Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK - A Tale of Five Holocausts: The Sensationalistic Naming Convention Sweeping a Nation

Note: This is our first Midnight Hour post for Italian Horror Week. It's a post for the wee hours of the morning, the best time to enjoy an offbeat exploitation movie. You'd usually catch these on pay cable if you could find them on TV at all. So sit back and imagine that you just turned on HBO. The bumper is playing. It's the mid-80's, and your parents don't know your awake.

If there’s one word carefully placed in movie’s title that sells tickets to Italian Horror films faster than any other it’s HOLOCAUST. Not that Italian Horror is selling many tickets in the box office proper these days using the word or not, but back on the Deuce and in many a grindy joint, you could either put tits on your poster or inflammatory words in your film title. Holocaust was the new Fuck; built to taunt and get your attention. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching movies that feature this word in the title it’s that they generally they do not include a true holocaust in the Nazi Germany sense of the word. The use of the word is inflammatory; used to inspire memories of news reels featuring concentrations camps and the slaughter of millions of innocents, the word is like a great big hook for the film. The noun is used in the same way that exploitation movies love to taut their “banned in X number of countries” status, or their Surgeon General warnings as if they were so many cartons of cigarettes lovingly placed on celluloid. The word holocaust is perfect to build that sense of sensationalism that fueled movies of the 1970’s. To keep from fainting keep repeating… it’s only a holocaust… in name only.

Compiled here is a list and brief discussion of the films featuring holocaust in the title featuring trailers and a few images to help entice you further into expanding your viewing options. Some of these movies have alternate titles that are often equally inflammatory, but are definitely entertaining. None of them are about a historical holocaust of any kind. They are all Italian, and each one is definitely worth your time on the couch. They’ll arouse, shock, sicken and amuse. 

Before we get into it... Here's your HBO bumper. The one I remember best. Ignore the schedule provided in the video. We're not showing any of those movies. 

Cannibal Holocaust

Considered to be one of the most shocking films ever made if not the most shocking film ever made, you get a heavy dose of every taboo film can capture. From dumping buckets of animal guts in lieu of human innards in order to achieve maximum realism to animals torn apart (plural) to sexual perversion unlike any capture previously on film save for maybe The Devils, 1980 was the year that the shit and the blood and the fuck hit the fan. Cannibal Holocaust has a lot going for it beyond the shock value. It’s considered by many to be the first true found footage flick, a title heavily debated, but there’s a keen argument for it. The film’s overlaying message, that we, the civilized people of the world, are the savages is as relevant today as it was in the late 70’s when the cannibal cycle was in its prime. Deodato claims victory to the battle of the Italian cannibal maestros with this popular cult classic even though Mr. Lenzi might disagree. Bring your vomit bags. Better yet… bring the whole toilet.

Strangely enough I’m not often bothered by Cannibal Holocaust anymore. Well, not as bothered as I was the first time I watched it in my living room, drunk as skunk trying to challenge my stomach to a duel of epic alcohol proportions. I watch Cannibal Holocaust now to see how Riz Ortoloni’s score plays against the macabre, raw background footage. I look at the found footage portion of the film to see if I could have been convinced that the whole thing was a snuff picture rather than a work of fiction as some censors thought, attempting to persecute those who would show it and who made the picture. The load of guts spilled toward the final segment of the film is tremendously effective. It’s a great big hungry gross out, but when you’re all hung up on the turtle destruction, it’s hard to realize that you’re watching a bunch of semi-naked dudes, skinning a man and gutting him like a fish. I generally watch the Grindhouse Releasing print now. Seems complete enough for me though this picture could use a nice, uncut, US Blu-ray release. I also had the chance to see this picture alongside Doctor Butcher MD aka Zombie Holocaust at Hudson Horror Show. Talk about a double feature made for a roast beef sandwich with a side of horseradish.

Jungle Holocaust aka Ultimo Mondo Cannibale

This represents an earlier work by Ruggero Deodato that predates Cannibal Holocaust by several years. Yes, another cannibal movie in the golden age of the Italian “go native” movement. While this Jungle Holocaust isn’t the onslaught that Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust would later become, this is the template for Cannibal Holocaust. It is what I would describe as a testing ground. While there’s some controversy as to how the animal sequences made it into the film, Jungle Holocaust features a few reptiles biting the big on in violent, unnatural deaths. Ever wanna see an alligator skinned alive on film and not feel like you “had a chance”? Jungle gives you the chance. You may have caught it under one of it’s many other titles including The Last Survivor, Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, and Cannibal! Half the fun is collecting and seeing each release though I can tell you that I’ve only seen it under the title Jungle Holocaust as released by Media Blasters.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be strapped naked to a giant rock while a bunch of cannibal girlies play with your cock and balls? This will provide a nice visual for the curious.

