Nightmare City – Trailer

Released in the United States as City of the Walking Dead in 1983, Umberto Lenzi’s (Cannibal Ferox) 1980 non-zombie action shocker is shameless pulp madness from start to finish and must be seen to be believed.  Scientists investigating an accident at a nuclear power plant return to an anonymous metropolis as murderous, misshapen vampiric supermen who go after the local population with axes, chains, and even the occasional automatic weapon.  Reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz, Cyclone) must fight for the survival of both himself and his wife (Laura Trotter, The Last House on the Beach) amidst all the schlock.

Though filled to the brim with tasteless nudity and bottom-dollar gore (including breast amputations, eye-ripping, throat slashing and a variety of exploding head shots) the real draw of Nightmare City is the absurdity of it all, from the first sight of the army of mud-faced vampire madmen to the predictable circular ending and everywhere in between.

Note: This trailer contains violence and some nudity, not to mention a lot of awfully written dubbed dialogue.  You have been warned.

Arrow Video wants YOU to live in terror – The Beyond headed to blu-ray!

That’s right, folks! Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece of surreal horror is headed to high definition courtesy of Arrow Video, the UK cult video company known for their lavish special editions of films like Battle Royale and Fulci’s City of the Living Dead.  Details of Arrow’s upcoming The Beyond can be found below the break, but the quick facts are as follows: the Blu-ray will be region free, and the feature and extras will both be in 1080p (disc 2 will be a PAL-coded region free DVD).

The Beyond 2-disc Blu-ray and DVD sets are due for release on March 14th (a month delayed from the original February 14th) and can be pre-ordered through Amazon.co.uk at considerable savings.  The full details of the package, copied directly from the Cult-Labs forum, are below:

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Ogroff

a.k.a. (The) Mad Mutilator Year: 1983   Runtime: 89′
Director: N. G. Mount   Writers: N. G. Mount   Cinematography: Marc Georges   Music: Jean Richard
Cast: N.G. Mount, Robert Alaux, Francoise Deniel, Pierre Patin, Howard Vernon

A leather mask and wool cap wearing killer who might or might not respond to the name of Ogroff (the film’s director/writer/nearly-everything-else-er N.G. Mount) haunts a patch of woods in the French countryside, doing what masked killers do, namely killing people with his favourite axe, eating parts of their corpses raw (although he appreciates a good blood soup, too), and having sex with said axe in his bone-adorned shed. From time to time, Ogroff has more interesting things to do, like having a longish duel with a chainsaw-wielding gentleman or demolishing a very French car with his axe in real-time.

While Ogroff goes about his day(s) – time tends to be somewhat malleable in these woods – a female relative of one of his victims – let’s call her Girl – arrives to find out what happened to her sister/brother/little nephew. While she’s at it, she also decapitates a zombie with the help of her trusty car and a rope. When Girl and Ogroff meet, our hero (yep, that’s what he is, sorry) hauls her over his shoulder and drags her to his shed where the two soon proceed to have consensual sex. Afterwards, Girl starts with improving Ogroff’s home by burying various body parts and tidying up the shed.

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City of the Living Dead

Year: 1980   Company: Dania Film – Medusa Distribuzione – National Cinematografica   Runtime: 93′
Director: Lucio Fulci   Writer: Dardano Sacchetti, Lucio Fulci   Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Music: Fabio Frizzi  Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Giovanni Lombardo
Radice, Antonella Interlenghi, Daniela Doria, Fabrizio Jovine, Venantino Venantini, Michele Soavi
Disc company: Arrow Video   Video: 1080p 1.85:1    Audio: DTS-HD Master 7.1 English, DTS-HD Master 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Monophonic English
Subtitles: None   Disc: Dual Layer BD50   Release Date: 05/24/2010   Product link: Amazon.co.uk
Be sure to visit the Cult-Labs forums to have your say on this and future Arrow Video releases

Though it was the genre with which he would find the most acclaim, with his gruesome chillers earning both critical praise and substantial profit in international markets, Lucio Fulci’s personal relationship with horror was uneasy and bittersweet. With the success of his 1979 effort Zombi 2 came hope that he would gain stature within the Italian industry and more freedom in his work, but neither came.  By the middle of the ’80s Fulci had become typecast within the genre, and dwindling budgets, advantageous producers and a marked decline in his physical well being would lead his later work to become increasingly dreadful.  A proposed collaboration with Dario Argento may well have put the ailing director back on top, ending his career on a much-needed high note, but he died before production began.

