Category Archives: Horror


Barbara Steele, The Woman Who Haunted Herself

Barbara Steele’s face is one of the most beautifully haunting in cinema, her cheekbones catching the light, framed by long rectangles of jet-black hair. Her huge eyes flashing menace or dread. Her mouth, sensual or cruel, promising a kiss, or delivering a sneer of contempt. Her slender wrists and distended fingers soothingly caressing, or offering a chalice of poison. Whether rising from a coffin or the elegance of a four-poster bed, Steele’s grace and menace on screen was unmatched: the horror genre has had no stronger female icon, before or since.

The Mask of Satan

Though Steele made films in all genres, including Fellini’s 8½ (1963), where she famously twisted with her fiancé Mezzabotta (Mario Pizu), the knockabout medieval comedy L’Amata Brancaleone (1966 – which anticipates such scattershot, bloody surrealism as Jabberwocky) and Volker Schlöndorff’s directorial debut Young Torless (1966), an allegorical tale of Nazism set in a boarding school, it is for her 11 gothic horrors from the sixties for which she is best remembered. Steele was born on 29 December 1937 in Birkenhead on the Wirral, Cheshire. She acted in repertory theatre, then was under contract at J. Arthur Rank Studios appearing in several Rank Organisation productions, including bit parts in Bachelor of Hearts (1958), Sapphire (1959), Upstairs and Downstairs and Your Money or Your Wife (both 1960). She then travelled to Rome, where she was cast by Mario Bava in her first horror feature, The Mask of Satan (1960), released in the US by American International Pictures (AIP) in February 1961 as Black Sunday and also known in the UK as Revenge of the Vampire for its belated release, rated ‘X’, by Border Films in June 1968.

In Mask, Steele established her schizophrenic screen persona, playing the dual roles of Asa (a witch put to death in the 17th Century) and Princess Katja, the spitting image of Asa, who two hundred years later is possessed by the resurrected sorceress. As their personalities collide, intertwine and switch, it’s difficult for the hero (John Richardson) to tell which witch is which. Director Bava, who became better known for his astonishing technicolour visuals in his later movies, pioneered a new, gory approach to exquisite monochrome horror, in which style, atmosphere and effect were much more important than plot, which is merely the thin thread by which the film’s narrative hangs. It also featured the famous scene where Asa is executed with an iron, spike-lined demon mask, hammered onto her face in a brutal precursor of her many later screen demises.

The Mask of Satan is one of the cornerstones of Italian horror cinema and the trigger film for the gothic horror craze in Italy in the early sixties. This was in conjunction with the popularity of British Hammer Studios’ bloody brand of revamped vampirism and Roger Corman’s elegant, CinemaScope Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. It was here that Steele surfaced next, acting in the second of Corman’s celebrated Poe adaptations for AIP, Pit and the Pendulum (1961), an immensely popular and influential film in Italy. Steele’s presence is again used to excellent effect, as Elizabeth, the recently deceased wife of Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), a Spanish don. Steele appears mostly in the flashbacks to her life in Nicholas’ gloomy castle, which precipitates her demise, depressed and obsessed with the castle’s torture chamber, where Nicholas’ father cruelly dismantled his victims during the Spanish Inquisition. An investigation by Elizabeth’s brother Francis Barnard (John Kerr) unearths the castle’s terrible secrets, but Elizabeth is not dead. In league with her lover, DR Leon (Anthony Carbone), she aims to drive Nicholas insane. Made for $200,000 on a 15-day shoot, Pit is one of Corman’s best films, taking $2 million in the US, though Steele’s role is really only a cameo.

The Terrible Secret of Dr Hichcock

Steele returned to Italy to work for director Riccardo Freda for Raptus – The Secret of Dr Hichcock (1962 – also called The Terror of Dr Hichcock) and its sequel The Ghost (1963 – originally Lo Spettro), two delirious, Technicolor gothics which proved popular in the US and further developed Steele’s cult following. In the first she played the victim: Cynthia, the second wife of the title character, Dr Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng). Set in London in 1885 (though Steele is dubbed in an American accent), Hichcock is a necrophiliac, who uses his patented serum (which slows the heart rate) on his first wife Margaretha, to replicate death during their lovemaking. Ever experimenting, Hichcock ups the dose, killing his wife, or so he thinks – they inter her in a coffin in the family crypt anyway. But when the doctor returns to his home after an absence of 12 years, with new wife Cynthia, all is not as it seems. The stylish, atmospheric pacing of these films often feature long silent passages, with Steele as the stalked victim, exploring down dark corridors with a flickering candlestick and no matches, ready for that inopportune gust of wind. In her varied horror incarnations, Steele has played both the haunted and the spectre, occasionally (as in Mask of Satan and The Night of the Doomed) within the same scenario. She falls in with evil schemes, usually a plot to murder her husband in pursuit of an inheritance, in collusion with a lover, as in Freda’s The Ghost, where Margaret Hichcock (Steele) helps her beau kill her wheelchair-bound husband, only to discover that he has left his fortune to the local orphanage.