Holocaust 2000 aka Rain of Fire

This seems like an outlier when discussing the Italian Horror cycle featuring a rather well known American movie star, Kirk Douglas. This British-Italian coproduction about the antichrist trying to take over the world via nuke comes on the heels of The Omen released in 1976. It was highly popular during the golden age of Italian cinema to see common American plots completely ripped off and regurgitated into something that was distinctly European though obviously riding the ass of an American counterpart (I’m looking at you Beyond the Door). Holocaust 2000 features music by Italian composer Ennio Morricone in a less memorable but enjoyable theme. Also, and followers of last year’s Italian Horror Week may remember the significance of this, Vincenzo Tomassi edited Holocaust 200. Never forget your editor; especially not an editor as prolific and influential as Tomassi.

You can also find this flick under Lucifer’s Curse. I think it’s important to note that director, Alberto De Martino, also did a little movie called The Tempter. While The Tempter had a brilliant poster and was quite frightening in its own right, it is also a rip off the Exorcist. That make De Martino two for two in scavenging American features and producing worthy Italian counterparts.

Porno Holocaust

I won’t go into the fact that George Eastman is porno royalty, well at least for his role in horror porn flicks. We’ll save that for another piece featured during Italian Horror Week that will discuss the completely recognizable, horrifying presence of genius Eastman. When I think of Joe D’Amato I think of porn… and horror… but mostly porn. Growing up I was exposed to many titles from D’Amato in catalogs I got out of the back of Fangoria. Bootleg catalogs that pretty much focused on the sexual explicitness and raw gory presence of the movies within. As I became more familiar with D’Amato, I realized that he had many names and made many different genres of film. Quite a few of them more porn than anything. It wasn’t until I finally saw Anthropophagus and the sequel Absurd that I realized that he was one of my favorite Italian filmmakers and was on the same level as a Fulci and Argento though he received limited recognition for his ability to make shock pictures that were also watchable with intriguing storylines and quality gore.

So Porno Holocaust is part porn and part horror. How could you ever guess with a title like that? After watching Erotic Nights of the Living Dead recently I was drawn back to Porno Holocaust. I guess I’m a sucker for watching strange horror with 70’s porn…. Featuring George Eastman… directed by Joe D’Amato… filmed at the same time. You know neither film really lives up to its namesake. The gore and sex aren’t thrown in your face; they just balance like a check book. You won’t puke on your cock while masturbating, but you’ll be able to get it up. You won’t wince at the screen or yell beyond a slight whimper as you finish off into a well-placed napkin or banana peel. It’s worth a watch because porn is good. It’s worth a watch because Eastman is a fucking beast. Fans of the jungle bush should apply immediately. Try not to get lost in the thickets of awesome, abundant pubic hair. To be honest, this is barely horror, but it certainly is good porn.

Zombie Holocaust aka Doctor Butcher, MD

Yet another movie that has several alternate titles including Zombie 3 and Doctor Butcher MD, this is an absolute gonzo take on the zombie genre and a fan favorite. From New York to the islands and back again with hints of black magic and scientific experiments involving the mutilation and desecration of the natives, Zombie Holocaust is a fun ride, and much less serious than one might expect from the title. Sure it’s full of everything you’ve come to expect from Italian gross-out pictures of the period, but you get something more… absolutely original looking zombies. Sure, some compare the zombies to the Fulci undead featured in Zombi, but I find them to look distinctly different though having some spare footage used in both movies doesn’t exactly help my case to prove that the connection is less than fleeting. Something about the way these dead guys look is completely camp to the point of originality which actually makes them somewhat disturbing. That’s my take on it. Probably not as scary as Fulci zombies, but absolutely entertaining.

I won’t lie and tell you that Zombie Holocaust is one of my favorite zombie films. I appreciate it. I will watch and recommend it, but I’m a Fulci man at heart and though Girolami creates some truly spectacular images and manages to keep the audience entertained for over an hour, balancing big city horror with native jungle massacre, I can’t help but feeling like a ping pong ball trying to follow the whole mess. Ian McCulloch, veteran Italian horror/zombie movie actor is always a pleasure and makes the whole experience more cohesive. Having had the pleasure to see it at Hudson Horror Show on 35mm, I can say that your Blu-ray may look great, but you’ll never get the same effect from a crowd full of people laughing at this hammed up pizza with the works. Zombie 3? Just another marketing ploy.


1 comment:

  1. George Eastman and his warty taint will probably haunt my nightmares forever.