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Make-Out With Violence

film rating:
disc rating:
company: Limerent Pictures
year: 2008
runtime: 105′
director: The Deagol Brothers
cast: Eric Lehning, Cody DeVos,
Leah High, Brett Miller,
Tia Shearer, Jordan Lehning,
Josh Duensing, Shellie Marie Shartzer
writers: The Deagol Brothers,
Cody DeVos and Eric Lehning
cinematography: David Bousquet,
Kevin Doyle and James King
music: Jordan Lehning
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Factory 25
Pre-order this film from Amazon.com
or directly through Factory 25

Make-Out With Violence is due out on DVD, Blu-ray and DVD / soundtrack LP combo pack from Factory 25 on October 26th, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.com or directly through Factory 25.

Plot: 17 year old Wendy disappears without a trace one summer, and those in her hometown presume her to be dead. After a memorial service, sans corpus, twin brothers Carol and Patrick and their younger sibling Beetle happen upon Wendy, now in a state of living-death. The trio hide the girl in a vacant house and attempt to take care of her while keeping her existence hidden from those around them.

To give credit where credit is due, the trailer for Make-Out With Violence (available here) is an excellent piece that does its job far more adeptly than most I’ve come across as late. Its cross cutting between dimly related story elements hints at what the film is all about while giving away precious little in the way of details and the backscoring (all tracks from Jordan Lehning’s wonderful original soundtrack) lends the footage exactly the right tone at exactly the right time. When I was approached by the distributor about reviewing the film it was the trailer that ultimately sold me.  I had high hopes.

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The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles

company: Ace Books, Inc.
number: D-530
year: 1961
length: 128 p.
writer: Robert Moore Williams
cover art: Uncredited
Order this book from Amazon.com

After last week’s venture with Roger Moore Williams’ science fiction disasterpiece The Second Atlantis, as fine an example of lazy pay-the-bills fiction as can be had, I’m not ashamed to say that I was craving more and, being the type who picks up well-worn genre offerings by virtue of their titles alone, I found myself lucky enough to already have another of the author’s works sitting as yet unread on my overstuffed bookshelf.  Contrary to recent experience and much to my surprise Williams’ 1961 novella The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles proved to be a competent piece of work, offering up more than enough thrills and chills to keep the reader invested for the swift 128 page haul.

BROOOOMMMMM!  BOOOOONG!  BROOOOOMMMM!  (p. 7)

Starting off with a literal bang, The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles begins with salesman and ex-marine Tom Watkins rushing to a Civil Defense shelter just in time to avoid the unseemly effects of the event foretold in the title – a multiple hydrogen-bombing of the Los Angeles basin.  In the shelter he joins forces with a movie star, a doctor’s secretary and an F.B.I. agent, among others.  Questions quickly arise as to just who bombed the city . . . the Russians? . . . the Chinese?  The revelations of agent Kissel, previously engaged in a mass operation to locate an undisclosed menace to the nation’s security, soon shift the blame to none other than the American government, an accusation that is only bolstered when Tom and the other survivors are stopped in their attempted flight by soldiers ordered to shoot to kill.

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Night of the Living Dead

rating:
company: Image Ten
and The Latent Image
year: 1968
runtime: 96′
director: George A. Romero
cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea,
Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman,
Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley,
Kyra Schon, S. William Hinzman
writers: John A. Russo
and George A. Romero
cinematography: George A. Romero
Order this film from Amazon.com

If you have yet to see Night of the Living Dead, I heartily recommend doing so – this review can wait.  The film is readily available for viewing at the Internet Archive, Youtube and similar sites thanks to its unfortunate copyright status and I’ve linked to my favorite of the many, many home video releases, Dimension’s recent 40th anniversary DVD edition, in the information to the left.  The screen grabs used in this review are sourced from that release.

Over four decades after its original release George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead still packs a nasty punch.  Initially marketed as a weekend matinee (a slot geared towards youngsters and frequently populated by more generic horror fare) by distributor Walter Reade, its difficult to imagine the impact Night‘s gruesome spectacle must have had when new or to quantify the scope of its importance to cinema as a whole.  This is the film the dragged its terrors out of the exotic far-flung locales and up from the secret basement laboratories of old and plopped them right into the lap of middle America.  This is the one that brought horror home.

