Tuesday, April 10, 2018

R.I.P.: Umberto Lenzi, Part V, 1983 – 1990



6 August 1931 – 19 October 2017

"A mostly unsung titan has passed." The great Umberto Lenzi has left us! In a career that spanned over 30 years, the Italian director churned out fine quality as well as crappy Eurotrash in all genres: comedy, peplum, Eurospy, spaghetti westerns and macaroni combat, poliziotteschi, cannibal and giallo.

Go here for Part I: 1958-63
Go here for Part II: 1964-68
Go here for Part III: 1969-75
Go here for Part IV: 1976-82




Ironmaster
(1983, dir. Humphrey Milestone)

We imagine Lenzi watched Quest for Fire (1981 / trailer) and Conan the Barbarian (1982 / trailer), and thus the rough idea of his next movie was born. Italian title: La guerra del ferro: Ironmaster. At least for the English-language release, Umberto Lenzi's Iron Age-set adventure flick was credited to "Humphrey Milestone".
The great poster above, for the German release, was drawn by the great Lutz Peltzer, (1925-2003) who probably made well over 800 posters during his career, including the equally breast-heavy German posters for Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox (1981 / See: Part IV) and Eaten Alive (1980 / See: Part IV). For theDVD cover below and most other places the art was used, the babe had body parts censored.
We haven't seen Ironmaster yet, but going by what It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie! says, it's our kind of movie: "This movie tries so hard to be good, and yet it shoots itself in the foot at every turn. I love movies like this — you know everyone involved was trying their absolute best to make this movie great, and yet they failed so completely that you have no choice but to laugh long and loud at their attempts. You are flogged so hard and so often with the central message of this movie ('weapons are bad') that you end up having the exact opposite opinion at the end of the movie. All in all, a near-classic."
Trailer to
Ironmaster:
Mondo Digital, which calls the movie "unforgettable", says the movie was filmed at South Dakota's Custer State Park, a location used in such movie as The Last Hunt (1956 / trailer), How the West Was Won (1962 / trailer) and A Man Called Horse (1970): "Though it doesn't have a single original bone in its body, Ironmaster still entertains mightily if you're in the right frame of mind thanks to a wild-eyed performance by George Eastman (who could really play villains like no one else), a fascinatingly unique setting that turns out to be wholly appropriate and convincing, some amusing costume choices, and a pounding, memorable score by the great Guido and Maurizio De Angelis that has yet to see the light of day in any format. Unfortunately there's a pretty big void at the center with obligatory blonde love interest Elvire Audray (girlfriend of the film's French co-financier) and especially Sam Pasco [aka Big Max & Mike Spanner & Jim Craig*], part of a peculiar trend of actors in gay hardcore productions turning up in Italian exploitation films (along with such examples as Zombie 4: After Death's [1988 / trailer] Jeff "Bratwurst" Stryker and Eleven Days, Eleven Nights' [1987 / trailer] Joshua McDonald**). It's entirely up to Pasco's bodybuilder presence to carry his role since he rarely looks like he has any idea what's going on, and the rumors about his tragic demise before the decade was out add some mystique to what is now one of the odder one-shot leading roles in Italian cinema." 
* It should be noted, his whole body was in proportion. He did a great pictorial with the legendary Bruno. In any event, if he looks like a duffus in his wig for this movie, he's nevertheless totally hot as Castro clone.
** McDonald is actually a porn film director and producer, but who's going to split pubic hairs?
To publicize the known rumors, we go to Cinema's Fringes, which says: "The back story of the film's main star — Sam Pasco — is more interesting than the film itself. He was a bodybuilder, gay model and porn star who regularly used the pseudonym 'Big Max'. Ironmaster is his only known non-porn movie credit, and it has been rumoured (although not verified; the porn industry is notoriously secretive) that he died in 1985, possibly as a result of overdosing on steroids. His co-star Elvire Audray also came to a sad, premature end as she committed suicide in the year 2000 at the age of 40."
Some sites, it should probably be added, say Sam Pasco died of AIDS — a death that would fit the generation.
Oh, wait. The plot? Let's go to Good Efficient Butchery for that: "Iksay (Benito Stefanelli) would rather hand control of his tribe off to the more well-liked and even-tempered Ela (Sam Pasco), but he never gets the chance since an impatient Vuud (the legendary George Eastman) bashes in his father's skull, a vicious act witnessed by Ela. Ela outs Vuud as a murderer, to which Vuud naturally responds by attacking Ela in a violent rage, accidentally killing Rag (Danilo Mattei) when he tries to break up the scuffle. Vuud is banished to the surrounding desert, where he encounters the duplicitous Lith (Pamela Prati) and discovers iron in the shape of a sword in the aftermath of a stock footage volcanic eruption. Believing he has found a new form of weapon beyond their customary rocks and sticks, Vuud returns to the tribe and is hailed as a god, his first act to banish Ela to six days and nights crucified in the desert as he and Lith take charge, roaming the land, dominating and enslaving every peaceful tribe they encounter. The cave people are ordered to accept this as their new normal and anyone who objects is killed. Ela befriends Isa (Elvire Audray [25 April 1960 – 23 July 2000]), the daughter of kindly tribe leader Mogo (William Berger of Django 2 [1987 / trailer], Dial: Help [1988 / Danish trailer], Dr M [1990 / opening] and so much more), who assembles his people to help Ela take back his tribe and overthrow the despotic Vuud and the scheming, self-serving Lith, his chief source of encouragement and prodding." 



