Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Nights of Terror

The Nights of Terror
Aka: Burial Ground
Aka: Zombie 3
Original Title: Le notti del terrore

Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Italy, 1981
Horror / Zombies, 82min
Distributed by: Japan Shock

There’s something very potent with certain bad movies. Movies that are so bad that they in some screwed up way become good. Bad movies that you know are bad, but can’t really make yourself discard it as a real bad movie. Because certain bad movies are so bad that they become good because we all know them and keep on going back to them. They live on because of their flaws, they live on because of their cult status, and they live on because what may seem as a bad movie could very well be a good movie. They live on just like the pasty zombies in The Nights of Terror

Andrea Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror is definitely one of the classic so bad that it’s good movies. It’s cheap, it’s cheesy, it’s violent, and it’s sleazy. It’s a gem simply because it’s one of the cultural low marks of Italian Genre cinema – and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s one of those movies that people who don’t know, or get, genre cinema will say – “That was the worst film I have ever seen, it’s shit!” Whilst those initiated and with a deeper understanding and tolerance for genre cinema will say, “That was the worst film I have ever seen, it’s brilliant! “

Like so many of his colleagues in the Italian genre sphere, Andrea Bianchi also came from a background in journalism and television production. Always holding a keen eye for the sexier approach to his work he debuted with Diabólica malicia (Night Child) 1972 for which Bianchi handled the riskier euro version that saw a fully naked Britt Ekland in some very suggestive scenes with a barely thirteen-year-old Mark Lester. Bianchi continued to churn out sexploitation movies and continuously used traits that stayed sleazy with a couple of interesting titles along the way. Among the highlights you find the sleazy Giallo Nude per l’assassino (Strip Nude for Your Killer) 1975 - a classic Giallo, using classic Gialli narrative, as Edwige Fenech portrays one of the nude photo models threatened by a gloved, motorcycle helmeted, machete wielding killer, then there’s Malabimba 1979 - a pretty cheesy, but sleazy, semi Exorcist/Nunsplotiation rip off that sees Mariangela Giordano as a nun, and the hilarious stinker Commando Mengele 1987 - where sleazy French production company Eurociné bagged both Bianchi and Jess Franco in the same movie and sported some fantastic state of the art computers… and there’s obviously the one that Bianchi will forever be remembered for – the infamous The Nights of Terror.

Do you really need a quick fix for this one? I’m guessing that you have seen it, because if you haven’t, then you really have no time to waste sitting here reading bollocks online, you should be watching or re-watching the fabulous The Nights of Terror….

After a hefty Santa bearded archaeologist, Professor Ayres [Raimondo Barbieri] discovers something so gobsmacking that he has to keep it secret by concealing it though some really crap dialogue, but he can’t keep his fingers out of the cookie jar and starts banging away like a raving maniac on the walls of the cave he's found with his pickaxe. And obviously zombies emerge from the now open tomb, and ignoring his “No, no, stand back… I’m your friend!” they tear his fucking throat out and devour his flesh. - How’s that for an initial attack!

Following a pretty funky title sequence that shows the cast arriving at the mansion where the shit is about to hit the fan, the obvious counterpart to death is set in motion – sex. Already as the aristocratic bunch park their cars and ask the maid and butler why they didn’t answer the gate to let them in it’s insinuated that they where busy having it off on the second floor. Moments later the various couples start to get down to their sleazy business, Leslie [Antonella Antinori] gives James [Simone Mattioli] a little burlesque dance leading up to some great seedy dialogue - Didn’t you like my little show? You looked just like a little whore… but I like that look on you! Evelyn [Mariangela Giordano here as Maria Angela Giordano] checks in on her hideous son Michael [Peter Bark] to assure herself that he’s asleep before some nocturnal activities, but as soon as she’s on top of George [Roberto Caporali] the weird looking lad walks in on them interrupting their moment of pleasure and also delivering the first of several mulligan’s as the audience suspects the shadows cast through the hallways will be the zombies from the opening… Finally the last couple, Mark [Gianluigi Chrizzi] and Janet [Karin Well] where she predicts that something terrible will happen… Mark assures her that she’s got nothing to fear as she’s safe with him… which ironically proves to be sort of true as she eventually will be the last victim before the movie comes to it’s nihilistic climax.

