The last part of my RomaDrome Top 20 Italian cult movies thread features 5 films from the tail-end of the Italian popular cinema boom. As in many cases with Italian genre movies, the genres are inspired by the popularity of a big international hit – the obvious inspirations for the following films include Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ (1975), George A. Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978), Walter Hill’s ‘The Warriors’ (1979) and John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ (1981).
‘Tentacles’ (‘Oliver Hellman’ aka Ovidio G. Assonitis, 1976)
This fishy offering gets such a slating from film critics, but it’s really an entertaining ride with an unusual and surprising big-name cast for a film about a giant octopus – this speaks volumes of how loud money can talk in the film industry. That’s Henry Fonda as Mr. Whitehead, the head of the Trojan Tunnel Company, which is responsible for using radio waves that irritate the octopus. All aboard for the seafaring adventure were Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Claude Akins, Delia Boccardo and film director John Huston. These star names are almost upstaged by the octopus, by the colourful 2.35:1 cinematography and by Stelvio Cipriani’s score, parts of which had already been heard in Massimo Dallamano’s giallo thriller ‘What Have They Done to Your Daughters?’ (1974). The cue used in the regatta scene here reappeared in Quentin Taratino’s ‘Grindhouse’ offering ‘Death Proof’ (2007). Tentacles was presented by Samuel Z. Arkoff of AIP fame in the US, with the tagline ‘It’s turning the beach into a buffet’.
It’s available on a DVD double-bill with ‘Empire of the Ants’ starring Joan Collins.
‘The Inglorious Bastards’ (Enzo G. Castellari, 1977)
Another Tarantino influencer, this lively World War II movie is ‘The Dirty Dozen’ turned up to 11. Five in-transit US army convicts escape into the wartorn French countryside, circa 1944. They become embroiled in a partisan mission by the French Resistance to waylay a train carrying a V-2 rocket warhead prototype to steal its gyroscopic guidance system. The escapees are memorably played by Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson, Michael Perglani, Jackie Constantin and Bo Svenson, while the supporting cast includes Ian Bannen, Raimund Harmstorf and Debra Berger. The best scene sees hippy Perglani riding a motorbike like Steve McQueen and when a bullet punctures his gas tank, he seals the hole with chewing gum. Castellari – who has a cameo as the commander of a German mortar battery – shot the movie in Italy, including on the Capranica-Viterbo railroad also seen in the western ‘The Five Man Army’.
It’s out on DVD with various different covers
‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (Lucio Fulci, 1979)
Has there ever been a better example of ‘truth-in-advertising’ film titling than this? Fulci’s gore classic has zombies and once they are up and about, they eat flesh. Fulci’s film has a great putrid, exotic atmosphere in the vein of Bela Lugosi’s ‘White Zombie’. It’s mostly set on an island in the Caribbean Antilles and Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci’s score sets the scene menacingly. Variety Film producers Ugo Tucci and Fabrizio De Angelis approached Castellari to direct a sequel to George A. Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, but he wasn’t interested, so Fulci took the gig. From the moment the mysterious sailboat drifts into New York harbour, the tension mounts. When the ‘earth spits out the dead’, an ancient graveyard unleashes its present tenants: the long-dead cadavers of Spanish Conquistadors. The zombies’ grotesque makeup was created by Giannetto De Rossi, who also worked on ‘Cleopatra’, ‘The Leopard’, ‘Once upon a Time in the West’ and ‘1900’.
