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Saturday, July 12, 2014

IHW: EXORCISING DEMONS - Five Lamberto Bava Movies to Watch Besides Demons

SETH POULIN is the creator of Celluloid Terror, a review site dedicated to horror releases both old and new. He’s a collector of movies and of knowledge as well as a convention-head. Today Seth looks back at some selected Bava titles to highlight the filmmakers’ work beyond the ever popular Demons. He rants He raves. He loves horror movies.

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Lamberto Bava was born April 3, 1944. His father Mario had just recently started his career as a cinematographer in the Italian film industry. In 1955 Mario Bava would direct his first film, I Vampiri, and five years after that Black Sunday, the film that put him on the map. Mario was a well-established name in Italian genre fare when he brought on Lamberto to be Assistant Director on Kill Baby Kill in 1966. This was Lamberto’s second job in the role of AD as earlier that same year Lamberto was AD on the Spaghetti Western Gunman Called Nebraska (Mario Bava was uncredited as a director on the film). It is Kill Baby Kill that really started the father and son duo in their working relationship as Lamberto would work as his father’s AD on no less than 9 more films throughout the rest of the 60s and 70s while his father cemented his legacy as one of the greatest horror directors of all time. Lamberto Bava would also fill the AD role during that time and into the 80s for acclaimed directors such as Dario Argento (Inferno, Tenebrae) and Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, Last Cannibal World).

Lamberto Bava would get to direct his first feature film in 1980 with Macabre. Lamberto would direct several more films in the early 1980s but it wasn’t until 1985 Lamberto directed the Dario Argento production of Demons. Demon was a highly successful film about a theater full of movie viewers who become victims of several viewers possessed the film they’re watching and an evil prop. Demons is a colorful, gory, heavy metal fueled camp fest of epic proportions. It is one of my favorite horror movies of all time and is simply a fucking blast from start to finish. Lamberto followed up with a sequel a year later, less successful both financially and technically it still remains an entertaining film.

Demons and Demons 2 are unquestionably the most notable and popular Lamberto Bava films. There has been a bit of controversy surrounding Demons as it features a visual flare and style much more akin to Dario Argento’s films than anything Bava had shown to that point. Fans questioned just how much of Demons was actually directed by Bava and how much was Argento’s doing. Without having the privilege of being there or traveling back in time to find out, I have to give Bava credit. He directed an excellent film and probably wisely made use of a more seasoned director, one who is known for being visually stunning. There is most definitely an influence from Argento in the producer’s chair but you can’t fault a director for being inspired by those around him and using it to his advantage. It should also be stated that Demons was the biggest budget Lamberto Bava would get to work with which plays into his favor of a more lavish production.

Lamberto Bava’s earlier films and those that have come in subsequent decades were never as popular as the Demons films but that isn’t to say they should be overlooked. Here are five Lamberto Bava films that aren’t Demons that you should check out.


DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE (1988)

In the late 1980s the Italian film industry was crumbling. Funds were drying up and directors had to fight to get their movies made. Lamberto Bava struck a deal for a TV series called Brivido Giallo which featured four feature length movies. It may not have offered the freedom that theatrical films would but it did allow Bava to continue working regularly. Brivido Giallo made up the majority of Bava’s late 80s work and one of those was Dinner With A Vampire. This movie is an odd mix of horror, comedy and schlock all rolled up into a ham and cheese sandwich. Yes, that does mean that this film is incredibly cheesy and the acting, especially from George Hilton as the vampire, is hammy as hell!

A group of young aspiring actors get a callback from an audition and end up at the castle of legendary horror director Jurek. Unfortunately for them Jurek informs them he is an ancient vampire who wants them to end his life. The only problem? His vampire instincts are fighting them every step of the way. Jurek has his assistants show the group a film which hides the secret to destroying him forever.

On top of the ridiculous acting and glaring plot holes, such as Jurek’s vampire abilities that seem to come and go, Dinner With A Vampire features some decent practical effects and stop motion photography and equal parts laughs and horror. I can’t put my finger on why I enjoyed this film so much, it really isn’t a good film per se, but I had a blast watching it. The chase scene in the room filled with chairs is enough to warrant another viewing.

DELIRIUM: PHOTO OF GIOIA (1987)

By the time Lamberto Bava was directing his own films the giallo boom in Italy had passed. There was still the odd production but the time that it was the “in thing” in the Italian film market was long gone. That didn’t stop Bava from making a few of his own, the best of which was DELIRIUM. The film centers around a model named Gioia (or Gloria in English) who also runs a risqué magazine called Pussycat. The trouble begins when her handicapped neighbor calls her with his sexually disturbing messages. Then the people surrounding her including her friends, photographer and other co-workers begin dropping like flies… or bees. The mystery is eventually uncovered when a few questionable characters have their intentions revealed.

DELIRIUM is the most artistic and creative Lamberto Bava would get post-Demons. The POV shots from the killer’s perspective feature some heavy colored lighting and very cool and odd imagery where the victim is seen as a giant walking eyeball or has a bee’s head in place of their normal human head. There’s a bit of gore including a pitchfork kill and a rather uncomfortably placed gunshot and plenty of nudity. The plot and reveal of the film aren’t anything unusual as far as gialli are concerned but Bava’s artistic touches and exploitative nature make it an entertaining film that manages to stand out from the pack of the later era gialli.

GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (1987)

Another entry in the Brivido Giallo series was this weird film about a group of teens who have just robbed a grocery store and hide out in a graveyard. This graveyard happens to have a tavern and a creepy host who challenges the teens to spend a night in the crypt in order to win a treasure. Now at this point you may be thinking “what the fuck?” and I wouldn’t blame you. It doesn’t make sense. Why is there a tavern in an old cemetery? Why is a creepy guy just giving away treasure? What will happen if the teens fail? Well don’t worry about that. Just sit back and watch the teens make their way through the winding tunnels of the crypt filled with all sorts of ghosts and monsters and other creepy shit.

The involvement of legendary screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and composer Simon Boswell. Both of them worked on all four features of the Italian TV series for Lamberto Bava and it adds a bit more upscale class that most made-for-TV films don’t have. I find GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE totally engaging even though there isn’t a ton going on. The majority of the film is spent wandering around the crypt without too much exciting going on but there’s a weird underlying “Goonies” feeling here. It’s just a fun adventure horror film that is weird enough and campy enough to be worth checking out.

BLASTFIGHTER (1984)

Okay, so I’m technically cheating here a little bit. This is Italian Horror Week and BLASTFIGHTER is not a horror film. It is one of Bava’s best movies however, and I’d be doing you an injustice not to include it. This action/revenge flick stars Michael Sopkiw as Jake “Tiger” Sharp a former cop, fresh of a stint in prison for killing the man who killed his wife and a fellow cop. He has moved to a cabin in the mountains near his old home, a town which has fallen prey to the corrupt rednecks within. They kill off wildlife for financial gains and basically just run amuck. When they see Sharp return they begin to fuck with him endlessly. It gets to be too much Sharp’s estranged daughter comes to stay with him to get to know the father she never knew and finally have some sort of family and brings along a couple friends from school as well and they’re attacked. A showdown throughout the mountain and river leaves dozens dead and Sharp isn’t done until everyone responsible has paid for another loss in his life.

BLASTFIGHTER was originally set to be a sci-fi picture but budgetary constraints put the squash on that. While I love trashy sci-fi action flicks that this certainly would have been I also love straight forward one-against-the-world revenge flicks and BLASTFIGHTER is a pretty damn good one. The running theme of cheesy and campy holds true here but the local rednecks actually become quite a formidable foe for Sharp and there are plenty of good action scenes to keep the audience entertained. From fistfights to shootouts and massive explosions there’s no shortage of action here. Michael Sopkiw is an interesting man, and choice for lead actor. Perhaps his best performance of his short career which consisted of only four Italian was for Bava in BLASTFIGHTER but he’s probably best known for starring in Sergio Martino’s post-nuke sci-fi/action flick 2019: The Fall Of New York (my personal favorite film that Sopkiw appeared in). He began his career with Martino, did two pictures for Bava (the other being the unimpressive Monster Shark aka Devil Fish) and finally ended with Massacre In Dinosaur Valley in 1985. Since then he has one added just one acting credit to his resume. Sopkiw wasn’t a great actor but he was just fine in the role of attractive alpha male lead. He didn’t need to say much while kicking ass and he did just that in BLASTFIGHTER.

THE OGRE (1988) 

The Demons franchise is an odd one, as there are only two official parts there’s another half dozen movies that have been marketed as a Demons film. THE OGRE has been called Demons 3, though it is not the only film to have “Demons 3” slapped onto it. A proper rundown of the confusing franchise is another story entirely and will have to wait for another day (perhaps next year’s Italian Horror Week?). THE OGRE really has nothing to do with any other film that has ever fallen under The Demons banner. It is yet another part of the Brivido Giallo series and is a bit of an anomaly to me. The film follows a woman who suffered bad nightmares of a terrifying Ogre that would haunt her and follow her. Now grown with a husband and a son she’s a prolific horror author and is on vacation at an old Italian castle with her family. Upon spending time in the castle her nightmares soon return and strange things start happening like pages from her book going missing, handprints and footprints appearing and a teddy bear from her childhood being in the eerie basement. Eventually the monster shows himself, attacking the babysitter before the parents return and she must face her lifelong fear to save her family.

THE OGRE is a slow burn. Really slow. Nothing much happens at all, even when the monster is around. There a bit of horror and some boob shots but really the thing that drives the film is just an eerie air of mystery driven by Simon Boswell’s creepy theme that is very reminiscent of his score on Dario Argento’s Phenomena. It’s also impossible to argue that THE OGRE isn’t beyond cheesy. The monster looks like a razor toothed turd in Shakespeare garb. I don’t get the look they were going for but it’s unintentionally hilarious. Like I said, THE OGRE is an anomaly. I could tear it apart. I should tear it apart. I won’t tear it apart. It has always been a fun and effective enough story of childhood fears manifesting themselves years later. It’s stupid and silly but entertaining and something I’ve always enjoyed.

1 comment:

  1. I have not seen all that many of Lamberto's films. will have to check some of these out. I have a copy of Delirium around here somewhere... Although, I never cared for The Ogre. I have gotten to see Demons projected twice, it is a surreal experience watching it in a movie theater...

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