On a roll, Steele continued to scare audiences with her sensual brand of horror. She made a brace of black and white shockers for Antonio Margheriti, the first of which is probably her best film: the spooky haunted house chiller Castle of Blood (1963 – also released as Castle of Terror and La Danza Macabra), a perfect genre piece, with gothic drapery, cobwebs, candles, misty graveyards, candles, apparitions and sexuality mixed with magic, mysticism and gore – a sort of abracadaver. Here she was Elizabeth, one of several ghosts haunting Blackwood Castle. When Times journalist Alan Foster (George Riviere) wagers he can survive ‘The Night of the Dead’ at the castle, he loses more than he bargained for. The strong cast includes Arturo Dominici (from Mask of Satan), Sergio Leone’s chief stuntman Benito Stefanelli and Steve Reeve’s ex-Hercules stunt double Giovanni Cianfriglia in supporting roles. In her second film for Margheriti, The Long Hair of Death (1964), she again made a spectre of herself, in the dual roles of Helen Karnstein (killed when she’s pushed over a waterfall) and her reincarnation, Mary, the survivor of a coach crash. Temptress Mary vengefully brings down the house of Humbolt, who executed her mother (an accused witch), finally burning alive the chief villain Kurt (George Ardisson) inside a wooden effigy of death.


But through over familiarity and typecasting, Steele’s career had peaked. In the Night of the Doomed (1965 – Nightmare Castle in the US), directed by Mario Caiano (as ‘Alan Grünewald’) she again played two roles: the wicked, dark-haired adulteress Muriel Arrowsmith and her blonde, mentally fragile sister Jenny. Accompanied by a miserable organ fugue from Ennio Morricone and featuring the most shocking, sadomasochistic of torments, involving firebrands and electricity, Doomed has two of Steele’s meatiest parts. It is in this film where she appears with the long cascade of black hair, concealing one side of her face, hideously scarred from torture. The one facet of Steele’s performance that occasionally shatters the illusion in these gothics is her voice. Her lines were post-synchronised in the dubbing studio and she was rarely allowed to use her own voice in the English dub – the substitute vocals are often flat and monotonous, in contrast to her vivid performances. A rare chance to hear her own sensual, and very ‘un-Hollywood’ voice, is her role as Jenny in Doomed.

The She Beast (1966), helmed by future Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General director Michael Reeves, was a very low-budget film, with Steele only available for one day’s work – appearing for 17 minutes at the beginning of the film and two minutes at the end, as Veronica, who with her newlywed husband Philip (Ian Ogilvy) is honeymooning in Transylvania. They are involved in a car accident and Veronica is drowned in a lake, whereupon she is possessed by the spirit of Vardalla, a witch put to death in a ducking stool (‘the seat of chastisement’) in 1765. In Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965 – aka Five Graves for a Medium), she was underused as Cleo Hauff, a widow whose deceased husband (the medium of the title) has summoned plague victims from the dead (heralded by the squeaky wheels of the corpse collectors’ death cart) to avenge his own murder. Fittingly it was presented in the US by Pacemaker Pictures. Her last Italian gothic was An Angel for Satan (1966). Again essaying two roles for the price of one, as heroine Harriet and her possessor Belinda, she co-starred with future spaghetti western star Anthony Steffen in a familiar tale. She was then cast, with Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff, in the gory Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), her only British horror movie (a Tigon British-AIP co-production). As Lavinia Morley she appeared in perhaps her most famous guise, much used in the film’s publicity, as a green-faced witch, with plumed head-dress and rams horns.


Following a quiet spell, during which Steele reportedly mentioned that she didn’t want ‘to climb out of another fucking coffin again’, she appeared in several cult movies in the seventies, her casting a reflection of young filmmakers’ infatuation with her sexy sixties scream queen image. She was the warden, Superintendent McQueen, in Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat (1974), Betts in David Cronenberg’s bloody Shivers (1975 – aka They Came from Within) and government agent Dr Mengers in Piranha (1978), Joe Dante’s scary, tongue-in-gill Jaws derivative, made with verve, imagination and a great cult cast. Steele later moved into producing, with The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1988) teleseries.

