Tag Archive: italian


The Humanoid (Aldo Lado, 1979)

Aldo Lado is best known in cult movie circles as a director of giallo films – the particular strain of violent Italian thriller popularised by bravura technicians such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino – so, quite frankly, WTF was he doing directing this Star Wars rip-off? Couldn’t they afford Antonio Margheriti? Did Luigi Cozzi want to avoid getting type-cast, so soon after the amazing Star Crash (1978)? Whatever the reason, given that Lado also co-wrote the script, he has to take the lion’s share of the blame for turning out such a maddeningly frustrating film – a potentially great science fiction romp, utterly ruined by a single, stupid idea.

So, let’s look at the potential – go on, scan those credits: Aldo Lado, himself – director of greats such as Who Saw her Die? and The Short Night of the Glass Dolls; a score by Ennio Morricone, no less; Silvano Ippoliti, Tinto Brass’ talented DoP; makeup by Gianetto de Rossi; Enzo Castellari on 2nd unit duties; special effects by a team including the aforementioned Margheriti, something of an Italian sci-fi specialist; a cast including Corrine Clery, Barbara Bach, Arthur Kennedy, Ivan Rassimov and … wait a second… Richard Kiel? Yep, there we have it – the proverbial fly in the ointment. It’s Jaws from those Bond movies – something of a comic relief villain, who was, the same year, to be turned into a comic relief sidekick in Moonraker. Kiel’s inability to act may not have proved terminal in a Italian sci-fi knock off, but in a role which both plays off his supposedly threatening demeanor and bulk and encourages pathos in his plight, it blows what might otherwise have been an entertaining enterprise out of the sky.

The ‘Great Brother’ rules the former planet Earth – now renamed Metropolis, which makes about as much sense as renaming it, I dunno, ’roundabout’ or ‘suburban allotment’. His brother – the evil Lord Graal (Rassimov), who controls an army of soldiers in lawsuit-baiting black leather and buckethead costumes – launches an attack to capture a chemical element which can turn men into indestructible monsters. During the attack, virtuous scientist Barbara Gibson (Clery) receives a telepathic warning from Tom Tom, her ward (I guess?) – an Asian boy who possesses mystical powers and is protected at all times by a pair of light-bow wielding, teleporting guardians. She escapes the carnage, but the chemical is stolen and transported to Graal’s home planet, where insane scientist Dr. Kraspin (Kennedy) uses it to transmute the kindly Golob into an UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE to be unleashed on the people of ‘Out-of-town Car-park’, sorry – Metropolis.

Right off the bat, let me draw your attention to an innovation. Lucas is sometimes mocked for the silly names with which he saddles his one-dimensional characters – Leia, Solo, Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, etc. Lado, perhaps foreseeing this, perhaps suffering some sort of brain aneurism, gives his characters names which make them seem like they work in real estate. Barbara Gibson? The universe’s only hope, apparently. Especially so when she teams up with the head of the Imperial guard, who is called Nick. I personally think Nick is too heroic and Lado should have gone with Brian, which to my mind expresses a kind of quiet dignity. Seriously though, lines like “And remember to kill that Barbara Gibson” had me smiling from the start – not since ‘Dan the antichrist’ (see earlier review of Nero Veneziano) has Italian cinema so tickled my funny bone with the stupidity of its character names.

Until this point, translation quirks aside, The Humanoid is a solid romp, with some surprisingly good model effects and sets – certainly not in Star Wars’ league but not an embarrassment in comparison either. What tips the whole shebang over the edge is the UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE. When Golob is hit by a missile containing the chemical he undergoes a profound change – physically and mentally. Physically, he loses his beard and a tiny green dot appears on his forehead. Mentally, his prior big, dumb, lunk persona is utterly transformed to big, dumb lunk who talks a bit less and occasionally throws people around. Presumably unable to afford additional action scenes, Lado appears to have concocted a plot device which allows his central ‘battle’ to involve Richard Keil marching into the Metropolis’ capital single-handed, while laser beams bounce off him from every angle. They can’t even afford to establish his status as the UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE, as an attack using “micro-nuclear” shells occurs off-screen, leaving the viewer instead with endless scenes of redshirts running up to Kiel and being tossed aside in a decidedly PG manner, while the womenfolk (all of whom sport a range of Leia-approved braids) run around in panic. You really do wonder if this film is a remake of Eegah! rather than Star Wars.

