Saturday, 16 May 2015

From the vault – a few of my old 90’s fanzine movie reviews

So I’ve decided to dust off these ancient relics hidden far away at the very back of the Chelle’s Inferno archives – a selection of reviews from my old self-published fanzine, Archetype Malice. Personally I find my writing style in these (written between 1996-1999, between the ages of 16-19) ‘unevolved’ and embarrassing at times, but just thought I’d republish them as a bit of fun. Read at your peril...and keep in mind that some of my opinions have VASTLY changed since then : )
WARNING: spoiler alerts!!!

Toxic Zombies - 1980, dir: Charles McCrann (rating: 0 stars)

Marijuana farmers are transformed into flesh-eating zombies after the government sprays their crop with an experimental poison. That’s about it concerning the plot – the rest of the film deals with a cop, his wife and two orphaned children trying to escape the ghouls.

Allegedly shot over a single weekend, this movie is the equivalent to a karate chop to the head – it is tedious, the acting is thoroughly wooden, and the ‘music’ score consists of a few random plunkings on a keyboard. There are a few gory bits, but they are laughably scene which comes to mind is when a guy’s hand is lopped off – it looks so phony that it reminded me of an episode of The Young Ones, in which Vyvian’s head is decapitated after he sticks it out the window of a moving train, and the blood squirts out like a jet of water from a water pistol...However, the director seems to be proud of these not-so-special effects – the camera dwells on them lovingly. The sole redeeming feature of the film is the inclusion of John Amplas (star of George Romero’s Martin)...though he only has limited screen time as a very young looking FBI agent (though John was about 29 when he appeared in the film, he looks 18 at most here). The jokers at Midnight Video clearly only had $ on their mind when they described the picture as being ‘a must see zombie film’. Don’t be fooled by them, this is utter, utter crap, worth only a look from the most diehard of John Amplas fans. Oh, and if the video box cover art looks familiar, that’s because the still is not a scene from Toxic Zombies, it’s from Night of the Zombies! (Both films were distributed in Australia by Palace Explosive).

A Virgin Among the Living Dead - 1973, dir: Jess Franco (rating: 1 and a half stars)
**Please note that my opinion of this film has VASTLY changed since I wrote this review in January’s one of my most beloved Jess Franco titles now.

Although I have read plenty about them, I had never seen a Jess Franco film until this, one of his lesser talked about films, played on SBS a few months ago. Upon the death of her father, Christina is summoned to the family’s Honduran mansion to collect an inheritance. There she meets her strange, zombie-like relatives, who practice bizarre occult rituals, and a retarded servant (played by Franco himself). She also begins to see and communicate with her father’s ghost, witnesses unexplained supernatural occurrences, and has nightmares about being assaulted by zombies. The film concludes with Christina’s death (which happens directly after a dream – leaving the viewer to wonder if her nightmares were in fact real), and with one of the relatives explaining that she was the last living relative, thus her death enables the family to reunite again, as zombies.

There were a few things I liked about this film – I found the basic storyline quite interesting, and there is an offbeat Bruno Nicolai soundtrack. Unfortunately, that’s about it...The version I saw was severely censored, with black spots covering all nudity. Supposedly there is also quite a bit of missing footage. I don’t know how much difference viewing the uncut version would make, but in this version the few horror scenes left untampered with feature absolutely dire makeup effects, with a mannequin severed hand, and plastic bats. The zombie makeup is also cheap, but grotesque. And yes, the viewer is subjected to Franco’s merciless use of the zoom lens every minute or so. The lead actress, Christina von Blanc, is pretty but totally bland, and the only interesting performance comes from Franco regular Howard Vernon as Christina’s zombie uncle. On a whole the movie is unusual but dull – perhaps with a bigger budget, more story development and better direction, it could have been a decent film. However, this hasn’t put me off seeing more Franco films – I plan to see more in the future.


Frightmare - 1974, dir: Peter Walker (rating: 3 stars)
In 1957, a middle-aged couple were institutionalised for committing a series of murders involving cannibalism and the use of an electric drill to the head. Twenty years later, they are released, but the wife (Shelia Keith) has not recuperated. Their adult daughter (Deborah Fairfax) is trying to cope with her loopy mum – she tries to keep her happy by bringing her packages of meat from the butchers and pretending that it’s the flesh of humans. But Shelia still isn’t satisfied – she starts killing again – and is soon joined by their psycho younger daughter. Her hen-pecked husband (Rupert Davies) does nothing to stop them as he loves his wife too much. I won’t reveal the ending but it is not a happy one...

