Category Archives: Italian Films

Beyond the Door (1974)

beyond-the-door

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Carrying the devil’s child.

Jessica (Juliet Mills) is already the mother of two children and now finds out that she’s carrying a third. This one though seems different. He’s growing at a faster rate and she suffers from ‘spells’ where she blacks-out, levitates and speaks in different voices that are not her own. Is she possessed? Her husband (Gabriele Lavia) and Dr. (Nino Segurini) begin to believe that she is.

Obviously this is a rip-off of The Exorcist to the point that Warner Brothers took legal action to try to block its release. To some extent I could care less what it rips-off as long as it somehow improves on the original or at least gives us the same type of scares, but this thing fails on all levels. Instead of playing up the special effects it gives us a mechanical replay of the ones we already saw in William Friedkin’s masterpiece, but at a cheaper and cheesier level.

The dumb story doesn’t make sense. The grainy, faded film stock looks like it was shot on a threadbare budget and the voices of the actors were dubbed in during post-production, which gives it an amateurish quality. There are also too many shots showing the characters walking down the streets of San Francisco.  This was mainly due to the fact that the indoor scenes where shot in Rome while the outdoors ones were captured in Frisco, so the producers wanted to get the most ‘bang-for-their-buck’ by implementing as much as they could to their time in The City by the Bay, but it’s not visually interesting.

The music is over-the-top and having Lucifer speak directly to the audience as he does at the beginning borders on high camp. The only reason to catch this is to see Juliet Mills playing against type. She is best known for starring in the ‘70s TV-series ‘Nanny and the Professor’ and has always had a clean-cut image, so seeing here spit out pea soup, use vulgarities and wear make-up that makes her look increasingly more monstrous is fun. She plays the part surprisingly well and gives it her all, which is far more than this cheap production deserved.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Studio: Film Ventures International

Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

Available: DVD

Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rats rule the world!

Years after a nuclear holocaust has turned the earth’s surface into a scorched wasteland, a group of bikers known as scavengers descend into an abandoned building for shelter. Little do they know that the place is infested with large rats that, in their desperate need for food, have become particularly keen to human flesh and attack the group and devour each member one-by-one.

The film was written and directed by Bruno Mattei who was known as the Italian version of Ed Wood. The low-grade production values and uninspired dialogue quickly become apparent, which sucks the viewer into a listless and joyous experience from the get-go. The biggest issue are the rats and although I was happy to see that real ones where used this to a degree is what kills the tension because they are never seen attacking anyone. All they do is go about their normal rat behavior, which is scavenging for food while the rest of the cast, wearing tacky outfits like they are leftover members of an ‘80s punk band, make total fools of themselves trying to act frightened.

In some ways though this is the one thing that I liked, which was watching these rats scurrying around as it looks like hundreds of them were thrown onto the set forcing them to climb over each other and even climb up things, which to a strange degree is fascinating to watch. The movie would’ve been far better had it dumped its whole cheesy premise, as well as the human characters, and just turned itself into a nature documentary focusing on how rats behave and forage for food. Some are actually kind of cute and I was upset to see that a few were set on fire as no animal of any kind should’ve lost their life for this stupid thing.

In the end though the plot goes nowhere and the majority of the action takes place in what looks to be a dingy, grimy basement of a warehouse, which visually makes things quite static. The acting is atrocious and the twist that comes at the very end is quite predictable and something most viewers will see coming long before it finally does.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruno Mattei

Studio: Artist Entertainment Group

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Il Piccolo Diavolo (1988)

il piccolo 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest befriends a demon.

Father Maurice (Walter Matthau) is a tired and aging priest who is beginning to question both his faith and existence. One day he is called to exorcise a demon from an older woman and when he does so out pops a funny looking man named Giuditta (Roberto Benigni) who claims to be the demon. At first Father Maurice does not believe him, but after seeing that Giuditta’s reflection does not appear in a mirror he begins to realize that he is dealing with some spirit from another realm. His attempts at trying to get rid of him are futile and eventually he learns to enjoy the companionship that Giuditta offers and even considers him to be a strange blessing in disguise.