Wild Team
(1985, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Filmed in sunny Miami. Italian title, I cinque del Condor. Aka Thunder Squad. Written by Roberto Leoni, who three years later assisted Alejandro Jodorowsky on the script to that director's typically enthralling trip into weirdness known as Sante Sangre (1989 / trailer), a much better film than this one. Going by Roberto Leoni's most recent breast-heavy project, De Serpentis Munere (2017 / trailer), a labor of love that he wrote and directed, art house is his thing. God knows, his script to this movie is totally generic.
 
The plot of this very 80s action flick, as found at Comeuppance Reviews: "On the island of Manioca, an evil, 'El Presidente'-style leader named Gomez has kidnapped the son of the rebel leader, Cordura (Franco Fantasia), who is described as a 'symbol of freedom' for the Maniocan people, although they seem pretty free as it is if we're to judge by their carnivale-style antics. A group of men in suits in Miami who work for a mining operation, and are tied up in the whole revolutionary battle financially, decide they could either spend millions of dollars mounting a rescue operation to save the son, or they could do it on a budget by employing The Wild Team! So naturally they hire a man named Martin Cuomo (Antonio "Wooden" Sabato) […] and his group, consisting of Theo (Werner Pochath [29 Sept 1939 – 18 April 1993], also of Juan Piquer Simón's Cthulhu Mansion [1992 / trailer]), Paco (Sal Borghese), Marius (Ivan "Jawline" Rassimov), and female explosives and short-shorts expert Sybil Slater (Julia Kent). The Wild Team, or perhaps the Thunder Squad (they should really make up their minds), go to Manioca and shoot/blow up some people/huts in order to save the boy and win the day. But will they be successful?"
Video Vacuum didn't like it: "Wild Team moves at a snail's pace, but if you stick with it, you'll get to see a lot of bamboo huts blow up. There are also a couple of big explosions during the finale, and we also get a decent arrow through the neck scene in there as well. And while none of this comes close to salvaging the movie, it's enough to save it from getting a One Star rating."
But it's the movie's very badness that appeals to Mondo Squalid, which gushes that "this is a classic example of 'so bad it's good' cinema. There are many moments that stand out in this one including an obscenely terrific sequence where I kid you not, psychoanalysts [sic]* are used to telepathically locate where the kid is being held captive. If I didn't have a beer belly, I would have broken my jaw on the floor at how terrific that is. Another highlight for me is the absolutely terrible German accent used for Werner Pocath's character. I have no idea if the Austrian dubbed his own voice or not but either way... it's one of the most painfully awful yet amazing accents I have heard! It definitely gives the cliché Nazi evil genius voice we all know and love a run for its money. Wild Team's another one of those films where there are just tiny moments of absurdity that will have you yelping with laughter and disbelief all the way through!" 
* He means "psychics", we assume.
Interesting to note that the sleeve art for the various VHS releases around the world is far more interesting and qualitative noteworthy than the movie itself. 



Bridge to Hell
(1986, writ & dir Umerto Lenzi)
Italian title, Un ponte per l'inferno; possibly aka Commando Panther. Lenzi returns to macaroni war movie genre with this little-seen flick, the scenes of which are supposedly edited in from Hajrudin Krvavac's Battle of the Eagles (1979 / trailer) and Stipe Delic's Sutjeska (1973 / credit sequence).
Video Vaccum, which says "this one was a real bitch to stay awake through", has the plot: "Three multi-national WWII soldiers escape from a German prison camp and run into a squadron of American soldiers. They give our heroes a choice: Take part in a daring assault on a German stronghold or be labeled as deserters and be incarcerated. They naturally agree, but their real intention is to steal a cache of gold from a bunch of nuns."
Where are nude nuns with big guns
when you need them?
Monster Hunter, which raves "With Bridge to Hell […] Umberto does the unthinkable — he bores our ass off!", also says "Bridge to Hell is the sort of movie that makes the following quote possible: Director Umberto Lenzi and star Andy Forest would team up again with better results in The House of Witchcraft!"
 
Pay the Rent:
In any event, no one — and we mean no one — who has seen the movie, and saw fit to write about it online, seems to have liked the movie. 



Wartime
(1987, writ & dir Umberto Lenzi)
Not to be confused with Teddy Page's Wartime, starring Bo Severson and also from 1987, aka Movie in Action (trailer). No this Wartime here is another Lenzi Italo-Yugo coproduction which, like Lenzi's other Italo-Yugo war flicks, is justifiably obscure. Italian title: Tempi di Guerra.
Co-written by Ambrogio Molteni, who had worked on more-interesting projects in the past, including Bruno Mattei's Caged Women / Violenza in un carcere femminile (1982 / trailer), I vizi morbosi di una governante (1977 / opening credits), Enter the Devil / L'ossessa (1974 / trailer), and a little project he co-directed, Death on the Fourposter / Delitto allo specchio (1964 / trailer).
 
