Film Review: Ghosthouse (1988)

Also known as: La Casa 3 (original Italian title), Evil Dead 3 (informal Italian title), GhostHouse (alternate English title)
Release Date: January, 1988 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Written by: Sheila Goldberg, Umberto Lenzi, Cinthia McGavin
Music by: Piero Montanari
Cast: Lara Wendel, Greg Scott, Mary Sellers, Donald O’Brien

Filmirage, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Who are you? What do you want? For God’s sake… somebody help me… help… aarghh!” – Jim

This is a terrible, terrible film. However, I still like it because it is too damn bizarre not to appreciate.

It’s directed by Umberto Lenzi, who is no stranger to horror with films like Cannibal FeroxNightmare City, and Eaten Alive! under his belt. Like one would expect from a Lenzi picture, it is a low budget bonanza that features some gore, albeit not as much as some of his other bloody affairs.

As Italian films typically do, this didn’t concern itself with other country’s copyright laws and borrowed heavily from a few successful films. You have the house, which can be said is similar to the house of the House films series. Then you have a clown doll that is blatantly a ripoff of the clown doll from Poltergeist. There are a lot of other little things in the film that are borrowed too and really, there’s nothing about this that comes off as original.

The house interiors look like they were on a closed set with a ton of overhead lighting. This was the best lit haunted house I have ever seen in history. Daytime and nighttime looked the same and it was like walking through a grocery store, that’s how bright it was.

While the house is haunted by what seems like a lot of ghosts at times, the only real monster is the creepy little blonde girl that clutches her clown doll. She and the doll both smile creepy and then bad shit happens. For instance, a girl in a bedroom is attacked by paper Easter decorations, an inflatable Mickey Mouse and feathers violently filling the air.

Granted, there is a cool guillotine death but they never show the girl cut in half, they show a head to the far left and feet to the far right with furniture covering up the middle because god forbid they get creative or spend three bucks cutting holes in a wood floor to create the effect.

The music in this film is initially creepy but man, it wears thin pretty quickly. There are only two songs in this entire picture, the creepy one and then the weird electro-jazzy theme. One or the other are playing constantly throughout this picture. Sometimes you get a break but it only ever seems like its just for the film’s DJ to cue up the other record.

Ghosthouse was ripped to shreds by the RiffTrax guys and deservedly so. It is derivative, strange as hell but surprisingly yet confusingly endearing.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other horror films by Lenzi: Cannibal FeroxNightmare City, and Eaten Alive!

Film Review: The New Barbarians (1983)

Also known as: Warriors of the Wasteland (alternate), Metropolis 2000 (West Germany)
Release Date: June 10th, 1983 (West Germany)
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Tito Capri, Enzo G. Castellari
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Fred Williamson, Giancarlo Prete, George Eastman

Deaf International, 91 Minutes

Review:

“The world is dead. It raped itself. But I’ll purify it with blood! No one is innocent! But only we, the Templars, are the ministers of revenge!” – One

Between 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx, Enzo G. Castellari made this terrifically badass flick. And like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, this film stars Fred Williamson in a supporting but show stealing role.

This is one of ten dozen Mad Max ripoffs but the post-apocalyptic genre of film was at its height in the ’80s thanks to the surprise success of Mad Max. There were ripoffs galore, some good, some atrocious, but some of them at least brought something new to the table. I can’t call this a good film but I like it a lot because it takes an oversaturated formula and gives it some sweet style.

The Italians could have really taken what they did with spaghetti westerns and started a whole spaghetti apocalypse trend. While they made films like this, as this is one of them, they never quite took off like the spaghetti western trend in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Enzo G. Castellari really made his mark in spaghetti westerns and dabbled in some horror. The two really prepared him for making post-apocalyptic movies, as they share similar qualities: barren wastelands, gunslingers, violence and terror. And hell, trade out the horses for motorcycles and you’ve got a spaghetti apocalypse movie, as I call these pictures.

The New Barbarians or Warriors of the Wasteland, as it is also called, is an energetic and engaging picture for what it is. It wasn’t intended to be a game changer or exceptional, it was just made to cash in on a genre craze but still had enough of its own originality and style to stand apart from its primary influences.

Castellari was the master of these sort of films and The New Barbarians just solidifies that. It is well executed with awesomely shoddy effects and surreal action. It has weird dialogue, weird characters and weird costumes. It’s like some sort of bizarre European post-apocalyptic themed fashion show from the ’80s. I don’t really know how else to sum it up in a single sentence.

This film, along with Castellari’s Bronx movies sort of form an unofficial trilogy in my mind. They have similar themes, similar style and are cool to experience. This is a better film than the two Bronx movies: slightly beating out the first and completely surpassing the second, which actually isn’t very good.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx. It also has a lot of similarities to the more modern film Turbo Kid.

