Robbed at Oscar time! The Top 10 Italian Take-Offs to See… 0
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
A Freaky Fairy Tale -- Korean fear fable Hansel and Gretel gets a Blu-ray bow from 88 Films in a new, packed special edition release. And we talk to the director Pilsung Yim! 0
Korean fear fable Hansel and Gretel gets a Blu-ray bow from 88 Films in a new, packed special edition release. And we talk to the director Pilsung Yim!
By Calum Waddell
An instant horror classic, the contemporary Korean fright-flick Hansel and Gretel is one of the country's finest modern achievements. Now receiving an HD BluRay bow in the UK from your friends at 88 Films, this outré oriental shocker is colourful, contained and offers audiences something that is truly sinister: a trio of seemingly adorable young children who have murderous intentions. The director of this creepy woodland-set scary movie is Pilsung Yim, who reached worldwide acclaim with 2005’s icy thriller Antarctic Journal - another classic that is well worth the attention of anyone who is interested in the modern Korean wave of cinema.
Hansel and Gretel introduces us to a helpless twenty-something professional trapped in a waking hell after his car spins off the road due to some wintry weather. Once awoken, our man stumbles through some woodland and ends up in a forest mansion lorded over by three seemingly innocuous youngsters – aged from adolescent to early teens. However, nothing is quite as it seems and he soon finds himself unable to return to normality (the trail back to the motorway consistently leads in a circle to nowhere) and, even worse, the threat of certain death looms over him less he bring himself to complain…
Favourably compared to the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage at the time f its rlease, Hansel and Gretel is that rare thing – a slice of solemn supernatural spookiness that does not owe its roots to Ringu and its many spin-offs. “For many years it has been my wish to make a film where children perform the main roles,” states the director. “With Hansel and Gretel it was my desire to reinterpret the dark and phantasmal essence of children's fairy tales and update it into something truly sinister and scary. I was also attracted to the story’s cynical view of children’s lives. The original fairy tale had this element, of course, and I think it is extremely valid even today. I think that many children are raised in a turbulent environment and it is so sad. Growing up is not easy and I never liked it when films try to indicate that childhood is not a difficult experience...”
Hansel and Gretel is a very colourful movie – can you talk about the challenges of the set design?
Yes, first of all, I was blessed with the co-operation between the film’s art director Ryu Seong-hee, who also worked on The Host and Memories of Murder, and the cinematographer Kim Jee-yong, who is perhaps most famous for shooting the classic A Bittersweet Life. I think that they achieved a great job – Hansel and Gretel looks exactly as I envisioned it would. I wanted to match very colourful visual images with damaged rooms and goods, which reflect the personality of the movie’s children. I think this comes across well in the film. I especially wanted to make the children’s house seem like a hallucination - it was to always appear very dreamlike to the main adult character: as if he had wandered into a nightmare on a hallucination. I am proud of how the house looks and the atmosphere surrounding it.
Speaking of which, how did you find the house for the movie?
The production design team actually built it up in Jeju Island, which is a very beautiful part of Korea. It was actually very hard work to do this because the set was built very deep in a desolate mountain. All of the properties, lawn and landscape architectures that you see in Hansel and Gretel were created from scratch – all thanks to the great concepts that the production design team came up with.
How did you want the audience to react towards the three children in the movie? After all, there are moments when we really, really despise these characters...
Well you might have despised them but I actually hoped the audience would have pity and sorrow (laughs).
Yes but the three children are responsible for murder and kidnap – it is hard to warm to them…
This may be true but all of this sorrow is, in the end, caused by the adult world and how these children have been dismissed by parents and guardians. In the last scene of Hansel and Gretel I hoped that the audience would want to hug the children and maybe, after that, they would go home from the cinema and look after their own kids or cousins with extra special care. I think it is imperative that the next generation grows up without violence or pain…
If you had to pick a favourite horror film what would it be?
Although it is not like typical horror films I would have to pick Peter Jackson’s masterpiece Heavenly Creatures. It was made in 1994, before Peter went on to have great success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I think it is a very impressive film that represents agony, fear, illusion and the grief of growing up. It is hard to combine these sorts of feelings into a film but Heavenly Creatures make its point very dramatically. I also love the more supernatural terror of Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining – mainly because they reflect the soul of human beings. I consider both of these titles to be beautiful but also gruesome in their own way...
