Sunday, August 15, 2021

Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (Italy, 1980)

One might assume that if you combine the "talents" of Joe D'amato (15 Dec 1936 – 23 Jan 1999), Laura Gemser and George Eastman, you would end up with a mildly entertaining film. (Then again, maybe not.) In any case, if that is what one does assume, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead proves that one doth assume too much, for "Italy's first sexually explicit zombie film" is one damn boring film. Which doesn't mean that it doesn't have its appeal, it's just that the appeal it has is a bit like a major car accident: you might want to rubberneck, but do you really want to watch for over two whole hours? Regardless of how many dead bodies litter the street, it gets boring after awhile. That said, an accident of any kind probably makes more sense and has more coherence than this exercise in, well, cinematic, pornographic and horror ineptitude.
PG trailer to
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead:
Let's get the porn out of the way first. There is a palpable contractual division amidst the actors involved, in that it quickly becomes evident that Gemser, Eastman (nee Luigi Montefiori) and Playboy centerfold Dirce Funari (Italian issue, Aug 1978) had a "no-hardcore" clause, at least for the this film. In Funari's case, she was obviously willing to go further than either Gemser or Eastman (the latter never even manages to undo his belt or drop his trousers for his sex scenes), but true clinical detail is never shown in her scenes; even when she gives head or fingers herself, the scene is shot so you don't see anything. (The average 1970s "softcore" Great Uschi movie shows more.)
Not so with the fourth main character of the movie, played by some mustachioed guy named Mark Shannon, nee Manlio Cersosimo, who shows the full monty and even shoots a quick load in an early sex scene involving two hookers. The only truly memorable thing about his sex scenes, however, is that he has warts on his testicles. That alone says everything about how "hot" the obviously non-fluffed porn aspects of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead are. Indeed, when it comes to the explicit sex scenes, those of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead are so un-erotic, so high on the incompetently shot and framed and presented ick-level, that one could easily turn sex-negative — and that despite the fact that most of the lithesome, primarily A-cupped, heavily bushed women are actually very attractive. (Assuming D'amato did his own casting, the man was obviously a fan of A-cups.)
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead is definitely way too long for the slim story it proffers, though a more talented film-maker than D'amato, or at least someone with a bit more artistic drive or intention, might nevertheless have been able to make an interesting movie with the flick's bare bone(r)s. Some blame, of course, must also go to George Eastman, who may have gone on to become a talented and respected Italo-TV scriptwriter but displays absolutely no creative ambition in the script he provides here. The paucity of the movie isn't in any way improved by the insertion of a number of idiotic and/or extraneous scenes that do little to advance the plot but do pad the already excessive running time.
The opening and closing framing narration at a unisex insane asylum is a prime example of the unneeded. Here, we meet the obviously unhinged Larry O'Hara (Eastman) and the less-obviously unhinged Fiona (Funari), who easily sneak off to the basement to shag softcore with crazed abandonment. Whereupon, in flashback, we learn how the two came to be sex-crazed inhabitants of a loony bin. But therein, too, there is padding, sexual and zombie-wise.
For example, the first two zombie scenes of the movie: the first is of a local fisherman who is killed from behind (despite having one of the magic anti-zombie talismans that keep popping up throughout the film), and the second is of a disbelieving coroner who becomes lunch while preparing to dissect a "dead" body. Those scenes, while gory and perhaps funny enough, do nothing to advance the actual plot and have absolutely no real relevance to the rest of the movie. Once shown, they are never mentioned or referred to again, though particularly the death of the local coroner, one might think, would or should have some sort of narrative echo elsewhere in a traditionally plotted movie.
A few more padding scenes later — including those featuring warty testicles and a memorable "dance" scene in which a woman, definitely a compeer of sorts to Honeysuckle Divine, uncorks a Champaign bottle in a most creative manner — the actual narrative of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead finally kicks in. Ship captain O'Hara (Eastman, of way too many noteworthy films to include any here) gets hired by the visiting land developer John Wilson ("Mark Shannon", who supposedly began his career with an uncredited appearance in Stephen C. Apostolof's Motel Confidential [1969 / scene] and went on to such "classics" as Voodoo Baby [1980 / music], Porno Holocaust [1981 / music], and The Emperor Caligula: The Untold Story [1982 / trailer]) to take Wilson and his sexy receptacle Fiona (Dirce Funari of Escape from Women's Prison [1978 / trailer],  Midnight Blue [1979/ soundtrack], and Blue Movie (1978 / trailer]) — "I picked her up in a high-class gutter", Wilson tells O'Hara at one point — to the truly beautiful Cat Island, where the company Wilson works for plans to open a luxury resort. There, they run into what appear to be the only inhabitants of the "deserted" island, the beautiful Luna (Gemser) and her blind grandfather (an uncredited old man who was surely cast due to his facial tumor). Warning signs abound that the trio should skedaddle while they still can, but Gemser's bush and Wilson's capitalist greed keep them there until, well, it's too late and the zombies attack in an ungainly lumbering mass.
It is no spoiler to reveal that O'Hara and Fiona survive, as that is already revealed in the opening nuthouse scenes, but now they are cackling sex-obsessed crazies because, hell, that's what you become when you have sex with Gemser and survive a zombie attack on a tropical island.
For all the ineptitude displayed in Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, or perhaps because of it, the film does achieve a certain (if extremely low) level of watchability, especially since it does occasionally offer something to laugh and giggle or at least loudly snort at — including the consistently hilarious use of day-for-night shots, some amazing non-sequitur dialogue, and persistently incontiguous action. Unluckily, the few unintentional perks the flick might offer pretty much get lost in the movie's glacial pacing, which is so slow that by the time the see-it-coming-a-mile-a-way bite-the-dick-off scene transpires, the viewer is pretty much too anesthetized to care. And while some of the graphic softcore scenes do offer a level of humor or passable sleaze, the hardcore ones repulse: the movie would definitely be improved (though perhaps less memorable) by the removal of the warty-testicle scenes. (Which, we hear, one circulating version of the movie does.)
One might argue that Erotic Nights of the Living Dead does deliver what it promises, which is a mixture of porn and gore, but that is a bit like saying, dunno, that salami pizza is still an appreciatable salami pizza even if it doesn't go into the oven as long as it has dough, tomato sauce, cheese and salami. Is an uncooked pizza with all the promised or needed ingredients still a pizza worth eating?
A Schrödinger's cat question, perhaps, but while the predicate "good" is often subjective, there are nevertheless horror porn flicks out there that deliver their ingredients and remain both immensely watchable and "fun".  (Want a "fun" or "good" hardcore "horror" movie where the heavily haired sex scenes and the narrative work? Go for the surreally batshit Hardgore [1974] or the consciously culty  Thundercrack! [1975 / scene], neither of which have zombies but both of which never bore.) Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, on the other hand, is truly an example of a movie that contains what it promises but fails to succeed as porn or horror or porn horror, and thus delivers nothing that makes it worth watching.
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead is, basically, like an uncooked salami pizza... but it stinks like unwashed, warty testicles.

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