RETRO REVIEW: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Unearth a Blood-Soaked Valentine With CEMETERY MAN!

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2014 By:

CEMETERY MAN (1994); Dir. Michele Soavi; Starring Rupert Everett, Anna Falchi and François Hadji-Lazaro; Tuesday, February 18 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Bringing classic gore flicks back to life is the mission of Splatter Cinema, and this Tuesday’s engagement at the Plaza Theatre is a special one indeed: Michele Soavi’s brilliant CEMETERY MAN!

Along with his compatriot, Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary filmmaker Mario Bava), director Michele Soavi breathed a bit of life into the twitching corpse of the Italian horror renaissance kicked off by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Both worked under Argento as assistant/second unit directors, while Soavi took on acting roles in a number of Italian horror films as well (that’s him as the metal-faced mystery guy in DEMONS and as the boyfriend forced to watch his girlfriend puke up her intestines in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). And while Bava’s films typically went for the blunt, straight-ahead shocks of DEMONS and gialli like DELIRIUM, Soavi typically gravitated toward the surrealistic and fantastic elements of SUSPIRIA and THE BEYOND. 1989’s THE CHURCH and 1991’s THE SECT—both made under the auspices of Dario Argento’s production—both showed the kind of promise that he held as a filmmaker, but were hindered by scripts that drew too freely from highly influential works (THE CHURCH hews closely to Argento’s SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, while THE SECT is ROSEMARY’S BABY redux).

But once out from under his mentor’s wing, Soavi soared with perhaps the last great film of the Italian new wave of horror, CEMETERY MAN (released in Italy with the much better title, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, a pun on the main character’s name which translates as either “about death and about love” or “about the death of love”).

Francesco Dellamorte is the caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, assisted by his mentally handicapped assistant Gnaghi, who can only speak the syllable “gna.” Dellamorte’s humdrum life consists of maintaining the grounds, crossing out the names of the dead from phone books and killing the reanimated corpses that rise after seven days of interment…all of which he undertakes with the same bored stoicism. It’s a job, after all, and shooting the zombies is easier than going through the paperwork needed to get any help. When he becomes infatuated with a young widow and Gnaghi falls for the mayor’s daughter, however, things take a turn for the worse.

Soavi’s film is full of delightfully dark comedy and the kind of atmosphere the Italian horror scene hadn’t witnessed in years, comparable to the best of Bava, Fulci and Argento. The tone and visuals not only echo the best of Italo-horror, but also the best of Terry Gilliam’s works—no surprise, as Gillaim devotee Soavi was second unit director on 1988’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and reportedly shot about a quarter of that film. Rupert Everett is especially effective as Dellamorte, bringing the right amount of pathos and longing to his dour role, while still delivering believable doses of sarcasm, wit and violence. And while the film isn’t quite as graphically violent as many of its Italian zombie counterparts, its effects (by maestro Sergio Stivaletti) are expertly pulled off.

It’s a rare film that can combine detailed character study, an exploration of the joys and pain of love and romance, rollicking comedy, explosive violence and the inevitable reanimation of the dead. But CEMETERY MAN is it. If just about anyone else tried to do it, it would likely come out as pretentious and scattershot, but Michele Soavi is the man who proved it could be done and done successfully.

Unfortunately for the Italian horror film scene and its fans, Soavi retired from feature film work after CEMETERY MAN to care for his ailing son, though he took on some television work in the years following. And while rumors of a return to horror have been suggested (with news of a potential sequel to CEMETERY MAN floated over the past two years), Soavi’s resurrection remains something the faithful still anticipate with bated breath.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema Opens the Door to Fulci’s THE BEYOND at The Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Mar 12th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema Presents THE BEYOND (1981), fully remastered and uncut direct from Grindhouse Releasing; Dir: Lucio Fulci; Starring Catriona McColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale; Tues. March 13 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Originally an art critic who became a filmmaker (he made 18 comedies before becoming renowned as one of the most violent, gory Italian horror movie directors), the late, great – some might say “crazy” – Lucio Fulci made some of the coolest, most demented flicks of the late 70s/80s. Need a roll call? ZOMBIE (1979), promoted in Europe as a sequel to Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD; THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), THE BEYOND (1981), etc., etc (he made over 50 movies).

What accounts for the violence in his later films? His wife’s suicide back in 1969 and a daughter’s fatal car accident several years later always weighed heavily on him, and his hyper-violent films such as THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) caused him to be branded a misogynist by prentious critics, although he always claimed that he loved women. He also struggled with severe type 2 diabetes, a fact he tried to hide from colleagues, fearing he would be deemed unemployable.  And he was an inveterate gambler.