Arrow Films has released this on Blu-Ray and DVD
‘Puma Man’ (Alberto De Martino, 1980)
De Martino’s ‘Puma Man’ (aka ‘The Pumaman’) is a notoriously bad-but-good superhero movie that has been ridiculed in a particularly entertaining episode of cult cable TV show ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’. Walter George Alton plays London-based American dinosaur expert Professor Tony Farms. He meets Aztec Vadinho (Miguelangel Fuentes, from ‘Fitzcarraldo’!)) who is ‘High Priest of the Temple of the God who Came from Other Worlds’. When he dons a magic belt, Tony becomes Puma Man, a hero with a host of cat-inspired special abilities. Sydne Rome played Tony’s love interest and Donald Pleasence (his name misspelt ‘Pleasance’ in the titles), Benito Stefanelli, Nello Pazzafini, Giovanni Cianfriglia and Guido Lollobrigida play the bad guys. Everyone except Pleasence pronounces the hero name as ‘Poo-ma Man’. There’s more than a whiff of the litter tray about this turkey, which has some of the worst ‘flying superhero’ footage you will ever see. Only recommended for those of you with a good sense of ‘hoo-ma’.
‘Puma Man’ isn’t out there on DVD at present, but versions (including the MSTK skit) show up on YouTube.
‘1990: The Bronx Warriors’ (Enzo G. Castellari, 1982)
By 1990, the Bronx has been declared a ‘no man’s land’ and is ruled by biker gang the Riders, led by Trash (Mark Gregory). Wealthy heiress Ann Fisher (Stefania Girolami, Castellari’s daughter), flees Manhattan and ends up with the Riders. As Ann is approaching her 18th birthday, she is about to inherit the Manhattan Corporation, a global arms manufacturer. Her father Samuel Fisher (Enio Girolami, Castellari’s brother) and Farley, the company’s vice-president (Castellari himself), dispatch rogue cop Hammer (Vic Morrow) into the Bronx to get her back. The quality cult cast includes Gianni Loffredo, George Eastman, Fred Williamson, Rocco Lerro, Massimo Vanni, Angelo Ragusa, Betty Dessy and Carla Brait. Equal parts ‘Escape from New York’ and ‘The Warriors’, this is the best of Castellari’s futuristic action movies that include ‘Escape from the Bronx’ (aka ‘Bronx Warriors 2’) and ‘The New Barbarians’ (‘Warriors of the Wasteland’). Gregory and Morrow make worthy adversaries. The finale has Hammer leading New York’s Special Vigilante Force in Operation Burnt Earth – the cops attack in helicopters and vans, and mounted police in crash helmets use flamethrowers to flush out the gangs. Gregory also starred in an interesting Arizona-set reworking of ‘First Blood’ (1982) called ‘Thunder Warrior’, which was directed by Fabrizio De Angelis (the producer of ‘Bronx Warriors’).
UK videotapes were a shorter 79-minute version, but it’s now available uncut on DVD
That completes my Top 20 essential Italian cult movies:
The Trojan War, Maciste in Hell, Sons of Thunder, Blood and Black Lace, The Castle of the Living Dead, The Last Man on Earth, The Wild Wild Planet, Django, Special Mission Lady Chaplin, Django Kill!, Fellini Satyricon, They Call Me Trinity, Milan Calibre 9, Deep Red, Get Mean, Tentacles, The Inglorious Bastards, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Puma Man, 1990: The Bronx Warriors.
This Friday night (21/06/13) UK readers may be interested to know that MovieMix, on Freeview channel 32, is bravely screening James Cameron’s directorial debut, the magnificently daft ‘Piranha II – the Spawning’. Inspired by Joe Dante’s ‘Piranha’ (1978), this US-Italian co-production was shot on location in Jamaica and is also known as ‘Piranha 2: Flying Killers’. Specially-bred flying piranha fish – which are genetic experiments by the US Army destined for the rivers of Vietnam – escape and wreak havoc at the ‘Annual Fish Fry Beach Festival’. The film was produced by ‘Tentacles’ supremo Ovidio G. Assonitis and stars Tricia O’Neil, Steve Marachuck, Ted Richert, Carole Davis, Connie Lynn Hadden and Cameron regular Lance Henriksen. Giannetto De Rossi provided the gory special effects.
To read more about the varied wonders of Italian cinema, check out my book ‘Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’, which is available now, in paperback and on Kindle.