Sunday, November 15, 2015

Spazzing out over Lenzi's Spasmo.

Title Card screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.
Spasmo (1974)
Director: Umberto Lenzi

Umberto Lenzi’s Spasmo has recently received a Blu Ray release from Scorpion Releasing so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to revisit this lesser discussed giallo.

Scorpion Releasing Blu Ray cover. 
 In Spasmo Christian Bauman (Robert Hoffman) is out and about and meets Barbara (Suzy Kendall), after heading back to her place he is attacked by a strange man in her bathroom. During the struggle Christian shoots the man and in a panic he flees with Barbara only to later realize that the man wasn’t dead and everyone they meet from here on out has some strange connection back to them, the man in the bathroom, and Christians brother Fritz Bauman (Ivan Rassimov.) All the while someone is leaving fully dressed mannequins with knives stuck in them around the countryside and somehow these events are linked.

Screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.
Umberto Lenzi is most remembered for his cannibal films but he is a capable director in many genres and more importantly to this review he is a maestro of the giallo who should be spoken about in the same context as Argento, Bava, and Martino. That being said Spasmo is a sterling example of the non “black gloved killer” giallo but I don’t think it’s Lenzi’s best, I prefer Paranoia and Eyeball. Overall though Spasmo is a great and fun film with a gorgeous look thanks to cinematographer Guglielmo Mancori (Paranoia, Manhattan Baby) and production designer Giacomo Calò Carducci (Seven Blood Stained Orchids, A Man Called Blade). Spasmo also features a well written taught story and characters who act believably while in somewhat outlandish situations. The film also features some stand out performances by genre regulars Suzy Kendall and Ivan Rassimov.

Screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.
The other strong aspect of Spasmo is it’s fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. It is a near perfect blend of the exotic-loungey music found in many gialli, the classical influenced standard score music, as well as Morricone’s then trademark avant-garde styling’s. It leaves the viewer on edge at times while relaxing us at others and this score recently received several limited pressings on vinyl from Dagored Records based out of Italy.

Cover for one of three limited edition vinyl reissues from Dagored.
The new Spasmo Blu Ray from Scorpio Releasing looks and sounds fantastic and is a noticeable improvement on Shriek Show’s already good looking DVD from the early 2000’s. There do not seem to be any major issues with the transfer but it is also not a disc I would use to show off the wonders of high definition equipment to anyone. Scorpio Releasing are kind enough to provide us with two full versions of the movie, one is a straight transfer of the film elements with minimal correction and leaving some of the visual imperfections while the other transfer employs a minimal amount of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) which “smoothes out” visual artifacts and grain but if over used can cause images to look artificial. Both versions look perfectly acceptable with any imperfections being barely noticeable on most home televisions. I personally prefer the un-corrected version for my re-watches because that is the most like viewing a print in a theater.

Cover for Shriek Show DVD release.
There isn’t much in the way of extras but you get a great trailer and an older interview with Lenzi. The interview is interesting since Lenzi claims that George Romero shot gory inserts for Spasmo’s U.S. theatrical release but I can not find any info supporting this that doesn’t come from Lenzi personally so take that as you will.

I would recommend that anyone who is interested in the world of the giallo and has maybe only seen a couple of Argento films should investigate Lenzi’s work in the genre and check out Scorpio Releasing’s new Blu Ray release while also insisting that this is a must own for the seasoned 
Euro-Cult fan. Spasmo can be ordered from Diabolik DVD at their web-store here.

Title card taken from trailer, screen grab from Shriek Show DVD.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Italy's secret Halloween horror film.

In my professional writing, mostly reviews of movies in current release, I recently wrote a list article on movies to watch for the Halloween season that are an alternative to the usual choices such as the Halloween series and 2007’s Trick ’r Treat. While doing some unrelated writing two days ago it suddenly struck me that I forgot one fantastic film entirely. For all of my love of Euro Horror it completely escaped me that Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead AKA The Gates Of Hell is a Halloween movie.

Fulci’s 1980 classic of abstract horror takes place in the fictional town of Dunwich, where the suicide of local priest Father Thomas has opened a titular gate to hell. After psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) sees the suicide unfolding in a vision she immediately goes into a catatonic state resembling death and is buried alive. Investigative reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) is luckily in the right place at the right time and saves Mary in one of the film’s most harrowing, exciting, and legendary scenes as Peter wields a pick axe mere inches from Mary’s face while trying to free here from her coffin.  

Once out Mary and Peter team up once they learn that according to the book of Enoch, the gates to hell must be closed by All Saints day (November First) or it could spell doom for all mankind. We then learn that the ghost of Father Thomas is wreaking havoc on the townsfolk of Dunwich and that the ghosts of his victims start claiming victims of their own. From here on out we are treated to a plethora of memorable scenes including guts, drills, maggot storms, and tears of blood.

Now I won’t go into any further description as to not spoil anything for those of you who may not have seen this spaghetti splatter masterpiece but suffice to say the film takes place in the last few days of October with the climax happening on the night of October 31st which makes The Gates Of Hell the strangest of all Halloween horror films. Especially considering that since City Of The Living Dead is the product of a country that doesn’t traditionally celebrate Halloween, the holiday is never once mentioned in the film.

Fulci treats us to a wealth of creepy atmosphere, odd characters, and genre defining gore set pieces in what many consider to be his best film and while I personally prefer The Beyond I find myself going back to this film just as much. Actually, now that I think of it City Of The Living Dead may be the Fulci film I’ve seen the most times. The movie has a beautiful visual style with its lingering shots of fog-laden graveyards and atmospherically lit locales shot by Sergio Salvati. The previously mentioned special effects by Ginno De Rossi are outstanding and still live up to their reputation thirty five years later while the films score by Fabio Frizzi is absolutely fantastic and memorable. 

So if you couldn’t tell I love City Of The Living Dead and highly recommend that all serious horror fans check it out if you haven’t already. And now that I have realized this movie is indeed a Halloween film it is certain to make its way into the yearly festivities. Now since this realization struck me I have been trying to find the time to sit down and write this piece but I’m worried that it is too late for me to remind you all to watch City Of The Living Dead this year because it’s after midnight… it’s already All Saints Day.

City Of The Living Dead AKA The Gates Of Hell (1980)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, Christopher George, Carlo De Majo, and Giovanni Lombardo Radice

City Of The Living Dead is available on Blu-Ray in the U.S. from Blue Underground and in the U.K. from Arrow Films.

Happy Halloween and re-welcome to the blog!

Welcome to the re-launch of my blog Hauntedracula’s House Of Dorkness.  As I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately for outlets such as Motif Magazine, Forces Of Geek, and Cashieres Du Cinemart I have decided to get the blog up and running for pieces I’d like to write that aren’t right for any of the other venues. 

In preparation I have cleaned up what already existed here on the blog and given the whole place the once over. Now as much as I would like to promise regular daily or even weekly content that just isn’t going to happen, but I assure you that there will be new content added periodically and that if you check back every couple of weeks you should find something new.

So please do check back and you will find my thoughts on movies, music, television, or whatever else strikes me as something worth writing about. And of course if you have something that you would like me to cover here on the blog be sure and contact me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shot-on-Shiteo Madness!

In anticipation of Alternative Cinema's upcoming release of the never before released 8mm movie The Basement I am dropping this review of two of the films included in the upcoming 80's indie horror box set which will include The Basement, Video Violence, Video Violence 2, Cannibal Campout, and Captives.  So here we go,

Video Violence and Video Violence 2/ 1987-1988
98 min. and 75 min. / Not Rated
Director: Gary P. Cohen
Camp Motion Pictures / Alternative Cinema

            As many who know me may know, Video Violence is one of my favorite guilty pleasures of the late 80’s video boom. I have subjected many of my friends to its curious charms when it was suggested that I bring over a movie to watch.

