advent of Freddy Krueger who was creepy at first, but quickly became a wisecracking, demonic gremlin that pulled people into his dream world for elaborate and outrageously gimmick-laden fates. The movies were far more fun than scary, but these films at least were more creative and imaginative than the simple stalk and kill films that came before them, though I missed the intensity and the serious tone of films like The Prowler. Flicks also started to jokingly reference their inspirations, like 1986’s Night Of The Creeps which names every character after a horror film director of that era like “Chris Romero”, “Cynthia Cronenberg” and James Carpenter-Hooper”. We also got MTV inspired films like the music filled and music video styled Return Of The Living Dead, the classic The Lost Boys, as well as, the neon-lit Vamp. Those films were far more entertaining than they were frightening as The Lost Boys even has a touch of Spielberg in it’s over-all tone…reminding us of the stark example of what happened when Carpenter’s grim and gory extraterrestrial The Thing went up against Spielberg’s bug eyed visitor from E.T. in 1982No better an example of the start of audience change of taste in the 80s than was the beating Carpenter’s now classic sci-fi/horror got from critics and at the box office…though, I saw it at least three times in a theater!

The trend continued with even lighter and more humor-laced films as we headed toward the 90s with flicks such as Waxwork, Chopping Mall and Night Of The Demons which were loaded with as many laughs as they were scares and gore. The MTV generation was being fed films that were faster paced, brightly colored and took themselves far less seriously as the arrival of music video and the end of the Cold War had created an era that was a bit more overindulgent and the films of the day reflected this. Even somewhat more serious horror like 1988s Intruder and the 1985 classic The Re-Animator still openly had a good time with their premises and occasionally winked at the audience, which films now acknowledged were sitting there and were familiar with the type of flick they are seeing. Earlier 80s films rarely acknowledged that they were a movie and that there was a horror savvy audience watching, but the second half of the decade was filled with movies that referenced those earlier films and were quite aware of themselves and who their audience was. They played to that audience instead of simply telling their scary story. And at this point Freddy Krueger was turning girls into giant cockroaches and Jason was a zombie battling telekinetic teenagers. Even the old school boogiemen had traded in their scares for more outrageous and silly story lines with each installment, as almost every horror hit became a franchise. Michael Myers also returned in 1988 to now stalk his young niece…why not his second cousin too? Needless to say by the time 1990 rolled around, horror had become burnt out and silly until horror master Wes Craven would revive it as pop-culture-reference filled heavy nostalgia with a bite in Scream… but that is another story.

Another aspect of the shift that may not have been as noticeable to the average audience, but was very noticeable to film buffs was in how these films were now being made and how they looked. By 1985 the home video market was in full swing. I should know, I worked at a Palmer Video back then. Direct to VHS films were starting to appear due to the cost effectiveness of not having to produce film prints for theater showings. And a lot of the horror films of the later decade were being made with the home video market in mind. Even some of the ones that got theatrical releases lacked that theatrical look. Gone were the cinematic visuals and widescreen presentations. Flicks like Witchboard and Waxwork had the look and feel of a TV movie and were filmed in the more TV screen friendly 1:85 format. Only some of the big studio releases and films by veterans like Carpenter and Craven maintained that theatrical look in their visual styles and still looked like a movie made for theaters. A disappointment to those who find the film’s visuals as important as their story and content. And another example of how drastically movies changed from 1980 to 1990.

Whatever the course the horror films of the 80s took, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for these movies, good or bad. Whether it be the more serious chillers of the early years, or the reference heavy, lighter toned flicks that came later on, it was a decade when I came of age and was most influenced by movies and was still a time where a low budget flick like Galaxy Of Terror or Final Exam could see the inside of an audience filled theater. And not only was I proudly there to see it, but will never forget it. And now, decades later, many a night when my social calendar is empty, I can be found in a darkened living room, on the couch, with some of my favorite brews, reliving those days long gone, but never…ever…forgotten!

… and one of the reasons I now share my passion for those movies with all of you!

-MonsterZero NJ

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The Oritani Theater: 300 Main St. Hackensack N.J Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ZOMBIE and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST

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ZOMBIE (1979)

George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was called Zombi in Italy and was a hit, so when Italian Horror master Lucio Fulci created his own zombie gore classic, it was released in Italian theaters as Zombi 2 to cash in on Dawn’s popularity, but Zombie, as it’s known in the USA, is it’s own movie. The action and eating take place, after a bloody opening sequence of a zombie occupied boat entering a New York City harbor, on the remote Caribbean island of Matul and is the product of voodoo being used to raise the flesh eating dead from their graves. The boat entering NYC waters belonged to a doctor and the story centers on reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) and the missing doctor’s daughter, Anne (Tisa Farrow), traveling to the fictional island to find the doctor’s whereabouts. Once there, they and a couple, Bryan and Susan (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) whose boat they rented, soon discover a living nightmare and that a horrible fate may be in store for all of them as their boat is damaged and they are trapped on the island with the ravenous dead.

The gore is shocking and the zombies are far grosser looking then even Romero’s and while it is smaller in scope, it is very creepy and atmospheric when not splattering blood and guts all over the screen. Much like all of Fulci’s horror films, Zombie has a surreal nightmarish quality to it to go along with all the gore such as the climactic battle against the army of walking dead set in a burning church turned hospital ward. The film’s haunting visuals are courtesy of cinematographer Sergio Salvati and has a haunting score by frequent Fulci collaborator, Fabio Frizzi. The film has many shocking moments, but is most famous for the ‘eyeball’ scene and the underwater shark v.s. zombie scene witnessed by shapely topless diver Susan. I personally prefer the work of Fulci over the more popular, but in my opinion somewhat overrated, Dario Argento.

One of my all time favorite horrors and a must watch during the Halloween season. Recently remastered on a beautiful blu-ray from Blue Underground. Still one of the greatest zombie movies ever made.

4 Fulci zombies!

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WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY GRAPHIC!

 

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ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1979) 

Zombie Holocaust is a gore-soaked Italian cult classic also known under it’s more infamous title (and edit) of Dr. Butcher M.D. It’s the story of an outbreak of cannibalism in NYC and across the U.S. and the investigation into these horrible events which leads Health Dept. Dr. Peter Chandler (Zombi’s Ian McCulloch) and his team to a small island in the South East Pacific. Not only does Chandler and company find a tribe of cannibals waiting there, but a mad scientist, Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien) and his horde of zombies as well. Can any of them escape alive?

Not only was this film inspired by the success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi, it also borrows stars McCulloch and Dakar, as well as, films on some of the same sets and locations. Director Marino Girolami is no Fulci, but he delightfully takes us through this goofy story filled with cannibal feasts, hideous surgical procedures and zombie attacks. And when he’s not spilling blood and entrails, he’s finding ways to get sexy anthropologist, Lori (Alexandra Colli) out of her clothes…and that happens almost as often as the spilling of body parts. The gore isn’t quite up to Zombi’s standards either, but there is plenty and it spatters in the appropriate…or inappropriate, depending on your point of view…amounts. And who can pass on a flick that has both cannibals AND zombies!

This is a fun midnight movie and a welcome addition to any Italian gore film festival so, crack open a brew…or three…and have a bloody good time. Due to the films’ similarities, this is also know as Zombie 3 in some parts of the world thought there actually would be a Zombie 3 with Fulci attached later in 1988.

3 not quite up to Fulci standards zombies!

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WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY GRAPHIC!

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