Contamination (1980) (Video Nasty review #11)

It is my intention to eventually watch and review all 72 movies on the ‘video nasties’ list released by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK in 1983. In a time before videos were classified by the BBFC, each of these films were considered so shocking by the DPP that any video shop owner found to be selling or renting it could have faced prosecution. To see my other video nasty reviews so far, click here.

Contamination posterDirector: Luigi Cozzi

Starring: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” (Stella, Contamination)

I’ve got a lot of time for Italian horror from the late ’70s and early ’80s. This was a fruitful period for low-budget horror, mostly thanks to the countless Italian rip-offs that were churned out in next to no time.

No film was safe from the Italian ‘homage’: when Jaws came out, a bunch of killer shark (and piranha and whale) films were released within a matter of months. Following Dawn Of The Dead, you couldn’t move in Italy for cheapo zombie flicks.

Meanwhile, Contamination – in case you couldn’t tell from the poster – was inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Continue reading “Contamination (1980) (Video Nasty review #11)”

Night Train Murders (1975) (Video Nasty review #10)

It is my intention to eventually watch and review all 72 movies on the ‘video nasties’ list released by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK in 1983. In a time before videos were classified by the BBFC, each of these films were considered so shocking by the DPP that any video shop owner found to be selling or renting it could have faced prosecution. To see my other video nasty reviews so far, click here.

Night Train Murders posterDirector: Aldo Lado

Starring: Irene Miracle, Laura D’Angelo, Flavio Bucci, Macha Méril, Gianfranco De Grassi, Enrico Salerno, Marina Berti

Also known as: Late Night Trains (UK VHS release), Last Stop On The Night Train (US), New House On The Left (US)

“We’re only gonna cut her a little.” (Curly, Night Train Murders)

In 1972, Wes Craven wrote and directed The Last House On The Left.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film The Virgin Spring, it was a bleak film in which two teenage girls are encountered in the woods by a trio of criminals – two men and a woman – who proceed to rape and murder the girls.

Fleeing from the scene, the three seek refuge in the home of a friendly couple, who by sheer coincidence are the parents of one of the girls. When the parents discover what has happened, they decide to get revenge, with gory results.

The Virgin Spring had come and gone without much hullabaloo, being a classy Swedish art film and all. But The Last House On The Left was grim and sleazy enough to spark a grindhouse genre of its own: the revenge film. Continue reading “Night Train Murders (1975) (Video Nasty review #10)”

The Burning (1981) (Video Nasty review #9)

The Burning posterDirector: Tony Maylam

Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Jason Alexander

“They never found his body, but he survived. He lives on whatever he can catch. Eats them raw, alive. No longer human. Right now, he’s out there. Watching, waiting. Don’t look: he’ll see you. Don’t move: he’ll hear you. Don’t breathe: you’re dead!” (Todd, The Burning)

Although there were a number of slasher films before Friday The 13th (most notably Halloween and Black Christmas), it was that film’s success which led to the birth of a sub-genre that was by far the most oft-imitated during the ’80s: the camp slasher.

(Obviously, by that I mean slasher films set in a summer camp, as opposed to films where a killer prances around going “oo-er missus” before stabbing someone.)

One of the earliest imitations – and one of the best, actually – was The Burning, a film written and produced by the then-indie Weinstein brothers and their small studio Miramax. Continue reading “The Burning (1981) (Video Nasty review #9)”

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) (Video Nasty review #8)

Cannibal Holocaust posterDirector: Ruggero Deodato

Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Gabriel Yorke, Luca Barbareschi

TV EXECUTIVE – “Today people want sensationalism. The more you rape their senses the happier they are.”

PROFESSOR MONROE – “Ah, yes, that’s typical western thought. Civilised, isn’t it? That’s what Alan thought and that’s why he’s dead. The Yacumo Indian is a primitive and he has to be respected as such. You know, did you ever think of the Yacumo point of view? That we might be the savages?”

