Monday, July 30, 2012

Quella villa accanto al cimitero (1981)

... aka: Freudstein
... aka: House by the Cemetery, The
... aka: House Outside the Cemetery, The
... aka: Zombie Hell House

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

New York City professor Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) is assigned to take over where deceased colleague Dr. Petersen left off in his research. Dr. Petersen had been living at a secluded country estate near Boston called Oak Mansion and supposedly went crazy, slaughtered his mistress and then hung himself from a railing at a local library. Norman, his neurotic wife Lucy ("Katherine" / Catriona MacColl) and their "cute" (a-hem!) little mop top blonde son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) pack up and head off toward Oak Manor for a 6-month stay. Bob has been seeing visions of a ghostly little girl in a painting, who warns him and his family not to come to the home. The little girl, Mae (Silvia Collatina), materializes again once the family arrives in New Whitby to warn Bob. Naturally, Bob's parents don't believe he's seeing or hearing anything and chalk it all up to him having an imaginary friend. Real estate agent Laura Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander) takes the family out to their new home; a large Victorian place with a crumbling old cemetery right in the front yard and lots of even stranger things inside. You know, like a tomb in the hallway hidden under a rug.

The Boyle family start settling in and immediately bizarre and unexplanable things begin happening. Moaning and crying can be heard throughout the home, the floorboards creak, the doors rattle, little Bob keeps having encounters with the ghost girl, the ominous cellar is strangely boarded up and a suspicious-acting live-in babysitter named Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up claiming to have been sent over by Laura to help Lucy out. Norman finally finds a key to the cellar and goes down to take a look, only to get attacked by a rabid bat which attaches itself to his hand and has to be hacked off with a knife. It's all enough to have Lucy demand that they leave and find a new place. Before that can happen, the real estate agent stops by and gets gored to death with a fire poker and dragged down into the cellar. Ann, who cleans up the bloody floors after the crime (uh, why?) is up next. When she goes down into the cellar she gets decapitated. And then it's the family's turn.

The killer turns out to be the home's former owner; turn-of-the-century surgeon Dr. Jacob Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava), who had a penchant for "illegal experiments" back in the day. He's somehow managed to stay alive all this time killing and cannibalizing people. We're informed he needs to renew his blood cells every so often. Freudstein may technically be alive, but he sure doesn't look it. He's actually more zombie-like than anything else and has a brown, distorted, melted-looking face. When he's stabbed, he bleeds maggots and worms. While the film does explain (rather sloppily) what Freudstein is and how's been able to keep on ticking, it does not bother explaining how he seems to be in possession of supernatural powers, such as being able to close and lock the cellar door without being anywhere near it. The ghost girl haunting the place isn't doing it either since her whole point in the film is trying to save the family.

I also didn't get why the cellar was always dry when the family went downstairs but at the very end it suddenly looked like a slaughterhouse with blood spatter, body parts and corpses all over the place. There are many other things that just don't make a lick of sense. When Norman finds an audio tape recorded by his colleague that explains what happened to him, he throws it into a fireplace immediately after listening to it (?) A pair of yellow eyes peering down in the cellar clearly don't belong to the killer since he doesn't have any eyes, so who did they belong to? What the hell is up with Ann, why does she clean up blood from one of the murders (she's not in cohorts with the killer) and why does Lucy see her cleaning up the blood and not do or say nothing about it? And those are just the tip of the iceburg as far as senseless character actions and sloppy, glaring plot holes go.

Though far from a great film, this still beats the hell out of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). It's overdone as only Fulci can overdo it. I mean, why slit someone's throat once when you can do it three times? And why shoot one close-up of a pair of eyeballs when you can do it 50 times? There's also an impalement (make that three impalements), several decapitations, a knife through the head, a ripped out throat and other gruesome FX stuff to keep it humming along nicely for spaghetti splatter fans, though one must have a tolerance for some slopping editing, nonsensical plotting and bad dubbing. Especially grating is the dub on the little boy... yikes! It's actually less gory than many of Fulci's other 80s films. Sergio Salvati does a decent enough job shooting it and I loved the music score by Walter Rizzati. It ends with a quote attributed to Henry James, but was actually written by the director.