In a similar vein can you talk about any filmmakers who have influenced you?
I have been a cine-phile since I was young and, on a personal level, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Ji-woon are both intimate directors who I admire a lot. They stimulate my projects and I respect their artistic integrity.
Interesting you should mention Bong Joon-ho because you worked with him on Antarctic Journal. Can you talk about this experience?
First of all I want to say that I think Bong Joon-ho is one of the best living directors in the whole of Korea. He only wrote a single scene on Antarctic Journal, but he advised me about the overall structure of the film and the ideas that I should approach in the story. He was there for me during the moments when I was totally exhausted because it was actually a very difficult movie to shoot. Bong gave me creative inspiration and comfort and he is a good friend. I was so happy for him when he went to have great success with The Host. I even got to perform in The Host – he gave me a small cameo but I have a feeling even my closest friends might have missed it (laughs).
Would you like to make a movie like The Host?
Yes, I think I would. I like creature films and perhaps one day I will also get to make a fantastic monster movie where a creature tramples its way through Korea (laughs).
You also worked with The Host’s prominent performer Song Kang-ho on Antarctic Journal. This was just after he made a name for himself with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance - what kind of actor is he?
He is a very sharp, sensitive and warm-hearted actor. On Antarctic Journal he was a collaborator more than actor – he was like a big brother to me behind the scenes. In fact I cannot even think how the film would have been completed without him. He is not an easy actor to direct but he is someone who gives a director inspiration. I hope to work with him again someday.
Hansel and Gretel has been compared – very favourably - to such films as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Company of Wolves and The Orphanage: How do you feel about such comparisons and do you agree with them?
Well first of all I am pleased that my work is being compared to such films (laughs). It was a very long time ago when I saw the The Company of Wolves so it is hard to remember a lot about it. I do not feel like I can comment on that film so much but I think Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage are classics. How can you not be proud when your movie is mentioned in the same breath as these? I adore both of them.
Why do you think that Korean cinema is currently so popular in the West?
I think it is because creative directors and actors, creditable production companies and talented crews all pull together to make exciting new genre films like The Good, The Bad and the Weird, The Host and now Hansel and Gretel. Moreover Korean films do a great job with very small budgets – especially compared to Hollywood and all of its blockbusters. But unfortunately we have come up against some major problems recently - especially since the big distribution companies, which run multiplex theatres in Korea, have begun to follow the Hollywood system of only playing major studio movies. This is, of course, a really bad thing for us…
Did this affect Hansel and Gretel’s release in Korea at all?
Well yes, in a way, because my movie to compete with Hollywood blockbuster over the very competitive Christmas season. However, there were, and are, many fans of Hansel and Gretel and it received good critical notice as well. However some people seemed to dislike it and some writers gave it silly reviews – I think that they totally misunderstood what I was doing with it.
Details of 88 Films upcoming release are available in our Coming Soon section.
- 88 Films
Hard to Stomach 1
Primitive rituals and plasma-spillage galore informed the Italian cannibal movie. 88 Films looks back at some of the best...
By Calum Waddell
Back in the swinging seventies the Italians created a unique cinematic trend of their very own - one that came to prominence in the UK during the early days of VHS and caused controversy all across the globe. That genre was the cannibal movie and, if you have never seen one, then prepare yourself for a vile viewing experience for, alongside the expected innards-eating, is rape galore, un-faked animal cruelty and even the odd bout of sexual mutilation...
However, for the sake of some context, turn the clock back to the heyday of that other ferociously graphic form of Italian filmmaking: the mondo movie (see elsewhere in this magazine). With its newsreel footage of human mortality and oft-staged, but nonetheless genuine, scenes of animal expiration, the mondo aspired to a new sense of cinematic realism in the name of horrifying curious spectators. Thus, when journeyman director Umberto Lenzi (then struggling along with 007 rip-off spy thrillers and the occasional awesome police shocker and giallo effort) was sent to Thailand to make The Man from Deep River in 1972, little did the unassuming filmmaker realise that he was about to instigate yet another Italian institution...