The bourgeoisie couples ponder the grounds of the mansion and obviously end up in smutty snog sessions here and there as the Etruscan zombies finally break out of the earth and start causing mayhem amongst the group. It’s also at this point that the Oedipal traits that can be found in many of Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli’s movies are put into play – well actually it’s started when Michael interrupts his mothers shag session with George earlier, but here it becomes painfully obvious as Michael snatches his mom’s hand away from George and kisses it jealously… George walks to the background of cinematographer Gianfranco Maioletti’s composition and very visually and emotionally set aside. A mere minute later George will be dead and once again the gory glory of death is put in harsh contrast to the lovemaking as the couples have it off on the mansion grounds.

This is pretty much how Andrea Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror plays out, smutty groping of horny hands set against smutty groping of dead hands. Life is not a precious thing in this movie and by the end of the flick it’s profoundly obviously that death is always just around the corner.

There’s no questioning that The Nights of Terror is a blatant attempt at cashing in on the surprise success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (Zombie) 1979. It even has special effects by the one and only Gino De Rossi, and even goes as far as copying the iconic maggot infested zombie rising from the dirt gimmick and the outrageous splinter versus eye scene frame by frame, well it tries to at least. Although it should also be noted that Rosario Prestopino who worked as special makeup effects artist on the movie previously had worked on Fulci’s Zombie, and Paura nela città dei morti viventi (The Gates of Hell) 1980, along side with De Rossi, so the grotesque factor of the movie shouldn't all be credited to De Rossi alone, but also to Prestopino too. Later Prestopino would go on to work on many other chunky movies that certainly pack a punch with their special effects like Fulci’s Lo squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper) 1982, Lamberto Bava’s Dèmoni movies 1985-1986, Dario Argento’s Opera 1987 and Michele Soavi’s La Setta (The Sect) 1991 which also featured Mariangela Giordano in a leading role. But back to The Nights of Terror – Yeah the zombies are pasty, the dialogue is cheesy, the effects aren’t very special and at times the movie feels like a perverted doped up episode of Scooby Doo as the cast evade the zombies by running from one location to another through out the entire movie. But that doesn’t really matter, because the movie undoubtedly has some fantastic moments during it’s 82 minute run. But with some great smutty moments, burning zombie and several fantastic moments where the zombies get really inventive and use a bunch of garden tools to get to their victims, the movie is a jolly kick in the balls and definitely a very personal favourite for many reasons.

But The Nights of Terror is also a fantastic testament to how inventive low budget directors took the ever-popular apocalyptic nihilism of the zombie genre and blended it in with their own universe - and that’s exactly what appeals to me with this movie. Much like Joe D’Amato used every genre possible to set his sexploitation vehicles in, Bianchi, Regnoli and producer Gabriele Crisanti also stayed safe in the sphere of that genre that they had become accustomed to since they first worked together - be it Quelli che contano (Cry of a Prostitute) 1974 Bianchi and Regnoli, Le impiegate stradali – Batton Story (The Used Road) 1976 Regnoli and Crisanti, or Cara dolce nipote (Dear Sweet Niece) 1977 which saw all three of them getting together for the first time. And it’s this path that they would comfortably stick to on the more than a half dozen movies that they would make together – the trail of the gritty trashy sleaze movie. You name it and they brought their bag of depraved misogyny, butt naked women, grotesque violence and cheap sleaziness that we associate with the movies of Bianchi - and if you know what movies Regnoli wrote scripts for, you will now exactly what I mean. The Nights of Terror is a hilariously entertaining piece of horror with a big dollop of sleazy kinkiness to go around. If you want blood – you got it, if you want pasty chunky faced zombies – you got it, if you want naked Italian actors and actresses – you got it, if you want a fantastic droney pop score by Berto Pisano – you got it. Although that Pisano score is more or less lifted off several other movies that producer Gabriele Crisanti produced previously… like Mario Landi’s Giallo a Venezia (Giallo in Venice) 1979, which like many of Crisanti’s movies featured the feisty Mariangela Giordano.