There have been many parodies done of The Exorcist, but this one manages to be one of the better ones because it doesn’t stick with the formula. Instead it takes the possession angle and gives it a whole new spin while avoiding the clichés and becoming more like a whimsical character study instead of a horror rip-off.

Benigni, who also directed, is in top form and his naïve, child-like character is quite engaging and helps make him a solid scene stealer throughout. He even manages to do the impossible and upstage the always reliable Matthau, although for the record Matthau is still good and it’s fun seeing these pros with extremely contrasting acting styles work together with a chemistry that is surprisingly strong.

The film features many funny and original moments. One of my favorites is when Giuditta goes into a long, detailed conversation about being ‘inside’ the old woman for days on-end much to the shock of the staid priests at the dinner table who think he is referring to sex. Giuditta’s reliving himself late at night in a park in which his pee shoots out like water from a garden hose is hilarious as well as his over-infatuation with a the alarm on a man’s wristwatch while riding on a train.

Why this charming little gem of a movie has never been released in America despite its big name stars is hard to understand. The film’s only real drawback is that it inserts a romantic angle during the second-half in which Giuditta falls in-love with Nina, which is played by Nicoletta Braschi who later married Benigni in real-life. Although Braschi is amusing and shares Benigni’s child-like, offbeat persona, the camaraderie between Matthau and Benigni is what makes the film work and that is where the focus should’ve stayed.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roberto Benigni

Studio Yarno Cinematografica

Available: VHS (English Subtitles), DVD (Italian Language only) (Region 0)

The Visitor (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her daughter is evil.

Dark forces from another dimension conspire to use an 8-year-old girl named Katy (Paige Conner) as their centerpiece in creating an evil empire on earth. Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer), while working under the cover of being a noted surgeon, heads the secret organization. He instructs local millionaire Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen) who made a pact with the group years earlier in order to receive his fortune, that he must impregnate his girlfriend Barbara (Joanne Nail) again, so that she can give birth to an evil son to complement their already wicked daughter Katy and allow the two to eventually reproduce a new offspring. Barbara though, who does not know of Raymond’s secret pact and feels leery of her child already, is unwilling to have another one, which forces him to use unethical ways to get her to change her mind.

This Italian production, which was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, has gotten a bad rap from the critics and there have been several different cuts issued with some making more sense than others. For the most part it’s a mixed bag with lots of story loopholes and an ill-advised music score that seems better suited for an NFL highlight reel. The movie also defies any genre and jumps between several, but ultimate fails at all of them.

However, if taken as a cheesy over-the-top production then it’s not half-bad. The camera work, editing, special effects and sets are to a degree impressive. The scene where Glenn Ford’s character is driving down a busy highway only to have his eyes pecked out by an evil hawk, which creates a major road accident that culminates with the car tumbling onto a softball field is quite exciting. Katy’s cat-and-mouse foot chase with the John Huston character through the Atlanta streets and some abandoned buildings is also well done as is her ice skating foray in which she single-handedly takes out a group of much older and bigger boys by sending them flying through the windows of some nearby shops and restaurants.

Conner’s bad girl performance with her angelic face making a perfect contrast to her otherwise dark personality is great. Nail as her mother is equally beautiful and creates enough sympathy from the viewer to make the torment that she goes through unsettling to watch. Shelley Winters, in a rare turn playing a normal, likable character, is also excellent as the family’s housekeeper

The male cast though is wasted including Franco Nero who appears briefly only at the beginning and very end. John Huston and Glenn Ford were too old for their respective parts and casting younger actors in their roles would’ve made more sense, but seeing director Sam Peckinpah in a brief acting bit is fun.

The ending can’t quite equal the audaciousness of the rest of it, but there is enough weird, wacky, one-of-a-kind shit here to keep anyone especially those with an affinity for the bizarre entertained and amused.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 22, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Giulio Paradisi

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

don't torture a duckling 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the children?