Film Review: Hundra (1983)

Also known as: Warrior Queen (German DVD title)
Release Date: July 23rd, 1983 (Spain)
Directed by: Matt Cimber
Written by: Jose Truchado, John F. Goff, Matt Cimber
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Laurene Landon, John Ghaffari, Marisa Casel

Continental Movie Productions, S.T.A.E. Productions, Cinema Epoch, 90 Minutes (original), 109 Minutes (extended DVD cut)

Review:

“Bow!” – every asshole man in the film

Hundra has a 4.6 on IMDb. That seems pretty low and that puts it below average. I think it’s at least a bit above average. It isn’t a classic or even very good but it has some pretty strong positives that at least keep its head above the water line.

To start, the first fifteen minutes or so are badass. A horde of evil men show up to rape and pillage a village of only women. It’s a rehash of the beginning of nearly every barbarian-esque picture since the first Conan came out but it works to great effect here.

Plus, it is immediately followed up by Hundra returning home and having to lure out the testicle-having baddies to a place where she can use the environment to her advantage and kill the entire horde. Well, one escapes to fight another day but that whole battle sequence was well orchestrated and showed a warrior woman who was able to outwit and outsmart a large number of rapist thugs.

Weirdly, she has a hard time taking out a midget on a miniature horse just five minutes later.

The problem with the film is that after all that awesome action in the beginning, it just slows to a halt and continues on for another hour and a half.

I guess the biggest highlight, other than that long opening pillage and the battle on the rocks between Hundra and a gang of rapey tyrants is the incredible score by Ennio Morricone. Morricone is mostly known for his work on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and other films in that genre. Unlike those movies, however, he gives us something a bit more classical and pure. His themes during the pillaging scene and the chase out to the rocks was stellar.

Additionally, Laurene Landon as Hundra was a pretty big positive too. She looked and acted the part and hats off to her because she did all of her own stunts except for the big stumble off of the top of the tower around the middle of the film. I really only knew Landon from her role in the first two Maniac Cop films but after seeing this, I wish she had more roles where she got to play a hardcore feminine badass.

The cinematography is a mixed bag. The outdoor stuff is great. The landscapes are beautiful and everything in the first fifteen minutes is shot and captured really well. However, when you get to the interiors or other closed set pieces, things take a turn for the worse, as the film just becomes dull, poorly lit and ugly. It’s hard not to compare this to the very similar Red Sonja and when you see the films side by side, at least Red Sonja had more interesting interiors. Granted, Hundra also didn’t have as big of a budget as Red Sonja.

The acting isn’t very good but if you’re watching this for that reason, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Landon is charismatic and very likable as Hundra and her friend Tracima (Marisa Casel) was incredibly alluring and had my attention.

This is really a film about women overcoming evil men who only want to use them for sex and as servants. Sure, it’s written by a man as most films with a feminist message were, back in the day. However, Landon’s performance legitimizes it beyond just being some guy’s Amazonian fantasy.

If this movie was whittled down to 80 minutes and had as much energy as its first fifteen minutes, it could have been something really good. Unfortunately, despite the long list of positives I just gave, it is just too slow and dull for about 75 percent of its running time.

But I would love to see a Hundra and Red Sonja team up story, even if it were just in comic book form.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other sword and sorcery movies from the era, most notably Red Sonja, the Conan movies, Beastmaster and Conquest.

Film Review: Hercules Unchained (1959)

Also known as: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (English literal title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci
Based on: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Primo Carnera, Sylvia Lopez

Lux Film, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I’m so sleepy, I can’t seem to keep awake!” – Hercules

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always loved to showcase old sword and sandal movies of the worst quality. Actually, nearly everything in the genre is of poor quality. However, you knew you were getting into something special when one of MST3K‘s sword and sandal selections was a Hercules movie. Okay, maybe not special… more like, slightly better but still not good.

At least this one stars Steve Reeves, the true Hercules of his era and the only one that really mattered in that iconic role.

While this isn’t as good as the first Reeves’ Hercules, it is better than nearly everything that came after it. Still, it’s a fairly crappy motion picture that doesn’t do much to capture the imagination and makes one wonder why these style of movies were so popular. I mean, at least in the ’80s there was ConanRed Sonja and my personal favorite, Beastmaster. But those were actually sword and sorcery movies and not sword and sandal ones. I guess sorcery pairs better with sandals on the big screen. I certainly enjoyed James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom, as a villain, much more than the many harlots and weirdos that Hercules got tangled up with.

This film is pretty boring overall. It’s less interesting than the zanier stuff like Hercules Against the Moon Men and it doesn’t have a cool Hydra like The Loves of Hercules. It may be a hair better than both of those due to Reeves giving the film some legitimacy but to be honest, these films all sort of blend together in my mind as a big stew of sand where Steve Reeves’ face occasionally pops up.