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Survival of the Dead

rating:
company: Artfire Films,
Romero-Grunwald Productions and
Devonshire Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 90′
director: George A. Romero
cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh,
Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick,
Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis,
Stefano DeMatteo, Joris Jarsky
writers: George A. Romero
cinematography: Adam Swica
music: Robert Carli
Order this film from Amazon.com
Blu-ray | DVD

Survival of the Dead is currently out in limited theatrical release through Magnet Releasing, and is available for online rental or pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD through Amazon.com.

Oh no.  It’s the zombie-pocalypse.  Again.  People are dying, society is crumbling, and wi-fi coverage is spotty at best.  I’ll be the first to give George Romero credit for his accomplishments, and its hard to overstate his importance to independent film and modern existentialist horror.  But it’s been a long time since Romero’s ghouls first shambled ‘cross the silver screen.  Four decades and five sequels after the fact the people, places and things are all too familiar, and Romero’s once brave new zombiefied world is less compelling than ever before.

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The Crazies

rating:
companies:
Overture Films, Participant
Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ,
Penn Station and Road Rebel
year: 2010
runtime: 101′
country: United States
director: Breck Eisner
cast: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell,
Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker,
Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby,
Preston Bailey, John Aylward,
Joe Reegan, Glenn Morshower
writers: Scott Kosar
and Ray Wright
cinematographer: Maxime Alexandre
music: Mark Isham
out in wide release

A germ warfare experiment crash-lands in the water supply for the sleepy community of Ogden Marsh in this modestly budgeted redux of George Romero’s sardonic 1973 thriller.  The new The Crazies wisely avoids rehashing the events of the original outright, though a few moments of slick horror aren’t enough to cover for the fact that the Scott Kosar and Ray Wright screenplay has precious little on its mind.

The story this go around focuses squarely on sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, Live Free or Die Hard) and his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell, Pitch Black, Surrogates), who are expecting their first child.  The intrusion of a shotgun-toting maniac into a high school baseball game announces the arrival of Trixie, a destructive virus engineered by those maniacal masterminds working for the big-G Government.  It isn’t long before other townspeople are showing signs of infection, glassy stares and questionable behavior (some reminiscent of the M. Night Shyamalan misfire The Happening).  Just as sheriff David and deputy Russell (Joe Anderson, Amelia, The Ruins) start to put the pieces of the Trixie puzzle together the town is cast into darkness, an all-encompassing communications blackout announcing the arrival of the film’s second villain: the big-M Military.

Soon David, his wife and his faithful deputy are on the road, doing their best (and failing) to avoid the likes of crazed gun-toting hillbillies and the anonymous forces of the gas-masked Military on their way to Cedar Rapids.  They meet others along the way of course – one of Judy’s patients, her boyfriend, and the less-than-friendly new management of a rural car wash – none of whom are terribly important.  The film wastes no time in dispensing with them by means of pitchfork-armed high school staff or squads of Army-issue goons.

Breck Eisner’s The Crazies hits upon several of the high points of the 1973 film, updating the house-fire opener of that picture to good effect, but eschews the military perspective entirely (a huge part of the original, which focused on the inefficacy of government bureaucracy at the time of the Vietnam War), a perspective that could have added some prescience to this by-the-books horror programmer in the wake of hurricane Katrina and in the midst of two wars in the Middle East.  Instead we get an anonymous Military machine that, in obvious allusion to the Nazis, rounds the towns population into cattle trucks and concentration camps in preparation for mass extermination.  Yikes.  A soldier momentarily captured by David and his cohorts even enlists the Nuremberg defense after helping to gun down a teen-aged boy and his mother: “We were just following orders.”  There can be little doubt as to who is supposed to be perceived as more dangerous – the Military or the crazies – with a fuel-air bomb hanging over our protagonists’ heads.

The “military = bad” trope has been repeated in films ad-nauseum for as long as this reviewer can remember, and while it probably still works for plenty of people it’s my biggest complaint against the picture.  One thing we can be thankful for, however, is the exclusion of a scheming uniformed baddie behind it all.  Whoever is behind the quarantine operation in Ogden Marsh is left graciously unexplored, and one irksome genre pratfall avoided.