Wartime did make it to Germany, where it was entitled Kommando Schwarzer Panther, or "Commando Black Panther". Over at Film Fan, they even have a plot description, which we have translated very, very loosely: "The inferno of World War II is heading to its climax: Although the battle that should have brought the 'Final Victory' has been lost, SS officers, partisans and spies are taking the madness of war to the next level. Amundsen (Giacomo Rossi Stuart [25 Aug 1925 – 20 Oct 1994] of Kill Baby Kill [1966 / trailer] and The Last Man on Earth [1964]), a Swedish scientist, seems to have the key to ending all wars in his head — could he possibly change the tide of the war with a new weapon that he has already made? And if yes, for whom? Both the German intelligence officer Dietrich (Werner Pochath) and the Anglo-American spy Rosen (Peter Hooten) want to get their hands on the Swedish Professor. An undertaking that is bound to end in blood, filth and death. In the Italian Austrian Alps, it comes to the final, crucial battle with tanks, infantry, mountain troops and partisans of all colors...."
German trailer to
Kommando Schwarzer Panther:
Trivia: The mostly retired American actor Peter Hooten is the first actor to have ever played Marvel's comic character Dr Strange, which he did in the 1978 TV movie Dr Strange (trailer). Hooten, the significant other of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet James Merrill (3 Mar 1926 – 6 Feb 1995), retired from films after Claudio Fragasso's 1990 horror movie Non aprite quella porta 3 / Night Killer (full movie) and eventually moved to Florida, first to St. Augustine and, most recently, Sarasota. There, in the geriatric state, he has participated in two regional horror movies, John Rusnak's House of Blood (2013 / trailer) and Michael Lang's Souleater (2017 / trailer).



Ghosthouse
(1988, dir. "Humphrey Humbert")
Umberto Lenzi returns to horror with this turdberry, produced by no one less than the legendary and prolific purveyor of trash of all kind, Joe D'amato (15 Dec 1936 – 23 Jan 1999). Released as Ghosthouse in the US, in Italy it had the moniker La Casa 3 so as to ride on the coattails La Casa 2 (otherwise known as Sam Rami's Evil Dead 2 [1987 / trailer]) and La Casa 1 (Sam Rami's Evil Dead [1981 / trailer]), two movies this one has nothing to do with. But then, neither did La Casa 4 (aka Witchery [1988 / trailer]) or La Casa 5 (aka Beyond Darkness [1990 / trailer]) or La Casa 6 (aka House II: The Second Story [1987 / trailer]) or La Casa 7 (aka The Horror Show [1989 / Italian trailer]). Supposedly Ghosthouse filmed in the same house as Lucio Fulci's The House by the Cemetery (1981 / trailer). 
Go here for our review of Ghosthouse — we watched it so you don't have to.
Trailer to
Ghosthouse:
But then again, some people do like it — Ninja Dixon, for example, who calls the movie a "criminally underrated corny masterpiece". Here's his plot description: "The wonderfully stiff couple Martha and Paul (played with the enthusiasm of a couple of wax dolls by Laura Wendel and Greg Scott) pick up a mysterious message at their radio…thingie (I'm too lazy to check the English expression for what they're doing). Paul suspects it's a murder and together they manage to find the source… and meet another couple with radio-thingie as a hobby. It's their voices they heard (and recorded), but they're still alive! They're based at a strange old house, and soon something kills them off one by one!"
 
Laura Wendel, born Daniela Barnes in Munich to the German actress Britta Wendel (seen somewhere in Fellini's Roma [1972 / trailer]) and the American football player and film actor Walter Barnes (26 Jan 1918 – 6 Jan 1998, of Day of the Animals [1977 / German trailer], Pigs [1973 / full movie] and Lenzi's Queen of the Seas [1961 / see Part II], among many projects) may not have been much of an actress, and her outfits in Ghosthouse are one and all uncomplimentary, but nude and unashamed she does look good. The image of her above is not from the movie.



Primal Rage
(1988, dir. Vittorio Rambaldi)
Italian name: Rage — Furia primitive. The same year that Lenzi regurgitated the less-than-spectacular Ghosthouse, he supposedly supplied the script to this Italo-horror under the nom de plume "Harry Kirkpatrick". The director of Primal Rage, aka the son of the great Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi [15 Sept 1925 – 10 Aug 2012], who seems to have made his feature film directorial debut with this movie, returned the scriptwriting favor by co-scripting Umberto Lenzi's 1989 release Nightmare Beach — which, like this movie here, was also filmed in Florida at the same time, according to some sources (the two movies even share a few of the same actors and possibly the same red scooter).
One cannot help but wonder if the name given to the virus in 28 Days Later (2002 / trailer) & 28 Weeks Later (2007 / trailer) isn't a nod to the virus in this movie... or, hell: whether the scriptwriter of 28 Days Later didn't simply rip this film off and do a better job with the concept.
Italo Trailer:
In any event, DVD Drive-In has the plot synopsis: "On a typically active Florida college campus, Ethridge (Bo Svenson, the veteran among a cast of mainly unknowns) is given funding to do research using a baboon, for reasons that have to do with restoring dead brain tissue, or something to that effect. Smiley campus nice guy Sam Ash (Patrick Lowe of Slumber Party Massacre II [1987 / trailer]) and self-labeled gonzo journalist Duffy (Mitch Watson of Rush Week [1988 / trailer]), plan to break the story and find out what this guy is up to. Duffy makes the mistake of breaking into the lab, accidentally freeing the primate (soon killed by an oncoming police car), but is bitten in the process. It seems the animal was given some sort of experimental injections and now Duffy is infected with a 'rage' disease that gets progressively worse. With Duffy quickly transforming into a diseased madman, Sam sets them up on dates with two campus cuties in the shape of Lauren (Cheryl Arutt) and Debbie (soap star Sarah Buxton). Duffy shows his first signs of intensified rage by ably protecting date Debbie from a much beefier, sexist aggressor, but later as they're smooching by the pool, his hickey infects her with the rage syndrome. Duffy later goes ape shit in a doctor's office and proceeds to kill a few innocent bystanders. Debbie becomes abducted by a trio of muscle-headed would-be rapists, but the imbeciles only manage to get bitten (and you guessed it, infected) before she easily gets away. The police rightly suspect Duffy of the slaughter and destruction, while Sam has to make a drastic decision about his buddy's well being. Sam's romance with Lauren flourishes and the effects of the spreading rage virus culminate at a campus Halloween party, providing a lively backdrop for the climax."
 
Good ol' Final Girl, it would seem, doesn't seem to have truly enjoyed the movie, and ponders: "Gee, I really love 28 Days Later but I wish it took place quietly on a college campus. And I wish the characters were fairly irritating and they'd do really nonsensical things. And I wish that there was an awful '80s soundtrack that consisted mostly of one song played over and over again. And I wish that there was really no urgency to the proceedings, even when three rage-infected rapists run around at a Halloween party killing people... basically, I wish 28 Days Later was a fair-to-middling, mildly entertaining '80s movie that doesn't capitalize on a good concept, even though it has decent enough gore!" (Tell 'em like it is, Stacy!)
House of Self Indulgence, however, truly gets down to brass tacks and says: "Every time Bo Svenson's weak-ass ponytail would appear onscreen, I found myself teetering on the brink of madness. Now, normally, I'm in favour of ponytails on men, but the one Bo Svenson (Night Warning [1982 / trailer, with Susan Tyrrell]) sports in this movie gives male ponytails a bad name. In fact, if I had a ponytail while I watched this movie, I would have cut it off in disgust the second I had the chance. It's a good thing I already went through my ponytail phase, or else we would have been... uh, I guess, cleaning up a huge wad of hair. What I think I'm trying to say is this: I despised Bo Svenson's ponytail in this movie."
Pre-Obamacare
Rage:
Cool Ass Cinema, in any event, raves (?): "Primal Rage is a terrible movie, but one that fans with a sweet tooth for crap cinema will gleefully gobble up. From the very beginning the viewer instantly knows they are in for a riotously horrible good time. In fact, you're not even sure if what you're watching is a horror movie what with sappy opening resembling a teen sex comedy than anything else. If drivel like Zombie 3 (1988 / trailer) is your cup of tea, than Primal Rage will satisfy the beast inside."
From the movie —
Love is My Mania by the (Italian) Fast Food Girls
(they couldn't sing — but with attributes like theirs, who cares?):
 


Striker
(1988, dir. "Stephen M. Andrews")
Aka Combat Force. Another Miami-made movie from 1988, this time around Umberto Lenzi wrote the script with Tito Carpi (10 July 1931 – 1998), the latter a true Italian master-scripter of filmic flotsam. Director "Stephen M. Andrews" is actually the great Italo genre specialist Enzo G. Castellari, and the movie an Italo Rambo flick, but less First Blood (1982 / trailer) than that which came later. It was followed by a sequel of sorts three years later, Project Eliminator aka Stroker (1991 / scenes). For all that, this film is obscure with a capital "O".
Nevertheless, B-Movie Bingo watched it and said, "The movie features wooden, blonde beefcake Frank Zagarino as John 'Striker' Slade, who is 'best in extraction from hostile territories'. His weapon of choice is a slingshot with a brass knuckle grip — no wonder he's considered the best! He's called upon by the US government when his old war buddy turned journalist, Frank Miller (John Phillip Law of Night Train to Terror [1985]), is kidnapped by the truth-silencing Nicaragua crime lord 'Kariasin' (John Steiner of Salon Kitty [1976]). Guided by a beautiful but deadly local woman named Marta (Melonee Rodgers), Striker infiltrates the jungle hideout of Kariasin… and beyond!"
Trailer to
Striker:
 



Nightmare Beach
(1989, writ & dir. "Harry Kirkpatrick")