In the aftermath of the Video Recordings Act 1984 – the law struck down by the British government in response to the videonasties panic of a few years earlier - Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror was a difficult movie to see in the UK, especially as it had just over ten minutes chopped out by the distributors and then another three by the BBFC before it was released in its just over an hour running time. But not living in the UK at the time, it really shouldn’t matter at all what the British censors do…. although nothing travels faster than word of mouth, and I’m certain that it’s acts like that - a butchering far more serious than anything a filmmaker could have put in their movie – that make up part of these “good/bad movie legends”, after all a movie that was so severe that it had to have almost twelve minutes taken out must be something to see, mustn’t it. And for every person who actually saw the movie in some uncut form – either imported from Holland, Greek Ex-rental or on some third generation dupe, the movies reputation grew. And you know exactly what we heard, there are loads of zombies, guts galore and there’s this really creepy kid that bites his mom’s tits off.

And what about that phenomenal cast - what a great bonus they are for this movie! The mysterious and fascinating Mariangela Giordano… She holds an aura that is reminiscent of so many other great Italian genre piece leading ladies, but never really has the same varnish that they did. There’s something of a chipped doll about her that appeals to me, and at the same time she must be applauded for still accepting key parts in movies that indeed where very misogynistic and violent. If you know her filmography, she’s certainly one of the most violated Italian actresses ever. And it’s fascinating that she, no matter what age she was, still continued to take parts that required her to get her kit off. There are not too many actresses who at the fine age of fifty-nine would strip down for the cameras, like she did for Jess Franco in Killer Barbys 1996. She’s an impressive leading lady that brings a lot to this movie, especially in that freaky incestuous relationship she holds to her son in the film. You have to admit that no matter how much the perversity of their relationship is insinuated, it is a pretty tender moment and a most ironic reunion of mother and child before he takes that mouthful out of her breast. And that chest chomp may be something of a fetish for Piero Regnoli, as he also wrote a similar tit-chomping scene for Umberto Lenzi’s Incubo sulla città contaminata (Nightmare City) 1980.

Not to forget HIM, as if you ever could, Michael, Evelyn’s son played by non other than the remarkable Peter Bark, who only starred in enough movies to count on one hand, but still made an everlasting impression insanely cast as a child when he actually was twenty-six years old. Why Bianchi didn’t go with any of the more common child actors like Giovanni Frezza or one that at least looked like a child. But instead he chose a too old, oversized midget with the most terrifying hair ever… But my goodness what a scene it is, and what an impact it has made. It’s one of the most classic moments of this movie and taking the part as Michael it also gave Bark his only acting credit and secured him a spot in Italian genre history. But there's no space for debate at all, Mariangela Giordano and Peter Bark own this movie, without them it would simply be yet another sloppy Italian zombie flick, but with those two, theres a magic vibe to the piece.

So for once and for all – Yes, Andrea Bianchi’s The Nights of Terror is the brilliantly trashy stuff that legends are made of and definitely one of the best bad movies ever to crawl out of the Italian underbelly!

Widescreen 1. 85:1

Dolby Digital Mono, English Dialogue, optional Dutch subtitles.

Original trailer, slideshow. Booklet.


Aylmer said...

It's cool that you're reviewing the Japan Shock dvd. I used to worship that company. Them and EC were the horror DVD kings for a few years there.

And yeah, Peter Bark really does own this in all his creepy tit-ripping glory. "Mother, this cloth smells of death!"

CiNEZiLLA said...

LOL... Yeah I never got round to picking all the US releases up on quite a lot of movies, because I all ready had them on Euro Releases. EC where awesomei even have a couple of their Lazerdiscs still in the cellar! :)

Ninja Dixon said...

My favorite is the professor. I always find it almost... very nice of him to claim that he's their friend! It's both naive, and very kind.

Josh said...

thats a very awesome movie. i think the little kid is the scariest part of it. The bad part to me is that ive found it under 2 of its different names and artwork,not knowing that it was the same movie...

Jack J said...

I have this on Aussie DVD and altho it's not a perfect release I don't feel an update is needed. It's like with MAD FOXES; I love the movie but would rather watch it on a beat up letterboxed old Danish VHS (taken from a scratched print). Some films are so bad (but enjoyable) they look TOO GOOD on perfect DVD. You need to watch them in a crappier version. LMAO.

CiNEZiLLA said...

@Ninja. Yeah it's hilarious that line of dialogue and you can't but help liking the professor for it!

@Josh. One of the great problems of re-titeling.

@Jack: I completely agree. trash needs to look trash, and not exposing all it's flaws in pristine bluray prints.

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