This week I take a look at more films I’ve covered in detail in my book ‘Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’. The first five Italian cult movies I recommended as essential were ‘The Trojan War’, ‘Maciste in Hell’, ‘Sons of Thunder’, ‘Blood and Black Lace’ and ‘The Castle of the Living Dead’. Here are five more essentials no collection should be without.
The Last Man on Earth (Salkow/Ragona, 1964)
This Italian-US co-production starred Vincent Price as Dr Robert Morgan, the lone survivor of a worldwide plague. Apparently immune, he lives in his barricaded house by night, as hordes of vampirised undead attack his stronghold. During the day Morgan travels the city in his hearse-like station wagon, staking the vampires and throwing their bodies in a perpetually burning mass grave, the Pit. This is an ultra-bleak adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel ‘I Am Legend’. It was shot on location in Rome, including the steps of the grand Palazzo Della Civilta and the distinctive mushroom tower of Il Fungo, in the E.U.R. district. The shambling vampires resemble zombies and some scenes look to have inspired George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968).
The old AIP TV print of this is available in many multi-movie sets, such as Mill Creek’s 50 movie ‘Horror Classics’ pack, but to see it in 2.35:1 Alpha Video put out a pretty good letterboxed edition
Cornerstone Media release
It’s also available in a colourised version
The Wild Wild Planet (Antonio Margheriti, 1966)
Even including Mario Bava’s ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965), this is my favourite Italian sci-fi movie. In fact, ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ is a combination of futuristic crime film, horror and fantasy. On space station Gamma One, Commander Halstead is suspicious of the macabre experiments in organ miniaturisation by Professor Nurmi (Massimo Serato). On Earth, people are disappearing mysteriously. When Mike’s girlfriend, Lieutenant Connie Gomez (Lisa Gastoni), accepts Nurmi’s offer to take a vacation on Delphos at Nurmi’s research facility, Mike ends up amid some of the wackiest footage in the sci-fi genre. The supporting cast includes Carlo Giustini, Franco Ressel, Goffredo Unger and a young Franco Nero. The kidnappings are perpetrated by Nurmi’s karate-kicking, robotic women who are accompanied by inflatable henchmen – mysterious anaemic bald zombies, wearing caps, shades and long grey macs – and the finale sees the Delphos space station flooded with blood plasma.
The very good news is that the Warner Archive has released this film on DVD
The film’s prequel ‘War of the Planets’ and another of Margheriti’s sci-fi movies, ‘The Snow Devils’, are also available
Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
Like ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, this was another in a long line of spaghettis that used Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ as inspiration, Corbucci’s ‘Django’ was as influential in Italy as Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy. Franco Nero played gunrunner Django, who drags an example of his wares around with him in a coffin. This violent, muddy anti-western has inspired many ‘Django’ movies, from 1966 through to Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming western ‘Django Unchained’. In Corbucci’s original, Django mows down the vermin of a ramshackle frontier town teetering on the brink of collapse – the two warring gangs here are red-hooded Confederate zealots and Mexican would-be revolutionaries. A great spaghetti western, however the English dubbing is appalling. Try and track down the Italian language version, with English subtitles from BU
This is the English dubbed release from Argent
Argent are also re-releasing it in the UK on Blu-ray in January 2013. No word on extras, options etc yet. Let’s hope it has an Italian with English translated subs version
Special Mission Lady Chaplin (Alberto De Martino, 1966)
Ken Clark played Dick Malloy – C.I.A. Agent 077 – in three entertaining spy movies aping the James Bond films, of which this is the best. The other two are ‘Mission Bloody Mary’ (1965) and ‘From the Orient With Fury’ (1965 – rather than ‘From Russia With Love’). ‘Lady Chaplin’ was directed by De Martino, but has action sequences staged by Giorgio Ubaldi (later of the ‘Trinity’ films) and future director Enzo G. Castellari. Malloy’s on the trail of 16 Polaris nuclear missiles which have been stolen from the wreck of USS Thresher, an atomic submarine. In Spain Malloy investigates wealthy salvager Ken ‘Kobre’ Zoltan (Jacques Bergerac) and encounters sexy French assassin Lady Arabella Chaplin (Daniela Bianchi, from ‘From Russia With Love’). Arabella, a master of disguise, is introduced as a machinegun-toting nun, shooting it out with two industrial spies (posing as monks). Her partner-in-crime is Constance Day (‘Evelyn Stewart’/Ida Galli), until she falls for Malloy’s invisible charms and works as a double agent, scuppering Zoltan’s scheme. This globetrotting instalment was filmed on location in Spain, the UK, the US and France. Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack is a brassy spy score, and the dramatic title song ‘Lady Chaplin’ is sung by Bobby Solo, who is presumably U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon’s brother.
Previously available on DVD from Dorado Films, this seems to be currently unavailable
Django Kill! (If You Live Shoot!) (Giulio Questi, 1967)
Made under the shooting title ‘Oro Hondo’, Questi’s ‘Se Sei Vivo, Spara!’ (‘‘If You Live, Shoot!’) was retitled ‘Django, Kill! (If You Live Shoot!)’ for international release. Tomas Milian’s stranger in town is nameless in the English language print. This is another ‘Yojimbo’ reworking, but this time things get stranger and stranger for the stranger. He is double-crossed by his gringo robber friends, then finds himself in a vicious frontier town (the same Spanish town set used as Fistful’s San Miguel) where he is pitted against a band of sadistic rancheros led by landowner Zorro (Roberto Camardiel) and the lynch-simple yokels, led by religious zealot Hagerman (Paco Sanz) and saloonkeeper Tembler (Milo Quesada), for ownership of a cache of stolen gold. The film ends up veering from a spaghetti western and into the gothic territories of Bava and Poe, as the tragedy culminates in a ‘Fall of the House of Hagerman’ finale, when a house burns to the ground. The fully restored version of ‘Django, Kill!’ (rated 15 in the UK) runs 112 minutes and includes much more violence and plot, but my favourite version of this film is the long-deleted UK home video version, which races along at a pacy 94-minutes and was distributed in UK cinemas by Golden Era in 1969.
This is the 112 minute version, in a very fine 2.35:1 ratio print