Introducing the viewer to a London tourist (played by Euro-exploitation regular Ivan Rassimov) who gets into an impromptu bar fight in Bangkok in which, drunkenly, he stabs his aggressor to death, The Man from Deep River boasts some spectacular widescreen photography of Thailand's bustling capital and natural forestland. Not that this footage is the film's raison d'être; rather when Rassimov is captured by some natives whilst snorkelling near the Burma border (after being mistaken for a fish-man thanks to his wet gear) the poor chap is subjected to some savage forms of sadism. This includes being blow-darted, poked with spears, dehydrated for 48 hours in the blazing sun and even having monkey brains forced down his throat. This (and other) moments of creature carnage brings The Man from Deep River firmly into mondo movie territory - the poor primate receives a swift machete swipe to the skull in an attempt to add some lame authenticity to the various actors in loincloths pretending to act like primitives. Unbelievably, this sequence made it through the BBFC for the 88 Films release in 2016!
"I only did The Man from Deep River for the money," Lenzi would later remember. "It was a very challenging job to make a movie in Thailand back then and that only added to the pressure. As for the onscreen animal deaths - well, people still eat steaks and hamburgers. In order to feed that desire we need to kill animals. People are just not used to seeing it happen."
The Man from Deep River actually does not feature any onscreen cannibalism until the final reel - rather it devotes its running time to a love story between Rassimov and a beautiful native babe played by Me Me Lai (who actually grew up in England and is, puzzlingly, clad in black eye liner throughout). The film concludes with Rassimov showing loyalty to his new home by helping the tribe rebuild their village after a furious battle against some local head-hunters.
"The Man from Deep River was a huge flop in Italy," maintains Lenzi. "But it made a lot of money in America where it was released as Sacrifice. In Britain it was banned under the name Deep River Savages, although I hear it did very good business on video."
Also a hit in Asian territories, Lenzi was asked to return to the genre for a follow-up flick entitled Last Cannibal World (released in 1977 and debuting in America as The Last Survivor). However, when he opted out another journeyman director was called in to fill his place - namely Ruggero Deodato, the monsieur-of-mayhem most synonymous with the meat-munching boom that proceeded The Man from Deep River...
"The producer of The Man from Deep River wanted to make a new, but similar, kind of movie and held over the stars from Lenzi's film including the actress Me Me Lai," recalls Deodato. "Unfortunately, since making The Man from Deep River she had gone for breast implants and you could easily tell this on the screen - not so good for a tribal woman! Ivan Rassimov was also back and he was a very good actor. I filmed Last Cannibal World in Malaysia, in very dense, green jungle - it was extraordinary. I loved it but to get to the set it took seven hours by boat so the crew wanted to strangle me [laughs]."
Last Cannibal World might just be the crowning achievement of the entire Italian cannibal genre. With wondrous sequences shot inside caves, and also outside in the sparse Malaysian rainforest, this is one of the best looking jungle adventures to ever grace the screen - in or out of Hollywood. The plot itself is largely inspired by the fish-out-of-water theatrics of The Man from Deep River: a plane filled with oil prospectors crash lands in the rainforest and the survivors are stranded and stalked by a native tribe. Ivan Rassimov is washed down a ravine (only to reappear at the film's end) whilst bearded leading man Massimo Foschi gets captured by the locals, urinated on by the tribal children and masturbated by the newly breast-enhanced Me Me Lai. He escapes with the genre's favourite femme only to be cornered by the entrails-eating clan. Thankfully after killing one of the leaders, and proving his primal-instincts by eating the slain savage's still-steaming intestines, he is let go. No such honour befalls poor Me Me Lai, however, who is slit open and cooked on hot coals.
"We worked with a group of genuine aboriginal people," insists Deodato. "The most incredible thing was that they had no language. They never spoke or gestured to each other so communicating with them was very difficult. I also gave them wigs to wear, which made their heads itchy. I was asked by the producers to kill animals for Last Cannibal World but I refused. At the time, I did not want to do this, however the producer said the Asian market responded well to this aspect of the films. I still said no so he filmed them himself."
Consequently, Last Cannibal World (which is also known as Jungle Holocaust) features a crocodile being skinned alive and a giant python being bashed across the skull. Although not as extreme as The Man from Deep River, this footage still interrupts an otherwise palpable pot-boiler which, with its moments of claustrophobia and carnage, and Deodato's inspired direction, even manages to be surprisingly scary.
