Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Film Review: Buio Omega

Having spent the second half of the 70s churning out 7 "Black Emanuelle" films starring Laura Gemser, legendary (or should I say infamous) Italian director/cinematographer Joe D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) decided to try his hand at psychological horror. Scripted by the unknown Ottavio Fabbri, "Buio Omega" ("Beyond the Darkness" aka "Buried Alive" aka "Blue Holocaust") is D'Amato's masterpiece, a meditation on sex and death that manages to combine both in-your-face gore and an understated gothic atmosphere.
Living in a huge estate which he inherited after his parents' untimely death, 22 year old Frank Wyler (Kieran Canter, a pretty boy who would later go into porn) spends his time sitting in the untouched room of his dead mother, staring at her picture, and running a private taxidermy business from his basement (a little obvious Norman Bates reference, no?). His fiancee, Anna Volkl (the gorgeous Cinzia Monreale, later to appear in Fulci's "The Beyond" as the blind Emily) is dying in the hospital. It seems that Frank's twisted housekeeper Iris (the brilliant Franca Stoppi, veteran of Bruno Mattei's women's prison and nunsploitation epics) is obsessed with Frank, and has put a voodoo curse on Anna, who eventually succumbs to her mystery disease. To comfort Frank, Iris visits him in his mother's room, saying "now all you have is me", and cruelly grins as she undoes her shirt to breast feed him. The sight of Frank suckling the middle-aged Iris' breast is unsettling to say the least.

Undaunted, Frank puts his hobby to good use, digging up Anna's corpse and throwing it in the back of his groovy 70s van. On the way home, however, he gets a flat; when he is finished fixing it he finds a female hitchhiker in the passenger seat. She smokes a joint and passes out. Next follows a controversial scene where Frank completely eviscerates Anna's body in gruesome detail, dissecting and embalming her, and even putting glass eyes in the vacant bloody sockets. With organs and guts slopped into a metal wastebasket, it's a brutal scene, capped by Frank taking out her heart, and inexplicably eating it. Interpret that clumsy symbolism any way you please. The rumour going around at the time of the film's release was that a real cadaver was used; though not true, it does show how good the FX were. When the hippie chick wakes up and sees what's going on she freaks out; Frank wrestles her to the ground, grabs a pair of pliers, and one by one pulls out all her fingernails, before strangling her to death. Iris shows up with a lusty smile on her face. In the next scene, Frank and Iris are dressing Anna's body in stockings and a white nightgown; in a bizarre reversal of the murder, Iris lovingly paints Anna's fingernails bright red. The body is then laid out in Frank's bed.

The disposal of the hitchhiker's body is another hideously brutal scene. They drag her into the bathroom, where, dressed in a rubber apron, Iris proceeds to roughly strip the obese corpse and hack it into pieces with a meat cleaver, while Frank fills the tub with corrosive acid. Nonchalantly throwing the limbs into the bubbling vat and scooping up the guts and loose matter into a dustpan, Iris is a cold butcher; her only purpose is to maintain her hold over the increasingly distraught and panicked Frank. She does this by holding his crying face to her bosom, saying "there, there, little boy" while giving him a handjob. Creepy, and so wrong.

Another murder occurs, this time a jogger Frank has picked up. To demonstrate how twisted he really is, he covers up Anna with a sheet and starts going at it with the jogger right next to the corpse. When the dead face is uncovered the girl starts screaming, so Frank rips her throat out with his teeth and eats the chunks of flesh in his mouth. Once again, Iris maintains her grip over him by covering up the murder; they burn the girl's body alive in the basement furnace.

Gradually, Frank and Iris begin to get on each other's nerves as Iris tries to force him to not only get rid of Anna, but also marry her. Frank is disgusted by her (calling her an "old slut") and by his dependence on her for maternal comfort; he spends all of his time in a daze, holding Anna's corpse and kissing her cold lips.

One telling thing about this film, and it is oddly restrained for a sleaze merchant like D'Amato: not once is it ever suggested that Frank has sex with the dead body. It seems that the film is trying to show that Frank can express love only to the dead, while he can have sex (however grotesque it is) only with the living. In this sense the movie makes you feel sorry for Frank, however monstrous his deeds may be. He is at the mercy of not only Iris, but also his obsessions and psychoses. Frank is not a necrophile per se, but rather someone who has taken the idea of not being able to let go of the past to an ultimate extreme.