This is a sleeper of a film. Although talky and low on the wet stuff (the various killings via drill, hot poker and pitchfork are depicted off-screen) it does sustain the viewer’s interest throughout because of its twisted storyline and top-notch acting – Shelia Keith is truly frightening. Rent this if you want a change from the usual plotless gorefests. Frightmare has been described as being very disturbing and violent for its time – by today’s standards it is tame but still quite grim. There is no humour whatsoever in this one – intended or unintended.


The Spider Labyrinth - 1988, dir: Gianfranco Giagni (rating: 2 stars)
A daft and incredibly naive university professor is dispatched from America to Budapest to search for a missing colleague, Dr. Roth. The professor finds the doctor, who is moody and uncommunicative. Soon after, Dr. Roth dies and his body is found in a bizarre state – hanging from the ceiling in what appears to be large cobwebs. More deaths occur and the professor soon stumbles upon the source of the murders – a diabolical sect whose members have the ability to transform into a sort of humanoid-spider. Of course our hero is caught by the evil cult, who transfer the curse on to him. The film ends predictably, with the prof killings his American colleagues.

Though shot on a lavish (for Italian standards) budget, the film is mostly forgettable except for some dreamlike sequences, which, as genre critic Chas. Balun put it, “could pass for Argento outtakes”. A slow first half leads to the action in the cult’s lair, where we find some gooey but uninteresting effects from Italy’s current mainman in the business, Sergio Stivaletti. Otherwise, Spider Labyrinth is just passable.

Re-Animator - 1985, dir: Stuart Gordon (rating: 3 stars)
At Miskatonic University, eccentric but brilliant medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is conducting experiments to raise the dead via injection of a fluorescent green serum. West’s professor, Dr. Hill is jealous of his genius and tries to find out more about the experiments, but he has his head decapitated by an anxious West. The serum, which has not been perfected, achieves disastrous and hilarious results – the dean turns into a drooling zombie, and an autopsy room full of cadavers is resurrected. Hill gets hold of the serum and manages to re-animate himself – but he has to carry his head around on a dish.

Full of moist splatter effects and black (and not so black) humour, Re-Animator is a scream. Jeffrey Combs is perfect as the mad scientist, and in fact the whole cast give on-target performances. No doubt Peter Jackson’s Braindead was inspired by this.

The Last Cannibal World - 1977, dir: Ruggero Deodato (rating: 2 and a half stars)
Representatives from an oil company on an expedition in Malaysia become separated when their plane breaks down in the Jungle and one of the men (Massimo Foschi) is captured by a tribe of cannibals. He is forced to endure a number of torturous rituals and is imprisoned in a pit. Massimo (and the audience) also witness other stomach-churning events such as: the killing and eating of an (unfortunately) real crocodile, a woman, after giving birth, biting the umbilical cord, a close-up of ants crawling on a wounded boy’s arm, and of course the token scenes of cannibalism. Foschi manages to escape with the help of a native girl. However, the girl isn’t so lucky, as the cannibals catch up with her, and in a scene almost totally cut in the version I saw (the trimmed Australian release) has her torso slit open, her guts scooped out and replaced with hot coals, and is eaten for dinner.

The Last Cannibal World is a fairly interesting adventure. However, this is only a warm-up to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most shocking and disturbing films ever made. Like Holocaust, Last Cannibal World has that realistic ‘you are there’ feeling, probably because it was shot on location in Malaysia with real cannibals. The acting and dubbing is pretty good, and if you’re wondering, the film does contain the two pre-requisites for Italian cannibal films – much stock footage and an exaggerated vomiting scene.