"Last Cannibal World was successful in Italy," smiles Deodato. "It was sold all over the world and in New York it was released to 86 theatres. It was the film that opened the doors for me to go on and do lots of other projects. Other directors also copied the idea - right after my film Sergio Martino also made a cannibal movie..."
Indeed, after Last Cannibal World, which played UK cinemas in a heavily cut form, the genre was in full swing. Martino's Sri-Lanka-set Prisoner of the Cannibal God (1978) also made it to Britain, albeit in a truncated version, and featured high production values alongside such well known actors as ex-Bond babe Ursula Andress and Stacey Keach. Unfortunately, despite its visual shine, the long, rambling tale of expeditionary explorers searching for a missing man is a bit of a chore - although the ever-ugly animal cruelty remains present (in the film's most controversial moment, a monkey is slowly devoured by a giant python - with an off-screen 'stunt arm' clearly pushing the helpless beast into the reptile's jaws).
"Maybe looking back at this film today, it might have been better not making it," relates Martino. "The sequence with the python.... it was a shame for the little monkey but nature is like this. It is the survival of the fittest; the law of the jungle. The producers of these movies wanted scenes like this. But I feel that Prisoner of the Cannibal God is remembered for far more than just the scene with the monkey and the snake. I think the atmosphere and the violence have a certain credibility, for instance..."
Following Prisoner of the Cannibal God, another Rome-resident, Joe D'Amato (perhaps most famous for his video nasty Anthropophagous the Beast), got in on the act with his ridiculous Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, a softcore sex romp with added flesh-feasting. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, Deodato's Last Cannibal World was effectively remade as a cash-strapped calamity called Primitives (released to UK video as Savage Terror), whilst even Spain's Jess Franco jumped on the bloody bandwagon with Cannibals and The Devil Hunter (both unleashed to uninterested audiences in 1980).
Predictably, it was up to the Italians to nurse their cranium-crunching creation back to health...
"I had been asked for years to do another cannibal movie," continues Deodato. "Finally, I put together the story for Cannibal Holocaust. The basic premise is that these four young American documentary-makers set off to the Amazon to get this big scoop about a cannibal tribe but they don't find anything sensational. So they create their own news instead..."
Unveiled to ample controversy, and effectively kicking off the entire video nasty debate in Britain, 1980's Cannibal Holocaust is an unapologetically unlikeable guts and gore epic. A veritable symphony of slaughter, the onscreen ugliness is enlivened, somewhat, by a sublime soundtrack (composed by Academy Award nominee Riz Ortolani), convincing acting performances and startling jungle-shot footage of Amazonia itself. Otherwise, the nonsensical plot is effectively based around native people doing horrible things to one another (rape with a stone dildo, primitive abortions, rape in general, bludgeoning women to death, more rape) before the American journalists enter the frame and do equally horrible things to the locals. Exactly what sort of 'documentary' they are seeking to make is never made clear given that the white protagonists consistently film themselves committing murder. Regardless, eventually they are overpowered and eaten. Inbetween this nastiness is an (endangered) yellow spotted river turtle being dismembered and cooked, the death of a piglet, a coatimundi being stabbed through the neck and a monkey having its skull sliced open. Much of the most macabre material in Cannibal Holocaust is presented as 'found footage', a distinct concept (at the time) which was likely influenced by the mondo movie and Peter Watkins' superior Punishment Park (1971). Whilst Deodato's use of the format adds to some sense of unease, the fact remains that classic examples of horror cinema do not need to show four minutes of a turtle being sliced and diced in order to make their impact...
"Ruggero got himself indicted for animal cruelty in Italy," maintains Robert Kerman, the star of Cannibal Holocaust. "They also thought that he might have killed the actors. He had to bring the cast over from America, take them into court and prove that they were alive. I cursed the film you know – I told Deodato he would really regret killing animals and it came to fruition. The production was fined lots and lots of money for what happened."