Note: Other then the official film poster above, the rest of the images in this review have deliberately been chosen to hide some of the film’s gorier, more offensive scenes. Despite this, the review still features descriptions of these scenes and as such those with a weak stomach may wish to just give this film their own score of zero and move on.

The story goes that when Sergio Leone – the legendary Italian director of Once Upon A Time In The West and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – first saw Cannibal Holocaust, he felt compelled to write a letter to his friend Ruggero Deodato, the film’s director.

It read: “Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.”

He was right. Cannibal Holocaust was eventually banned in numerous countries (the unofficial estimate is around 50, including the UK and its native Italy), and such was the realistic nature of the on-screen deaths that Deodato was actually arrested and held on trial under suspicion of murder of the four main actors – a charge he was only able to drop after getting all four actors to appear at the courtroom. Continue reading “Cannibal Holocaust (1980) (Video Nasty review #8)”

The Beyond (1981) (Video Nasty review #7)

The Beyond posterDirector: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale

Also known as: Seven Doors Of Death (USA)

“Be careful what you do, because this hotel was built over one of the seven doors of evil.” (Schweik, The Beyond)

Though Italian director Lucio Fulci may be best known in the UK for his video nasty Zombi 2 (better known as Zombie Flesh Eaters), it’s another video nasty that most horror fans worldwide associate with him. It’s understandable, because The Beyond is easily one of his better films.

After starting with a flashback in which a poor sod in New Orleans is crucified in a cellar by a mob who think he’s a warlock, we fast-forward to the present day (well, 1981) where we meet Liza (MacColl), who’s moved from New York to New Orleans to inherit, refurbish and re-open a decrepit hotel.

The Beyond
Here’s a joke for you love, what do you call a blind… oh Christ I am so, so sorry

It becomes clear very quickly that, as luck would have it, the hotel is built on a gateway to Hell, and as such there’s a whole load of shit going down in the basement including the zombified remains of the lad from the flashback. That’s Hell, not Hull, mind – though I appreciate it’s hard to tell the difference. It’s up to Liza along with her friend John (Warbeck) to try to figure out how to stop this from happening. Continue reading “The Beyond (1981) (Video Nasty review #7)”

Faces Of Death (1978) (Video Nasty review #6)

Director: John Alan Schwartz

Starring: Michael Carr

“During the past 20 years I know that my compulsion to understand death was much greater than just an obsession. My dreams have dictated my mission. But now it is time to witness the final moment, to discover the circle that forever repeats ifself. The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? I’ll leave that decision to you.” (Dr Gross, Faces Of Death)

I’ve been putting off watching Faces Of Death for years but I knew that my pledge to eventually watch all 72 video nasties meant that one day I’d have to grin and bear it. With my fiancee on holiday in France, I figured there was no time like the present. As I expected, Faces Of Death is fucking horrible.

Ironically, this is actually a real drowned corpse that a member of the film crew came across by pure chance during the film's production

This gruesome ’70s film is part documentary, part mockumentary, a film that claims it wants us to consider death and make us question the ways in which we kill and be killed, but in reality it’s just an excuse to show scene after scene of grotesque footage. It’s since been admitted that around 40% of the footage was faked, but that of course means around 60% was real and that’s just macabre.

Of course, even if it hadn’t been admitted that much of Faces Of Death was fake, these days it’d be much easier to tell anyway. The film originally gained notoriety and popularity in the early days of VHS, where people would rent and copy the taboo tape, passing it around their friends and constantly degrading the already fuzzy picture quality in the process. This made it easier to believe all the footage was real, because the detail lost in the tape quality would be filled in by the viewer’s subconscious and made “realistic” in their heads.  Continue reading “Faces Of Death (1978) (Video Nasty review #6)”

The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976) (Video Nasty review #5)

Director: Matt Cimber

Starring: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown

“If only there was a way of making a fortune babysitting you, sister Molly, could be a babysitting millionaire. Don’t tell me the kids don’t like you better than they like me, their own hardworking mother. Don’t say that or I’d say seaweed if you said that.” (Cathy, The Witch Who Came From The Sea)

Let’s face it, most of the video nasties are light on plot. With gore, nudity and shock value very much the key components of your standard nasty, anyone out metaphor-hunting will come back with an empty net. Except for that one I just did. That’s my gift to you.