The cast also includes Daniela Doria (who provides the sole grimpse of nudity before getting a knife driven through her head in the opening sequence), Carlo De Mejo and Fulci himself as Norman's boss. It was filmed in Massachusetts under the title Freudstein.


Twisted Nightmare (1988)

... aka: Ancient Evil
... aka: Au-delà du cauchemar (Beyond the Nightmare)
... aka: Danza di morte (Dance of Death)
... aka: Nightmare
... aka: Sueños tortuosos (Devious Dreams)

Directed by:
Paul Hunt
Charles Philip Moore

I guess this qualifies as a FRIDAY THE 13TH copy. You might even recognize the barn and main cabin because it was filmed at the same exact location used for the third installment in the Friday series. Judging by the credits, it appears to have been a somewhat troubled production. Paul Hunt received primary credit for directing, writing and shooting it but at some point additional scenes directed and written by Charles Philip Moore and shot by Gary Graver were added to the mix. Though it carries an erroneous 1982 copyright date (the same as FRIDAY III) in the opening credits, production was announced in a spring 1987 issue of Variety, it opened in theaters in 1988 and made its VHS debut (courtesy of TransWorld Entertainment) in 1989. A slasher flick and revenge tale with supernatural elements added to the mix, this involves seven young couples who receive an offer in the mail for a free one-week camping trip to the isolated "Camp Paradise." Two years earlier the same group of people (who all went to high school together) made fun of a retarded guy named Mathew (Cleve Hall). To escape their torment, Mathew ran into a barn, a light glowed red, he suddenly burst into flames and then ran off into the woods never to be seen or heard from again. The event drove Mathew's sister Laura (Rhonda Gray) - who witnessed part of this - a little crazy, so she had to spend some time in a mental hospital.

Upon arrival, "creepy" Indian caretaker Kane (Robert Padilla) closes and locks a gate behind them as they arrive and keeps showing up to try to get them to leave. At a party later that evening, one of the couples goes into the barn to make out and find a box full of kittens. Kane interrupts them and scares them off, but the girl returns to steal one of the mew-mews and gets hung from the rafters. When her boyfriend pops in he encounters a growling psycho (seen in shadow only) who rips his arm off. The next day, most of the couples venture out into the woods to go hiking or hunting. One girl left behind finds the bodies in the barn, tries to call a gas station for help (a gas station... really?) and the mechanic just hangs up on her (?) She ends up getting pulled through her car. When everyone else returns, it's their turn. Laura happens to be there as well with her new boyfriend and seems involved in the killings. She keeps lighting black candles and slices herself with a razor while taking a bath.

Kane finally explains what we pretty much already knew. The barn was built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground where Indians slaughtered by white man lie. The land was then cursed by a medicine man and Mathew somehow got himself possessed. He now has super-strength (enough to rip a head off with his bare hands at least) and supernatural powers that he strangely uses only one time to turn a regular fence into an electrified fence to kill one of the guys. There's also death by machete, a face slammed onto sauna rocks, a throat ripped out and several impalements. A couple having sex are speared together and one girl is picked up and slammed onto a pair of deer antlers. Most of the acting is terrible and the characters are all pretty much blanks with next to no personality.

Though there's a relatively high body count for one of these things, the death scenes themselves lack imagination and are so poorly staged and edited they're unable to muster up even the slightest hint of suspense or horror. There aren't even any jump scares. Though there's some visible blood, most of the kills take place in the dark and are difficult to see. Three of the actresses on hand are gracious enough to take off their clothes, but it's not enough to elevate this out of the "bad" category. And neither is the line "Eat me, white man." And neither are a dozen foggy, backlit shots of the killer standing off in the background.

The cast is comprised mostly of unknowns. The best-looking girl (and one of the first to get killed) is Devon Jenkin, who also had a small role as the first victim in SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III but is probably best known as the skateboarder in Tom Petty's "Free Falling" video. Leading man Brad Bartram would become a Skinemax regular about 15 years after this was made. The original shooting title was Ancient Evil. It's not been officially released to DVD. Some of the same people who worked on this also made DEMON WIND (1990).

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