Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Noche de las gaviotas, La (1975)

... aka: Blind Dead 4, The
... aka: Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead, The
... aka: Don't Go Out at Night
... aka: Night of the Death Cult
... aka: Night of the Evil Dead
... aka: Night of the Seagulls, The
... aka: Terror Beach

Directed by:
Amando de Ossorio

De Ossorio's Blind Dead series concluded with this fourth and final chapter, which follows TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971), RETURN OF EVIL DEAD (1972) and THE GHOST GALLEON (1973). In the opening period-set sequence, a lost couple traveling alone at night are ambushed by the evil (and still human) Templar knights, who arrive on horseback looking for a sacrifice. The villagers refuse to open their doors to help the couple as the man is killed. The woman is dragged back to the Templar's lair where they rip off her top, cut out her heart, offer it up to some Sea God (I'm sure he's thankful), partially cannibalize her corpse and then let crabs take care of the scraps. The film then jumps ahead to today in the same exact village where history's about to repeat itself. A couple; Dr. Henry Stein (Victor Petit) and his wife Joan (María Kosty), arrive in the same tiny, crumbling village and find themselves also being given a cold shoulder by all the superstitious and unfriendly villagers. Perhaps there's a good reason they don't want them there?

When Henry and Joan make it to the pile of rubble that is to be their new home, they meet up with the elderly doctor Henry is supposed to replace. He warns them to leave immediately and says if they insist on staying there to never ask the villagers questions and never to go outside at night. So what do the couple do? Stay there, immediately go out at night and then start asking the villagers questions. Joan meets a pitiable retarded man named Teddy (José Antonio Calvo) whom the villagers like to beat on and lets him stay in the attic of their home because he has no place else to go. Later that night, Joan is awaken by singing, the sound of bells and the cries of seagulls (which isn't supposed to happen after dark), so she and her hubby go down to the beach and see a procession of hooded people leading a nightgown-clad woman along the beach. Chalking it up to old customs, they return to their home and just miss out on a human sacrifice. Maybe that would have finally been enough to scare these suckers away.

As it turns out, the evil undead knights - now skeletal zombies - like to crawl out of their tombs in their ocean-front castle home, saddle up their ghost horses and then head out onto the beach to find an unlucky maiden chained to a rock who's been offered up to them willingly by the villagers. The young women are eventually scooped up by the zombies and go through the same routine as the woman in the opening sequence (crabs included). Every seven years, seven girls must be sacrificed for seven consecutive days to pacify these corpses or else there will be hell to pay. Henry and Joan feel compelled to get involved when a young woman named Tilda ("Julie James" aka Julia Saly) shows up at their home all hysterical and then is never heard from again after the villagers come get her.

Another girl in peril is teenager Lucy (Sandra Mozarowsky), a sad orphan who comes to work for Henry and Joan but is too afraid to tell them anything, at least at first. And it's no wonder. When Teddy simply shows the doctor where Tilda lives, some village men chase after him with sticks, pelt him with rocks and then push him off a cliff! The villagers eventually come for Lucy and cart her off but Henry goes down to the beach that night and rescues her, breaking the chain of seven needed to keep the "horsemen of the sea" happy. As legend has it, if the knights aren't given all of their sacrifices they'll ride into town and slaughter everyone there. The locals are smart enough to load up their donkeys and head out, but our heroes aren't so fortunate. Because their car is stolen and Teddy cannot be moved from his injuries, Henry, Joan and Lucy all must face the wrath of the Blind Dead all by themselves. They board themselves up in their house NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-style and hope for the best.

I'll admit to blasting this series over the years, but I honestly felt justified. I found Tombs to be uneven and overrated by many fans, Return to be enjoyably cheesy at best and Galleon to be flat out terrible. As a result of those, I put off watching this final entry for a very long time. Hell, I've owned the DVD for seven years and just now got around to watching it. So I'm very pleased to report that I actually really enjoyed this one. It's easily the best entry of the series for me. One problem De Ossorio never had was great villains at his disposal. In the other three films, the designs on these creaky, slow-moving skeleton knights were clearly the best thing about an otherwise mediocre film. Here, they are a great assets to an otherwise solidly-made one. The director is smart enough to keep them in the shadows until towards the end and has made some alterations to the mythology to make them seem more mysterious and creepy. Of course, all of this would be for naught if this film had the same weak writing, bad acting and terrible dialogue that plagued the other three movies. Thankfully, it does not.

After getting over my initial annoyance of the couple sticking around when they really shouldn't (and to be fair - the wife really doesn't want to be there), I found myself eventually getting swept into this intoxicatingly atmospheric tale. The music (which is often reminiscent of the Oscar-winning OMEN score), shooting locations and even the hazy, day-for-night photography are all great. The storyline is solid, surprisingly good performances (and English dubbing) usually keep this from lapsing into unintentional comedy and the atmosphere; crumbling stone buildings, ocean waters glimmering in the moonlight, rocky cliffs and mossy step hillsides dotted with pebbles, is superbly creepy. The director fumbles a few of the action sequences toward the end, but for the most part does a fine job with the pacing and horror scenes.