It’s not all bad though. The film does rally for a fairly rousing shoot out on the enemy planet, although this does require a scene where Kiel is un-Humanoid-ed, turning back into the kind of good-humoured brute soon to appear in Moonraker. As I said, some of the sets are very good – the matte paintings which depict the desert landscape of Metropolis in particular are lovely. Clery and Bach are beautiful and the latter actually puts in a decent performance as the evil queen who preserves her youthly beauty with Bathory-style transfusions. And the whole high-camp sci-fi knockabout antics are no more offensive than in Flash Gordon or modern day pap which mines the same territory, such Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It’s just a shame about Keil. They should’ve left the humanoid out of The Humanoid.

OMG!!!

An absolute supernova of a bad film, this Filmirage production manages to top the company’s usual output (including, lest we forget, Troll 2) by roping in the dubious talents of Linda Blair and David Hasslehoff. Giving the former an obligatory possession scene and allowing the latter to adlib to embarrassing effect, the usual delights of Aristide Massacessi’s horror productions – overlit studio interiors, bewildered no-name American actors, badly-translated Italian dialogue, gloopy effects – are here dunked in an enormous vat of fondue designed to delight lovers of 80s cheese.

The Hoff!

Filmirage – an Italian production company usually associated with low-rent erotic thrillers, terrible horror films and gob-smackingly awful dramas – here jumps on the Evil Dead bandwagon. Raimi’s films were released in Italy under the titles La Casa 1 & 2 and the company follows in the grand tradition of Italian exploitation by simply appropriating the title for some unrelated sequels. Hence Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse (1988) became La Casa 3 and this film – released in international territories as Witchcraft became La Casa 4. Aside from a residential setting – something that could be said to be true of the majority of features – and plots which revolve around demonic forces and bodily possession, the films bear no similarity with the hyperkinetic Evil Dead franchise, but Laurenti’s film has a manic charm of its own.

Pea soup alert!

The film’s bears a script credit forAmerican screenwriter Harry Spaulding – who, curiously, penned a 1964 film entitled Witchcraft – but the dialogue and story bears all the hallmarks of a cheap Italian genre production, with the frequently confused-looking US cast spouting inane, nonsensical lines while a series of barely-connected events move the plot from one bizarre set-piece to another. The story isolates three groups of people on a Pacific island during a storm: a young woman studying witchcraft and the origins of a house on the island and her photographer boyfriend (the Hoff himself); a dysfunctional family, including a pregnant Linda Blair and a precocious young boy, who are interested in buying the property; and the estate agents, including a woman played by the then Mrs Hasslehoff – Catherine Hickland – who would in future go on to marry a man called, I kid you not, Michael Knight.  Over the course of the evening, the assembled cast are sprited away by the spirit of the previous owner – a Garbo-like foreign actress – to a cut-price Hades where they are subjected to a variety of latex-rupturing effects. Blair is possessed so she can redo her Exorcist role, the Hoff gets his shirt off and his girlfriend wanders the house reading random passages from a supposedly ancient German text which may hold the key to foiling the resurrection of the witch-actress via Blair’s baby.

Going to hell

Apart from the sheer joy of watching Hasslehoff and Blair on screen together (for trash-mavens, a pairing suerly on a par with De Niro and Pacino), the film delivers the cracked goods in spades. Witness, for example, the majesty of the scenes where characters are transported to the evil dimension by standing still and waving their arms while a swirling red graphic is overlayed on their screaming mugs. Or the evil dimension itself, which appears to have been built by an Italian set designed in around 3 mins out of some 2-by-4 and some black bin bags. Some of the special effects are pleasingly gloopy, especially the demise of the father, as the stabbing of a voodoo doll causes ruptures in a series of vains. The film bears Filmirage’s usual cruel sense of black humour, with the mother with her mouth sewn shut, hung in the chimney to be burned alive by her family.

Elsewhere budget restrictions mean that a plot which requires its cast to be stranded by a ferocious storm, has no actual shots of said weather – with a placidly undulating sea hardly justifying the lack of rescue. The father of the young estate agent spends much of the film arguing with local law enforcement to stage a recovery attempt, which finally pays off when a helicopter is procured. The subsequent scene, where the father who has been passionately arguing that his son may be in danger, meekly gives up the chase when the house shows no sign of occupation, is just one of the examples of the twisted logic of Filmirage’s output. The actor – one timer Frank Cammarato – is one of the badly-dubbed non-US cast members. It’s unfortunate that heroine Leslie Cumming is not also dubbed, as her mumbling, incoherent delivery renders much of her dialogue unintelligible and makes her scenes with Hasslehoff even more one-sided. Perhaps she was intimidated.

Just one of many Italian rip-offs following in the wake of The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, this tardy effort from occasional director Liberatore is at least enlivened by an off-kilter, almost throwaway, attitude to plot development, some nasty moments and a mildly original – and effective – final act.

Set in the rather grubby, down-at-heel Venice of Giallo a Venezia, rather than the glamarous city seen in films such as Don’t Look Now, the plot follows blind teenager Mark and his far-from-affectionate sister Christine, orphan siblings in the care of a strict and religious aunt. Christine’s boyfriend Giorgio wants her to move in, but there is no room at his sculptor’s studio for Mark, and no money to support them.

The most combustible clothing in cinema history

When the aunt is burned to death in an accident inadvertantly caused by Mark, they are sent to relatives operating a run-down hotel, who receive them with a lack of enthusiasm. Encouraging Christine’s efforts to make the hotel viable again, her uncle begins to warm to the children, but the death of his sickly wife leads him to suicide in the attic and the children are left to fend for themselves. The local priest takes a keen and slightly sinister interest in Christine, especially when a mysterious guest seduces her and she finds herself pregnant. Mark suffers from a series of visions which suggest that his sister is the focus of a Satanic cult. It seems that only Mark and Giorgio are aware of – and can stop – a sinister plot to engineer Satan’s reincarnation on Earth.

Though this is a film which contains rather too much plot for ninety minutes, what first appears as slapdash editing – with many scenes ending just as crucial lines of dialogue are delivered – contributes to a sense of psychological disorientation. With Mark as a protagonist, what first appears as a straightforward retread of The Omen, becomes something more perverse, complex and effective as his status as unreliable narrator is revealed.

The birthday party

The revalation that Christine has turned the hotel into a brothel is thrown away in a single line of a phone conversation – though, in retrospect, a plot point which may suggest Christine’s increasing corruption may have been subtlely downplayed to suggest Mark’s paranoia. Christine’s boyfriend Giorgio moves from co-conspirator in the plot against Alex, the new-born spawn of Satan, to helpless witness, chronicling the events in a diary he christens the “Gospel of Alex”. Mark’s final act is both shocking and, ultimately, futile as his true part in the plot is revealed.

Bright light and "woosh"-ing noises as Mark has a vision

There are some mis-steps which mar the film. Pino Donaggio’s score is lush and broad in scope, but the soundtrack is marred by some hideously cack-handed ‘zingers’, usually emphasising Mark’s blindness, as he stumbles into a succession of doors, windows and other characters.

The decision to name the Satan character “Dan” leads to a few unintentional giggles too, with the power of the final reveal  somewhat lessened by the prospect of mankind at the mercy of the “Son of Dan”. Renato Cestie’s performance is a little uneven too, with an occasionally whiny, unsympathetic portrayal which unbalances the film.

The refusal to fully exploit the beauty of Venice’s waterways can only be assumed to be intentional given that the film is otherwise handsomely shot – with several interior scenes displaying impressive use of lighting. The candlelit birthday party for Alex, featuring the women of the brothel dancing together wearing a succession of masks is particularly affecting.

Dan works his devilish mojo

The film doesn’t shy away from the sleaze common to Italian genre pictures of the period, with Niehaus in particular spending much of the film is various states of undress. The violence is occasionally very explicit too, but is used sparingly for maximum effect – which is certainly the case in the final scenes.

A better, more honest effort, to reply to Hollywood’s blockbuster ‘devil’ movies then. And one which has an Italian character all its own.