The other villains of the piece, those poor souls unfortunate enough to have become infected with the Trixie bug, are utterly unremarkable in design, with Eisner choosing to take his cues from the overflowing cornucopia of blandness that is modern zombie cinema.  The crazies sprout sores, puffy veins and discolored eyes, an aesthetic far too familiar to be in the least big frightening on its own.  Crafty implementation could have solved that particular issue, but no dice.  Eisner telegraphs his scares far in advance and allows too many of the horrific setups to devolve into outright silliness, leaving The Crazies sorely lacking in real visceral thrills.  Gore is actually quite limited here, and those expecting buckets of exposed inner organs may be disheartened.  Here I find myself giving Eisner considerable credit, for depending on the horror of the situation over graphic visuals.  A pitchfork to the gut is no less terrible a prospect without the sight of intestines flailing about.

Eisner seems more adept at action than horror here, with the slow-motion tumbling of an SUV proving one of the highlights of the picture.  His handling of the dramatics is adept if not particularly brilliant, and it’s the believability of the small-town characters that ultimately lifts The Crazies above merely average.  The cast do well in their respective roles even if no one (as is the case with much of the picture) stands out.  The fictitious Ogden Marsh may be no substitute for the real Evans City of the original, but it’s Mayberry-esque main street appeal is not to be underestimated.  The intrusion of HAZMAT-suited military men upon Rockwellian America is still a vision both surreal and effective, though it is a pity more wasn’t done with it.

I feel it important to note that I did enjoy The Crazies by and large, even if I have no desire to see it again.  Neither memorable or really effective, it’s still better than most horror programmers these days.  The crowd I was with was certainly entertained (admittedly much more-so than myself), even with a baby cooing and giggling  throughout.  The best thing about the picture may be Romero’s place as its executive producer – he’ll undoubtedly see a decent payday for his troubles.  This new The Crazies may be entirely forgettable, but those on the lookout for a matinee’s worth of entertainment could certainly do worse.

The Beyond

postera.k.a. E tu Vivrai nel Terrore – L’aldila / Seven Doors of Death
company: Fulvia Film
year: 1981
runtime: 87′
country: Italy
director: Lucio Fulci
cast: Catriona MacColl,
David Warbeck,
Cinzio Monreale, Antoine Saint-John,
Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees,
Giovanni De Nava, Al Cliver
writers: Dardano Sachetti,
Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Lucio Fulci
cinematographer: Sergio Salvati
order this film from Amazon.com

Plot: Young New Yorker Liza (MacColl) inherits a rundown hotel in New Orleans and decides to re-open it.  Strange events surround the renovations, and Liza, with the help of doctor friend John (Warbeck) and a strange blind woman named Emily (Monreale), soon discovers that her inheritance is built atop one of the seven dreaded doorways to hell.

This long-time favorite has somehow escaped coverage on this site in any of its disparate forms over the years, but with a review of the astoundingly dreadful demi-Fulci opus Zombi 3 now up for mass consumption I figured it was high time to rectify that gross oversight.  The Beyond is part two of the thematically similar but narratively distant non-trilogy of supernatural horrors Fulci directed between 1980 and 1981, bookended by the Lovecraftian gore fest City of the Living Dead and the Freudian The House by the Cemetery.

Previously known for sex comedies (The Eroticist), spaghetti westerns (Four of the Apocalypse), and a spate of violent gialli (Seven Notes in Black), Fulci’s freshman horror effort was the competent if intellectually barren Zombie – a project that earned him considerable name recognition within the genre and gave new direction to his waning career.  For the next several years Fulci would be at the top of the Euro-horror food chain, allowed to persue whatever intellectual interests he wanted with his pictures provided they came packaged with the ludicrous gore setpieces he was known for.

Artist / actor / writer / philosopher Antonin Artaud and his “Theater of Cruelty” had long been an inspiration for the director, and The Beyond owes its perceived incoherence to the concept.  Believing that the imagined was as much a part of reality as the tangible, Artaud’s concept was to reveal truth, and shatter what he saw as the false reality audiences were expecting, through production and performance.  For Fulci this meant focusing on image and atmosphere to evoke strong reactions in audiences, narrative coherence be damned.  The Beyond may begin as a simple haunted house yarn, but it veers into the bizarre early and powers down the rabbit hole from there.