But Steele’s legend is forever branded on cinema history with her sixties horror movies. The Mask of Satan, Pit and the Pendulum, Raptus – The Secret of Dr Hichcock and Castle of Blood are her finest films and are among the best of the genre. Steele stares like no other, with those wide marble eyes, her aquiline features alabaster as she glides across the screen, a spectre of lost souls. Her image is a melding of the dreamily lovelorn and the morto viventi: Kate Bush meets Vampira. A silent, timeless beauty, for Steele the eyes most certainly have it.

This article originally appeared in Issue #11 May 2008 of ‘Cinema Retro’.



Hold your socks on for this trash classic that’s been released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Films.


Umberto Lenzi’s 1980 shocker ‘Nightmare City’ aka ‘City of the Walking Dead’ aka ‘Incubo sulla città contaminata’ (‘Nightmare in the Contaminated City’) is a very lively Italian-Spanish zombie movie. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the one where a pilotless Hercules transporter plane lands on the runway of a (Spanish-looking) airport and out rushes a bunch of facially-scarred radiation victims, armed to the teeth and able to run like rabbits. These certainly aren’t the familiar shufflers and stumblers we’ve come to expect from Italian zombie movies, but they can still only be killed by being shot in the head – they feast on their victims’ blood, vampire-like, and are only completely inert when their ‘cerebral apparatus has been destroyed’.

The army mobilise – led by nominal guest star Mel Ferrer – and the ensuing rampage is intermittently bloody, sometimes unintentionally funny, always entertaining. In several moments it plays like a spoof and the gore is over-the-top and poorly done, so the true horror of what you’re witnessing is lessened compared to, for example, Lucio Fulci’s bloodier outings, which are altogether more effective in their graphic bloodletting. Even so, Lenzi throws taste and logic to the four winds, so don’t expect strongly-written female characters and long, meaningful discussions as to how to tackle the infected victims and the epidemic. Female nudity seems of paramount concern to the filmmakers to retain audience interest, coupled with non-stop action and some mind-blowing dialogue. The army’s taking no chances and instigate Emergency Plan H so it can: “Keep Plan B in reserve, in case the situation gets out of hand”.


Our heroes are a journalist Dean Miller (played by Hugo Stiglitz) and his surgeon wife Anna (Laura Trotter). Despite his name becoming enshrined forever in cult moviedom, when Tarantino christened Til Schweiger’s champion Nazi killer Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz in ‘The Inglourious Basterds’ (2009), Stiglitz himself is a charisma-free zone as the principal protagonist. The story takes him from the airport (where the zombies arrive by plane and wreak havoc on their military reception committee), a TV studio (where the zombies attack a dance extravaganza), a hospital to save his wife (where the zombies swarm through the building in search of plasma) and eventually into the countryside and to an abandoned funfair (where the zombies…well, you get the idea). Euro-cult movie fanatics will be more pleased to note the presence of Eduardo Fajardo (who appears fleetingly, wearing a surgeons mask and hurling a scalpel like a circus knife-thrower), Francisco Rabal (as Major Holmes, who heads up the Plan H fightback), and Manuel Zarzo and Tom Felleghy (as army officers). Stelvio Cipriani’s superb slow-burning theme music ‘L’atessa’ (‘The Wait’) and most of the score is infinitely superior to the images it accompanies.


So to the zombie-mutants themselves. They’re a pretty horrible-looking bunch, as played by the likes of Italian stuntmen Ottaviano and Roberto Dell’Acqua, Benito Pacifico and Rinaldo Zamperla wearing caked-on make-up. Less pizza-faced, they’re more half-done flame-grilled burger, while some sport a variety of facial conditions that vary from flaky pastry to cowpat. The horde is armed with an assorted arsenal, from knives to sub-machineguns, and are unstoppable – even ‘The End’ doesn’t depict a resolution to the mutant problem. You’ve got to laugh when the impervious mutant zombies, which can only be killed via headshots, scream when their fingers get trapped in a door. The bodycount is high, the Chianti flows and there’s quite enough in here to justify the film’s ‘Nightmare’ title.

Arrow includes two versions of the film – one that’s quite badly damaged in parts, but sharper (with the Italian titles) and another that’s a softer picture but damage-free (with the ‘Nightmare City’ titles sequence). It’s best just to watch the latter version and turn the sharpness on your TV up as high as it will go. Both versions are available in the English dub or the original Italian with English subtitles. The Arrow edition contains two disks – one Blu-ray, one DVD. Among a bunch of extras, there are interviews with Umberto Lenzi, co-star Maria Rosaria Omaggio, and filmmaker Eli Roth, plus an entertaining booklet essay titled ‘Fade Away and Radiate’ by John Martin.