            Video Violence concerns a New York couple, Steve and Rachel Emory, who move to a small Pennsylvania town to open their own video store. The strange thing is that even though there is no other video store around, everyone in town seems to already own a VCR and no-one wants to rent anything other than horror and porn. Things get stranger when an unlabeled video cassette is returned which depicts the murder of the recently retired local post master. Authorities get dismissive with Steve, evidence goes missing, and soon it seems that everyone may be in on it. As the town closes in on Steve and Rachel it seems less likely that anyone in town can help them.

            Video Violence 2 expands the story by concentrating on Howard and Eli, the makers of the snuff videos from the first film. In this installment Howard and Eli have created their own pirated cable station on which they air their homemade snuff and encourage others to “produce” their own films. After several bloody vignettes and the inclusion of a studio “guest,” Video Violence 2 wraps itself up with a fairly silly twist ending.

            Camp Motion Pictures, who specialize in shot on video fare, have given the Video Violence pair a first rate DVD release. With both films being re-mastered from the original video elements they look fairly sharp and the extras include an interview featurette with director Gary P. Cohen which features some never before seen footage from the films and a pair of so-so commentaries that tend to lose their way occasionally but are at the very least entertaining.

            As mentioned above I am a huge fan of Video Violence and despite its cheese-ball effects and acting the movie is a memorable and entertaining delight. Video Violence has an undeniable creepy undertone and features a snuff plot years before it became a clichĂ© of independent horror. Unfortunately Video Violence 2 doesn’t fare as well, conceptually it’s just unbelievable and at many points just comes off as a bunch of ideas the writer didn’t know what to do with. Where some of the segments in Video Violence 2 are entertaining, and the effects in many scenes mark a major improvement over the first film, the finished product just doesn’t hold up as well as the first. If you’re a fan of low budget gore and the shot-on-video boom of the eighties then I can recommend no film higher than Video Violence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Welcome to my first post.

Hello and welcome to Hauntedracula’s House of Dorkness, this blog is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a couple of years now.  I have been writing for print and web publications on and off for a number of years now and have decided to venture into the world of blogging to A; keep writing on a regular basis, and B; to have a place to post old reviews and interviews which never found a home or had gotten lost in the shuffle. I will be covering a plethora of cult, exploitation, and horror films from around the world, and trying to interview those involved when the opportunity arises.

Plans are to update this site at least once a week so check back and be sure to let me know what you think, thanks for dropping by, and for my first post I bring you,

Don’t Go In The Woods …Alone! / 1981
83 Min. / U.S. / Rated R
Dir. James Bryan
Code Red – Media Blasters

WOW. Where do I start? I mean really this has got to be the most lavish special edition of a bad film I have ever seen. This is just amazing. 

Part of the great post Friday the 13th slasher craze Don’t Go in the Woods …Alone! has your usual oversized man in the woods knocking off campers and people trying to get it on. The great thing is that our main characters wander through the woods (and the film) endlessly talking while an unprecedented amount of filler characters literally just walk into frame long enough to possibly say one line and then drop their mannequin arm on the ground. Eventually our group of four encounters the beaded (yes I mean beaded) and bearded madman and things don’t become any clearer but you’re along for the long haul at this point. If not just to find out if this movie even has an ending because it barely has a beginning as we seem to just wander into a melee of bad editing, bad dubbing, and a group of killings without any set-up or context.  

Code Red have assembled one hell of a DVD release for this film which provides the viewer with enough insight to the features production to foster appreciation from weary viewers. The film is presented in a full frame 1.33:1 transfer that has some noticeable damage present but isn’t distracting. The special features include still galleries, a vintage talk show appearance, and a one hour interview featurette. The jewel of this package though, are the two commentaries, the first with director James Bryan and the second one on which he is joined by actress Mary Gail and super fan Deron Miller of CKY.  The first commentary reveals many of the problems that the production encountered and reveals the fact that the film is supposed to be funny, while the second commentary is wonderful because fan Deron Miller asks most of the questions one thinks of while watching the film.

I certainly will not tell you that this is a great or good film, but it is defiantly the most fun I’ve had reviewing a film in a long time. If you and some friends are going to get together to watch a film and yell at the TV then I must recommend D.G.I.T.W. …A. as a great party DVD.