Per request (I know, right, Gabe gets requests?) I’ve been asked my opinion on the must sees of the Italian horror/thriller/fantasty genres. I shall be keeping this in mostly list form, without wasting any of your time with long winded reasoning, and lists will be divided first by director, then by sub-genre. I’m also attempting to include a key beside each item, marking whether it’s available on US DVD (DVD), Blu-ray (BR), out of print DVD (OOP) and/or the Netflix instant queue (IQ). I’m not a sadist, so I’m only covering the period around 1960-1990, with the exceptions. Also, I’m not going to include every little thing under the sun, especially if it’s A) not particularly noteworthy and/or B) doesn’t really fall in with the genre. I will note what films I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet at the end of each section.

Volume 2: Cannibal and Zombie Flesh Eaters



Cannibals:
The cannibal film is likely the most tasteless, mean spirited and controversial subgenre to have ever spawned across the Atlantic from Italy. These films started in reference survival pictures (in the vein of A Man Called Horse and Tarzan), and the pseudo documentary Mondo travelogues (which are actually a little bit more tasteless and controversial) of the ‘60s. Rampant racism is further sullied by genuine on-film animal slaughter, most of which cannot hide behind the excuse of simply capturing a natural event. Most Cannibal genre films run on a similar story, and several genre filmmakers were know to snag and splice entire scenes from other films. Two particularly interchangeable pieces of crap not worth seeing (unless you enjoy utter boredom) are Jess Franco’s Cannibals and the Alain Deruelle/Olivier Mathot/Julio Pérez Tabernero/Franco’s Cannibal Terror, which is technically a French/Spanish co-production. The similarities between the films confused collectors for years. Come the think on it, pretty much avoid anything connected to cannibals with Jess Franco name on it (White Cannibal Queen, The Devil Hunter).

I’m not terribly fond of the genre, but there are some diamonds in the rough, so here are my recommendations:



Must Sees:
Cannibal Holocaust (1980, DVD): Ruggero Deodato’s brutal exploitation masterpiece is the one movie of the genre even high brow cineastes’ should probably see. Assuming they have the stomach for it. Intended (apparently) as a biting satire of the violence shown on television news, the first half of the film is pretty par for the course – featuring city folks looking for missing people in the Amazon jungle (in this case a documentary crew of 3). They stop to play naked with the natives for a bit, and watch (tied down) animals kill each other. Deodato seeps relentlessly bleak atmosphere into otherwise familiar situations, but Cannibal Holocaust doesn’t begin to terrify until the dead camera crew, and their footage is finally uncovered. The rest of the film is a disturbingly believable journey into ’found footage’ hell. It’s revealed that the documentary crew grew unsatisfied with the relative peaceful natives they’d discovered, and overstepped their documentarian’s code, creating violent havoc in hopes of inciting something terrible. And it all feels so real. Every rape (by stone or penis), every murder, every evisceration, every vaginally impaled adulterous. Of course some of it is real. The butchering of a large river turtle is usually the point most viewers turn the film off. Deodato claims the crew actually ate the turtle with the extras (who were likely way underpaid), and the visceral effect of the turtle slaughter make’s it infinitely more difficult to assure one’s self that it’s only a movie…its only a movie…

For the record the DVD has a play mode that erases all the animal cruelty, and even after several viewings this one still utterly chills to the bone.


(note, the bottom of this poster is an image from Deep River Savages)

Almost ‘Good’ Films:
Jungle Holocaust, aka: Last Cannibal World, Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (1977, DVD): Technically adept Giallo and War movie extraordinaire Umberto Lenzi beat Deodato to the formula in 1972 with The Man From Deep River. I still haven’t managed to see that one, so I’m skipping strait to Deodato’s first dip in this particularly murky pond. Jungle Holocaust is kind of a mix of A Man Called Horse, and various P.O.W. flicks. There’s a constant dripping sense of dread over the entire film, and though it’s not nearly as gory as other genre offerings, the kills in this one really hurt. The fact that Massimo Foschi and Me Me Lai are full frontally nude for most of the film, which is very rarely played as sexy, just makes every cut burn more. Foschi’s performance is also very impressive – total method down to his testicular pummeling. I’m pretty sure even Harvey Keitel would suffer that much for his art. I mean running butt naked in the real Amazon? Just the thought of it makes me break out in a rash and poisonous bug bites.

The Mountain of the Cannibal God, aka: Slave of the Cannibal God (1978, DVD): Giallo great Sergio Martino takes a more tempered approach to the genre, following the ‘journey to find some lost guy likely eaten by cannibals’ trope, but he puts more emphasis on adventure, character interactions, and has a pretty incredible cast for type, including Bond Girl Ursula Andress, and a obvious coke addled Stacy Keach. It’s all very silly – Andress becomes the Aryan queen to the natives, and is thusly forced to trounce around naked a lot – but despite some icky live snake eating, and RAGING racism it’s actually an amusing, and harmless little film



Not terrible:
Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals, aka: Trap Them and Kill Them (1977, DVD): Sleaze maestro Joe D’Amato (real name Aristide Massassesi) took a couple pornographic dabbles at the flesh eating genres with films like Porno Holocaust and Orgasmo Negro, but the results usually skewed much more towards the smutty and inept. Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals sees D’Amato doing his best impression of Lenzi and Deodato, and there are some genuine shock-gore moments, but it doesn’t quite compare to the apex of disturbing that was Emmanuelle in America (also made in 1977, along with Emmanuelle Around the World).

Eaten Alive!, aka: Mangiati Vivi! (1980, DVD): In his big wind-up for the most politically incorrect and splattery film the genre ever had to offer (that would be Cannibal Ferox), Umberto Lenzi semi-cleverly exploited the then relatively new Jonestown massacre situation, but mostly he just goes for broke in the ick department (Lenzi was never particularly proud of his cannibal films, so comparing them to Deodato’s is somewhat unfair). The gore is entertaining, if that’s your kind of thing, but is largely lifted from other films, specifically Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust, Sergio Martino’s The Mountain of the Cannibal God, and Lenzi’s own Man From Deep River. The brown-face Northern Italians posing as some unnamed Asian tribe is pretty amusing.

Cannibal Ferox, aka: Make Them Die Slowly (1981, DVD): I’ll probably get shit from the hard-cores out there for not loving Lenzi’s cannibal swan song, but it’s generally just kind of slapdash, and based on his incredible Gialli, we know Lenzi is capable of much more. Most likely the goriest film the genre has to offer, at least in terms of volume of grue, and creativity of torture, though I’ve never found the effects particularly realistic, even by budget Italian standards. Lenzi wins points for being so incredibly sleazy throughout the entire film, but beyond the gore the only reason to see it is Giovanni Lombardo Radice acting on total scum bag mode. The DVD commentary, which was culled from two different recordings, is delightful in that Lenzi and Radice memories and opinions almost entirely contradict each other on every level.

Once again films I haven’t seen and cannot comment on include Man From Deep River, aka Deep River Savages (1972 DVD), Primitif, aka: Savage Terror (1978, DVD under Tales of Voodoo Volume 2), Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals, another D’Amato sleazefest (1978, DVD), and the more recent The Green Inferno (1988).



The Middle Ground Must Sees:
Cannibal Apocalypse, aka Cannibals in the Streets, Apocalypse Domani (1980, DVD): Genre jumping craftsman Antonio Margheriti took a different slant on the Cannibal genre by mixing it with two similarly popular American films – First Blood and Apocalypse Now, both of which were massive hits in the region (the Italian title literally translates to Apocalypse Tomorrow). Vietnam vets John Saxon, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, and Tony King return to the United States after being bit by contagious cannibalistic Vietcong, and slowly develop a taste for human flesh. The bulk of the film is a take off on First Blood with Radice dumped into the put upon outcast roll. He and King quickly devolve into flesh hungry ghouls, and good guy Saxon does every thing he can to help them. It’s silly, and the dialogue is often much funnier than intended, but Margheriti’s direction is strong, getting a lot of oomph for very little cash, and the acting is sharper than expected.

Zombie Holocaust, aka Dr. Butcher M.D. (1980, DVD): Marino Girolami’s film is a cheesy, lowest common denominator, exploitation rip off of the highest order. It’s the aged wine of Mountain Dew.  Not content with robbing Lenzi and Deodato, and lifting the entire plot of The Mountain of the Cannibal God, Girolami takes on Fulci’s Zombie, even hiring the same lead actor, and utilizing similar make-up effects. Zombie Holocaust is a harmless, fun stew of clichés, plot twists that can be seen from orbit, less than convincing gore, and genuinely gratuitous nudity. My personal favorite hunk of utter schlock, I defy any genre fan to not be charmed by its ridiculous ineptitudes.

Anthropophagous the Beast (1980, DVD): Forgoing his usual inept mix of hardcore sex and violence, Joe D’Amato went straight horror for arguably his most well-known film. Like Cannibal Apocalypse, Anthropophagous doesn’t follow the usual journey into the creepy depths of a creepy jungle, rather D’Amato apes the American brand of stalk and slash with a cannibalistic twist. A group of twenty-somethings take a trip to an isolated part of Italy (or Greece, it doesn’t matter) where they’re stalked by a sun-baked beast who was driven to madness after eating his own wife and child. The flesh eater slowly whittles down the ranks, a little too slowly sometimes, but things perk up when he corners a pregnant woman, tears the unborn fetus from her womb, and takes a bite. The last act is pretty tense, impressive work from D’Amato, and crescendos with the Monster taking a pick axe to the gut. What does the cannibal do as his entrails spill out into his hands? He eats them, of course,

*Special Note: Not a Cannibal film: Massacre in Dinosaur Valley, aka: Nudo e selvaggio, Cannibal Ferox 2 (1985, DVD). It’s also lacking in dinosaurs and valleys. It’s also pretty boring.



Zombies:
The Italian brand of Zombie cinema is a much easier to enjoy cocktail of gore, boobs and general ineptitude, spiked with just enough goofy charm to keep even some horror haters watching. The genre was birthed through a mix of the increasingly gory Giallo and Cannibal genres, and the massive popularity of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (aka: Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters), which I discussed along with the rest of the maestro’s work in Volume One of this checklist, opened the floodgates to a deluge of undead flesh eaters. I will not be covering any of Fulci or Soavi’s work here.



Must Sees (besides Fulci’s and Soavi’s films):
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, aka: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue, Don’t Open the
Window (1974, DVD, Blu-ray): A slight cheat, as director Jorge Grau is Spanish, and most of the actors are British, but the crew was mostly Italian, and it certainly feels a part of the subgenre (I really wanted to include Grapes of Death here too, but it is incredibly French). The film is also an oddity in that it predates Dawn of the Dead, which was the film that really set off the trend. The story here is solid, with a unique environmental stance behind the zombie phenomenon, the acting is way above the par, the photography is evocative and lush, and there’s some fantastic pre-Savini gore. Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is surprisingly frightening, compelling, and had it not been for gore shots including a woman’s breast being torn off, I honestly believe it would be compared to favorably to non-exploitation flicks (if there is such thing). The opening title score is also ‘the jam’. See my full DVDActive.com Blu-ray reviewing.



Bad Movies That are Fun to Watch:
Burial Ground, aka: Nights of Terror, Zombie 3, Le Notti del terrore, The Zombie Dead (1981, DVD): Burial Ground tries its darndest to be genuinely spooky by pushing its vaguely cobwebs and bats Gothic imagery, but it’s just a particularly unintentional funny body count movie, staring some of the stiffest Fulci rip-off zombies you’ve ever seen. A little too slow for total entertainment value, but features a bizarre Oedipal subplot that leads to a madwoman offering her breast to her zombeized son, who eagerly takes a bite.

Hell of the Living Dead, aka: Virus, Night of the Zombies, Zombie Inferno, Inferno dei morti-viventi (1980, DVD): Much maligned with good reason, schlockiteer Bruno Mattei’s first attempt at the Italian brand of zombie horror is super stupid, but not without it’s brainless charms. The basic story is actually one of the more creative in the post Dawn of the Dead cash-in era, as the virus that causes the zombification is meant as an evil government’s means of population control in the third world. Unfortunately the system backfires, and raging flesh eaters attack and kill the first world white people. Mattei steals Romero’s the poor eating the rich motif, and entire chunks of Goblin’s Dawn of the Dead score, but that’s not as bad as the oodles of filler between zombie kills, and lazy, unrelated stock footage. The moist bits are a lot of fun though, so worth seeing in good company.



Only Compleatests with Patience Need Apply:
Nightmare City, aka: City of the Walking Dead (1980, DVD): Technically not a zombie movie according to director Umberto Lenzi, who calls his chunky faced ghouls vampires, Nightmare City takes a few cues from Romero and Fulci, but is mostly just a bad movie. Long boring stretches are spiked with sparks of lively carnage, all wrapped up with the most frustrating endings I’ve ever seen. I don’t actively recommend Nightmare City, but it does belong on any Italian horror checklist. I do believe it was the first movie featuring running zombies.

After Death, aka: Zombi 4 (1990, DVD): By no means a good movie, and occasionally so terrible the fast forward button must be engaged, this slight, cheap, cash-in has a couple of funny gore moments, just enough silly to please the drunken. Put this one at the very bottom of your watch list, when you’re getting desperate for a fix.



Honorable Mention:
Dawn of the Mummy (1981, FF DVD, UK DVD): It takes place in Egypt, and the buried undead are called mummies, but everything about Dawn of the Mummy screams ‘Fulci cash-in’. The set up is a schlock dream – a group of models journey to Egypt for a scantly clad photo shoot, then the girls go and upset the Mummy’s tomb, and all hell breaks loose. Well kind of. There’s a lot of down time with people talking about how frightened they are, but as soon as the Mummy’s slaves crawl out of the sand and start eating people it’s hard to resist. These mummy slaves look a whole lot like refugees from Zombie Holocaust.

Zombie genre movies I have not seen and am unable to comment on include Terror Creatures from Beyond the Grave, aka: Cinque Tombe per un Medium (1965, DVD), A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971, OOP DVD), I am a Zombie, You are a Zombie, She is a Zombie (1979), Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), Porno Holocaust (1981), Killing Birds, aka: Zombi5 and Raptors (1988).

*Special Note: The Jay Slater edited book ‘Eaten Alive: Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies’ counts Jose Luis Merino’s Hanging Woman (1973), which while a decent flick, is still made by Spaniards (it stars Paul Naschy), in Spain, but apparently had some Italian monetary backing. I think this goes beyond my inclusion of Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, which was shot by an Italian crew under a Spanish director.

Up next: The impossibly difficult task of climbing through the most persistent and numerous thriller genre to come out of Italy – The Giallo Genre. I’ve got some research to do.