In summary: great score, excellent opening scenes, complete and utter stupidity for the most part. If you like Italian cult sinema, such as ‘Contamination’ or anything featuring the undead Morto Viventi, you’ll love it. But be prepared for your cerebral apparatus to be destroyed.


  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • Alternative High Definition transfer from the 35mm reversal dupe negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Newly translated subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker, Fangoria editor and Nightmare City fan Chris Alexander
  • Radiation Sickness – a brand new interview with director Umberto Lenzi
  • Sheila of the Dead – a brand new interview with star Maria Rosaria Omaggio
  • Zombies Gone Wild! – director, producer and actor Eli Roth on Nightmare City and the wild cinema of Umberto Lenzi
  • Nightmare City and The Limits of Restoration – featurette looking at the differences between the two transfers included on this release
  • Alternate Opening Titles
  • Original Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin, author of ‘Seduction of the Gullible: The Truth Behind the Video Nasty Scandal’, illustrated with original archive stills and posters




Some exciting new projects to announce for 2015. Arrow Films has recently revealed that it will soon be releasing two important Euro-cult classics – Tonino Valerii’s spaghetti western DAY OF ANGER (1967) and Mario Bava’s giallo thriller BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964).

Day of Anger

Both films are being released in Blu-ray and DVD combo releases, with BLOOD AND BLACK LACE also being issued as a steelbook Blu-ray edition. The editions include both the English language and Italian language versions of the films, and are packed with extras including documentaries, alternative version and interviews. I’m pleased to say that I’ve contributed booklet essays to both releases.


All the disks are being released almost simultaneously in the UK and US. DAY OF ANGER comes out in the UK on 30 March, with BLOOD AND BLACK LACE out on 13 April. In America, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is out on 14 April and DAY OF ANGER will be out on 31 March. Titles are available to pre-order now – from Amazon or directly from Arrow Films.

As a follow-on from my 2013 e-book MARIO BAVA: DESTINATION TERROR (see earlier post), I’m currently working on a new book for I.B. Tauris. TERROR EATS THE SOUL: THE SPINE-TINGLING GUIDE TO EURO-HORROR will be published in paperback in 2016. It will look at all aspects of Euro-horror cinema, from Hammer Horrors and German Krimis, to gothics, zombies, vampires, werewolves and gialli.


I’ve also started writing a new series for CINEMA RETRO magazine on Raquel Welch’s three big-screen western outings. WELCH OUT WEST will be running across the next three issues of the magazine, which is the whole of RETRO’s 2015 season 11. The first part, in issue #31, is “NO NOOSE IS GOOD NOOSE”, which looks at BANDOLERO! (1968) co-starring James Stewart and Dean Martin. The two follow-up parts examine the shot-in-Spain westerns 100 RIFLES (1969) and HANNIE CAULDER (1971).


[above: publicity still of Raquel Welch on location in Utah for ‘Bandolero!’]

Issue #31 includes my article on the quartet of Italian science-fiction movies made by director Antonio Margheriti and set on space station GAMMA ONE. These lively, colourfully weird cult movies include THE WILD WILD PLANET, WAR OF THE PLANETS, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS and THE SNOW DEVILS. The Moon may not be made from cheese, but these films certainly are.


The issue also includes:

• A tribute to Pam Grier, the “First Lady” of kick-ass cinema • Exclusive interview with film preservationist Charles Cohen of the Cohen Film Collection • “Film in Focus” article dedicated to that great 1970’s film noir flick “Farewell My Lovely” with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe • Celebrating the life and career of director Ted Post (“Hang ‘Em High”, “The Harrad Experiment”, “Magnum Force”, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”) • “James Bond’s Portugal” – some of the key OHMSS locations then and now. • Reliving the wonders of VistaVision • “The New Avengers” at Pinewood Studios • Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as gay lovers in the forgotten gem “Staircase” Plus: “Bite the Bullet”, Hammer star Olinka Berova, “Mark of the Devil”, Raymond Benson’s Ten Best Films of 1950, Joe Namath as “The Last Rebel”, all the latest DVD, film book and soundtrack reviews.

Issue #31 is now available and can be ordered from CINEMA RETRO directly.


Do not believe in what you think you see. Creeping mist, the milky fog of terror that can obscure untold dangers and shroud the confines of limited studio sets. Splashes of colour – purple, blue, green, deep red – a spectral spectrum, flooding the spaces between the darkness. Do you believe in ghosts? You must admit that there are things that frighten us. What’s that strange shadow on the wall, or that flickering candle in the derelict crypt? Is it a trick of the light, or a trick of your imagination? That old castle perched on the cliff looks real, but it could simply be a photograph. And those hundreds of extras. A multiple-exposure? In the illusory world of cinema, would you like to learn what is real and what is unreal? Come closer please, I’ve something to tell you. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mario Bava.