The Witch Who Came From The Sea, however, actually has a bit of depth to it and bravely explores a taboo that films rarely touch – the mental trauma suffered by adults who suffered child abuse when they were younger. Given the subject matter and its entry in the notorious video nasty it’s easy to believe this is likely to be a pretty repulsive film, but in actuality it’s handled with a surprising degree of tact.

"Don't worry, I'm not really a witch. I do cut dicks off, though"

Molly (Millie Perkins, fresh from her critically acclaimed role as Anne Frank) is a single woman who dotes on her two nephews. She’s their best friend and spends most of her time hanging out with them, telling them stories about the ocean and their granddad, who she claims was lost at sea. In reality, he actually sexually abused Molly when she was a little girl, and she’s struggling to come to terms with it.

Molly has an interesting way to vent her frustrations surrounding her past. She’s developed a habit of seducing men considered heroes – sports stars, TV personalities – then having sex with them before cutting off their manhood and killing them. As you do.

It was the most controversial episode in the history of Gladiators

These scenes (along with the child abuse plot) are clearly the reason The Witch Who Came From The Sea gained its video nasty status, but in reality they’re unlikely to offend anyone in this day and age. All the dodgy stuff happens off-camera and the resulting blood is so fake it looks more like red wine.

It’s not a visually shocking film, then, but it still has a bit of punch during Molly’s disturbing flashbacks of her and her father. While these are thankfully handled fairly tactfully, they still make for uncomfortable viewing. In fact, the entire film has you feeling awkward throughout thanks to its odd presentation. Some of the killings are presented as dreams (even though they happened), complete with fuzzy picture and deliberately slowed-down speech. The best way of describing it would be that it feels like a normal film on some sort of hallucinogenic drug.

The midwives looked on in shock as Barbara gave birth to a fully-grown man

By far the star of the show is Millie Perkins as Molly. A first her performance seems a little off and wooden but as the plot develops you begin to understand why that is and as her mind deteriorates during the last 20 minutes it makes for compelling stuff.

The Witch Who Came From The Sea is a surprisingly accomplished little film, albeit one that’s a bit experimental and will have you scratching your head at times. While it’s not exactly a classic you should all be rushing out to see, it’s certainly one of the more watchable (and tamest) video nasties and one you should still check out if you get the opportunity.

Night Of The Bloody Apes (1969) (Video Nasty review #4)

Director: René Cardona

Starring: José Elisa Moreno, Carlos Lopez Moctezuma, Norma Lazareno

“I’ll say that’s absurd, the proofs are circumstantial, it’s more probable that of late more and more you’ve been watching on your television many of those pictures of terror.” (Dr Martinez, Night Of The Bloody Apes)

Night Of The Bloody Apes is easily in my top ten Mexican-luchador-wrestling-ape-based monster movies, and I can assure you that’s a highly competitive list. Given its title though, it’s actually a little disappointing since there’s only one ape in the film and it’s not really a proper one. Let me explain.

The movie has two main plotlines. Lucy, a masked wrestler, is having problems living with herself after she puts another wrestler in hospital by throwing her out of the ring during a match. Meanwhile, in the same hospital, the mad scientist Dr Krellman is upset that his son is dying of lukemia and so decides that the only way to save his life is by giving him a heart transplant.

"I hope everyone likes my new church outfit"

Maybe hearts aren’t too easy to come by in Mexico – I’m no Top Gear presenter so I’m not really touching that one – but for some reason Dr Krellman decides that, rather than waiting for a human heart to become available, he’ll kill a gorilla and take its heart instead. Because that’ll definitely work and won’t fuck things up.