In the end, there is no redemption or cure for either of the protagonists. Frank and Iris battle to the death in a final showdown, which includes a nice shot of an eyeball being ripped out, a cheek being bitten off, and a butcher knife in the throat. Dying from his wounds, Frank manages to get Anna's corpse into the furnace; if he can't have her any more, she must finally be put to rest. There are other plot twists like a guy planning to blackmail Frank after discovering his secret, and the arrival of Anna's sister (also played by Monreale), but these are unimportant. The story is really about the bizarre menage a trois between Frank, Anna, and Iris. With all three dead, so is the movie.

Finally, the score is brilliant. Goblin do their usual thing during the action and murder sequences (though they're a little more mellow than they are for Argento's flicks), but it is the other music that really shines. Understated and elegiac piano melodies carry the film, especially in the tender "love" scenes between Frank and Anna, and the tender yet twisted sexual scenes between Frank and Iris. Also, D'Amato's cinematography is great as usual (that was really his strength, much more than as a director), as is the countryside setting and the palatial estate, which lends the whole thing a gothic and tragic touch. Overall, "Buio Omega" is a horrifying yet oddly beautiful and (dare I say) moving story about the obsessions with love and death that we all feel to a certain degree. Plus, it's gory as all hell!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Film Review: The Nights of Terror

As soon as Lucio Fulci's "Zombie" hit box office gold around 1980, the low budget Italian cinema industry was plagued with a glut of imitators, cash-ins, and ripoffs. Some, like Umberto Lenzi's "Nightmare City", were fairly original; some, like Joe D'Amato's "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead" and "Porno Holocaust", were little more than pornography disguised as horror; others, like Bruno Mattei's "Hell of the Living Dead" and Marino Girolami's "Zombie Holocaust (Dr. Butcher MD)" were just plain awful. Like the zombies themselves, Italy's directors (save Fulci, who could do no wrong from 1979 to 1982) were blindly stumbling all over the place trying to make sense of a nonsensical genre.

Until 1980, Andrea Bianchi was, like Joe D'Amato, known as a purveyor of fairly well done but sleazy sex films like "Cry of a Prostitute", "Strip Nude for your Killer", "My Father's Wife", and the infamous satanic possession epic "Malabimba" (AKA "The Malicious Whore"). Deciding to jump into the zombie genre, he managed to produce a sublimely excellent film entitled "The Nights of Terror" (AKA "Burial Ground" and "Zombi 3"). One reason this film was so good was because its simplicity (or non-existence) of plot lent it an aura of relentless doom, much like Amando DeOssorio's legendary "Tombs of the Blind Dead" (1971). The story is simple: a bumbling archaeologist disturbs an Etruscan burial tomb near a castle where 3 jet-setting Euro couples (and the son of one of the women) are preparing to spend their vacation. The zombies show up and wreak total havoc, resulting in an apocalypse where all the characters are killed off and the zombies win the day.

A few things set this film apart from other Zombie fare; first, the sexual tension among the couples is extremely intense, and every time the lovers try to go at it the zombies interrupt the coitus with the threat of death. Given the allegedly lusty nature of Etruscan society, it's uncertain whether these zombies want in on the action or are trying to break it up. The film also gained a good deal of controversy over the relationship of the Mother (Mariangela Giordano of "Satan's Baby Doll", "The Sect", and "Gore in Venice") and her son Michael, who is supposed to be 13 or so but is played by "Peter Bark", a totally creepy and unnerving 25 year old dwarf who bears an uncanny resemblance to either a diminutive Dario Argento or Isaac from "Children of the Corn"!. In the middle of the zombie carnage, Mommy comforts Michael, and out of nowhere they start making out, grabassing, and he puts his hand up her dress!! When she rebukes him, he runs away screaming "Why not, I'm your son!". At the end of the film, she confronts the undead son and lets him suckle her breast; naturally he bites it off and proceeds to eat her. Nothing is sacred in this film, not sex, not family, not even religion, for when the surviviors escape the castle and enter a nearby monestary, the monks (cowls and all) proceed to eat the flesh of the living in a hideous reverse sacrament.

The zombies themselves are interesting as well. Not completely mindless, they are able to use simple farming tools as weapons, and even concoct a battering ram to storm the castle. I'm not sure if Bianchi was trying to make a statement on class struggle, but it does seem as if the poor Etruscan zombies are revolting against the elite and decadent partygoers. In one great scene, a maid (the symbol of wealth and privilege) leans out a window and a zombie lifts up a scythe (the global symbol of the reaper) and slices her head off. The zombies below then fight over her head. As in Fulci's zombie films, the makeup effects are done by maestro Gianetto De Rossi, and his zombies are utterly rotten, with maggots all over their faces, and sand for blood. Unlike George A Romero's zombies who look like your next door neighbor only bluer, these things are DEAD. Furthermore, there is a TON of gut-munching in this picture; the entrail budget was probably as high as the actors' salaries, and it's all done very well. One minor complaint: one woman has her head pulled through a window and the glass explicitly slashes her across the eyes, a move blatantly cribbed from both Argento ("Suspiria") and Fulci ("Zombie"'s infamous splinter scene). Still, it's a minor complaint, and an effective set-piece. Also pretty sick is the scene when Mommy goes into a bathroom and sees her now undead girlfriend eating Michaels's severed arm; she then graphically smashes her zombie friend's head to a pulp into the side of the bathtub.