Bava_Book_Cover Black White Text
In between projects in the spring of this year, I’ve started researching and writing a series of e-books. They are loosely connected in that they concern cult film directors or genres, with an accent on European filmmakers. The first one is MARIO BAVA: DESTINATION TERROR, which I’ve issued as an e-book via Kindle Direct Publishing. The book’s format is similar to my SPAGHETTI WESTERNS book, which was published by Kamera Books in 2010. Following an introduction to Bava’s work, I look in detail at his films, from ‘I Vampiri’, ‘Caltiki’ and ‘The Mask of Satan’/’Black Sunday’, through to ‘Lisa and the Devil’, ‘The House of Exorcism’ and ‘Shock’. Each entry features a cast list, story outline, background information on the making of the film (I’ve paid particular attention to recurrent Bava filming locations and actors) and a verdict.

The films discussed are I Vampiri (1957), Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959), The Mask of Satan/Black Sunday (1960), Hercules in the Centre of the Earth/Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), Erik the Conqueror (1961), The Girl who Knew Too Much/Evil Eye (1963), Black Sabbath (1963), The Whip and the Body (1963), Blood and Black Lace (1964), The Road to Fort Alamo (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Savage Gringo (1966), Kill, Baby…Kill! (1966), Knives of the Avenger (1966), Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), Danger: Diabolik (1968), Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1969), Four Times that Night (1968/72), Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (1970), A Bay of Blood/Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), Baron Blood (1972), Lisa and the Devil (1973), The House of Exorcism (1975), Shock (1977)

I’ve also included an appendix of interesting films from Bava’s career, which he worked on in various capacities, from director of photography, lighting effects or special effects, to second-unit director. It also looks at his made-for-TV projects and films that he began, but weren’t completed in his lifetime. These include: Ulysses (1954), Nero’s Weekend (1955), Hercules (1958), The Day the Sky Exploded (1958), Hercules Unchained (1959), The White Warrior (1959), The Giant of Marathon (1959), Esther and the King (1960), The Wonders of Aladdin (1961), Rabid Dogs (1974), Moses the Lawgiver (1975), La Venere d’Ille (1978) and Inferno (1980). There’s also a look at some Bava books and films, with links to where to buy them, and a list of my favourite Bava films, a ‘Best of Bava’, in their finest release versions.

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

Mario Bava is one of the great Italian directors and the father of Italian horror. His beautifully-photographed, artfully-crafted films are the worthy legacy of this talented director, whose work is seen at its very best in this digital age on DVD and Blu-ray, as a triumph of visual design. ‘Destination Terror’ tells his story.

The son of a special effects pioneer, Mario Bava began his film career as a cinematographer, before moving into directing, almost by chance. Those who worked with him maintained that he regarded himself as first and foremost a cinematographer and only secondly as a director. His horror films include the groundbreaking ‘The Mask of Satan’ (also known as ‘Black Sunday’), the three-part demonthology ‘Black Sabbath’, the murderous ‘Blood and Black Lace’ and the archetypal bodycount thriller ‘A Bay of Blood’ (or ‘Twitch of the Death Nerve’). He also made ‘Kill, Baby…Kill!’, ‘The Whip and the Body’, ‘Baron Blood’ and ‘Lisa and the Devil’, which ensure him a place in the pantheon of great horror film directors. But Bava worked successfully in a variety of genres, making the comic book crime caper ‘Danger: Diabolik’, the fantastical sword-and-sandal epic ‘Hercules in the Centre of the Earth’ (also called ‘Hercules in the Haunted World’), Viking adventures like ‘Erik the Conqueror’, the sci-fi horror ‘Planet of the Vampires’ and sex comedies, creature features, slapstick farces and spaghetti westerns. All these films and more are featured in this entertaining guide to the King of Italian Gothic Horror. Also discussed is Bava’s output as a cinematographer and special effects artist, his uncompleted projects and made-for-TV films, and his work’s availability on DVD and videotape, including the many different versions of his films.

This is me proofreading my Bava manuscript in Talland Bay, Cornwall earlier this year. Talland is a couple of miles along the South West Coast Path, east of Polperro, and is the perfect place to lose a sunny afternoon – even if you’re reading about vampires and ghosts.

MARIO BAVA: DESTINATION TERROR is available now through most Amazon stores, including:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Germany

Amazon France

Amazon Italy

Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle-enabled device, the book can be read on a PC, via this free downloadable Kindle reading app.


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‘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.

piranha 2


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.