"Harry Kirkpatrick", aka Umberto Lenzi, makes a cheapo American slasher in the geriatric state of Florida, taking place during the time when so many geriatrics there have heart attacks from too much visual excitement: Spring Break. That's why it's aka Welcome to Spring Break. Co-written with Vittorio Rambaldi (see Primal Rage, above) and, supposedly, some guy named James Justice. Great name.
It is hard to completely dislike a movie that features both Michael Parks (24 April 1940 – 9 May 2017, Planet Terror [2007], From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter [1999] and so much more) and John Saxon in the cast, but (Re)Search My Trash doesn't seem to have any compunctions, saying, "Nightmare Beach / Welcome to Spring Break (1988), an American production, is pretty much your standard cheap and uninteresting slasher, with Lenzi's Spartan directorial style translating into uninspired. Actually there is very little this film has to go for it, and why the American producers needed to hire an Italian director to deliver a film as routine as this is beyond me."
Italian Trailer to
Nightmare Beach:
It should be noted, however, that Wikipedia refers to Palmerini & Mistretta's book Spaghetti Nightmares for the interesting tidbit of info that "Umberto Lenzi, originally hired to direct, had a falling out with the producer just as production started and wanted to be taken off the film. […] Screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick (also known as James Justice) was given the job of directing, and received sole directorial credit, though he convinced Lenzi to remain on the set in an uncredited advisory capacity throughout the entire production. For years, many horror film fans thought Harry Kirkpatrick was an alias for Lenzi, but Lenzi has stated in interviews that there really was a Harry Kirkpatrick who wrote & co-directed that film. He explained, 'My contribution consisted solely of providing technical assistance. Welcome to Spring Break should be considered the work of Harry Kirkpatrick.'" (Personally: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.)
Beyond Hollywood, which says "Nightmare Beach is kind of like Lenzi-light — all the bad stuff and none of the good", has the plot: "A year after a biker gang leader (Rawley Valverde) is executed for murder, teens that have turned up for spring break start to die. A supernatural figure clad in black leather and riding a bike that he uses to electrocute his victims is apparently wasting the poor partygoers. Who could the killer be? The angry spirit of the gang leader? Violent cop John Saxon? The vaguely sinister Reverend Bates (Lance LeGault [May 2, 1935 – September 10, 2012])? Who cares? Well, Skip (Nicolas De Toth) cares, and after the death of his excruciatingly annoying friend, he sets out to solve the mystery in-between drinking beers and trying to get into barmaid (Sarah Buxton) Gail's pants." That's Sarah below, not from the movie.
Ha Ha It's Burl sort of hits the possible appeal of the movie on the head when he says, "The great thing about Welcome to Spring Break is that, like only a precious few other movies, such as Final Exam (1981 / trailer), it manages to achieve a great balance of spring break stuff, like boobs and beer-drinking antics, with the wacky murder stuff! (And unlike Final Exam, it's actually pretty gory!) Put it this way: have you ever watched a teen sex comedy and about halfway through it thought 'Ha ha, I wish somebody would start killing this bunch of goofs!' Well that's exactly what happens in Welcome to Spring Break! Ha ha, I give Welcome to Spring Break two beaver hunts, mostly for mixing two genres so seamlessly! Take a look yourself, and maybe, just maybe, you'll agree!"
Monster Hunter obviously does, for he literally gushes "Director Umberto Lenzi […] effortlessly delivers another cheap and scuzzy violent video wet dream!" 



Gates of Hell
(1989, writ & dir Umberto Lenzi)
Aka The Hell's Gate. Italian title, Le porte dell'inferno — co-written with his [possibly second]* wife, Olga Pehar (8 Feb 1938 – 20 Nov 2015). Possibly dry of ideas, he and his wife hop on Fulci's idea of gates of hell (see: City of the Living Dead [1980], The Beyond [1981 / trailer] and The House by the Cemetery [1981 / trailer]) and makes a movie about the Gates of Hell. Indeed, some the DVDs of the movie go so far as to claim "Lucio Fulci Presents" — Hah Hah Hah! 
* See Lenzi's first directorial effort in Part I for the explanation of "possibly second". 
Quiet Cool, which thinks that though "the script, the acting, and the budget are working against Lenzi the whole time, [...] but The Hell's Gate is sometimes b-movie magic from an Italian master," has the plot: "Maurizio (Gaetano Russo of Island of the Living Dead [2007 / German trailer] & The Red Monks [1988 / trailer]) has been living in total darkness in a grotto for seventy-eight days and has set the world record for such inhospitable living. Above ground, Dr. Johns (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart [in his last film]) awaits his return within an hour alongside the eager press to begin a series of medical tests on Maurizio to study the effects of the long cave dwelling. Dr. Johns has three assistants: Anna (Barbara Cupisti of Dellamorte Dellamore [1994 / trailer] & Stage Fright [1987 / trailer]), Paul (Pietro Genuardi), and Manfred (Lorenzo Majnoni). Chatting with the press, Dr. Johns reveals that his team has watched all of Maurizio's movements via closed-circuit television for the whole duration. What the hell is that? Static. Shit. Anna calls off the press, and let's don our multi-colored spelunking gear and go down and get the poor bastard. Wait! Enter Laura (Andrea Damiano), a beautiful young scholar, who has been studying the ancient church on the hillside top. Laura is accompanied by the whining Theo (Mario Luzzi). Laura wants to enter the grotto with Dr. Johns and his crew, because she believes the grotto is literally and figuratively linked to the church and wants to explore. Sorry, lady, but this is an emergency. Laura's trump card is an archaeological map of the underground caverns. Okay, lady, you can come but stay out of the way. Enter horror theme: the church atop the hill might have been populated by heretic priests. [...]" 
Ninja Dixon says, "Hell's Gate is far from perfect, but still an entertaining piece of b-movie heaven. [...] Ok, I've seen this movie many times but I've never understood every detail. As usual I like to focus on the good things and except the very, very low budget this movie is quite an entertaining little flick, but far from a masterpiece. [...] It's not better than Black Demons or Ghosthouse [!!!], but I have a soft spot for this one. Can't help me, so shoot me if you want."
 
Trash Film Addict, which mentions that above grounds scenes of Hell's Gate are shot "on the same location as Lamberto Bava's Graveyard Disturbance [1987 / trailer] and Deran Serafian's Interzone [1987 / French trailer]" probably wouldn't do the last, as he is of the opinion that "If you can get over the unimaginative visual style, Hell's Gate can be enjoyable. Just don't expect fresh ideas or anything remotely frightening. Better be content with occasional gore scenes and a cameo by the one and only Paul Muller."
Spoiler — Everyone dies:

 


House of Lost Souls
(1989, writ & dir. Umberto Lenzi)

Somewhere along the way — sources are not unified regarding the actual sequence of events — but either Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi approached Italian TV or Italian TV approached them about making a series of TV horror movies on the theme of "Le case maledette", or " Houses of Doom".
The result, two Fulci films, La dolce casa degli orrori / The Sweet House of Horrors (1989 / trailer) and La casa nel tempo / The House of Clocks (1989/ trailer), and two Lenzi films, this one here (Italian title: La casa delle anime erranti) and La casa del sortilegio / House of Witchcraft (1989) — the latter of which, interestingly enough, was marketed in Germany as a sequel to Ulli Lommel's (21 Dec 1944 – 2 Dec 2017) The Devonsville Terror (1983 / trailer). All four "Houses of Doom" movies were deemed too violent for Italian television, and lingered in limbo until finally being released on DVD.
Cosi Perversa seems to have ambivalent feelings about what they say is "the fourth & final film in the ironically named 'Doomed House' series": "House of Lost Souls is clearly a very silly film which rarely comes close to being scary but it has enough substance to appeal to fans who know what to expect from late-eighties Italian horror. The budget is obviously tiny, evidenced by the minimal locations, but this works in the film's favour as the longer we spend in the motel with our doomed protagonists, the more Lenzi allows the atmosphere and the environment to close in. The pace is respectably swift, and once the first head rolls the film never really lets up until the fiery finale. There are some sloppy moments however, such as Mary entering the kitchen via a set of glass doors which magically change to solid wood in the next shot, and there are even a few boom mics slipping into view (pause on 25:54)! Not to mention some truly bizarre dialogue. In my opinion it is the most entertaining of the 'Doomed House' series, despite feeling like a retread of Lenzi's earlier film Ghosthouse."
Off with his head:
Gore Press, which suggests that "if someone suggests watching this little known title, it's best to poke them in the eyes and beat them with the DVD case until they submit and allow you to choose a better film," has the plot: "House Of Lost Souls sees a group of young geologists, one of whom (Stefania Orsola Garello) suffers from ghastly visions, on their way back from a successful trip, when extreme weather conditions mean their route home is blocked. Not wanting to make their way back into town, as any sensible person would have done, they decide instead, to spend the night in a dilapidated motel in the middle of nowhere. They take to their rooms after being greeted and given room keys by the mute and surly manager (Charles Borromel) only to find that as luck would have it, they've picked the one motel that's currently haunted by the victims of the serial killer who used to run the place after he went on a murdering frenzy, offing his guests, his family and then himself back in 1969. [...]" Most die.
Unlike Gore Press, and more so than the ambivalent Cosi Perversa, Rubber Monster Fetishism has some good words for the movie: "I tend to get nostalgic from time to time, for the good old days. With that I mean all of the nice exploitation that poured out of Italy in the seventies and eighties. Those days are gone now, but now and again I find some movie from that period that I've missed and Umberto Lenzi's La casa delle anime erranti aka The House of Lost Souls is such a movie. [....] The movie starts a bit dull, and it's not helped by some really bad acting and even worse dialogue. But then, at the 35-minute mark, something magic happens. The little annoying fuck (Costantino Meloni) follows a ghost boy (Dino Jaksic) and ends up with his head in a washing machine and is wonderfully decapitated. After that, anything remotely bad was simply forgotten and I enjoyed the movie to the fullest. Yes, the acting is horrible, especially our hero who is played by Joseph Alan Johnson, writer and star of the 'classic' slasher Iced (1988 / final scene) [...]. Umberto Lenzi might not have had much of his heart in it, but even then he is still a professional and the movie looks good for its budget. The gore scenes are obviously toned down a bit and a promising scene with a chainsaw cuts away at precisely the wrong moment, but we do get a bunch of nice decapitations. Add to this a halfway decent score by Claudio Simonetti using a pseudonym and we get a cozy little Italian exploitation movie."
Before Joseph Alan Johnson retired to act at the Early Bird Dinner Theatre in Clearwater, Florida, he had some parts of various sizes in some enjoyable trash, including The Slumber Party Massacre (1982 / trailer), Il fantasma di Sodoma (1988 / full film), and Berserker (1987 / trailer).



