EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) BY JOE D’AMATO

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Sexy Nights of the Living Dead; Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi; Nite of the Zombies, Le Notte Erotiche; Le Notte Degli Zombies
Director: Joe D’Amato (aka Aristide Massaccesi)
Writer: George Eastman (aka Luigi Montifiore)
Year: 1980
Starring: Mark Shannon, George Eastman, Laura Gemser, Dirce Funari, Lucia Ramirez

Synopsis:
EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD follows property developer and human hard-on John Wilson (Mark Shannon – PORNO HOLOCAUST, THE PORNO KILLERS) as he attempts to purchase a supposedly deserted Caribbean Island to be transformed into a holiday resort. Wilson enlists the help of sailboat captain Larry (played by the massive George Eastman aka Luigi Montefiore, who also wrote this film under his writing name Tom Salina  – ANTROPOPHAGUS, RABID DOGS) and rather oddly his sexy hotel room neighbour Fiona (Dirce Funari – EMMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS), whose only purpose on the trip is to seemingly service the gentlemen on board. Upon reaching the, seemingly, deserted Cat Island, it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems. John Wilson and co. come across a blind old man and his ghostly grand-daughter Luna (genre star Laura Gemser – EMMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE), who warn them to stay away but to no avail and the living dead soon appear to protect their land.

Review:
Now I know what you are thinking- that synopsis did not sound too bad, if a little derivative of some other, more famous Italian zombie movies- but let me tell you, there is a reason that this film is still only known to the hardcore (and for the hardcore) fans.

Beginning in a mental institute the film barely takes three and a half minutes before some sexual activity occurs between two patients (Larry and Fiona) and then a sudden quick cut takes us to a luxury yacht out deep sea fishing. If that sounds like bad editing, either stay away or get used to it for it will happen a lot in this film, which for the first hour is almost a mish-mash of scenes, predominantly sexual. What’s more if you are a person who can’t stand bad dubbing (Bob from the HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY excluded) then again you should stay away from this film. In some scenes it appears the mouths aren’t even moving, but that’s the least of this film’s problems.

Approximately 13 minutes in we are treated to some, loosely termed, zombie action (complete with terrible acting) and remaining true to the films style it is interspersed with a quick scene in a casino which is then followed by yet another sex scene; this one a full on hardcore scene featuring both oral and penetrative sex, which took even me by surprise due to it’s graphic nature.

But at least George Eastman in his writer guise penned some unintentionally hilarious lines as two prostitutes’ run from a hotel room, not due to Mark Shannon’s hideous warty testicles (which as the viewer you will have a front row seat to), but because he asked about Cat Island. This seemingly innocent question caused them to flee and be pursued by Shannon’s character shouting “wait a minute you dumb whores, you forgot your money!” down the hotel corridor. But never fear, rather than any guests lambasting him for his oh-so-subtle behaviour, his alluring neighbour Fiona actually is seduced by it.

By around 25 minutes into the film, you are starting to forget you are even watching a zombie film as the sex scenes come thicker and faster than a teenage Peter North, and I start to doubt my own critical analysis and consider reviewing this as porno instead of a horror. Thankfully my own self doubt is quickly erased as I remember I put this film on for gut munching not cock munching, and thankfully it does also deliver the later…quite literally.

Eventually some zombie action re-occurs and the make up of the morgue zombie sets the benchmark for the make up in the rest of the film. Sadly though it’s a benchmark that won’t be reached as even ‘Flowerpot’ zombies are too creative for this film, where the budget was most likely spent on lube than latex.

Another issue with the film,  and its 1 hour 50 odd minutes running time,  is that many of these sex scenes (and others to be fair) drag on too much and some are just bizarre; such as a stripper inserting and uncorking a bottle of champagne with her vagina, exploitation and sleaze with no justification to the film at all but which no doubt titillated the audience at the time. Once our merry band of protagonists (can we even call them that?) reach the island things do improve very slightly, but the core of the movie remains the same. Although the film introduces (but does not explain) a supernatural element to the film in the form of what can only be described as a ghost and a cat that possesses the strangest meow I have ever heard. Taking well over an hour before it gets going, it’s sad to say that even by removing the first 75% of the film you won’t have enough shots for a decent zombie short film. The long running time does not justify the three to four horror money shots that litter the film- but the out of no where blow job scene does come close- even if viewers can find that kind of action from many other films if they looked around.

But what of the zombies I hear you moaning, tell us more about them in this film, after all they are in the title so there must be some decent action? Well yes and no. There are perhaps three or four memorable scenes in the the whole film but on the whole for the very little screen time the zombies get they tend to prefer to walk around in slow motion simply looking like the unfortunate from the developing world. Like almost every other character in the film they are partial to human flesh, and in line with the movie that kick started the Italian zombie splatter cycle these are voodoo inspired creatures who can only be stopped with a bullet to the head or fire. When put down in writing it all sounds very promising, which is what makes it even more disappointing when you watch the film. In this movie, the sex is far more important than the horror causing the vast majority of critics to call it sleazy at very best. But I would also add that it may appear distasteful and misguided to a contemporary audience.

The use of jump cuts, in particular between sex and horror scenes is a strange one, offering an almost juxtaposition of libido (life) and death but these actions also pose the worrying question of whether they are just haphazardly cut together with no real thought or it D’Amato wants us to relate violence and sexual pleasure. From the evidence I would argue for the latter- with particular reference to the infamous blow job scene.

Although don’t be fooled, this is no promiscuity means death moral tale, as everyone is at it in this film, regardless. Interestingly, the “awkward mixture of soft-core and hard-core footage is the result of D’Amato being forced to go back and shoot additional hard-core material at the insistence of his distributor” (Blumberg and Hershberger, 2006) and this would on the face of it at least help to justify the poor editing choices and sexual focus.

However, simply looking at the back catalogue of D’Amato, one must think he really did make the film he set out to make, a film which placed a quick financial return ahead of lasting quality, and that is evident when audiences revisit it today.

Filled with poor dialogue, convenient character actions and very little horror but much sex, this is a terrible film no matter how you approach it. Although there are moments that work, and despite its lack of quality there is something more than competent about D’Amato’s work which begs further questions about his motivations and effort. What works about this film however is the music. Sometimes it lends a more sensual and emotional aspect to the film (similar to that of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) hinting at a deeper meaning, despite the viewer knowing none exists and can see none exists. While Eastman has a strong screen presence helping to pull the film through. As for  the violence, or what little there is of it, is more hit than miss, but that is not enough in an over-long, crass, ugly and cheap production that will appeal only to the most hardcore of fans. For those of you looking for more zombie hardcore action, perhaps check out D’Amato’s PORNO HOLOCAUST from the same year which shares locations and cast in a true economies of scale film production.

The best way to describe this film is to use an Italian saying, Mi fa cagare.

Version Reviewed:
I watched the Media Blasters Shriek Show line extended cut of the film and the terrible alternative ending, but would advise people to find the shortest version possible if you must watch it.

Troll 2 (1990) by Claudio Fragasso

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Trolls; Monster Valley
Director: Claudio Fragasso
Writers: Rossella Drudi, Claudio Fragasso
Year: 1990
Starring: Michael Paul Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Deborah Reed

Synopsis:
A family vacationing in a small town discovers the entire town is inhabited by goblins disguised as humans, and who plan to eat them.

Review:
Is this a sequel? Well yes and no, it was pitched on release as an unofficial sequel to the 1986 movie TROLLS, although it bears no connection either in terms of plot, production, cast or crew leaving us to surmise that really it is simply a bizarre attempt to cash in on what was a very minor cult success.

What is even more bizarre is that there are no actual trolls in this film but goblins instead, which ties into the original production title of TROLLS. Although why let a little thing like this stop anything, after all I don’t know or care about the difference, and it merely goes to highlight the films nonchalant attitude.