Deodato's benchmark blood-fest, which escaped an American release until 1985, was a big enough seller in some territories to warrant a new slew of jungle-set shockers. First up was the return of Umberto Lenzi, who reunited with Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai for Eaten Alive (1980). Proving imitation is the finest form of flattery, Lenzi even added Cannibal Holocaust's main man Robert Kerman (a former porn star) to the mix. The end result is a sometimes hilarious hodgepodge of badly faked gore effects, a surreal story based around jungle occultists (itself inspired by the real-life Jim Jones massacre in Guyana) and animal-slaughter footage cribbed from pervious genre pot-boilers such as The Man from Deep River. Lenzi did, however, claw back some commercial credibility with 1981's Cannibal Ferox - re-titled Make Them Die Slowly in America. Using the same locations as Cannibal Holocaust, and a couple of the same actors, this is nowhere near as barbaric - despite the usual round of mammal and reptile sacrifice - and, at times, actually manages to be quite good fun. Perennial Italian horror hero Giovanni Lombardo Radice, in particular, gets to meet a most memorable screen demise - having his private parts lopped off and chewed upon by a badly-bewigged tribal chief. His female compatriot, meanwhile, is hung up with spikes through her breasts in what remains one of the genre's most iconic images.
"I have only one regret about Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox and that is that I even shot these horrible movies in the first place," grunts Lenzi. "To my amazement they were both very successful all over the world. In the end that was very good for me because I got to direct other kinds of films. It just goes to show you that often it is the shit that produces the gold [laughs]."
Post-Cannibal Ferox, however, and the genre was more or less dead. Between the two of them, Deodato and Lenzi had effectively exhausted every instance of disgusting animal and human death imaginable and, no doubt, the poor people of Colombia were becoming increasingly fed up with Italian filmmakers sticking wigs on them and expecting them to eat raw livers for the camera. Consequently, the last of the cannibal capers - which include such enjoyable jaunts as 1984's Amazonia and 1985's Massacre in Dinosaur Valley - are comparatively inoffensive man vs. nature epics. That said, thanks to 88 Films we have been able to re-appreciate both - and Amazonia (also known as White Slave) is soon to gain a brand new life on BluRay. It is a welcome addition to any HD library given its often effective visuals and sense of a civilisation out of step with the rest of the world. Its more fantasy-based theatrics certainly return it to the comparable sense of whimsy that informed The Man from Deep River.
"I did another jungle film in 1985 called Cut and Run," states Deodato. "The producer had it in his mind that it would be like Cannibal Holocaust - even with some animal deaths - but I refused. Cannibal Holocaust was a one of a kind movie. I would never do that again. So Cut and Run became something very different. Now directors such as Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino tell me they are big fans of Cannibal Holocaust."
There was also Cannibal Holocaust 2 in 1987 - a strange oddity that has yet to really receive any serious critical or scholarly consensus but a film which rather intriguingly reverses the set-up of the original film. Also known as The Green Inferno, the 'sequel' has a group of students and journalists go deep into the Amazon jungle in search of a missing anthropologist whilst all the time bemoaning animal and outside interference in the everyday lives of the natives.
And for further proof positive of the genre's lasting legacy one need only check out Welcome to the Jungle (2007), a virtual remake of Cannibal Holocaust - complete with the "found footage" arc and some annoying Americans being eaten by a pack of hungry New Guinea head-hunters. The film was produced by no less a Hollywood heavyweight than Gale Anne Hurd, the woman behind The Terminator, Aliens and The Walking Dead. Meanwhile, Eli Roth gave us his Peruvian set gut-muncher The Green Inferno in 2013- a loving homage to one of terror's most stomach-turning titles.
As strange as it seems, then, the genre that was once subjected to censorship and critical disdain has lived to eat into further generatons...
- 88 Films
Remembering a Kung-Fu legend - By Calum Waddell 1In this latest blog we look back at the life of Bruce Lee through the eyes of one of the men who knew him best: his brother Robert Lee…And with our 88 Asia range dedicating itself to some classic kung-fu - what better time to remember the most famous martial artist of all time?
- 88 Films
One Man Band 0
88 Films looks back at the weird and wacky world of Charles Band: the B-movie maverick whose obsession with pint-sized shocks created an entire cottage industry...