After the transplant, it quickly becomes clear that it definitely hasn’t worked and things are very much fucked up when Krellman’s son becomes a sort of half-man half-gorilla. His face turns into that of a strange monkey man and he has the sort of rage that can only be matched by watching someone watching two hours’ worth of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

"I only came here for bunion surgery"

Monkey chap then escapes the hospital and goes on the warpath, raping and mutilating various ladyfolk living nearby. It’s up to Dr Krellman to find out how to stop him… possibly by replacing his monkey heart with another human one. If only there was some sort of hospitalised female wrestler close to death with a heart that could be sneakily removed and used instead…

Wayne Rooney relaxes at home

Night Of The Bloody Apes is just silly from start to finish and while it’s understandable why it was considered a video nasty at the time it’s still very tame compared to some of the others. The ‘rape’ scenes are thankfully clothed and very brief and the blood is a bit unrealistic. In fact, perhaps the most controversial moments in the film are the two heart transplant scenes, which actually use stock footage of real-life human heart transplants for added realism. If you’re a bit squeamish when watching operation footage then, this isn’t for you.

By far the best thing about the film is the terrible dialogue. Since it was originally filmed in Mexico it’s all dubbed, but the translation to English is so literal that many of the lines make no real sense (like the example at the top of this review). This results in some quotable classics, like the scene where Dr Krellman tries to convince his accomplice to take the injured wrestler’s heart: “A little slither of bone lies in her cerebrum. And if by some miracle she lives she’ll be an idiot for the rest of her life.”

If a big group of you want to have a laugh while watching something pleasantly crap, Night Of The Bloody Apes is a good shout. Watch it on your own though and the novelty will wear off about half an hour in. Naturally, the trailer makes it look a lot more exciting than it really is:

Axe (1977) (Video Nasty review #3)

Director: Frederick R Friedel

Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Ray Green, Frederick R Friedel

(a tortured man jumps out a window to his death)
LOMAX: “Why’d he do that? That was twelve floors.”
STEELE: “Nah, it was only nine.”

There’s nothing like the power of advertising. Axe was originally called Lisa, Lisa and was meant to be an artsy fartsy look at the way people under attack can do disturbing things to protect themselves and their family. It didn’t do too well so it was rebranded Axe and started doing the drive-in circuit in America under the guise of a horror film. In some parts it was even renamed again, this time to California Axe Massacre, despite the fact there’s no massacre in it and it’s set nowhere near California.

Derek wasn't a fan of Radox's new strawberry-scented bath gel

The story is similar to many of the ‘revenge’ movies at the time. A gang of three ne’er-do-wells is on the run from the police so after killing a chap by beating him to death with a doll (seriously) and cutting his nose off, then traumatising a supermarket woman by shooting a bottle of ketchup above her head, they seek solace in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

The problem is, the farmhouse is the home of teenage Lisa and her fully paralysed granddad. Well, I say fully paralysed, but he’s got a different facial expression in every scene and can sometimes be seen moving his eyes or shaking, meaning instead he just looks like a man sitting there not doing anything.

Anyway, the three decide to take over the house and torment Lisa and her granddad. She’s not having it though, and after one of them tries a bit of illicit fiddling she kills him and cuts him into pieces with an axe. I’d have gone for the pepper spray myself, but I’ve never been in that situation so what do I know.

Cheer up missus, you'll get to star in a good film one day. Actually, you won't

The rest of the movie entails Lisa trying to make sure the other two gang members aren’t suspicious while also protecting her granddad from any harm. Yet despite being a brisk 68 minutes long, Axe somehow still has the ability to feel sluggish and boring at times. The acting is beyond woeful – I really hope the ‘actress’ playing Lisa was trying to make her sound a bit mental and that wasn’t her actual acting style – and that goes for everyone including the director, Frederick F Friedel, who stars as Billy, the member of the gang who has a conscience and starts to feel sorry for Lisa. Meanwhile, this poor acting is underlined with is a bizarre soundtrack consisting mainly of bongo drums and saxophones.

It’s clear that had Axe kept its original title of Lisa, Lisa it probably would have escaped the DPP’s Video Nasties list and would never been banned in the UK. Everything that could be controversial is actually pretty tame: there are only three killings and they mostly take place off-screen, the attempted sexual assault scene is a fully clothed affair and doesn’t rely on exploitative nudity to titillate audiences, and as a result it’s dwarved by most of today’s horror films (and many of those released at the same time as it) when it comes to notorious material.