Overall, "The Nights of Terror" stands up as one of the best of the Italian zombie films of the early 80s, mostly because Bianchi, like DeOssorio, Fulci, Romero, and even Jorge Grau ("Living Dead at Manchester Morgue"), realized that the key to good zombie horror lies in infusing the film with an ominous sense of doom and apocalypse, the realization that for the living there is no way out; that death is all that is real.

Boston Crew

1981 to 1984 was the heyday of the Boston Hardcore scene. So many bands and so many shows, so much controversy and so many opinions. As a high school student during that period I was lucky enough to have braved many of those shows, whether it was a Boston band all-ager at a VFW hall or Boston bands opening up for national acts at The Channel. The reputation that the city's punks had was well deserved; there was the constant threat of violence in the air, and sometimes it broke out in big ways. The pit was not a "fun" place to be, and the straight-edge "Boston Crew" was always on the prowl. Sure it was narrow-minded and mostly idiotic, but to my teenage mind it meant something (even if I didn't quite know what).

What is forgotten, however is the MUSIC. Boston HC was different from the other cities. It wasn't snotty and punky like LA, it wasn't anthemic (i.e UK influenced) like DC, and it wasn't arty like SF. It was brutal, it was chaotic, and it was metallic. The Boston bands, more than any other scene, were heavy. As a tribute, here's a list of the cream of the crop, mostly released (vinyl-only at the time) on the Radiobeat, Taang!, and X-Claim labels. Taang! records has fortunately kept much of this material in print and on CD:

Compilations: "Unsafe at any Speed", "This is Boston, not LA"
SS Decontrol: "The Kids will have their Say", "Get it Away"
Jerry's Kids: "Is this my World?"
Gang Green: "Sold Out"
The FUs: "Kill for Christ", "My America"
The Freeze: "Guilty Face", "Land of the Lost"
Kilslug: "Warlocks, Witches, and Demons", "Answer the Call"
Proletariat: "Soma Holiday"
DYS: "Brotherhood"
Negative FX: "Negative FX/Last Rights"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To avoid fainting, keep repeating: "It's only a dream..."

My brother Ross and I were at the pauper's cemetery to visit the grave of our cousin Dave, who died when he was 4 months old. For some reason, the grave marker was only about 4 square inches and the writing was in a language unknown to man. There we met up with our downstairs neighbors the Jonas Brothers and their father, who were also visiting Dave's grave. On the ride home in their limo, Kevin Jonas and I discussed our respective home studios, and I was apalled that he had no idea what any of the equipment was called, nor did he know how to use it. Despite being suspicious of his musical integrity, I still made plans to jam out with him soon.

That night I was at a dinner party being held by Laurie Carlson, a childhood schoolmate who beat me out in the race for Clash tickets in 11th grade. For some reason I was wearing a 3 piece suit and a fraternity pledge pin. Laurie and I hit it off quite well, despite the fact that I was ridiculed by everyone at the party for proclaiming that James Hetfield of Metallica was totally washed up. Laurie came on to me, and we ended up sleeping together, but when I woke up I was in final period of my last day in Brockton High School. When the bell rang and I left the classroom, the school led out onto Newbury Street in Boston.

Suddenly, I was completely naked and wandering the Berkeley School of Music campus looking for my dead father, who was my ride home. When I finally met him, my nude body became covered with soap suds. I told my Dad to wait while I went back into the school to shower off. When I came out, my 3 piece suit was back on, but it was causing me to bob and float above the ground like a Macy's Day Parade balloon. My Dad tried to float as well, saying anyone could do it, but he failed miserably. As I flew higher and higher my father and everything else got smaller and smaller.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Welcome to Grim Horror, yet another place to read about film and music by someone who thinks they know more than you! I've been watching horror for 30 years and listening to metal and punk music for about the same time, so I've got lots of opinions to bore you with. I've also been a musician for bands like Afterbirth and Blood Farmers, so expect everything to be darkly humorous. Stay tuned for plenty of reviews, articles, biographies, and twisted musings...