Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Andrea Bianchi and Gabriele Crisanti bring you...Le notti del terrore!

Andrea Bianchi and Gabriele Crisanti bring you...Le notti del terrore!

By Michelle Alexander

The late 1970s-early 1980s was a golden era in Italian horror cinema as directors such as
Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Ruggero Deodato were setting box offices on fire with the
most famous/infamous movies of their careers. At the same time, producer Gabriele Crisanti, noting the success of his fellow countryman, was determined to claim a slice of the money-making pie. Along with a small stable of regular collaborators, Crisanti quickly churned out almost a dozen low-grade potboilers which gave the target audience exactly what they wanted – blood, boobs and bush in spades. Plots take a back seat in favour of cheaply executed but  graphic jack-in-the-box gore scenes, gratuitous sex and nudity (often
juxtaposed with sexually violent deaths), and an all-round fetid, sleazy atmosphere. The
characters are often unlikable bickering oddballs who are hacked up off one by one, set to a
background of occasionally recycled locations and music. Always astute of the marketability
of his product, Crisanti rapidly turned out film after film with similarities, albeit on a much
more limited budget, to whatever what was in vogue with moviegoers at the time in the
horror and softcore genres.

Following the phenomenal success of Dawn of the Dead (1978), a steady flow of walking
dead-themed films  - mostly from Italy - rapidly followed, such as Zombi 2 (Zombie, 1979),
Incubo sulla citta contaminata (Nightmare City, 1980), Virus (Hell of the Living Dead,
1980), Paura nella citta dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead, 1980) and Zombi
Holocaust (1980). Noting this trend, Crisanti promptly hired director Andrea Bianchi, whom
he’d previously collaborated with on the sordid exorcism/nunsploitation hybrid Malabimba
(Malabimba: The Malicious Whore, 1979). By utilising the apocalyptic nihilism of the
zombie genre and blending it in with their own misanthropic, perverse filmmaking universe,
the pair created a derivative but hypnotically strange undead saga. Bianchi and Crisanti’s
productions are also notorious for going where even seasoned genre practitioners wouldn’t
touch – pushing the boundaries of graphic gore and sex in the hope of delivering the nasty
goods to the spectators hungry for such thrills.

Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground, 1981) begins with a pre-credits sequence. Delving
into research at his centuries old sprawling villa, Professor Ayres (Raimondo Barbieri)
uncovers an ancient Etruscan tomb deep beneath its foundations. However, the professor’s
discovery also unleashes a horde of rotten, worm-infested and bloodthirsty zombies who
immediately devour the helpless man, accompanied by Elsio Mancuso and Berto Pisani’s
eerie electronic soundtrack. Cue opening credits, which the music abruptly cuts to some saxy lounge music that sounds composed decades earlier, and indeed it was – this particular music cue was first used in a 1963 film, Katarsis. Three couples, invited by Professor Ayres who is intending to show them the tomb, arrive at the villa. However they have no idea of his demise and settle in, awaiting his arrival. One of the couples, George (Roberto Caporali) and Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano), have brought their son Michael (Pietro Barzocchini aka Peter Bark) with them. Michael is not only extremely odd in appearance (the character is meant to be pre-pubescent – Bark was 25 years old at the time, but appeared middle-aged due to progeroid symptoms) but also in manner. He has a disturbing Oedipal fixation towards his mother, spying on her during sex and trying to feel her up. The main characters frolic around the villa, completely oblivious that the living dead are creeping up all around them. Before long though the guests discover the reason for Professor Ayres’ disappearance and are having to have to fend off the zombies, who, interestingly enough, have the ability to operate power tools, throw knives, and use battering rams to bash through doors. At one point they even disguise themselves in monk’s habits to ambush our heroes.  One by one the guests are slaughtered, entrails are ripped out and consumed and the body count piles up – until we get to a notorious scene which I guarantee will stay burned in your mind forever. Evelyn, one of the last survivors, is thrilled to see Michael is still apparently alive. In her delirium she fails to see he is well and truly a zombie, and when she sees him staring at her breasts she has no qualms about offering him one to suckle. “Just like when you were a baby...” But Evelyn’s ecstasy quickly turns to agony when Michael chomps down on her nipple, ripping the whole thing off. Mother and son are therefore forever reunited amongst the living dead, with the final two remaining survivors are also quickly wiped out.

While on paper Le notti del terrore may sound like an unimaginative, pointless, by-the-
numbers zombie quickie, Andrea Bianchi and Gabriele Crisanti have worked their dubious
magic yet again. The combination of truly rancid-looking, wormy zombies, the incest
subplot, and buckets of queasy gore create an unforgettably clammy, sickening, nauseating
atmosphere with an effective sense of doom from the beginning, managing to override the
typically atrocious dubbing, sub-porno standard acting - with the exception of Mariangela
Giordano, who gives it her all especially when she’s kicking zombie ass - and the absolute
minimum in terms of plot and characterisation. What differentiates Le notti del terrore from
other Living Dead-themed features of the era is that it has Bianchi and Crisanti’s trademarks
stamped all over it.  Unashamedly outrageous, audacious, with a shock factor that still packs a punch today, it utilises a simple formula (‘So Dawn of the Dead had blood and gore in it? Well we can do better that that – we’ll put ten times the amount of blood and gore in. And put in lots of hot naked women too!’) Script development is left behind in the slow lane in favour in the sex and violence elements, which are in fifth gear from the beginning. Special mention is also given to the wonderfully old world grand set location of Villa Parisi (which can also be seen in another Crisanti production, Patrick vive ancora (Patrick Still Lives, 1980)) and ominous electronic score  - save for the anachronistic jazz music. Le notti del terrore has its own unique appeal that makes it such a memorable film. It’s a down and dirty, endearingly inept and gloriously trashy zombie saga that those in the know should get a kick out of. All others should proceed with caution... and NO politically correct expectations whatsoever!

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