Massacre at Central High - 1976, dir: Rene Daaldeer (rating: 2 and a half stars)

David, a new student at Central High, finds that the school and students are ruled by a tough gang, who dump books on Arthur, the student librarian, smash impoverished student Rodney’s car, bully fat Oscar, and mock hippy Spoony’s views. Eventually the gang turns their attention to David, who they see as being too much of a ‘good guy’ and cripple his leg. David vows to give them a brutal vengeance, and disposes of the first guy by tampering with his hang-glider, kills the second by tricking him into diving into an empty pool (splat!) and eradicates the third by trapping him into a van and pushing it off a cliff. At first, things seem better at Central High, but the students take advantage of their freedom and start harassing each other. David, who is disgusted at what is happening, starts killing off the main perpetrators, and as madness overtakes him, plants a bomb under the school gym during a dance, but at the last minute is overcome with guilt and goes to remove the bomb. But it is too late – the bomb explodes in his arms.

Massacre at Central High is an OK horror/action film, with an interesting cast and some hideous 70s outfits. Some of the dialogue is pretty awful too. But fortunately the movie’s intriguing plot twists hold it together and keep you involved until the end.

Night of the Zombies - 1980, dir: Bruno Mattei (rating: 4 stars)

A direct rip-off of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, NOTZ goes so far as to have stolen the Goblin soundtracks from various sources. Medical research in New Guinea goes wrong, resulting in toxic chemical contamination turning the workforce into flesh-eating zombies. A team of soldiers are sent to New Guinea where they are joined by reporter Lia Rosseau and her cameraman. As for the rest of the film’s plot, we just have to look at one of Romero’s Living Dead films: one by one our heroes are overcome and killed, and we are left with the conclusion that the zombies will eventually take over the world (how’s that for originality?)

Memorable moments: Lia’s cameraman approaching a group of the undead and asking them to “hold still” for a photo; our heroes’ encounter with grainy stock footage natives, one of the soldiers yelling “Let go of her” to the zombies when they grab Lia; and the longest exaggerated vomiting scene ever seen. Make sure you keep your remote control on hand as there’s at least a good 20 minutes of stock footage to get through...

Zombi Holocaust - 1980, dir: Mariano Girolami (rating: 3 stars)

I can just see the director of this saga having a brainstorm after the success of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie: why not make a film with cannibals and zombies? A scientist, Peter (Ian McCulloch, also seen in Contamination) and his friends Lori, George and Susan travel to the island of Kito to investigate rumours of cannibalism.  They run into the insane Dr. Obrero, who is creating zombies by transplanting brains into the skulls of the dead and encouraging the locals who live around his hideout to eat human flesh.

Quality wise, Zombi Holocaust is a cut above other ‘so bad it’s good’ films because of its good soundtrack (there’s a cool thumping main theme) and the well done gore effects (heart ripping, eyeball popping, scalpings, even disembowelment with a boat motor. NOTE: these effects are barely glimpsed in the hacked Australian release – it is definitely worthwhile seeking it uncut). The film is also surprisingly devoid of stock footage and upchuck scenes. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty that fits it into the SBIG group, like the authentic Wooden acting (dig those inept reaction shots!) and the stupid breathing noises the zombies make. And of course it features that old boo-boo, lousy dubbing. Example: Lori: “Where the hell did you hear that crap?” Susan: “Let’s just say, a little newshound’s sense of smell?” Lori: “Really? Then you must have a cold because there’s no mystery that I know of.”

Pieces - 1982, dir: Juan Piquer Simon (rating: 4 stars)
In 1984, Pieces was understandably called ‘the worst production ever made’. Pieces begins in 1942, in a house which contains a plastic bag and a push-button phone. A little boy has just whacked his mother with an axe after she caught him playing with a nude jigsaw puzzle.

Cut to 40 years later, where he is now employed at a Boston university set somewhere in Spain, and preparing to slaughter nubile female victims to make his own human jigsaw. The entire student body seems perpetually on heat as one particularly badly dubbed girl talks about “smoking pot and fucking on a water bed”, and another decides to go skinny-dipping in the college swimming pool. She is chainsawed to death, and her very plastic-looking body parts scattered around the pool are laughably dodgy. More killings occur via axe and knife and more body parts go missing until the double-shock ending (at this point my stomach was hurting from being doubled over with laughter). Undoubtedly one of the most misogynistic and sleazy films ever made, Pieces was picketed upon release in New York. Fortunately, it’s too stupid to be really offended by it.