By Calum Waddell
One day, in the near future, it is surely not too farfetched to predict that there will be a museum which attempts to recapture a small snapshot of late 20th century life by rebuilding your average, unassuming, family-owned video rental shop from around1991. This, after all, was the peak of the VHS era: almost every home in Britain had a cassette-recorder and entire film-franchises were produced for the small screen (although we hear that only the hardiest of souls have dared to brave the entire Children of the Corn or Hellraiser catalogue). Yet, going against the grain, and competing with some of Hollywood's biggest and best in these heady days were the likes of Troma (The Toxic Avenger), Roger Corman's New World Pictures (who birthed the Slumber Party Massacre series) and, most prolific of all, Charles Band's terrific twosome of Empire and Full Moon Entertainment. These were the punk rockers of this era - boasting a DIY approach to filmmaking, concentrating solely on cheap and cheerful genre productions and often relying on some colourful box covers to sell otherwise utterly obscure (and often idiotic) creature features.
All the same, we at 88 Films - and any self-respecting student of the video shop period - loved them, and no VHS outlet could have possibly saved face without at least a few of these weirdies weighing down their shelves.
Sure, the end product was just as often garbage as it was good, but for at least attempting to make movies with titles like Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Cellar Dwellar and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, at least you knew these schlock-services had their hackneyed hearts in the right place. Suffice to say, though, it was Band's outfits which were the most reliable insofar as quality, as well as quantity, went - boasting a resume of distinguished classics that even includes 1985's zombie romp Re-Animator. Moreover, thanks to a fascination with small and psychotic villains, it was not too hard to spot a Full Moon movie in the horror section of many a pre-Blockbuster rental shop, which is where Band's reputation really resides. So much so, in fact, that when The Dark Side talks to Band he is about to be subjected to a brand new book on his life and legacy entitled IT CAME FROM THE VIDEO ISLE!.
Not bad huh?
"I must have done over 300 movies now," claims Band. "Some of these might not be the best films ever made but I have really good memories of doing them and there are a few which I think really hold up. They spawned sequels and franchises and even today I have fans who are excited at a new Puppet Master movie. So I guess I did something right [laughs]."
The son of fringe-filmmaker Albert Band, whose credits include such wonderfully-monikered madness as I Bury the Living (1958), Charles worked as a production assistant for his father before making a move into overseeing his own low budget lunacy. This he did by setting up Empire Pictures, an exhaustingly industrious outfit which gave the eighties such genre gems as the Demi Moore-starring 3D monster-marvel Parasite (1982), the futuristic fantasy classic Trancers (1985) and the tawdry terror title Troll (1986), a ridiculous romp in which Sonny Bono is magically turned into a caesar salad.
"You know, even I can't believe I made some of these movies," laughs Band when reminded of inflicting such ritual humiliation on Cher's one-time muse. "I have VHS sized covers of everything I have ever produced on my wall and I still find myself saying, 'wow, did I really make that?' Those Empire days... they were good times [laughs]."
Empire prefigured Band's better known Full Moon Entertainment - and usually indicted an eccentric knack for rubber-reality monster mash-ups, as indicated by such esoteric oddities as Ghoulies (1985), Stuart Gordon's colourful Dolls (1987) and the cheapie Aliens take-off Creepozoids (1987). To the surprise of many pundits this even allowed Band to finesse his own franchises - although anyone who has seen the stillborn sequel Ghoulies go to College may not agree that this was always for the best...
"The eighties was really the end of an era," mentions Band of Empire. "It was a time when an independent company could take out a small horror movie theatrically and make a modest profit. But as we were doing this, the big studios were also putting out their own genre pictures, which started with Star Wars, and there was no way to compete with them. Stuff like the Friday the 13th films were playing everywhere - which was because they were backed by Paramount Pictures - and we could only do limited releases with something like Re-Animator, which was a far superior movie."
As such, it was still the trusty old video shop that Band counted on to make the bulk of his cash...
"Back in the days of VHS you were more or less an equal player with the bigger Hollywood movies," he admits. "You had just as much chance of being picked up and rented by the horror and sci-fi fans. But what you really needed was something lurid - the more lurid, the better in fact - and you also had to have a really cool trailer. Something that would make people say, 'Yeah, I have to see this.' I think one of the best examples of that was Ghoulies. We had a ghoulie coming out of the toilet bowl, with a big smile on his face, and the tagline was 'they'll get you in the end.' Well who could resist that, right? So we put a lot of effort into a cool poster as well. That was how you could catch people's attention and say, 'Hey, look at this'. In a cinema you couldn't do that because the studios booked out the screens. In a video shop, at least, you had a chance..."