001 002
003 004

The plot, very loosely detailed above, is calculated for confusion.  The basic narrative, in which Liza tries to uncover the history of the haunted house she’s inherited, is never completely derailed, only invaded from all sides by the unknown.  Like Fulci’s earlier City of the Living Dead, The Beyond presents audiences with a reality in the process of being torn apart.  Much like Lovecraft’s own, Fulci’s unknown is an intangible yet malevolent force just waiting for a chance to come crawling out of the woodwork (or a hole in the basement) to wreak unimaginable horror on the world at large.  The Lovecraftian inspiration backing Fulci’s work here is obvious, and he throws a mysterious text titled The Book of Eibon into the proceedings as homage to the author.

The script, by Dardano Sachetti (Zombie), Giorgio Mariuzzo (The House by the Cemetery), and Fulci, is populated with strange side characters – two housekeepers that came with the hotel, a doctor investigating post-death brain activity, a potentially possessed little girl, and others – with occasionally questionable and frequently unknown motivations.  Housekeeper Arthur seems perpetually sweaty and nervous, and rummages around Liza’s bedroom in his spare time.  Housekeeper Martha just behaves creepily, wandering around a flooded basement with an oil lamp and giving knowing glances to the plumber who comes to fix the mess.  The potentially-possessed girl seems relatively harmless until after a funeral, when she suddenly presents with the same blind and shattered eyes as Emily.

The blind Emily is obviously a denizen of Fulci’s hell, though her purpose on Earth is unclear.  After hinting at awful things to come and confusing poor Liza into a state of panic she is confronted by the undead painter / warlock Schweik (Antoine Saint-John, Duck You Sucker) and his swiftly growing mob of the recently deceased.  She is quick to let him know that she’s done what she was supposed to do, though the audience is left in the dark as to just what that may be.  None of the side characters serve much in the way of narrative importance, they’re just intriguing stepping stones between the outrageously violent gags that serve as the meat to The Beyond‘s potatoes.

005 006
007 008

Fulci must have had a field day conceptualizing the multitude of horrendous ways in which the supporting cast is dispensed with.  Liza’s property manager is gruesomely devoured by talkative tarantulas while the aforementioned potentially-possessed girl is chased by the malevolent red goo that’s left of her mother, whom she saw dissolved by a conveniently placed (and ludicrously full) canister of acid just moments before.  The blind Emily survives the onslaught of Schweik and his zombie minions only to be ripped to pieces by her once faithful German shepherd.  In perhaps the best gag of them all, a zombie is seen rising from a bathtub to attack Martha as she cleans a bathroom.  He grabs the poor woman by the face, taking careful aim before planting the back of her head on a nail and sending one of her eyes popping out of its socket.

Make-up effects man Gianetto de Rossi (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) is in top form here and his fine craftsmanship merges perfectly with Fulci’s eye for detail, elevating the Techniscope terrors of The Beyond to a strange sort of art.  Rarely has explicit violence been rendered with such aesthetic prowess, and there’s beauty to be had among the liters of expended stage blood.  Perhaps more interesting to me after the dozens of times I’ve seen the film is the uniquely cruel Fulcian humor that constantly bubbes just below the surface.  That the gateway to hell under Lisa’s hotel is opened by a nosy plumber (named Joe, of course) is on the verge of being parodic, and the sight of Emily fumbling about in a circle of unseen assailants feels like a particularly malicious prank.

The Beyond has seen a huge resurgence in popularity in the USA since the 1990′s, thanks to a theatrical reissue from Grindhouse Releasing and Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder and subsequent releases on home video through Anchor Bay.  Those home video releases are now long out of print, but Grindhouse Releasing filled the void by re-releasing The Beyond to DVD, with a newly remastered transfer to boot, in October of 2008.  I’ve not seen that disc (am waiting on the eventual jump to Blu-ray since I already own the OOP Anchor Bay disc), but online reviews attest that it is up to the high standards Grindhouse has set for itself since the 2005 special edition of Cannibal Holocaust.

Heralded by many as Fulci’s masterpiece, The Beyond is one strange customer.  It asks many questions in its 87 minutes and answers almost none of them, and the ambiguous ending will surely leave many scratching their heads.  But no one has ever captured the vision of all literal hell loosed upon the modern world like Fulci did, and The Beyond is a showcase for an underrated director at the height of the second wave of his career.  Highly recommended.

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