Axe isn’t a completely terrible film: the first fifteen minutes are interesting and the supermarket scene is genuinely emotional. It’s certainly not enough to recommend a film on one scene though, and as a result I’d only recommend watching it if, like me, you’re trying to see as many Video Nasties as possible. In fact, the trailer’s much more fun to watch than the film, so be sure to watch it below.

HOW NASTY IS IT? – Not really nasty at all. There’s one scene involving a flick knife, and all the rest of the kills happen off-screen. There’s a fair amount of (unrealistic) blood but it’s rarely seen coming out of anyone, it’s generally just seen as stains on the floor or on the killers’ clothing. It’s no worse than the likes of Halloween and really should never have been banned in the first place, which is why these days it’s once again readily available to buy uncut.

Blood Feast (1963) (Video Nasty review #2)

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Starring: Mal Arnold, William Kerwin

“Have you ever had… an EGYPTIAN FEAST?” (Ramses, Blood Feast)

Herschell Gordon Lewis is often referred to as the Grandfather of Gore. He was the first filmmaker to make a truly bloody movie, at a time when the likes of Psycho and The Birds were shocking mainstream audiences with their relatively bloodless terror. While nowadays we’d think nothing of a horror film where someone dies a bloody death, in 1963 it was a shocking sight.

It’s surprising then to see just how far Blood Feast goes, considering many credit it as the first ever gory movie. Eyeballs are stabbed, tongues and hearts are pulled out and heads are bashed in, leaving brains scattered on the floor. The effects aren’t very convincing (the blood is the reddest thing you’ll ever see) but it’s probably a good thing because it makes the film more entertaining. Had it had the realism of something like Saw or Hostel it would have been disturbing rather than enjoyable.

That's no way to do your lipstick, you daft mare

The plot’s fairly kooky. Ramses is an Egyptian caterer who has been asked by a wealthy woman to provide an Egyptian-themed feast for her daughter’s birthday party. Ramses is happy to help, mainly because he’s been killing lasses left, right and centre to prepare for an ancient Egyptian ritual in which he wants to bring an Egyptian goddess to life, and he reckons the party will be a great time to do it.

Despite the gore effects, the most entertaining aspect of Blood Feast is the bad acting. And when I say it’s bad I mean it’s absolutely atrocious. From the killer’s terrible accent and seeming inability to say a sentence properly (not to mention his laughably bizarre silver hair and eyebrows) to the mother of one victim who sound like she’s laughing when she cries, the performances are incredibly terrible. By far the worst/best of the bunch though is the chap playing one victim’s boyfriend, whose abysmal attempt at showing grief makes him possibly the worst actor I’ve ever seen. Here, see for yourself (if you think he’s bad at the start, wait until you see him when the police turn up):

The script’s great too. From the unfortunate euphemisms (talking about the murder case, one detective tells his partner “well Frank, it looks like one of those long, hard ones”) to some truly bizarre reactions (“Ramses was the killer we’ve been looking for, Mrs Fremont.” “Oh dear, the guests will have to eat hamburgers for dinner”) there are plenty of chuckles to be had.

Blood Feast is well worth seeing for a laugh, and at a brisk 68 minutes it won’t take up too much of your time. The gore is satisfying if unrealistic, but the acting is so bad that you’ll be laughing too much to care.

HOW NASTY IS IT? – I can understand how it would have been considered nasty back in the day but given how horrifiying the likes of Saw are these days this is laughably tame by comparison now.

AVAILABILITY – It’s now available uncut in the UK, but it’s out of print. There’s an uncut American disc which is region-free (so it plays on UK players), is cheap (about a fiver) and has good extras. If you fancy it then you can click here to buy it from Amazon UK and I’ll get 40p or something for recommending it. So not only can you enjoy a laughably bad film, you can also help me rob Amazon of some of the profit. Finally, as ever, here’s the trailer: