Film Review: Conquest (1983)

Also known as: Mace the Outcast (working title), El Bárbaro (Mexico)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gino Capone, Carlos Vasallo, Jose Antonio de la Loma Giovanni Di Clemente
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martin, Sabrina Siani

Clemi Cinematografica, Clesi Cinematografica, Conquest Productions, 88 Minutes

Review:

“When a man meets a man, you never know which one will die. But when an animal meets a man, it’s always the animal that dies. I’m on the animals’ side.” – Mace, “Isn’t this an animal you’re eating?” – Ilias, “[shrugs] I didn’t kill him.” – Mace, “That’s a pretty strange law.” – Ilias, “Not when you’re hungry.” – Mace

By the time 1983 rolled around, everyone was making sword and sorcery movies, especially the Europeans, who just wanted to make their own version of Conan the Barbarian. Since most of these movies were made in Italy and Spain, it seems natural that Lucio Fulci, mostly known for his horror pictures, would direct his own.

What’s interesting about Fulci doing one of these movies is that he got to tap into his horror skills, adding in some interesting monsters and a darker tone to this sword and sorcery tale.

For the time and the budget, the special effects are pretty decent. The evil sorceress’ henchmen are basically  barbarian werewolves, which was a neat idea. Granted, they look like the lovechild of Joe Dante’s werewolf from The Howling and Chewbacca but still, werewolf barbarians is a cool enough concept to carry its own movie.

On the downside, however, this is a very cheap film and it looks it. I like the practical effects but that’s something I personally have an appreciation for and if you share that sentiment, the hokiness of the production probably won’t bother you. But for most people, this picture won’t cut the mustard. It also doesn’t help that it’s dark, dreary and always looks foggy or as if there is a haze over the camera lens.

That being said, I think the visuals of this film will turn most people away, as it’s not pretty to look at, especially when compared to bigger budget sword and sorcery pictures from the same era, mainly the Schwarzenegger Conan films, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

I still like the movie though, but I have an affinity for these sorts of things. Plus, the one dude shoots light arrows, which is neat and reminds me of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which is odd because this movie and that TV show came out in the same year.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies, as well as other European sword and sorcery pictures from the early ’80s.

Film Review: Rome, 2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators (1984)

Also known as: I guerrieri dell’anno 2072 (original Italian title), Rome 2033: The Fighter Centurions (Belgium, Finland), Fighting Centurions (Norway, Germany), Gladiators of the Future (Portugal), Rome 2072 A.D., The New Gladiators, Warriors of the Year 2072 (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 28th, 1984 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Cesare Frugoni, Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Jared Martin, Fred Williamson, Renato Rossini, Eleanora Brigliadori

Regency Productions, Troma Entertainment, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Take a good look at these contestants, because for these men violent death is just seconds away.” – Commentator

I’ve seen several Lucio Fulci films but I never knew of this one’s existence until I really started going down the rabbit hole of European Mad Max ripoffs.

Sadly, this picture is pretty dull.

It does have two saving graces, though. They are Fred Williamson and the third act of the film that sets things right and makes this turkey end on a pretty high note.

First off, there’s really no one noteworthy here except for Williamson. And fans of Williamson should already know that he spent a big portion of his career married to schlock. This is no different but he helps to elevate the schlock when he’s onscreen. He’s just a bonafide badass and his presence in this film is no different. He owns this shit and he’s pretty unapologetic about how fucking manly he is.

Additionally, the last half hour of this picture is pure adrenaline. Once we reach the third act, we see these manly men get put into a violent game show, ala The Running Man, but in this picture, our heroes are on motorcycles and using any means they can to kill their opponents in an effort to ensure their survival.

There are some strong similarities to this picture and the David Carradine starring Deathsport from six years earlier but this is a better movie with a presentation that looks a wee bit more polished. It also sprinkles in elements of Death Race 2000 in how it employs vehicular violence in a reality TV format in a post-apocalyptic future.

One thing that I liked about the movie, which most people probably won’t, was the use of miniatures and models to create a futuristic looking Rome. You can tell that these sequences are miniatures but it has this otherworldly and dreamlike appearance that sort of drew me in.

Fulci is a better filmmaker than what this movie shows. He’s made worse pictures than this, though. If you’re interested in seeing his best work, Four of the Apocalypse, Massacre Time and Zombi 2 are much better examples of what he’s capable of.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Film Review: The Beyond (1981)

Also known as: …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà (original Italian), Seven Doors of Death (US cut version)
Release Date: April 22nd, 1981 (West Germany)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Lucio Fulci, Giorgio Mariuzzo
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John

Fulvia Film, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world.” – Emily [reading from the book Eibon]

Lucio Fulci is considered by many to be an Italian master of horror.  While I generally like his films, I would rank him behind both Bavas and Dario Argento. Still, that is really good company to keep.

I’m not a huge fan of this outing, however. The Beyond or Seven Doors of Death, has gained a nice cult following since it’s release nearly 40 years ago but compared to Fulci’s more famous Zombi, I think it’s pretty weak.

The story follows a woman who inherits a hotel in the bayous of Louisiana. The hotel sits on one of the seven gates of Hell. So obviously, some evil shit has to happen.

Being Italian horror, one would expect a colorful and vibrant color palate but Fulci didn’t really employ the giallo look like most of his Italian colleagues. This film is dark, gritty but kind of dull from a visual standpoint.

The story isn’t exciting or original and this type of movie has been done dozens of times over and much better. It’s not awful but it doesn’t offer up much outside of some gross out moments and quick scares.

Fulci, coming off of Zombi and it’s famous gory eye mutilation scene, tries to tap that well again multiple times here. There are a few gross out spots similar to that Zombi scene but none of them are as effective and if you are familiar with Fucli’s work, you kind of just think to yourself, “Oh, this again…”

Fulci also has a blind character that gets betrayed by a beloved seeing eye dog. This was a concept and idea that Dario Argento did in Suspiria, four years earlier.

In a lot of ways, this film feels like Lucio Fulci emulating things he likes from older films, as opposed to digging deep and giving us something better, which he was capable of. But it feels like this was just made to try and make a quick buck on the heels of his success with Zombi.

I love Italian horror and have been watching them since my teen years, when I first discovered the work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. This just doesn’t measure up to the greats and it doesn’t even measure up to Fulci when he’s on his A-game.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Unofficial ‘Django’ Sequels, Part II (1966, 1969, 1971)

It has been too long since I did the first installment of this series of reviews for the unofficial Django sequels. So I figured that it was about time that I pick it up and do the second installment. I actually own enough Django films to do at least five of these.

Introduction:

The original Django was an enormous success in 1966. It opened a lot of doors for its star Franco Nero and its director Sergio Corbucci. The film also inspired unofficial sequels to be created by a multitude of studios because copyrights in Europe back then weren’t as strict as they are in the United States.

There are forty-six Django films listed on his character page on Wikipedia. Most of those are lost to time. A dozen and a half or so, are still out there on streaming services, DVD or VHS – if you can track them down. Some are free on YouTube. Anyway, I’m trying to see as many of them as I can.

Some actually feature the character of Django and some just use his name in the title due to its popularity, even though the character isn’t in the film.

As I watch these films, I will review a few at a time. They won’t necessarily be in chronological order, as that doesn’t matter anyway, as none of these films are really connected to each other apart from a word in their titles.

A Man Called Django! (1971):

Also known as: W Django!, Viva! Django
Release Date: September 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Edoardo Mulargia
Written by: Nino Stresa
Music by: Piero Umiliani
Cast: Anthony Steffen

14 Luglio Cinematografica, 90 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen has played a version of “Django” more times than the original Django, Franco Nero. Steffen’s movies are usually pretty good for knockoff spaghetti fare and he may be the most recognizable actor associated with the Django name, other than Nero… and now, Jamie Foxx.

A Man Called Django! a.k.a. W Django! a.k.a. Viva! Django is a better than decent spaghetti western on its own. It is one of a few examples of a Django picture that didn’t need to be connected to Django because it would have actually been better as its own standalone film. And in retrospect, it kind of upsets me for Anthony Steffen, who could have easily broke out as his own star and didn’t need to be the king of unofficial “Django”s.

This spaghetti extravaganza follows Django, as he sets out to exact revenge on the man who murdered his wife. He has help from a horse thief named Jeff and what we end up witnessing is a movie with more layers to it than what is first suspected. It starts out like a straight up revenge flick but evolves nicely due to some twists and turns.

The action is pretty good, the acting is solid from Steffen and fairly average from the others. The music really stands out but a lot of these Django films have pretty stellar scores that mimic the original’s style.

If you are going to delve deep into Django ripoffs and clones, as I have, I’d have to say that this is one of the few high points. Although, the editing is a bit sloppy in parts and in one scene Django literally punches a guy from a nighttime shot to a daytime shot.

Django the Runner (1966):

Also known as: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro, lit. The Colt sang death and it was… Massacre Time (Italy), The Brute and the Beast (US), Colt Concert (UK), Massacre Time
Release Date: August 10th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Fernando Di Leo
Music by: Lallo Gori
Cast: Franco Nero, George Hilton, Nino Castelnuovo

Mega Film Colt, I.F. Produzioni Cinematografiche, Panta Cinematografica, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

Lucio Fulci, most famous for directing several classic Italian horror films – most notably Zombi 2, also directed a handful of spaghetti westerns.

In Massacre Time, he directs Franco Nero, who was just coming off of his biggest hit Django. This movie was actually repackaged as a Django film in some international markets, making it one of several dozen unofficial Django pictures. Although, this has nothing to do with the character of Django. Nero plays someone else entirely.

Massacre Time sees Franco Nero return home to find everyone that he knows and loves to be under the rule of evil land barons. He quickly develops a rivalry with the son of the evil patriarch. This leads to a brutal bullwhip fight and other confrontations between the two. The bullwhip fight is the highlight of the film for me, as it was actually quite intense and nasty.

Nero teams up with his brother in a war against the land barons. There is a lot of action and typical spaghetti western violence. The style of the film isn’t all that refined but it certainly feels like the tone of a Fulci picture.

It isn’t a great movie but it gets a lot of praise from spaghetti western aficionados. I found it to be pretty dull for the most part, except for the bullwhip battle. The final battle is a bit clunky and has no real suspense. The film just sort of ends with a resolution that felt half-assed on execution. But it was also an early film in Lucio Fulci’s catalog and probably a big learning experience for him.

 

Hanging For Django (1969):

Also known as: Una lunga fila di croci (Italy), A Noose For Django, No Room to Die
Release Date: April 18th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Garrone
Written by: Sergio Garrone
Music by: Vasco Vassilli
Cast: Anthony Steffen, William Berger

Junior Film, 97 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen is back!… Again! Apparently he wasn’t sick of playing various incarnations of Django. In fact, maybe his movies are actually sci-fi pictures, as we are peeking in on different Djangos from different dimensions and timelines. Actually, he isn’t even named Django in this one, he is referred to as “Johnny Brandon”.

This movie teams up Steffen with another spaghetti western great, William Berger. Both men form an alliance, as bounty hunters, to stop a rich guy that is smuggling in immigrants and doing other criminal things. It sort of starts like the relationship between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in For A Few Dollars More but then there are double crosses and lots of fun twists to the plot.

For another film ripping off the Django name, this one could have survived on its own merits. It was a good spaghetti picture and the chemistry between Steffen and Berger was pretty awesome. Steffen is such a good hero and Berger always does a magnificent job with these sinister weasel roles. Just look at how he almost steals the show away from Lee Van Cleef in the original Sabata.

Hanging For Django is actually my favorite of the three pictures from this set. Strangely, the one actually starring Nero (the original Django) was the one I liked least. However, all three are pretty close to the same level. This one just gets a slight edge because I really liked the Steffen-Berger match up. This one was also better shot and edited than the two other pictures here.

There’s also a seven barrel shotgun in this movie… seven!

Retro Relapse: Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Originally written in 2015.

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Film Review: Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

Also known as: I quattro dell’apocalisse (Italy)
Release Date: August 12th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Ennio de Concini
Based on: The Luck of Roaring Camp and The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Brett Harte
Music by: Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi, Vince Tempera
Cast: Fabio Testi, Lynne Frederick, Michael J. Pollard, Harry Baird, Adolfo Lastretti, Tomas Milian

Coralta Cinematografica, Cineriz, Blue Underground, 104 Minutes

four_of_the_apocalypseReview:

Lucio Fulci is most known for horror but he did do a few spaghetti westerns as well. Four of the Apocalypse may be the most brutal western of his that I have seen. It actually could be the most brutal western I’ve ever seen from any director.

The most notable star is Tomas Milian, who plays the sick and twisted Chaco. The “four” from the film’s title are played by Fabio Testi, Lynne Frederick, Michael J. Pollard and Harry Baird. Donal O’Brien also shows up as a sheriff.

The plot follows four strangers: a gambler, a pregnant prostitute, a drunk and a crazy person. The town they are in comes under attack during a raid of the local casino. The next morning the sheriff gets the four strangers out of town on a wagon. The four encounter some religious types on the road and eventually run into a Mexican named Chaco. Chaco tortures a lawman to the disgust of the group, he then gets them high on peyote, ties them up in their sleep and rapes the pregnant prostitute. He does more dastardly things and makes an enemy out of the “four”.

The film is very dark and pretty uncomfortable and plays more like a horror movie than a western at times. Fulci employs the best of both genre worlds and makes it work. There is nothing remotely likable or redeemable about Chaco and you want to see the hero hurt him bad, not just kill him.

This isn’t a typical Italian western and you had best prepare for a good amount of gore and violence. Think 70s Italian horror with a western twist and that is the best way to go into this picture.

Visually and tonally, the film is consistent with Fulci’s style and has the same sort of spirit you would expect if you’ve seen any of his other work.

Milian, who is typically a really likable guy, has never been more evil.

Film Review: Zombi 2 (1979)

Also known as: Zombie (USA)
Release Date: August 25th, 1979 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos

Variety Film, 91 Minutes

zombi2Review:

Zombi 2, known in America as just Zombie, is a 1979 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It was made to be a sequel of sorts to George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead, which was known internationally as Zombi.

Yes, that’s confusing, especially since Zombi 2 produced its own new mythos and franchise and because Romero made his own sequel in 1985 called Day of the Dead.

I look at this as its own film and not part of Romero’s still expanding universe. The main difference between the two worlds is that this film’s zombies are created through Voodoo where Romero’s were not.

The film is one of the best Italian horror films of its time. It doesn’t have the visual insanity of a Dario Argento picture but it is chock-full of dread and very unsettling. There are scenes in this film that are still effective and terrifying.

There are also scenes that are so bizarre, that you can’t not love this movie. For instance, there is a zombie just hanging out underwater at one point and then it gets into a fight with a shark. And they used a real shark while filming. Some guy, in full zombie makeup, with his vision obscured, wrestled a living shark underwater!

Zombi 2 is also a beautiful film to look at. It was mostly shot in Latina, Italy and took place in the Caribbean. Watching the film, it truly does look like a Caribbean setting. The landscape is marvelous, the water is blue and pristine – it is hard to imagine a place so mesmerizing to be the center of such horror.

I love this movie, I always have. I first saw it as a young kid who shouldn’t have been allowed to rent most of the movies I did but back then, video store clerks weren’t censorship Nazis.

If you are a fan of Italian horror or zombie films, this one is worth your time. Unless you want fast moving zombies, constant gore and non-stop action. This film has its share of gore and action but the majority of the film is there to build suspense before the big final fiery crescendo.