Hercules Unchained isn’t a painful experience, it is just a really dull one.

And it is also shitty enough that I must run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.” That’s a bit harsher than I thought but the machine never lies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Steve Reeves’ first Hercules movie.

Film Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Also known as: I Am an Eyewitness (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1971 (Milan premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bryan Edgar Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Luigi Collo
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mondial Te.Fi., Seda Spettacoli S.p.A., Labrador Films, Terra-Filmkunst GmbH, Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing’s easy for me. I can’t even knock over a chair without getting caught.” – Gigi, the Loser

I love giallo movies and I have been a fan of Dario Argento since I first experienced Suspiria pretty early in life. For some bizarre reason, I have never seen The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It is part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which are three films released consecutively but are unrelated, other than being directed by Argento, having an animal name in their titles and having similar themes from a narrative and stylistic standpoint.

To be brutally honest, while I enjoy the film, overall, this was the slowest old school Argento movie that I have seen. There were aspects of the film that were interesting but it was a boring experience overall.

This has the same visual flair that Argento gave us in The Bird with Crystal Plumage but it seemed to be shot more straightforward and lacked the cinematography and lighting flourishes he employed so well in his previous movie. Where most Argento movies, especially the ones of the ’70s and ’80s, felt so majestic, this one feels very pedestrian for a giallo. Luckily, Argento would embrace his patented stylistic flourishes and give us some vivid nightmares after this picture.

The story is about a middle-aged blind man who helps a newspaper reporter try to solve a series of murders. The murders are connected to a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. The two men then become targets of the killer and must try to outwit the murderer while trying to find out the truth behind it all.

The narrative really is a solid murder mystery that almost has film-noir elements to it. There are those patented noir twists, turns and curveballs that keep you guessing. In some regard, it is an example of a relation between some giallo films and the American and British noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve often called giallo a bridge between noir and slasher flicks and this is an example of how I came to that theory.

This isn’t one of Argento’s best and he even said that it was his least favorite film that he directed. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile, especially to fans of his work that want to see how he evolved from his earliest films to his more famous movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other two films in Argento’s Animal TrilogyThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet.

Film Review: The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)

The Dollars Trilogy, also known as The Man With No Name Trilogy, is one of the best film series there has ever been, capped off by the greatest film ever made.

These films also featured the best soundtracks ever created by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

But let me talk about all three of Sergio Leone’s masterpieces on their own.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964):

Also known as: Per un pugno di dollari (Italy), lit. For a Fistful of Dollars
Release Date: September, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Víctor Andrés Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari, Tonino Valerii (all uncredited), Mark Lowell, Clint Eastwood (English version)
Based on: Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Dan Savio)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Josef Edger, Wolfgang Lukschy, Gian Maria Volontè (as John Wells)

Jolly Film, Constantin Film, Ocean Films, Unidis, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“To kill a man you shoot him in the heart. Isn’t that what you said, Ramon?” – Joe (The Man With No Name)

The first film in the series is the smallest in scope. The story is very straightforward and compared to its sequels, it is pretty basic. It is still a fantastic film on its own and is one of the best westerns ever made. Had Sergio Leone just made this film and not the other two, it may have had the same level of love and admiration that accompanies The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

It introduces us to the character referred to as “The Man With No Name”. In the film, he is casually referred to as “Joe” but it isn’t the true name of this stranger who wanders into town and changes things for the better before leaving.

This film is a template for the ones after it and that isn’t a knock, as it was executed greatly and fits well within the series that this trilogy became. You can tell that Sergio Leone is getting his feet wet with the western genre and for a first effort, this is a magnificent work of art.

It is also a lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It turns the samurai wandering into a Japanese village and switches it to a gunslinger wandering into an Old West town.

Clint Eastwood truly owns the character and the villainous Ramón (played by Gian Maria Volontè) is a perfect foil for the hero.

The movie ends with one of the greatest and imaginative gun duels in film history. In fact, it would go on to be seen in Back to the Future, Part II and would inspire Marty McFly when he had to face his evil foil in a gun battle in Back to the Future, Part III.

Plus, the opening sequence of this film is absolute perfection and maybe my second favorite sequence in any spaghetti western, only surpassed by the finale of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But those two scenes were incredible bookends to this film series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

For A Few Dollars More (1965):

Also known as: Per qualche dollaro in più (Italy)
Release Date: December 30th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Enzo Dell’Aquila (uncredited), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Alive or dead? It’s your choice.” – Monco (The Man With No Name)

The first sequel expands on the world of the first film. It feels bigger, the plot has more meat to it and our hero gets to team up with a bounty hunter named Col. Douglas Mortimer (played by the always spectacular Lee Van Cleef). The villain, El Indio is played by the previous installment’s villain actor, Gian Maria Volontè.