A Blade in the Dark - 1983, dir: Lamberto Bava (rating: 2 stars)

Bruno, a young music composer, rents a lonely, isolated villa to concentrate on writing the score for an upcoming horror film. Soon after moving in, a neighbour is brutally murdered and Bruno begins to hear strange voices around the villa. He begins to think he is going mad as the body count rises: his girlfriend Julia is stabbed in the heart after she unwisely hides in a cupboard from the killer and the director of the horror movies is strangled with reels of her own film. At movie’s end, the killer is revealed to be the real estate agent who rented the villa to Bruno – the agent is a psychopathic transvestite played by Michele Soavi in one of his early acting roles.

An unremarkable Argento-inspired early effort from Lamberto Bava, the film is severely hampered by bad dubbing (those ridiculous phony American voices are hilarious). Examples: “You know Julia, you are being slightly difficult (Bruno to Julia), “Bruno it’s me, I’m Julia your girl” (Julia to Bruno obviously). To add to this, A Blade... is filled with unlikable, superfluous characters who might as well have hung placards around their necks saying ‘Kill me’. Apparently it’s also been cut quite a bit for its Australian release. On the plus side, the film is technically well made, there are a few suspenseful moments and there is an eerie soundtrack.

Hunters of the Golden Cobra  - 1982, dir: Antonio Margheriti (rating: 1 and a half stars)

Not a horror film but a Raiders of the Lost Ark clone churned out by Antonio Margheriti, Italy’s answer to Roger Corman. David Warbeck plays Bob Jackson, a government agent sent to find a stolen statue of a golden cobra (believed to have supernatural powers) by the government of an Asian island. On a whole, Hunters... is lighthearted but dull, thanks to several unexciting action sequences. The film is, however, a great showcase for Warbeck’s torso. He also overacts shamelessly and has some priceless facial expressions which only a Warbeck could do. R.I.P.

Contamination - 1980, dir: Luigi Cozzi (rating: two and a half stars)

*NOTE – since then I LOVE the Goblin soundtrack
A fun, chunkblowing rip-off of Alien directed by Argento protégé Luigi Cozzi, surprisingly released uncut here (it was trimmed in the UK and USA). Extraterrestrial pods from Mars are being brought back to Earth. When the pods open they cause any nearby humans’ insides to explode messily out of their stomachs (in slow motion!) The team undertaking this operation are controlled by the dreaded ‘Alien Cyclops’, a phony-looking creature glimpsed at film’s end. Cozzi himself was embarrassed by the tackily-made Cyclops, stating “...the monster was actually made out of papier-mache and badly painted to boot!” There’s also a – shock – unremarkable – Goblin score (the only Goblin soundtrack I haven’t been taken by). But overall, an entertaining flick.

Murderock - 1984, dir: Lucio Fulci (rating: 1 and a half stars)

Murderock marked the beginning of the end for Lucio Fulci, after his series of successful late70s/early 80s splatter flicks and the departure of his team of regular collaborators. Inspired by the 80s breakdance craze, Murderock is an embarrassingly dated Flashdance-meets-horror hybrid, with an awful Keith Emerson disco soundtrack and lots of neon lights and lycra.

At a New York dance studio, dancers are competing for a part in the latest musical show. Mayhem ensures when the best dancers are killed by a maniac whose weapon is a long needle which is slowly pushed though through the victim’s chest, puncturing their heart. Almost bloodless, Murderock is technically very well made, but I found it deadly dull. Compared to Fulci’s earlier key films, this just about made me want to cry. “Murderock was the end of an era...” – Lucio Fulci.

Driller Killer - 1979, dir: Abel Ferrara (rating: 2 and a half stars)

This grungy, micro-budgeted release is cult auteur Abel Ferrara’s debut in filmmaking. Reno (Ferrara) is a paranoid, moody artist living in a squalid New York apartment with two punk rock groupies; one is his girlfriend Carol and the other is the permanently stoned Pamela. He dreams of becoming rich via his paintings, but is long overdue with rent payments and is threatened with eviction. Reno is forced to sublet to an atrocious punk band named ‘Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters’, who use his place for marathon jam sessions, thus robbing him of the concentration required to paint. His paranoia increases as he observes the street derelicts around the vicinity (among them is his own father) and realises that if his current lifestyle does not increase dramatically, he will end up among them. Reno’s descent into madness culminates in his purchasing of a portable drill, with which he dispatches a number of deadbeats and winos. The situation does not improve when an art dealer rejects the painting which Reno considers his masterpiece;  the artist makes further use of his drill. Reno breaks into his now former girlfriend Carol’s ex-husband’s apartment (whom she has left him for). The movie’s final shot fades to red as Reno hides in their bed, pretending to be the ex-husband, lying in wait for Carol.
Driller Killer gained notoriety in the early 80s, when it was one of the most reviled of the ‘video nasties’ in the UK. However, it is nowhere near as gory as its reputation suggests; apart from two graphic drillings, most of the murders are depicted out of frame. The film works quite well in dealing with its ‘tortured artist’ subject matter, but the atmosphere is marred by including far too many scenes of the moronic punk band which contributes to Reno’s downfall. Ferrara went on to direct further gritty ‘urban hell’ pictures, including M.S. 45 and Bad Lieutenant.

