Friday, July 18, 2014

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: Hyperactive Splatter and The Rocking, Shocking New Wave of Italian Horror Cinema

DAN TAYLOR from Exploitation Retrospect and fellow Exhumed Films Head is an amazing writer, a brilliant zine-ster and a great friend to horror, cult and exploitation cinema. When he writes something, you better read it. Today he's stopped by to cover some new wave Italian Horror which you may know is a big deal for me. I love getting the word out about the new kids behind the lens. Let's help to spread the word by reading Dan's awesome piece about the new wave and the gore. I actually chose Friday this year to be a day that focuses most only more obscure and newer Italian Horror. If you get paid on Friday, spend your paycheck on indy Italian filmmakers.

You can follow Dan via Exploitation Retrospect and pick up the latest issue (coming very soon)!

I spent so much of the 1980s and 1990s consuming platters of Spaghetti Splatter you’d think that my name was Dante Vinnie Taylorici.

Nearly every trip to the video store ended with me bringing home a stack of zombies, cannibals, post-apoc mutants, mad doctors, demons, killer sharks, devil fish and more directed by the likes of Bruno Mattei, Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi. And when I finally realized that Vincent Dawn, Louis Fuller, Anthony M. Dawson and John Old, Jr. were hiding more gory greatness behind their Anglicized nom de plumes, well, all bets were off and I stuffed my face with more and more and more.

Even as I was bringing home a seemingly endless supply of splatter from Italy’s shores via the fine folks at Vestron, Media and Wizard Video I knew it couldn’t last.

Sure enough, by the time the new millennium rolled around Fulci was dead while Baby Bava and Soavi toiled for Italian TV. Luckily, Mattei continued to crank out the trashy goodness with shot-on-video craziness like THE TOMB (2006), THE JAIL (2006) and the farewell-to-zombies combination of ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING (2007) and ISLAND OF THE ZOMBIES (2007), forever cementing his legacy of savage sleazery right to the end.

But the golden days of catching NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (1980) on a drive-in triple bill or strolling into the Budco Midtown and discovering SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH (1981) were clearly long gone.

After that golden age ended I found myself adrift when it came to foreign horrors. Japan and France both had their champions, but I was never able to embrace their output. The blood red river of gore produced by German masters of mayhem like Olaf Ittenbach and Andreas Schnaas captured my interest but often seemed to suffer from butchered releases that robbed them of their coherence. (Not that Fulci and Co. had exactly cornered that market.)

And so, there I was. Some thirty years into the sleaze and gore game, waiting for a new wave of Italian splatter chefs to arrive when something called ADAM CHAPLIN: VIOLENT AVENGER (2011) showed up in my PO Box. Since I was – and still am – hard at work on the new issue of Exploitation Retrospect (Coming soon! No, seriously!) I normally would have thrown it on the review pile and gotten to it… eventually. But even standing in the post office that fall afternoon I knew this was something special. Something that couldn’t be contained by my teetering “To Watch” stack. After all, how could I resist the bloody visage of some dude who looked like the gigantic, slightly mutated offspring of Beef from PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and Jon Mikl Thor staring at me from the cover?

On the surface, ADAM CHAPLIN sounds like pretty standard stuff: Adam (played by writer/director Emanuele De Santi) discovers that his wife has been killed by the local crime boss and sets out on a revenge-fueled mission, hell bent on killing anyone that gets in his way.

But what separates CHAPLIN from the endless parade of flicks with similar stories (many of which are currently housed in my Netflix queue) is that we're treated to an almost non-stop parade of insanely hyper-stylized supernatural action gore in which our frequently shirtless vigilante "hero" roams the fictitious town of Heaven Valley literally pulverizing anyone even remotely involved in his wife's demise.

Oh, did I mention the demon that lives in his shoulder and encourages, guides and needles him throughout his blood-soaked 90-minute rampage? How about the crime boss who wears a mask to hide a decaying face disfigured by constant doses of a drug called Neurocil 3 being pumped through his veins? Well, there's that, too.

Like a dark, disturbing slice of manga that has somehow leapt off the page and onto your screen (fellow HorrorDad David Zuzelo likened it to FIST OF THE NORTH STAR), ADAM CHAPLIN: VIOLENT AVENGER mashes together every half-baked idea ever imagined by a violence-addled adolescent and fuses it with Italian religious and familial fetishizing then blends in the kind of extreme gore I thought I'd only see from the likes of the aforementioned Messrs. Schnaas and Ittenbach.

And it totally works.

Jaw-dropping from the get-go (two heads roll within the first 30 seconds), ADAM CHAPLIN: VIOLENT AVENGER is a flick that begs to be seen with a roomful of like-minded video mutants. Sure, you might miss the nuances of such subtitled dialogue as "only hatred can lead you in this story..." but you won't care as Chaplin stomps through the Troma-esque wasteland punching his hand through the chest of a corrupt cop or throwing some Ultimate Warrior wannabe off a roof.

By the time I was done watching it for the second straight night I was hooked. THIS was the rocking, shocking new wave of Euro-splatter I’d been waiting for and, like those days of old, I needed more, more, MORE!

Unfortunately, writing, directing, starring in, scoring and providing effects for ADAM CHAPLIN must have burned De Santi out big time because three years later it remains the only credit on his filmography. Clearly, he was not the prolific gore slinger I was looking for, but there would be another.