The setting in this Italian giallo is a small, rural village where the children of the townspeople are being murdered. At first the police suspect and arrest a mentally handicapped man (Vito Passeri), but the killings continue. Soon even more suspects turn up including Maciara (Florinda Bolkan) the mother of a dead child herself who secretly practices voodoo using dolls made by her father and yet every time the authorities believe they’ve found the culprit more clues arise that leads them to someone else creating panic in a town already steeped in fear, suspicion and the superstitious.

As a story detailing a police investigation it’s not too bad. The plot works in a linear fashion that’s easy to follow without entering in too many subplots or red herrings although it’s still no better than your average episode of ‘Murder She Wrote’. I did enjoy the rural Italian landscape and the bird’s eye shot of the village whose decrepit, rundown buildings visually hit home the stifled, bleak nature of the residents and why they would turn so heavily to the spiritual world as their sole escape.

Balkan’s performance as the nutty lady is effective particularly when she has a seizure during her interrogation and the scene where she gets surrounded by men who belt her with chains is quite graphic and realistic.

The film though, like with a lot of Italian productions from that era, does have dubbing issues particularly director Lucio Fulci’s use of adding in all the sound effects giving it a certain over-the-top cartoon quality. For instance when a victim is being slapped by a man’s hand it sounds more like the lashing of a whip and even simple stuff like the shoveling of dirt comes off wrong because the sound effect is not in sync with the action on the screen.

The film also has a uncomfortable moment where an adult character (Barbara Bouchet), who is one of the protagonists, walks around naked in front of a 12-year-old boy and even asks him how many women ‘he’s done it with’.

Spoiler Alert!

Guessing who the real killer is was easy and I had the whole thing figured out after about 30 minutes making the rest of the mystery predictable and boring. The idea of a priest killing children might’ve been considered shocking at the time, but now as with Fulci’s criticism of the Catholic Church it comes off as heavy-handed and redundant.

The close-up, slow motion shot of the priest falling down a cliff at the end is the film’s most controversial moment as it is clearly a dummy whose blank eyes and unnaturally agape mouth looks incredibly fake. Some have argued that this was Fulci’s attempt at revealing the ‘inner ugliness’ of the character by showing something with such a distorted face, but since a similar looking mannequin is also used to portray one of the boy victim’s submerged in a tub of water earlier I think it can safely be said that it was more just the cheapness of the production than anything else.

End of Spoiler Alert!

don't torture a duckling 4

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Lucio Fulci

Studio: Medusa Distribuzione

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Wild Beasts (1984)

wild beasts 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Animals attack innocent people.

The water of a major metropolitan area becomes contaminated from all the garbage littered along the beaches. The animals of a local zoo drink it and soon go on a rampage. When the zoo’s security system fails the animals get out and start to attack the local citizens. Animal expert Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle) and zookeeper Rupert (John Aldrich) work together to stop the carnage by tracking the animals down and corralling them back to safety.

The film was directed by Franco Prosperi who along with Gualtiero Jacopetti where noted for their quasi shockumentaries of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that emphasized a lot of violence and nudity and this production works along the same vein. In fact it’s the graphic gore and a camera that lingers on the carnage that helps the film stand out from the rest of the tacky, low budget horror films from the ‘80’s. However, the film also shows a lot of animal cruelty including a mother tiger going into violent convulsions after being put to sleep and rats screaming in pain after being set on fire.

The attacks themselves become quite mechanical and monotonous. The main characters are wooden and seen only in brief intervals, so the viewer never becomes emotionally attached to anyone on screen, which seriously lowers the tension. The film actually only becomes interesting at the end when some children staying at a school drink the water and then become violent towards the adults, which has a nice creepy quality to it and the movie would’ve been better had it chosen this story thread over the other one.

The idea that showing all these discarded heroin needles along the beach and implying that this would be enough to contaminate the city’s water supply is lame and the film’s ‘important’ message about pollution is silly as well. There is also no explanation why none of the adults go crazy like the animals and some of the children do as they would presumably be drinking the same water. The opening sequence shows shots of Seattle where this story supposedly takes place, but the rest of the film was clearly shot in a European city. The production suffers from being convoluted and overblown and lacking any singular vision, which is due in large part to being financed by backers from several different countries.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Franco Prosperi

Studio: Shumba International Corporation

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Watch Out, We’re Mad! (1974)

watch out were mad

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Replacing a red buggy.

Kid (Terence Hill) and Ben (Bud Spencer) are two race car drivers who participate in a race that ends in a tie that forces the two to settle on sharing the prize, which is a red dune buggy. The two though want the vehicle all for themselves and decide to settle on who gets to keep it by having a hot dog eating contest at a local bar. As they busily eat their hot dogs a local mobster known as The Boss (John Sharp) orders his men to destroy the place in an effort to get local businesses to leave, so that they can then use the land to build a giant skyscraper. Ken and Ben don’t mind the chaos, but when the mobsters then destroy the buggy they get mad…really mad! They confront The Boss and his equally nefarious psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) insisting that the buggy MUST be replaced and it MUST be the same red color, or there will be trouble. The mobsters initially scoff, but find that these two men are far more resourceful and determined than they could’ve imagined.

This is the seventh teaming of Hill and Spencer who did their first movie together in the 1967 spaghetti western Blood River. They work well together and it is clear that they share a deep camaraderie. The film is full of all sorts of zany slapstick and I enjoyed most of it particularly the bar scene as well as a bumper car segment at a carnival. The best moment though is when they ram their car through the doors of a ritzy restaurant where the mobsters are dining and proceed to drive the car through every inch of the place while popping hundreds upon hundreds of giant balloons that lay all over.

The biggest issue though it that it doesn’t make any sense why these two would be so cocky and arrogant in the face of otherwise dangerous mobsters. Yes, it’s funny that these two ordinary schmucks seem oblivious to danger and can more than handle themselves, but it would’ve worked better had they been initially intimated and then slowly evolved into being more confident. You also have to question how these men acquired such powerful fighting skills, which made me believe that the characters should’ve been portrayed as police or government agents with some kind of combat training instead of just ordinary car mechanics that would not in any way be able to fight these bad guys off as consistently as they do.

The story is one dimensional and there really isn’t much of a third act with the broad plot simply an excuse to showcase a lot of slapstick. The humor is clearly on a kiddie level, but funnier than you might think even though there are certain routines that go on longer than they should and some that seem to repeat themselves. Still it’s refreshing to watch a film made in an era where slapstick was still considered a legitimate form of entertainment and not simply relegated to kid flicks and cartoons.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Marcello Fondato

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Light Blast (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Erik Estrada saves Frisco.

A crazed scientist (Ennio Girolami) has created a laser gun that can melt people on contact. He uses it to kill a couple and then threatens to do the same to the entire city of San Francisco unless the mayor can come up with $10 million dollars. Rugged, renegade cop Ronn Warren (Erik Estrada) is assigned to track the culprit down and that he does while careening down the city streets in a race car.

The only interesting aspect about this movie is that it stars Estrada the one time big TV star from his heyday on the ‘CHiPs’ TV-series. I never cared much for that show and the only thing that I’ve seen him in where I enjoyed him was in the reality series ‘The Surreal Life’ where I found him to be humble and laid back, which I suppose happens to one when they have a long line of movies like these to their credit. I remember in the late 70’s he was considered an up-and-coming star and was known to have big ego fits on the set, which eventually lead to his co-star Larry Wilcox quitting. Then once the series ended he was trapped doing low grade stuff like this, which makes me wonder; can you really call it a ‘movie career’ if no one has seen the movies that you’ve done?

Overall if you approach this with decidedly low expectations then this film, which was produced by an Italian production company, but still filmed on-location in Frisco, is okay. Watching the laser melt people is entertaining as a sort-of cheap version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action is choreographed well enough to be mildly exciting and the budget isn’t so low that it makes everything look cheap. Estrada’s manning of a race car down the city streets at the end is fun, but highly improbable that he would be able to drive into oncoming traffic and not be hit or be able to find a car that was being stored inside a truck that would conveniently have its keys in the ignition and fully tanked up with gas.

The film’s biggest transgression is that it’s too predictable. It’s like they’ve stolen every other formulaic element from every other cop movie and then crammed it into this one. Estrada is dull and the actor playing the bad guy is equally bland making this at best a passable time waster.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Studio: Overseas FilmGroup

Available: DVD

Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (1973)

deaf smith and johnny ears

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deaf mute saves Texas.

Deaf Smith (Anthony Quinn) and Johnny Ears (Franco Nero) are two special agents hired by President Sam Harris to put down any rebel factions that may try to impede Texas from achieving statehood. While Deaf, who lacks the ability to speak as well as hear, works on bringing down the bad guys by sneaking into one of their hideouts Johnny seems more interested in the women particularly a hooker named Susie (Pamela Tiffin) who he meets at the local cathouse.

These are the type of cheap, low grade, generic productions that end up giving spaghetti westerns a bad name. Had Sergio Leone been put in charge of this it might have been something special, but the director here has a poor eye for detail and lacks Leone’s poetic nuance. The action is poorly choreographed and unexciting and during a shootout inside a darkened cave it even becomes confusing and irritating. The music is loud and blares out melodies that do not reflect the period and the villain is bland and not given enough screen time to be able to create any type of effective menace.

Quinn, who doesn’t speak a single line of dialogue, is fabulous and manages to steal every scene that he is in. Nero on the other hand tends to overact especially with his exaggerated facial expressions. Tiffin, who appears nude from a distance during a segment done near a stream, shows a good campy side especially with the scene where she beats up Nero.

There was an actual Deaf Smith that the character here is loosely based on although the real Smith suffered only a partial loss of hearing and was not a mute. His real-life adventures were much more interesting than the ones portrayed here and the film would’ve done better had it stuck to those.

The movie also suffers from some anachronistic errors including having a scene featuring a Gatling Gun even though the setting for the film is 1836 and the gun itself wasn’t invented until 1862 when it was first used during the Civil War. The prop used to represent the gun looks cheap and flimsy while painted in a garish gold color that doesn’t deserve the Gatling name and only helps to cement this as barely watchable tripe.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Los Amigos

Released: March 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paolo Cavara

Studio: MGM

Available: None at this time.

The Driver’s Seat (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady goes traveling.

Lise (Elizabeth Taylor) is a middle-aged woman with seemingly no past who travels to Rome looking for someone to kill her. Her erratic behavior and weird motivations confuse those that she comes into contact with. She then meets Bill (Ian Bannen) a man who’s more interested in her sexually than anything else and he follows her around in a veiled attempt to get ‘lucky’ despite her repeated rebuffs.

The film is basically a mess that goes nowhere. It was based on a novel by Muriel Spark, who had written some acclaimed stuff in her day including ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, so I can only imagine that the book made more sense and only bits and pieces of it were taken to create this screenplay. In either case it was a highly strange career move for Miss Taylor who made a lot of weird movie choices in the 70’s, which helped to destroy her once megastar status and tainted her other stellar work.

Her performance by itself isn’t too bad and it’s the one thing that helps keep things watchable. The way that she can go from being passive and helpless to snippy and bitchy within seconds is kind of fun and on a purely camp level even enjoyable. The whole thing seems almost like an extension of the character that she played in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , which became her signature role during her later years.

Bannen lends good support as his leering Cheshire cat grin is a perfect counterpart to Taylor’s crazed glare and he effectively equals her nuttiness. I also loved his so-called macrobiotic diet in which he must attain one orgasm a day for it to work and if he misses one then he must make up for it by having two the next day, which ultimately gives him ‘indigestion’. Mona Washbourne a character actress noted for playing delightfully daffy old ladies is also on hand as one of the people Taylor befriends and their encounter inside the stall of a public bathroom is a gem.

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi manages to infuse some interesting visuals, which along with its fragmented narrative helps keep things cheaply alluring, but it eventually plays itself out and by the end becomes quite tiring and tedious. The biggest issue is that there never is any explanation for who this woman is or why she’s doing this, which makes the whole thing quite empty and pointless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video