Paura nel buio
(1989, writ & dir. "Humphrey Humbert")
Filmed in beautiful Virginia Beach, VA, co-written with his [possibly second]* wife, Olga Pehar (8 Feb 1938 – 20 Nov 2015). English title: Hitcher in the Dark. Can also be found as The Hitcher 2 and/or Return of the Hitcher, in a desperate attempt to be mistaken as a sequel to the classic road horror flick The Hitcher (1986 / trailer), which was pointlessly remade in 2007 (trailer).
* See his first directorial effort in Part I for the explanation of "possibly second".
Does the music sound familiar to you? Then maybe you once saw the Claudio Lattanzi's Killing Birds: Raptors / Zombie 5 (1987 / trailer), as both movies use the same soundtrack — probably because both movies were produced by sleazemaestro extraordinaire, Joe D'Amato. Unlike with his other US-shot movies down in Florida, Lenzi couldn't find one rent-desperate semi-name to show up for a single scene.
Trailer to
Hitcher in the Dark:
Dr Gore gives the flick "1.5 out of 4 psychotic Winnebagos", saying "Hitcher in the Dark may just be sordid enough to warrant a viewing. I can't say that I loved every second of it but it does have its seedy moments." That said, he also laments, "This movie could have been good. The problem is the acting. Since most of the movie is spent having the psycho (Joe Balogh of the what-the-fuck movie that is Revenge of the Red Baron (1994 / trailer], and Andy (12 Feb 1929 – 3 June 1991) Milligan's  Monstrosity [1987]) converse with his prey, it is imperative that the psycho be believable and, if at all possible, scary. He is none of that. In fact, he's awful. One of the worst acting performances ever. Since the camera is on him through most of the flick, he starts to wear you down with his lazy psycho routine. The hitchhiker he picks up, (Josie Bissett of Mikey [1992 / trailer]), was good."
Trailer to
Andy Milligan's Monstrosity,
featuring Joe Balogh as "Carlos":
Monster Hunter, which says that the movie "might have been a masterpiece if the producer hadn't made [Lenzi] tack on anything after the opening credits", has the plot: "[...] Forty-watt mega star Joe Balogh [...] turns it up about ten notches by adding in oversized mirrored sunglasses, a gigantic motor home, and a hilarious potty mouth for his role as hotel heir Mark Glazer. In addition to his lack of fashion sense [...], Mark's problems adjusting to his parents' breakup have led him straight into Norman Bates territory. Mark's gimmick is to drive around in an enormous, very conspicuous, and hard-to-park motor home, pick up women and make them pretend to be his mommy. Needing to unwind after a tough day of disposing corpses in the swamps, Mark goes to a bar where he refuses to take off his really big mirrored sunglasses and also refuses to talk to some chicks that are hitting on him [...]. Meanwhile, Daniela and her boyfriend Kevin (Jason Saucier of Contamination .7 / The Crawlers [1993 / trailer]) get into a fight. He gets himself slapped and she walks out on him. Later on, Mark is cruising around in his RV and she asks him for a lift to the bus station. He drugs her and takes her captive and proceeds to give her an extreme make over. This involves him looking at an 8×10 of his mommy — a middle-aged hag with a helmet haircut — and chopping Daniela's bottle blonde hair off, coloring it and sculpting it into a wig that's nastier than you can imagine. [...]"
Just to show how different the same movie can affect different people, over at The Terror Trap they say Hitcher in the Dark is a "Well-done thriller from director Umberto Lenzi. [...] Good action sequences dutifully propel the action forward, but strong performances by both Balogh and Bissett really hold the enterprise together."
 
The Video Vacuum was also impressed, but by other things: "Special mention must also be made of the great scene early in the film where a bunch of idiot white people dance around in an embarrassing manner to some truly stupid music. The shots of pasty people cavorting around the campground while shaking their groove thing and blasting their boom box will linger in your head long after you've ejected the movie out of your DVD player."
Not from the Movie —
Peaches & Herb 
sing Shake Your Groove Thang:

 


The House of Witchcraft
(1989, writ & dir Umberto Lenzi)