The two heroes work together and sometimes against one another in trying to take down El Indio and his gang. There are a lot of twists to the story and there is a lot more depth and layers than the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Leone really found his stride in this film but it still wasn’t absolute perfection – that was yet to come.

This installment is also a bit more humorous than the previous film, in that the relationship between “The Man With No Name” (referred to as “Monco”) and Col. Douglas Mortimer is pretty chummy and entertaining. But this was Eastwood and Van Cleef in their prime, if you ask me. Both are magnetic, charismatic and each brings so much gravitas to any role that the cup was overflowing with masculine intensity.

As the story unfolds and the relationships build, you are left with a pretty lovable tale. Albeit a pretty badass lovable tale.

And as incredible as Ennio Morricone is as a composer, each chapter in this trilogy sees him evolve into something even greater.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966):

Also known as: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Italy)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 177 Minutes

Review:

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – Blondie (The Man With No Name)

In my opinion, this is the greatest film ever made. It is perfect and truly has no flaws. Sure, westerns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but some people eat laundry detergent because the Internet tells them to.

Clint Eastwood (The Good) is back, as is Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) who plays the evil Angel Eyes. Eli Wallach (The Ugly) joins them and becomes one of the best characters in cinematic history.

This is a three hour epic and not a single moment of film is wasted. Each segment serves the story well and fleshes out these dynamic characters. Everyone is given a chance to play off of each other and each exchange between characters drives the story forward and strengthens the relationship between all three men.

Even though Clint Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name” is the hero of this series, it is Eli Wallach’s Tuco Ramirez that is the actual star of this picture. He goes from annoying but funny bandit to a lovable and tragic character that you find yourself cheering for by the time this thing is over.

This film is a perfect example of how to develop characters well but with a minimalist approach. Their backstory doesn’t need to be spelled out in every detail. You can hint at their past, drop clues and come to conclusions based off of the emotion the actor wears on their face at certain points. Eli Wallach really gave an Oscar caliber performance here but these sort of films are ignored by elitist Academy snobbery.

The cinematography, the geography, the interiors – all are perfect. This film takes place in a massive and dirty world and it really feels like the American West, even though it was filmed in Europe in 1960s spaghetti western fashion.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly plays like an old opera in its level of scope, story and violence. While the violence isn’t over the top, it serves a real narrative purpose and has a gritty authenticity about it that no other director has been able to capture since.

There isn’t a single thing about this movie that I would tweak, edit out or even try to expand on. I keep saying “perfect” and “flawless” because those are the only words I can even use to describe this untouchable film.

This is Sergio Leone’s magnum opus and the man was one of the greatest directors to ever live.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

Film Review: They Call Him Holy Ghost (1972)

Also known as: Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo (original Italian title), …Y le llamaban El Halcón (Spain), El halcón de Sierra Madre, Blazing Guns, Forewarned… Half-Killed… the Word of the Holy Ghost, His Name Was Holy Ghost
Release Date: March 30th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by: Tito Capri, Federico De Urrutia
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Gianni Garko, Pilar Velazquez

Astro C.C., Lea Film, 94 Minutes

Review:

They Call Him Holy Ghost is a film that sounded much cooler from its synopsis than what the final product actually was. IMDb describes the film as “Gianni Garko returns as the Holy Ghost, a supernatural gunfighter dressed in white and with a dove sitting on his shoulder.” Man, that sounds friggin’ badass.

Gianni Garko is a legendary spaghetti cowboy, a supernatural gunfighter sounds intriguing and a sidekick played by a white dove… well, why the hell not? Plus, one of the pictures I saw online had Garko’s Holy Ghost blasting off one of those giant machine guns that were synonymous with Django and other roles Franco Nero played.

Then the film started and the opening sequence was just purely f’n awesome! Evil men, people treated like garbage to the evil men’s amusement, then the just and righteous Holy Ghost shows up with his dove and a machine gun, drops some quirky dialogue and turns the bad guys into Swiss f’n cheese! Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, though.

For 94 minutes, the film is slower than it should be. I had hoped that this would be as energetic and nuts as the original 1966 Django but it was pretty talkie and actually quite goofy. Sure, it had some action but this picture evolved into more of a comedy as it progressed. In fact, the longer the film ran, the sillier it got to where the big finale was sort of like a spaghetti western reinterpreted by slapstick performers. This would have been a cool film to have seen in a realistic and gritty spaghetti style.

This movie was mostly enjoyable even if it went off the rails after it’s great opening. Gianni Garko is always fun to watch and he committed to this role very well but the schizophrenic tone pulled me out of the movie and turned potential into disappointment.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Any spaghetti western starring Gianni Garko.