Indeed, and with hits such as Ghoulies and Re-Animator, Band was on a roll. Although as theatrical business took a dive at the close of the decade, the entrepreneurial B-movie master opted to end his 'Empire' and instead go the straight-to-video route. This was the goal of his new company, Full Moon Entertainment, which launched with 1989's Puppet Master. As with Dolls, Ghoulies and Troll before it, this was yet another story of small, but deadly, psychotic-critters..
"I honestly have no idea why I keep producing films about scary small things," laughs Band. "I guess it is because when you do low budget movies about little creatures that come to life - like puppets or ghoulies - they are far more manageable than a 40 foot giant. Another influence on me was an anthology film called Trilogy of Terror which featured an iconic episode called 'Amelia'. It is about this African doll which comes to life and chases Karen Black around her house and it is really, really scary. That has an impact on me and I guess ever since I have been wrestling with it in my deepest darkest psyche [laughs]."
Certainly, after the success of Puppet Master, which has inspired nine (count them: nine) instalments to date, as well as a collectible toy line, Band went on a bender of identikit-themed features. Choice cuts include 1991's Dollman (a miniature superhero from outer space), 1992's Demonic Toys (about, erm, demonic toys) and1993's Seedpeople (carnivorous alien plants. Pretty tragic, this one). In addition Band would continue the mythology of the Trancers series with four follow-ups, undress the stunning Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn for 1990's Phantoms and venture into Romania to shoot the atmospheric vampire shocker Subspecies (1991), itself spawning three sequels. To this say, Subspecies is actually one of Band's finest achievements - a movie made for video that looks as theatrical as anything else of the era.
And ever want to learn about franchising a film? Band is your man.
"I think that when you have something that works it is inevitable to do a part two and three," admits Band. "My idea of Full Moon was to model it after Marvel. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Marvel comics. I liked how they would introduce characters and then do a series with them - including bringing Spider-Man into the world of the Fantastic Four or The Incredible Hulk. That is why I produced and directed Dollman vs. Demonic Toys. More recently I did a film called Gingerdead Man, in which Gary Busey becomes a pissed off, crazy cookie - an actual cookie, as crazy as that sounds, and it did really well on DVD. So now we're making a fourth one and we are intending to make a Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong movie, which is about a cursed marijuana pipe. I think that whole idea goes right back to the comics of the Marvel era. Nothing was too strange or too outlandish in that universe."
Consequently, Band has no plans to slow down and, in this day and age of corporate big studio carnage, it is quite refreshing to know that Full Moon remains active - even if the company is no longer the home video juggernaut that it once was. Alas, as VHS turned to DVD and DVD turned to downloading, Band's budgets have shrunk and the comparatively lavish lacerations of Demonic Toys and Puppet Master are a thing of the past. That said, the fine fellow is still splattering the screen blood-red with ambitiously cut-rate craziness such as last year's demented duo of Evil Bong 3-D: The Wrath of Bong and The Dead Want Woman. In other words - Band's knack for a lurid title and an equally lascivious leaning towards gratuitous nudity, cash-strapped special effects and satirical storylines have not mellowed with age.
"You know, this is a tough business to work in," he mentions. "It is easy to get carried away on these movies - it is never one thing that kills you, it is death by 1000 blows. So you might have an idea for a really great special effect but maybe it will take another day to shoot it, right? And then you need some more crew. Then it comes down to maybe having another day on top of that to get it looking really good. Well just like that, you have doubled the budget and that is when you start going into the red. It is tricky to stay in business today, I can tell you that."
However, with a fresh slate which includes a 3D spin on Puppet Master, the tantalisingly titled Zombies Vs. Strippers and even more gory gloriousness, one thing is for sure - Band and his Full Moon Entertainment continue to keep the spirit of the video shop alive. Tasteless, tawdry and trashy, a Charles Band film is like 1991 revisited. But without the techno music. And with many of these top titles now running out of stock and license - now is the best time of all to relive them via 88 Films!
- 88 Films