Island of Perversion -1976, dir: Nico Mastorakis (rating: 1 star)

I can’t believe it! I would love to know that the censors were doing when they played this thing. Because it’s a minor miracle that Island of Perversion got into our video stores uncut. This sick puppy has it all: several ‘creative’ kills (including death by whitewash), four rapes, goat buggery, golden showers, incest...just good wholesome entertainment! Before I begin my synopsis, I should warn potential viewers not to bother with this title, because despite its OTT content, this horror/exploitation/very black comedy epic is actually very boring and stupid in its puerile attempts to shock.

A young couple, Chris and Celia, are on holiday on the Greek island of Mykonos. Not long after their arrival they decide to have sex in a telephone booth, during which they call up Celia’s repulsed mother in London. Chris then proceeds to get amorous with a goat, which he stabs to death. In a restaurant, they meet Jean-Claude, an unprepossing sleazebag painter who believes he is God’s gift to women. The next day Celia helps Jean-Claude paint his house with whitewash and before you know it they are fucking in the front garden. Unbeknown to the painter, Chris is secretly photographing all of this. He then bashes Jean-Claude and nails him to the ground while Celia takes over the camera. Next he his forced to drink whitewash to death. Their next victims are a gay couple – one is killed via sword, the other is shot in the mouth (hence the film’s subtle tagline: “The lucky ones got their brains blown out!!”), a lesbian barmaid is torched with an aerosol flamethrower, a pair of drug-addicted hippies (one of whom is drowned in a toilet), and a cop who ends up hanging from a noose on a flying plane. The reason for all of this? Apparently Chris is attempting to protect children from corruption, and that he is ‘battling against the forces of moral decline’. Evading the police, the couple hide out at a retarded shepherd’s farm. When Chris finds the shepherd raping Celia, he takes more photos, however the shepherd objects to this, rapes Chris, ties him up and leaves him in a lime pit. After we discover in the final ‘twist’ that Chris and Celia are brother and sister, the film ends with Chris doomed to die as rain begins to fall, causing the lime to burn.

A final word of warning: Far more disturbing to me than any of Island of Perversion’s above-mentioned depravities was the movie’s theme song, an absolute shocker not surprisingly co-written by the director which contains lines such as: “Mother, I’ve seen the wonders of today, millions of people living like clay, millions of whispers saying ‘I’m dying!’”, “Get the sword! Kill them all! Truth was born in a thousand meanings, Jesus said: ‘Look, I’m flying!” nauseam.

Trog - 1970, dir: Freddie Francis (rating: 1 and a half stars)

A group of explorers discover a killer troglodyte (a half man/half ape mutant) which had been frozen in a cave since the Ice Age. A scientist (Joan Crawford in her last screen appearance) stuns ‘Trog’ with a tranquiliser to run test on him in her lab. But just as the scientist is making progress, Trog is released from his cage by an irate sceptic (played by the excellent British actor Michael Gough). Trog runs rampant across the countryside, culminating in the kidnapping of a young girl. The girl is eventually released from Trog’s cave and the mutant is put down.
Apart from a good cast (including a young David Warbeck in a small but amusing role as a TV reporter), Trog doesn’t have much else to offer. The monster makeup for Trog is crude and scenes where Trog attacks the television crow and scares kids in a playground are funny rather than frightening or suspenseful. Trog also has a ‘flashback’ in which we see some plastic dinosaur models during the ‘Ice Age’ (depicted by use of an extraordinarily unconvincing painted background). These give the film a kind of primitive charm which manages to keep the viewer watching.

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