(OK, so this movie was made before House of Lost Souls above. Kill us.) Italian title, La casa del sortilegio, over at Amazon.com someone translated the title as "House of Shitcraft": the first of Lenzi's two movies for the aborted TV project, "Le case maledette", or "Houses of Doom". As mentioned above (see House of Lost Souls), this movie was marketed in Germany as a sequel to Ulli Lommel's The Devonsville Terror (1983 / trailer). We actually have this in our "To Watch" pile which, unluckily, is currently on Mallorca while we are in Berlin.
Why watch the movie when there's
cheap-ass trailers like this one?
The Bloody Pit of Horror has the plot: "Luke Palmer (Andy J. Forest) has been having a recurring nightmare for the past six months. In it, he encounters a grinning hag witch (Maria Clementina Cumani Quasimodo [7 Jan 1908 – 22 Nov 1995] of Nosferatu a Venezia [1987 / trailer] and Sex Life in a Women's Prison [1974 / German trailer]) after going to a large country home, and the dream always ends the same way: '...with my head boiling in that God-damn huge cauldron!' So troubling are the dreams that Luke's checked himself into a hospital for a nervous breakdown. His widowed sister-in-law Elsa (Susanna Martinková) is his doctor. She gives him a few pills and asks about how his six-month-long marriage to Martha (Sonia Petrovna) is going. Not well, he says. There's no sex and she's obsessed with the occult. Elsa tells him to stop 'dwelling on the morbid'. Luke checks out and is picked up by his wife, who has arranged one final little get-away so the two can determine whether or not their marriage is worth saving. Going by the fact they sleep in separate bedrooms upon arrival and she refers to him as 'the most abominable being in the world' at a larger junction, my advice is 'Time for a divorce!' The house Martha has rented ends up being the same large country home from Luke's nightmare. If the bad omens couldn't get any worse, Luke and Martha are involved in a car accident where the passengers of the other vehicle end up dead. She shrugs it off and demands they split before the police arrive. [...]"
But if most of people who have seen this movie — oddly enough, most reviews are in German — find it a confusing, illogical mess, Monster Hunter nevertheless gives the movie "Four heads in a cauldron out of five!"
 
Hypnotic Crescendos, on the other hand, was less impressed, though not entirely repulsed by the film: "Lenzi's second film in the [Houses of Doom] series, The House of Witchcraft (La casa del sortilegio) is, in my opinion, the worst entry of the series. The film contains little in the way of gore and its slow pacing, predictable plot and lacklustre production makes for a frustrating watch. However, as par with the course of the series, there's enough humour and the occasional unsettling Freudian-tinged moment to make this worth at least a casual watch."
And the great Paul Muller shows up again as well! (If his name doesn't ring a bell, his face should: he's the momk guy with the scissors above at Gates of Hell.)



Cop Target
(1990, dir "Humphrey Humbert")

Umberto Lenzi films a movie he didn't write! Nope, Cop Target was written by some guy named Raimondo Del Balzo (17 Jan 1939 – 22 Sept 1995), who once upon a time co-wrote Paganini Horror (1989 / trailer) and Midnight Blue (1979 / trailer). For the first time, Lenzi works together with the great Charles Napier (12 April 1936 – 5 Oct 2011); Cop Target is also the last feature film appearance for the other cult name of the movie, Robert Ginty (14 Nov 1948 – 21 Sept 2009), of The Exterminator (1980 / trailer), The Exterminator II (1984 / trailer), Warrior of the Lost World (1983 / trailer), The Alchimist (1983 / trailer), and more. Always on the sly to cut costs, sequences of the car chase scene were taken from Strike Commando (1986 / trailer), while the helicopter explosion was taken from Cobra Mission (1988 / trailer).
Trailer to
Cop Target:
According to Monster Hunter, "Napier's evil embassy character previously appeared in The Last Match (1991) so we know that the double-cross clock has officially starting ticking!" (If you don't know The Last Match yet, it's time you do.)
Trailer to
The Last Match:
Women in Prison Films has plot that they probably lifted without credit from somewhere: "I cannot fully express in words how much I love this flick so I'm rubbing my junk while I write this one-handed. Robert motherfuckin Ginty plays tough as nails, wise-crackin cop Farley Wood, don't let the name fool you he's a real man's man; we're introduced to our hero as he kerb crawls for scum and ends up helping out a transsexual in distress. No rest for the wicked tho, before you know it Wood's being packed off to a tropical island to bodyguard a dead ambassador's wife and kid. He barely has time to set his cat's automatic feeding machine but he still manages to squeeze in a quick Dirty Harry like takedown of some armed robbers at his local supermarket. Touching down on the island he takes an instant dislike to the posh bitch he's going to be protecting and a borderline racist attitude towards the locals which is handy because it's not long before Wood's called on to cull the scumbag population one bullet at a time. Ginty is one seriously relaxed actor in this one, he sleepwalks through the movie barely opening his eyes enough to make sure he won't step on the bloody cat. Every single supporting actor and extra is hilarious in one way or another. Poor Barbara Bingham's motivations are all over the place from one scene to the next; witness one of the most excruciatingly awkward seduction scenes in movie history. Charles Napier looks like he's having a fucking blast though."
Barbara Bingham, found in fine stuff like Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989 / trailer), Horror House 2 (1990 / German trailer) and Death Mask (1984, with Farley Granger) seems to have left the film biz soon after this movie. Wonder why.
More to come...

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