Echoing my days of pouring through zines and catalogs looking for my next fix of hidden horror, I started clicking names on IMDB and searching sites like until I found what I was looking for. Emanuele De Santi might have stepped away from the splatter game (for all I know he had a prior commitment fronting a metal band), but Giulio De Santi – CHAPLIN’s producer and master of digital effects – was still swinging for the fences.

With TAETER CITY, Giulio assumes the reins and takes things in an increasingly outrageous direction that makes ADAM CHAPLIN look like a stroll through the park. Albeit a bloody, face-pulverizing stroll with an obnoxious demon sticking out of your shoulder.

TAETER CITY welcomes us to a near future where crime has been eradicated by The Authority, thanks to the introduction of The Zeed System. No longer are criminals free to roam the streets, harming innocent people and making life miserable. The Authority’s system of antennae identifies and alters the psychological makeup of potential criminals so that they channel their homicidal impulses into suicidal ones.

And while we’re solving the world’s crime and prison overpopulation problems, let’s tackle hunger and food production by turning those pesky criminals into tasty Taeter Burgers, Roast Butt with Blood Sausage and the aptly named Blood Power Drink, designed to “release the beast inside you”.

Unfortunately, The Zeed System releases an entirely different kind of beast when it mutates one Trevor Covalsky (De Santi). Instead of making him turn his impulses inward, Covalsky acquires the ability to emit sound waves similar to The Zeed System except that they turn people into super criminals. When he escapes from The Authority’s clutches and sets about wreaking havoc on society, biker cop Razor (Monica Munoz) and her partners Shock and Wank set out to kill the son of a bitch for the good of Taeter City.

As one character insightfully quips, “this is fucking nonsense” and “fucking nonsense” it is. De Santi literally bites off more than he can chew with this bloody polemic. Not content with raging at pressing issues like crime, food production, police states, fast food and government control, the writer/director/visual effects supervisor also manages to skewer the media via TChannel host Caronte (Riccardo Valentini) and a pair of animated cohorts that bang their heads and emit sound bites like “Riots suck!” that suggest BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD and SOUTH PARK were big in Italy.

While ADAM CHAPLIN had a semi-coherent narrative amidst the face pulverizing and head squashing, TAETER CITY is part movie, part hyper-violent videogame and, well, completely insane. It’s as if they sat around a room trying to list how many ways they could render a head useless and decided on head slicing, head twisting, head stomping, head pummeling, head squashing (self-inflicted), head squashing (baseball bat), head squashing (truck tire), head exploding and head splitting to name a few.

Alas, whatever message De Santi is trying to deliver gets lost amidst the violence and hyperactive imagery, and TAETER CITY ends up sounding better than it actually is.

Having tackled the demented revenge film and sci-fi/action/horror, De Santi hops into the writer/director saddle once again for 2013’s first-person-shooter-inspired HOTEL INFERNO, an action/horror flick recommended for an “adult and conscious audience for private use”.

When soldier-turned-hitman Frank Zimosa accepts a job from a mysterious agency fronted by the equally mysterious Mistrandia, it seems straightforward, if a tad messy sounding. Booked into a luxury hotel by his employer, he’s instructed to “smash the skulls and extract the brain… open the stomach and remove the guts” of the couple staying in the next room.

Outfitted by the agency with a pair of wearable tech a la Google Glass, Zimosa sets out to complete his mission but quickly realizes that all is not what it seems. His targets turn out to be agency employees that have outlived their usefulness, a situation that the faux software engineer (his cover story for the galpal he calls throughout the flick) soon finds himself facing.

While other flicks have flirted with the first-person-shooter perspective, HOTEL INFERNO proclaims itself as the first to embrace the concept from start to finish. And who am I to argue?

But were HOTEL INFERNO to employ the unique perspective simply as a device for a glorified cinematic video game, it might wear out its welcome long before its 80-minute running time is up. As it is, one long, silent, aggressively violent stretch featuring Zimosa’s attempt to escape the woods surrounding the hotel feels like it was lifted right from one of the videogames that critics suggest are turning kids into homicidal maniacs.

Dammit, where’s the Zeed System when we need it?!

Fortunately, De Santi (who also produced the flick and supervised the visual effects) recognizes the limitations of such a story and infuses HOTEL INFERNO with a Lovecraftian influence that gives the story some third act “oomph” it might have otherwise lacked.

De Santi employs the first-person perspective to good effect, whether it’s blasting away at agency flunkies, blowing chunks in a hotel sink, taking a knife to the hand or trying to avoid a centuries-old monster patrolling the hotel’s halls.

Certainly the most interesting premise of the three flicks, HOTEL INFERNO does suffer from some stiff dubbing but De Santi wisely branches out from TAETER CITY’s almost fetishized emphasis on head violence with some inspired low budget mayhem. (The DVD includes a crash course on how some of the paint-the-screen-red splatter effects were achieved.) And like its predecessors, De Santi keeps the running time at a tight sub-90-minutes which prevents boredom from creeping in even when the middle act sags a bit.

Will ADAM CHAPLIN, TAETER CITY and HOTEL INFERNO ignite a new Spaghetti Splatter movement to satisfy my craven hunger? That remains to be seen, but each flick delivers its own unique take on a classic cinematic trope (revenge flick, sci-fi statement, shoot-‘em-up hijinks) that makes them a worthy addition to any gorehound’s shelf. – Dan Taylor

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