So what about THE BEYOND? For those who are not die-hard horror fans, the basic scenario is this:

E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà, its original Italian title, also known as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH, is Lovecraftian in tone. The film has gained a cult following over the decades, in part because of the film’s gore-filled murder sequences, which were heavily censored when the film was originally released in the United States in 1983.

Cinzia Monreale as the creepy Blind Girl in THE BEYOND (1981); Grindhouse Releasing.

In 1927, Louisiana’s Seven Doors Hotel is the scene of a vicious murder as a lynch mob crucifies an artist named Schweick, whom they believe to be a warlock. The artist’s murder opens one of the seven doors of death, which exist throughout the world and allow the dead to cross into the world of the living. Several decades later, a young woman inherits the hotel and plans to re-open it for business. But her renovation work activates the hell-portal, and soon she and a local doctor find themselves having to deal with the living dead, and Schweick, who has returned as a malevolent, indestructible corpse, apparently in control of the supernatural forces.

 

Need I say more? Other than get down to The Plaza Theatre Tues. night, March 13 for a rare, gory treat of Italian horror weirdness.

Contributing Writer Philip Nutman  knows a thing or two about zombies: he is the author of the cult classic undead novel, WET WORK, and recently produced ABED, the sickest zombie love story ever, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema Opens the Gory Gates of Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD

Posted on: Aug 8th, 2011 By:

US poster for CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, released here as THE GATES OF HELL.

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

Splatter Cinema Presents CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Paura nella città dei morti viventi) (aka THE GATES OF HELL) (1980); Dir: Lucio Fulci; Screenplay by Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti; Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl; Tues. Aug. 9; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Regurgitated guts. A drill bit to the head. A pick axe in the eye…

Welcome to Lucio Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, one of the most memorable – and shocking – “gore” films of the 1980s, presented in all its uncut, gruesome glory this Tuesday night at The Plaza Theatre, brought to you by those celluloid-lovin’ maniacs known to Atlanta residents as Splatter Cinema.

This may look like Christopher Lee, but it's actually the suicidal priest in THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, now available also on Bluray DVD from Blue Underground.

For this month’s gut-wrenching, retro bloodbath, it’s spaghetti splatter with lots of weirdness on top. The late Italian director has been variously reviled by film fans as either one of the worst movie-makers of all time (he’s definitely not) or hailed a horror visionary and unique director. Honestly, there was no one quite like Lucio, but he would never have won an Oscar or its Italian equivalent. A distinctive director, yes; talentless, exploitive hack, NO!

For ATL Retro readers who only know his name in regards to his pasta horror flicks of the late ‘70s through the mid-‘90s (Fulci died of a heart attack in 1996), it should be noted that he made dozens of films over a 30-plus year career, which spanned comedies, costume dramas, spaghetti westerns, giallo thrillers and many more. Like acclaimed director Roman Polanski, who started out making absurdist dramas, weird thrillers (KNIFE IN THE WATER [1960]), became known as a “horror” director because of REPULSION (1965), THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) before making one of the greatest movies of all time, the retro noir CHINATOWN (1974), Fulci escapes classification; he is sui generis.

One of the LIVING DEAD in Fulcio's zombie classic.

But splatter and zombies, and madness and more zombies and splatter (and the disgusting THE NEW YORK RIPPER [1982]) are what have seemingly become Fulci’s legacy. That said, he made two of my favorite Italian movies, the sprawling, hysterical historical costume drama, BEATRICE CENCI [1969]) and the insane psycho-thriller, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING [1972].

The story, with a vague nod to H.P. Lovecraft, starts in the small New England town of Dunwich, where a priest commits suicide by hanging himself in the church cemetery which somehow opens the gates of hell, allowing the dead to rise. Peter (Christopher George), a New York City reporter, teams up with a young psychic, Mary (Catriona MacColl), to travel to the town where they team up with another couple, psychiatrist Jerry and patient Sandra, to find a way to close the gates before All Saints Day or the dead all over the world will rise up and kill the living.

Bleeding eyes were the tamest effect in Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD>

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD was Fulci’s second foray into “undead” territory after 1979’s ZOMBI 2, a quick cash-in on the success of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). The first of his unofficial “undead” trilogy (CITY was followed by THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY in 1981), this is one of the director’s best horror films. According to the fine folks at The Plaza, the print also is one of the most complete, good quality prints you’ll see on the big screen at this time – uncut, with all the infamous scenes intact. A must-see for all lovers of ‘80s horror and spaghetti splatter, and a primer for would-be filmmakers, CITY is loaded with atmosphere, shocking moments and typical Italian weirdness which unfolds like a fever dream. In other words,  park your left, logical brain hemisphere at the door and just go with the demented flow…You have been warned!

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