Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Zombie '90: Extreme Pestilence (1991) [copyright 1990]

... aka: Zombie 09
... aka: Zombie '09
... aka: Zombie 90
... aka: Zombie '90: "Extreme Pestilence"
... aka: Zombie '90: Extreme Pestilence VS. Zombie '09

Directed by:
Andreas Schnaas

A military plane carrying a top secret chemical crashes and unleashes a toxin (the "extreme pestilence" of the title) into the woods. Soon after, people are infected and zombies are running amok killing and eating anybody in their path. A doctor and his colleague set out to uncover what's going on and put a stop to it. Though I wish I could provide a more in-depth plot synopsis, that is the whole plot. There's no real story, no dialogue worth listening to, no character development, no narrative push leading anywhere, nada. This film was made for one reason and one reason only: to showcase as much amateur splatter as possible. It - along with the same director's first feature Violent Shit (1987) - developed a minor reputation among extreme gore fans in the early days of home video. Nowadays, well, they just don't hold up all that well, especially considering we've had tons of professionally made movies since with ample and much more convincing-looking gore. The novelty value of something like this is now pretty much gone. Not that it was ever any good...

Instead of playing out like an actual film, this is more a series of blood-drenched vignettes of zombies killing people and people killing zombies repeated ad nauseum. A zombie comes barreling out of the woods carrying a chainsaw and cuts a guy in two before he rips out his guts. A fat woman is attacked in a sauna and has her tit cut off and eaten. When her friend goes to check up on her, she has her back sliced open and all her organs cut out. A woman in a wheelchair holding a baby gets decapitated and then a zombie grabs her newborn, tears off its head and then rips it in two. Zombies are chopped to pieces with machetes and axes and chainsaws. Heads are knocked or shot clean off, stabbed and hacked in half both ways. Fingers are bitten and chopped off. Eyeballs are poked out with fingers. Lots of guts are pulled out of stomachs. And during nearly every single scene an almost comical amount of exaggerated blood (which is usually runny and looks suspiciously like tomato soup) sprays out all over the place. The zombie makeups aren't good at all and the other effects, bloody as they may be, usually look cheap and unconvincing.

Among the many films "referenced" throughout are Romero's entire "Dead" Trilogy, The Evil Dead, Nightmare City, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, most noticeably, Zombi 2. Because this has all the gore in the world and yet still manages to be incredibly boring and monotonous, it does provide a valuable lesson to future horror directors about the importance of paying attention to everything else that's going on in your film. Look at any one of the low-budget films I've listed above that this borrows from. Even if you took away most of the gore in them, the films themselves would still be watchable for many other reasons, unlike this film, which isn't even worth watching for the gore because you can only watch so many limbs whacked off, chests torn open and messy arterial sprays before it all becomes tiresome. That's precisely why those other films all have cult followings to this day and this film is only watched by a tiny number of die-hard horror buffs like myself who'll watch pretty much anything.

It goes without saying that the camcorder photography is pretty blah, blurry and washed-out looking and the acting is awful but the latter is made even worse thanks to a horrid English dub job done by a couple of guys who are clearly making a big joke of the whole thing and more or less mocking the entire movie as it goes along. Ironically, this comic spin turned out to be a wise decision because it at least provides a few dumb laughs to help get your through it. I couldn't imagine how difficult it would to watch had the whole thing had it played out seriously!

Here in the U.S., this and a few other Schnaas films were first released by an ultra obscure company called Reel Gore Productions some time in the late 90s. Zombie '90 was then released on both DVD and VHS by Shock-O-Rama Cinema in 2002. In 2009, for the German DVD release from Cine Club, a brand new version was prepped featuring added narration (in German), a new title sequence and a different music score. That package was called Zombie '90: Extreme Pestilence VS. Zombie '09. (For the record, what I watched was the original VHS release and my screen caps are no reflection of the DVDs picture quality, which appears to be much better). IMDb claims this was released here in the U.S. as Zombi 7 and in Japan as Zombie 2001: Battle Royale (?!) but I've found no evidence to back that up so it's probably not true.

In addition to the films already mentioned, Schnaas also went on to make two Violent Shit sequels (in 1992 and 1999), Goblet of Gore (1996), Anthropophagous 2000 (1999), Demonium (2001), Nikos the Impaler (2003; which was filmed in English in New York City), Don't Wake the Dead (2008), Unrated: The Movie (2009), Karl the Butcher vs. Axe (2010) and Unrated II: Scary as Hell (2011). None of these movies really got much attention.

El mundo de los vampiros (1961)

... aka: La vendetta del vampiro (Revenge of the Vampire)
... aka: Le monde des vampires (The Vampire World)
... aka: World of the Vampires, The
... aka: World of Vampires. The

Directed by:
Alfonso Corona Blake

The World of the Vampires was one of the many Mexican genre movies imported to American by K. Gordon Murray, who had them re-edited to remove questionable content and dubbed into English for family friendly showings in both theaters and on television. Some of the more famous of Murray's acquisitions were THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1957), the very profitable Santa Claus (1959), The Brainiac (1961), THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE (1961), LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS (1962) and WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964). If these films weren't already bad enough in their original form, what Murray and Co. did to them made often made them ten times worse. And by ten times worse, I mean far more enjoyable if you have a hankering for weird, cheap, poorly-dubbed and hacked up films. As far as World is concerned, the original Spanish-language version of this actually did play in some U.S. theaters via Azteca Films before Murray got hold of it, did his thing and sold it to AIP-TV, where it debuted in 1964). To give this one its fair shakes, what I'll be reviewing here is the full, uncut version in its original language with English subtitles, which runs about 84 minutes.

