Robbed at Oscar time! The Top 10 Italian Take-Offs to See…
Robbed at Oscar time! The Top 10 Italian Take-Offs to See…
By Calum Waddell
There has been a lot of discussion about how much the Italian B-movie and exploitation biz, during its golden days, took from Hollywood and how much it actually improved on Hollywood... Certainly, it is difficult to deny that Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1979) would not exist without George Romero's Dawn of the Dead but that does not mean that the two have anything else in common, including stylistically or thematically. Indeed, Fulci's classic is its own beast and comparing the two is, zombies apart, a bit like contrasting apples with oranges (or Richard Johnson with David Emge). For readers of this article, the other good news is that at least one of the following films is forthcoming from 88 Films... but we will not spoil the fun too much by adding another clue. Instead, enjoy this top ten and discuss and debate whether or not these choices are the same ones that you would make!
Street Law (Enzo G. Castellari, 1974): Released the same year as the Charles Bronson/ Michael Winner clunker Death Wish, this spunky, and superior, shocker has a similar plot wherein Franco Nero (a veteran of spaghetti westerns such as the classic Django) hunts down some gangland thugs who did a number on him. It is still as unremittingly fascist as the American movie - which produced four sequels, two remakes and numerous copycat Kersey ventures - but Castellari keeps things moving and the blood and bullets are so brutally realised that it is difficult not to keep watching.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (Ruggero Deodato, 1976): Directed by Ruggero Deodato (of Cannibal Holocaust fame) this one takes its lead from The French Connection by restaging that movie’s legendary car chase with motorcycles! Just so we know the movie’s two cops are even badder than Dirty Harry, Deodato has them snap a suspect’s neck before he is even arrested. It is amazing to watch some of the stunts in this movie - and, whilst it is typically misogynistic for the time (with the two cops having their way with a young woman, whilst her mother entertains them with a cup of coffee!), everything is so excessive here there is only so much offence that one can, ultimately, take.
The Gestapo's Last Orgy (Cesare Canevari, 1976): It might be difficult to remember that stories of nasty Nazis, and associated sexual relationships between the persecuted and persecutor, began - at least as far as Italy goes - in the arthouse and not the grindhouse. Visconti gave audiences The Damned, in 1969, and Cavani dragged out The Night Porter in 1974. Two years later and Pasolini was in on the act with Salo - by which time we had the American hit Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975). The Gestapo's Last Orgy might be halfway between the latter - not to mention 1969's Love Camp 7 - and the more psychological ponderings of Visconti and Cavani (Salo is just... yuck) but its story of post-war mental crisis and revenge, told from a female perspective, is surprisingly powerful. All told, this old video provocateur has held up a lot better than most.
The Heroin Busters (Enzo G. Castellari, 1978): The best of the Dirty Harry/ French Connection variants, this has Blow-Up’s David Hemmings and Italian B-movie stalwart Fabio Testi as two never-say-die lawmen seeking to crack down on an international narcotics ring. Castellari was at his peak here (why has no one penned a book on his work?) and the production values are high enough to give this a slicker than usual look for the genre.
Zombie Flesh-Eaters (Lucio Fulci, 1979): Not quite Romero, this infamous Lucio Fulci flick actually owes its legacy to the gothic horrors of Val Lewton and Hammer’s Plague of the Zombies rather than Dawn of the Dead (although it is not above cribbing the odd set piece from Night of the Living Dead). Watching this infamous 'video nasty' again and it also becomes clear how important its cast is to its success: Al Cliver was an old B-movie pro, but Ian McCulloch, Tisa Farrow and, especially, Richard Johnson offer this masterpiece of eye-piercing and shark-wrestling a loftier quality than it might otherwise have had.
Zombi Holocaust (Marino Girolami, 1980): Directed by no less than Enzo Castellari’s father, this was when the brief, but lucrative, explosion in Italian horror ate itself (if you’ll pardon the pun). Mixing Fulci with Cannibal Holocaust, this very opportunistic pot boiler features cannibals, zombies and Brit-actor Ian McCulloch (the star of Zombi 2). It is a hell of a lot of fun, though, and who can really fault the enthusiasm of the erstwhile Doctor Butcher M.D.? Say what you want about Zombi Holocaust but it moves through its splatter-packed set pieces at a relentlessly raucous pace.
Contraband (Lucio Fulci, 1980): Late-in-the-day mix of The French Connection and The French Connection II, this time by Lucio Fulci. What this results in is added blood and gore and a thoroughly strange break in the action for a lengthy musical montage of disco dancing! Ah the eighties…This film also has perhaps Fulci's finest cameo - playing a gangster with a machine gun in his hand. It is clear, more than ever, that the beloved old guy is winking to his audience and then some...
The Bronx Warriors (Enzo G. Castellari, 1982): A futuristic New York is torn apart by gang warfare and corporate interest in this politically smart Enzo Castellari riff on Escape from New York which, in some ways, matches the depth of its bigger budgeted inspiration. Castellari pulls out some nifty sets to give us a really potent sense of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and as far as popcorn entertainment goes - this classic of the VHS shelves is still an essential actioner.
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (Joe D'Amato 1987): Endearingly strange cash-in on Nine ½ Weeks only this time with the gender roles reversed and a sadistic femme fatale preying upon a soon-to-be-married wimpling who cannot resist her charms. Silly rather than sexy, although Jessica Moore was a brief VHS bombshell before apparently retiring from the big screen, this scheming “erotic thriller” is really rather enjoyable and far more entertaining than anything that the 50 Shades of Grey series has offered up!
Killer Crocodile (Fabrizio De Angelis, 1989): Mix Jaws and Lewis Teague's Alligator together and you have Killer Crocodile. Weirdly enough, the schlock silliness of a giant croc terrorising a small lakeside town, and the ensuing battle between environmentalists who want to save it and lawmen who want to kill it, would be re-played in Hollywood hit Lake Placid. This is one of the last great bites from the golden age of Italian low budget genre fun - and for monster movie fans, it really should be near the top of the list of must-see motion pictures.
- 88 Films