Joe D'Amato - man of a thousand pseudonyms. Sometimes I'd like to be an Italian filmmaker, just so that I could change my name whenever I got a bit bored with mine. It's all part of the rich Italian movie tapestry, which we attempt to unweave every day here at eatmybrains. Well, I do anyway – Rawshark has his finger on cool new movies, Jim enthusiastically embarks on missions to procure cheap, low-grade trash with armouored trucks and stuff, and me - this is my poison - shit Italian movies from the 70s and early 80s.
Which brings me to Joe D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi, but that doesn't sound like 'tomato'). Let's forget about the Eastman foetus-muching in Anthropohogus and do something different. Let's get some pervy shuffling going on with his far from brilliant Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, and finish up with some Kinski lab montage madness in Death Smiled at Murder.
Tonight's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee, who likes to say, "You say tomato, I say D'Amato".
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980)
Plot A callous American hotel developer purchases a cursed island.
Zomblee Erotic Nights... is almost two hours long. No kidding. I believe we were watching the uncut version tonight, because I'd hate to believe there existed a longer version out there anywhere. Andy why is it so long, you ask? That's partly because the central story is as simple as this: horny moustached property developer travels to remote Cat Island in company of George Eastman and random babe, finds a skeletal Laura Gemser and an "Old Man" alone on the island. "Old Man" warns them of meddling in stuff they don't understand, horny property developer doesn't listen to "Old Man", then loads of zombies appear and dinner is served. That's it in a nutshell. Throw in ridiculous exercises in padding and voraciously sustained soft / hardcore sex scenes and you've got a 110 minute movie.
Moustache enthusiast and D'Amato alumni Mark Shannon is in the thick of the sex action throughout, never resisting the opportunity to get his johnson out at every available opportunity, and gets a little tetchy when interrupted by skipper Eastman ("Can't you see I'm busy?"). He is the bad guy here, greedy for just about anything going, and laughs in the face of the "Old Man's" wisdom ("He's such a shit isn't he" - Jim). Our old pal and ZC alumni (and beard enthusiast) George Eastman, on the other hand, tends to opt for the trousers-on/standing-up shagging style, when he's not being a peeping Tom ("Let's watch George... watching" - Rawshark). George is a relatively good guy here; he knows not to meddle in the ancient ways of the "Old Man" and thus is given an amulet of some sort, which supposedly protects him from the flesh-munchers. It only protects him so far however, because he still ends up raving mad in an asylum where he continues to shag in the trousers-on/standing-up style. You can't keep a good man down.
I'm so tempted to rave on and on about how unattractively skinny Laura Gemser is, how Jim got really excited when he realised George Eastman's character was called O'Hara, or how we actually fast-forwarded the hardcore scenes to save some time. But I'll leave that to Rawshark and Jim.
"What was that story about zombies and a cat leading them?"
Rawshark Don’t believe the title, Erotic Nights, or ‘Sexy Nights…’ as the on-screen credits implied, is not really that erotic, or indeed sexy. However, compared to Porno Holocaust (a film shot straight after this with the same director and crew, actors and location) it isn’t actually all that bad, despite the skeletal-framed Laura Gemser and George Eastman’s talent of shagging with his jeans still tightly fastened.
Yes, there is a lot of sex in this film. Within the first 15 minutes, Tache Man Mark Shannon had worked his way through three girls (two of them together in the shower!) and George himself had also had a sampling (leading to a somewhat unnerving Zomblee commentary of George in action - ”George takes pants off. George rubs nipple”). There is then a brief token throw-out to the gore-hungry mob with a solitary zombie attack in the morgue, before we were soon back rather strangely unerotic champagne bottle tricks, Tach Man in Action and repeated use of the FFWD button.
It’s only when our team finally reach Cat Island that things get interesting in the form of the wafer-thin cat-like Gemser and the appearance of some rather cool-looking zombies towards the end. Tach Man gets his cock bitten off (Hoorah!), and then comes back as a randy zombie (”He’s still horny!” - Zomblee), before the lunatic downbeat ending.
Warning though, for those of you who are sensitive to these sort of things, there are brief flashes of what can only be described as Laura’s Gemser (”Have you ever danced with Laura’s Gemser in the pale moonlight?” - Jim) during the obligatory lesbian scene. Just thought I’d point that out, you know. Just in case…
”Did you make that funny rumbling noise?”
Jim Yeah. So we start in a mental institute where George does a nurse with his trousers on, then it's in to the film proper, or rather watch this guy Mark Shannon shag a few girls (although for a porn guy he has a floppy penis a lot of the time) while he tries to make his way to Cat Island. That's where the main plot of the film is, apparently, on Cat Island. It's something about Shannon being a dodgy real estate developer, conning the locals out of a fortune and a few surprisingly cool, Fulci style zombies.
Anyway, it takes Shannon hiring George Eastman's boat to get there, which is good for us as we're big George fans. And when we get there George, Shannon and this random chick they've bought with them meet an emaciated Laura Gemser ("Her cheeks are more sunken than the Titanic!" - Rawshark) and some old bloke. Apparently they're the only residents on Cat Island, which of course means it's okay for Shannon, George and said random chick to roll around on the beach with Laura one at a time, the last encounter there being the lesbian one Rawshark referred to where Laura finally reveals a flash of her Gemser. Ironically Rawshark missed that going to the toilet, and it was with a heavy heart that I had to inform him what he missed, but he did see enough of the scene to conclude that "...it's a lot better than the floppy sex scene earlier." Uh-huh.
And then I remember Shannon saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and the zombies turn up, looking very similar to those from Zombie Flesh Eaters. So let's recap. "Zombies led by a cat... Island." - Zomblee. "Ah, Laura Gemser is the cat." - Rawshark. "Ah, that's the set from Porno Holocaust, I remember it well." - Rawshark. "Would a zombie siege be called a ziege?" - Zomblee. And so on.
Still, despite the sex scenes being a bit daft ("It feels weird fast forwarding the sex to get to the plot!" - Zomblee), that ridiculous bottle scene and the unnecessary wrap around mental asylum stuff, Sexy Nights of the Living Dead is actually quite a laugh. What with George losing his charm, Laura flashing her Gemser and Rawshark's terrible morgue joke, we all had quite a good time. And here's the morgue joke for you all to enjoy as much as we did: "It's a good morgue scene, or 'Guten Morgen' as the Germans would say."
"I think this is the moment for another little sprint through the woods."
Director Joe D'Amato
Cast Laura Gemser
Runtime 104 mins
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Death Smiled At Murder (1973)
Plot A man uses an ancient Incan formula to raise the dead for his own series of revenge murders.
Jim So, what do you know, Joe? What else has Zomblee got his grubby little hands on that could possibly go after Erotic Nights of the Living Dead? Another cheapo gore movie with some mostly soft core sex thrown in perhaps? Or maybe some kind of post-apoc thing starring Al Cliver? Or perhaps one of those silly fantasy movies (soft core sex thrown in) that he made a lot of in the 80s, sometimes starring Miles O'Keefe?
Well, surprisingly, Zomblee opted to go for none of the above, instead settling on an obscure but well respected early 70s period piece that's half Giallo, half Gothic horror and half whodunnit although - and you guessed it - the sum of those parts don't actually add up to the whole.
The plot - as much as I could piece together from my notes - is a bit unusual. The movie starts with the beautiful but overly dressed Greta ("I like how her nipples are almost peeking over." - Rawshark) getting hideously injured in a coach crash outside a rich couple's mansion. The couple take her in and, with the help of one Doctor Klaus Kinski and his amazing lab montages, nurse her back to health. But things get messy when the rich couple - yes both of them - fall for the mysterious Greta, prompting a few soft core scenes, and inevitable murder, with Greta eventually getting buried alive by being bricked up in a wall in the basement with a black cat (a bit like in Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat). Meanwhile Klaus Kinski learns how to raise the dead then promptly finishes his commitment to the film far too early, pay cheque in hand, leaving the rest of the cast, crew and audience to tidy everything up.
Yes, this was the second movie of the night. Yes, we were all pretty smashed again, and I remember only little bits of the film. But I remember enough to report that this movie has a hunchback (”Oh, he’s a hunchback, brilliant!” - Zomblee) who could well have been the hero (”You can’t be a hero in a hunchback outfit!” - Rawshark). And it also has a very beautiful Ewa Aulin who keeps her clothes on far too often and of course Klaus Kinski, whose laboratory themed scenes all looked shot in one day (”Back to the Kinski lab montage.” - Zomblee) as he tries to ultimately succeed in raising the dead (”And here’s your virgin for all eternity - wahey!” - Rawshark). I think that’s what happened anyway, and what I do remember might be a bit jumbled up so hopefully the boys here can unravel it for us.
”How do you feel, Greta?”
Rawshark Don’t look to me for any plot points Jim, I simply haven’t got a clue. Looking back over my notes, I don’t think I’ve ever written so many ‘Eh?’s during a Zombie Club movie before. In fact, the first words are; ‘Eh? Lots of transient dreamy images’. Then it moves on to Dr Klaus Kinski (”Little guy, big forehead” - Jim, ”Pointy face” - Zomblee), a couple more ‘Eh?’s and I guess I kind of gave up all hope of serious plot-following there and then.
From what I can gather, Death Smiles a Murder is like an Italian Hammer film with a plot so ‘dreamlike’ it’s often hard to gauge what is going on. At one point Klaus Kinski seems to be the focus of the film (until he reanimates a corpse and then promptly gets killed), then it’s the gorgeous Greta (until she gets bricked up behind a wall Poe-like), then it’s some Smoking Jacket Man and a Harlequin at a party playing party games (”What a shit game. Everyone dances around, and then she calls out her friend’s name and they’re out!” - Jim).
Visually this film looks great (”He’s labouring those low-angles” - Jim), so much so that it’s hard to believe it’s the same man who directed Erotic Nights. It sounds terrific (great music from Berto Pisano) and it’s pretty graphic too, with lots of nasty grue moments, including neck-spiking, eye-poking, face-slashing and even a shotgun in the face. It’s just a shame really that the plot is pretty damn hard to follow, always a slight problem on ‘Second Movie Syndrome’ at Zombie Club.
”Simian means ‘monkey’ doesn’t it?”
Zomblee Every now and again at Zombie Club, with one movie safely down and another ready to go, we do silly things like bringing that lonely bottle of apple vodka in from the kitchen, to fully maximise the effects of the cheap wine we're drinking. It's all great fun of course, in a "Oh, that's nice, may I have another?" sort of way, and then we laugh about things most people would consider a complete waste of their valuable time. Then, almost without noticing until 20 minutes in, we realise the second movie has begun. Questions, like, "Does anyone remember what happened at the start?" are answered with, "Coach crash...someone got impaled..." ("Eh?" - Rawshark) - welcome to second movie syndrome; the great fight against Zombie Club brain death.
Now that Joe Tomato has been fully initiated into Zombie Club, it is up to us to try to make some kind of sense of Death Smiled at Murder. Or not, as the case may be. Never before have I seen my undead buddies struggle so helplessly with concepts of time, person and place, and although I, being tonight's host, would ideally be on hand to liberally dispense shreds of insight, alas it was no to be. This was in no way helped by the fact that DSAM is a bit of an incomprehensible mess, but at least it featurs a load of grisly murders while not depicting the pointy-faced Kinski having a swell time with his test-tubes, bunsen burners and bubbling liquids.
In between the many lab montages (where Kinski was reported to be secretly working on an antidote to his horribly pointy features), somewhere, there was a hunchback character ("You can't have a hero in a hunchback outfit!" - Rawshark) as well as "a ginger-headed priest boy. I mean altar boy." (Rawshark) With our ZC-induced attention deficit disorder now fully in operation, we turned our attention away from the screen yet again, and had some kind of discussion about whether or not it's ok to fancy ginger girls. (It is, by the way)
In summary then, no, we can't remember the finer plot details of DSAM. But we got the idea - it's classy, stylish, and sinister, and falls somewhere between a giallo and a period Hammer piece. With a nonsense plot, making my end quote all the more resonant.
"I don't think I will ever solve this mystery."
Director Joe D'Amato
Cast Ewa Aulin
Runtime 92 mins
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After substantial levels of disorientation following a movie that is, officially, quite difficult to follow, I had concerns about my undead friends' abilities to get home safely and felt a certain amount of relief when I discovered those all-too-familiar "I'm really hungover..." emails in my inbox the following morning. We survived the pervy Joe D'Amato ketchup experience relatively unscathed despite the malnourished appearance of Laura Gemser, and managed to persevere with some 70s giallo-type lab montage gibberish with the assistance of apple vodka.
Not long after tonight's session came to closure, Jim started getting very excited about the early '80s output of an actor who holds certain z-list cult status, one Robert Ginty. Yes, him from The Exterminator. He'll be coming to Zombie Club real soon, although next week things might get a little bit Shameless first.