European vampire Count Sergio Subotai (Guillermo Murray) lives in a huge, crumbling mansion next to an old cemetery, which has an amazing cave lair underneath full of catacombs, cobwebs, fire, fog, statues, skulls, coffins, tarantulas and, best of all, a large and completely awesome pipe organ made completely out of human bones. Sergio doesn't live there alone, as in his company are not only a slew of sultry female vampires, but also a slew of ugly, squeaking, big-eared. bat-faced servants. The gang stay busy worshiping their God Astaroth, the King of Darkness, as well as kidnapping men and women who find themselves passing through the area. The guys make for fine meals, but the ladies have the added displeasure of making fine meals and being transformed for one of Astaroth's vampire brides. What the Count really wants though is revenge on a certain rival family who once had a vampire hunter in their midst that caused his family much grief and put him six feet under over 100 years earlier. Subotai has until the Full Moon is over to exterminate the Colman's; the three last living descendants of his executioner. If he doesn't, he'll face another century of torment in waiting. Oh yeah, he'd also like to eventually destroy the entire human race at some point, too.

Elsewhere, Rodolfo Sabre (Clark Gable look-a-like Mauricio Garcés) is asked to play the piano at a party. Problem is, he isn't so much a pianist or even a musician for that matter, but an acoustics scientist who's been studying how sound waves, sound vibrations and / or music notes played in a precise order can alter one's moods, dredge up subconscious thoughts and reactions and even kill. He also believes certain types of music can call forth the spirits of the dead. As he gives the guests a demonstration, Count Subotai appears in the doorway. Everyone finds it odd that the reclusive Count has finally accepted an offer to join them. People wonder why he's rich and lives in a ruined home, why has such an icy, intense stare and why he's even there in the first place since he's shown little interest in getting to know them since he's been in the area. The truth of the matter is, it's because the patriarch of the Colman clan (José Baviera) is there, as well as his two lovely nieces; Mirta (Silvia Fournier) and Leonor (Erna Martha Bauman).

Count Sergio manages to easily woo Leonor and put her under his spell and the uncle is rather easily captured by a few of the batty servants and dragged back to the underground lair, but Mirta is another story entirely. She's already on guard after noticing the Count cast no reflection in a mirror at the party. The fact a piece of music Rodolfo played that's rumored to ward off vampires managed to greatly upset the Count wasn't lost on her either. Back at the vamp's lair, Mr. Colman is tied up between two stakes right next to a pit full of giant spikes which the Count gives him a nice demonstration of using the bat person who failed to capture Mirta. He also must bear witness to the ritual of Leonor being turned into an immortal creature of the night, which involves not only a bite but also a dagger stab to the neck. Vampirized Leonor pays a visit to Rodolfo's bedroom and puts the bite to him, which infects him and  causes him to slowly turn into a hideous creature, while Mirta is eventually rounded up and locked in a room. With her incapacitated, Leonor transformed, the Uncle chained up and Rodolfo turning hairy, things are starting to look pretty grim for our heroes...

While Fernando Méndez's EL VAMPIRO (1957) is frequently considered the best of the South-of-the-Border vampire flicks of the 50s and 60s, I actually liked this one more. Sacrilege, you say? Well, I can present my defense in just two brief sentences. El vampiro is a well-made and very atmospheric vampire film that adheres strictly to what had already been done before. World is a well-made and very atmospheric vampire film that does not adhere at all to what had already been done before because it's too busy making up its own unique mythology. Admittedly, this has much higher schlock quotient with its bats-on-strings, human-head-transposed-over-a-bat-body, putty-faced creatures and sometimes hammy acting, but it's also inventive, original, amusing, creepy, kooky, fast-paced and incredibly entertaining. The art direction, sets and Gothic atmosphere are all wonderful and there's an unexpected surprise around every corner. In other words, this is 100 percent pure fun.

Though Murray is hardly the best actor to ever don the cape and goes a bit over-the-top at times, one thing's for sure: He makes for one good-looking and debonair vampire. This role helped to make the muy atractivo Argentinian import both a film star and sex symbol in Mexico. He went on to a long, successful career there lasting until the mid-2000s and got to play another bloodsucker in the rarely-seen La huella macabra / THE MACABRE MARK (1963) just a few years later. Santo film regular Alfredo Wally Barron also has a very fun supporting role as the count's nameless, facially-scarred, grunting hunchback butler. Despite being reduced to shuffling around due to a gimp leg, he's involved in a long fight sequence with Garcés, which includes punching, kicking, slapping, tackling, leaping, strangling, eyeball poking and even hair pulling, resulting in much scuffing of antique prop furniture. The producer was Abel Salazar, who produced many of the major Mexican genre films from this time (and also frequently acted in them) and the lively script was written by Ramón Obón, also a prominent figure in Mexican fantasy cinema of the 50s and 60s.

Sadly, this minor gem was one of the announced titles by CasaNegra before they went belly up, so it has yet to receive a fully restored release here in America. The Beverly Wilshire / Telefilms DVD (under the title The World of Vampires) utilizes the same English-dubbed 16mm print that used to play on TV. Bach Films out of France have issued the best quality DVD to date, but their release has no English language option. Thankfully we live in an age where nice people out there make subtitles when distributors don't, so I was lucky enough to watch this in good condition in its original language and completely understand what was going on.

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