The characters are much more likable (and far less annoying) than in the previous entries. Of the cast, three of the actresses probably provide the most interest. Pretty, wide-eyed blonde Kosty (who'd already appeared in DEMON WITCH CHILD and [the lousy] NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS for the same director) always seems to be overlooked in these things despite being a fine actress. She really seems to be into all of her scenes here and there's a great moment where she has to go from being terrified to empathetic in a split second that she absolutely nails. Mozarowsky was another lovely young actress who made a handful of genre appearances (her largest role was perhaps in the dull SCHOOL OF DEATH) before tragically taking her own life in 1977 (she was only 18 years old). Saly went on to act alongside Paul Naschy in many features (including playing Countess Bathory in NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) and even produced some of these films. Petit is sufficient in the lead, the actor playing Teddy is great and the older actors cast as the villagers look their parts.

Originally released in cut form to U.S. theatres as Night of the Death Cult, this later made its way to video under both that title and as Terror Beach. In Germany, the title was The Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead. The uncut DVD is from Blue Underground.


Nella terra dei cannibali (2003)

... aka: Cannibal Ferox 3
... aka: Cannibal Ferox 3: Land of Death
... aka: Cannibal Holocaust 3: Cannibal vs. Commando
... aka: Cannibal of Death
... aka: Horror Cannibal 1
... aka: Land of Death

Directed by:
"Martin Miller" (Bruno Mattei)

What can one really say about Bruno Mattei? He churned out dozens of schlock horror and exploitation titles from the 70s well into the new millennium, showing very little actual talent along the way. Most of Mattei's films have this cheap, seedy quality to them that some (well, a few) seem to like but most find dreary and insufferably boring. One has to give the guy a little credit though for hanging in there and trying to adapt to the changing times. While many of his contemporaries threw in the towel when home video began to evolve in the late 80s and the Italian film industry subsequently started to dry up, Mattei kept trucking along undaunted, right up until his death in 2007. Utilizing digital video when it became widely available, Mattei traveled to the Philippines and began churning out low budget d-t-v genre flicks for the La Perla Nera production company. Though English-dubbed, these films don't appear to be well-distributed here in America, but they have made the rounds in other countries, perhaps doing their best business in Japan. I'd assume these things made money somewhere or else there wouldn't be so many of them.

Land of Death was released in some countries as Cannibal Holocaust 3: Cannibal vs. Commando. Mattei's previous cannibal flick for the same company was CANNIBAL WORLD, which was released in some quarters as Cannibal Holocaust: The Beginning, which one could assume is the part 2. Neither of Mattei's films are true or official sequels, but both lift liberally from the original Holocaust. And by lift liberally, I mean plagiarize. Both movies not only rip off their plots but also frequently even rip off entire scenes, shot-for-shot, from Ruggero Deodato's famous shocker. Mattei doesn't quite stop there though. He also swipes from many other films in this subgenre as well as many films outside the subgenre, including ALIENS (1986) and PREDATOR (1987). To further complicate matters, Land of Death was also released some places as Cannibal ferox 3. That's right, Cannibal ferox 3. So now it can actually be seen as a belated follow-up to two entirely different cannibal films!

If you've seen one of these things before, this plot is certainly nothing new. An expedition into the jungles of Brazil doesn't return, so a group of military men (and one woman) show up in the area looking for them. Troops are led by Lt. Lou Wilson (Lou Randall), a muscular, buzz-cut meat head who comes off like a slightly better-looking version of Vin Diesel (and like Diesel, he cannot act his way out of a wet paper sack). There's also Vasquez (Ydalia Suarez), a tough Hispanic chick cloned from the character of the same name from Aliens, Sgt. Cameron (Silvio Jimenez), who's, uh, black, and a couple of other white guys; Kruger (Santi Larrauri) and Smith (Kenny Krall), who have no character and are basically around to die. The five get in touch with unshaven, corn-cob-pipe-smoking white local Romero (Claudio Morales), who's hired to guide them through a jungle "so God damn hot you'll be drinking your own piss." Also going along are local tracker Isaias (Brando Jr.), who knows the customs and languages of some of the tribes, and a captive cannibal man (Brad Santana), who's walked around on a leash.

The seven set forth on their quest to find out what became of the missing expedition and try to avoid a particularly savage tribe called the Epishaw, or "People of the Lake," while they're doing it. The scenes that follow are almost all copied directly from Holocaust. The adulteress punishment scene, the smoking out of a tree scene, a switchblade used to pacify the natives scene, the burning of the village scene, the dinner with natives (fermented monkey brain stew... mmm!), etc. etc. etc. None of the re-filmed bits are as effective as what you can see in the original film. Finally steering us away from all that is a "blonde goddess" subplot. This involves the sole survivor of the previous expedition, a large-breasted woman (Cindy Matic), whose life is spared simply because, well, she's blonde. The natives keep her drugged and all the tribes in the area have elevated her to a "Love Goddess." The army finally gets their hands on her and try to make it back in time to catch their helicopter, while the tribes comes at them with blowguns and curare-dipped arrows, spears and knives.

Dialogue, dubbing and acting are all beyond awful, the whole thing looks cheap and I doubt there's a single scene in here that wasn't stolen from some place else, but this does have a little merit and it's slightly better than Cannibal World at least. It's fast-paced, some of the Philippines locations are nice, there's a lot of blood and gore (gut munching, brains blown out, dismemberment...), a bit of nudity and tons of gunfights and brainless action. Mattei was also able to get away with killing two animals onscreen; a pig and a snake. Not that I condone that. I actually hate it. But it is interesting the filmmakers were able to get away with this in 2003 with certain laws in place.

DVDs were released in Japan, France, Italy and Russia. An all regions English version is available through the company Jef Films.

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