Now the film itself opens with Grandpa Seth reading the story of ‘Davy and the Goblins’ to his grandson, Joshua. He tells us of how Peter is tricked and eaten by the goblins. Wait, the story titled ‘Davy and the Goblins’ is about a guy named Peter? If that seems a little off, then next twist will certainly surprise you (don’t worry it is not really a spoiler) – it transpires that Grandpa Seth is actually dead and only Joshua can see him. His mother is aware of this morbid imaginary friend and tries to comfort her son with dialogue that you can only find in an Italian B-movie.

With this brief introduction to the goblins and the supernatural grandpa aspect over, we are quickly informed that the whole family, well the living ones at least, are off on a home-swap holiday with a family from the small rural town of Nilbog. Nilbog, immediately with this creative naming we know that things will not end well and young Joshua starts to suspect it too.

Finally before the road trip to this delightfully named town we are introduced to a ‘too cool’ teen sister, her immature boyfriend his friends, giving us with near certainty our first batch of goblin food. If this all sounds like the film has settled into a period of relative normality that is only because I am leaving out further odd dialogue and a peculiar family car sing song will leave you puzzled as a cacophony of sound makes its way out of your television.

Arriving at their holiday home, the family discovers a veritable feast laid out for them and although everything is green or layered with some green paste they don’t seem to mind. Not only does this look suspicious to us but also young Joshua, who seeing his grandpa again realises that something must be done to stop his family from eating the food and so he does the only thing that any of us would do in this situation and needless to say ruins the feast. Thankfully this part was not shown or at least on the version I saw.

Despite its (many) faults TROLL 2 actually has a pretty enjoyable first act but things step up a gear as the film introduces the resident town druid Creedence, whose family lineage can be traced back to Stonehenge, which is a little odd being a monument rather than a town or city, but this is just a technicality and as Creedence begins to chew the no doubt papier-mâché scenery you find yourself just going with it.

With things now in full swing and we are further treated to more great lines such as “She is one with the vegetable world, now she is food for my children” you start to get a greater understanding that there may be a little more substance or at least a message behind the story than the narrative to this point would have had you believe.

So it is a shame that so many things here are inadequate so often making TROLL 2 comes across as a GOOSEBUMPS style story, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Putting any issues aside, and the film certainly does, the momentum continues to build and the wider context begins to come into frame and we learn that not only is Nilbog a vegetarian-only town but the townsfolk all have an almost pathological disgust towards meat products and the effects it has the anatomy.

It is rumoured that writer Rosella Drudi came up with the story for TROLL 2 when several of her friends became vegetarian at the same time, and rather than being a positive message for the lifestyle it seems more of a send-up of it and the way in which some people preach their new lifestyle towards those who do not adhere. Taking this approach then, perhaps to a certain extent that underlying criticism works and dare I even say it is a clever b-movie satire. Dare I say it out aloud?

Of course all good (and bad) things must come to an end and with another plot twist involving the ghostly instigator Grandpa Seth, a bit of violence and one of the strangest seduction scenes you are ever likely to see committed to celluloid everything is brought together but not fully explained leaving you wondering what you had just spent the last 90 minutes watching…but somehow at the same time glad that you did.

There is so much wrong with TROLL 2 that it is difficult to know where to start. For example despite being shot in Morgan, USA – where they actually held a TROLL 2 festival back in 2007 – and having an English speaking cast the dubbing is all over the place but this rather quaintly lends the film that Italian trash feel paradoxically adding to its charm.

So despite this, its continuity errors, abysmal dialogue (which it has been reported the suggestions in terms of grammar and accuracy by the native cast were rejected out of hand by Claudio Fragasso) and just nonsensical story this is an entertaining and (often unintentionally) hilarious movie that does exactly what you would expect from something that has the involvement of Claudio Fragasso and Joe D’Amato – that something is purely to entertain.

Essentially TROLL 2 is budget trash but fantastically so and as a result when people call it one of the worst films ever they do so with endearment rather than derision and is a must watch for any fan of low budget horror.

As a final point of interest I was slightly surprised to see that the costume designer was none other than the black Emmanuelle herself Laura Gemser (BLACK EMMANUELLE; EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD; CAGED WOMEN)  – that certainly must have made for an interesting time behind the scenes for the cast.