Monday, 26 October 2009

Erotic Nights of the Living Dead

Boy, they sure don't make 'em like they used to.... In 1979 Italian exploitation extraordinaire Joe D'Amato made Porno Holocaust, boldly fusing hardcore porn and gory splatter together in one film. Box office gold seemed certain, but it was not to be - Porno Holocaust with its sucking, fucking and flesh eating zombies, proved a misfire. Undaunted, D'Amato took another shot at the formula in 1980 with Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (or Sexy Nights of the Living Dead, the title on the print used for Shriek Show's DVD) which pared down the sex of Porno Holocaust, and amped up the horror. Erotic Nights of the Living Dead's threadbare plot concerns a property developer (Manlio Certosino) meddling in the affairs of a seemingly deserted island which he intends to exploit for the Caribbean tourist trade. Despite the warnings from the island's two sole inhabitants, an old man and his beautiful bewitching grand daughter (Laura Gemser), and against the advice of the cautious skipper of his yacht (George Eastman) he continues with his plans unwittingly causing the dead buried in the island's graveyard to rise up and take revenge...

At two hours Erotic Nights is a bit of a slog, the hardcore stuff adds a lot of fat to the movie, but the film has a number of longeurs where the film grinds to a halt so D'Amato can spend someone else's money pointing his camera at pretty shots of the ocean. The sex while not as frequent as Porno Holocaust really has only one big hardcore sequence where Certosino beds two whores in his hotel room. The other sex scenes are not nearly as explicit - Laura Gemser (who never preformed hardcore sex on celluloid) has two soft love scenes in the film. Also, worth mentioning the rather astonishing sequence where George Eastman kicks back with a stripper who has an amazing technique for uncorking champagne bottles (and yes, you should rush out and buy the DVD for this scene alone). The zombie element in the film is strictly poverty row stuff - don't expect any of the moldering creations of Giannetto De Rossi that shuffled through Fulci's zombie epics, the living dead in D'Amato's film are as mangy as they get.

Despite the disastrous pacing and the low budget, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead somehow works. Whatever the shortcomings of D'Amato's cheap day-for-night photography, the film does have a strange dreamy atmosphere to it, and there's at least one extraordinary sequence, where Gemser and Eastman are frolicking in the surf as the zombies watch them from the shore. The presence of Laura Gemser in D’Amato’s films always lift them out of the mire, and she's especially gorgeous here; the director really caught her beauty at its most ethereal. George Eastman (who penned the screenplay) is good too, he has real presence in the movie, and like Gemser is one of Joe D'Amato's greatest assets (his appearance in the D'Amato's 1981 film Absurd turns a routine slasher film into a minor classic). Must mention also the brilliant electronic soundtrack, by the unlikely sounding Pluto Kennedy (or Marcello Giombini if you prefer) which to me sounds like a sickly and feverish Tangerine Dream.

Shriek Show's DVD is fine addition to their Euro-cult library and is a good presentation of D'Amato's film in all its cork popping uncut glory. Extras include about 27 minutes of alternate scenes, a photo gallery and the French opening credits as an Easter egg. Be warned though - Shriek Show has put out a softcore edition of the film also, so be sure to avoid that.

Lights! Camera! Kong!

Dino de Laurentis’ contemporary remake of Cooper and Schoedsack's iconic monster movie earned some considerable critical heat upon its release but for this viewer, it was my first cinematic encounter with King Kong and thanks to a healthy run of TV screenings throughout the 80’s the film would become a favourite of mine...

The story remains by and large the same as the original, with a few changes. Charles Grodin plays Fred S. Wilson, an oilman heading up an expedition to the mysterious fog enshrouded Skull Island. On board is paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) and bubble-headed wannabe actress Dwan (Jessica Lange, and yeah its really spelled Dwan), picked up by the crew when her life raft was spotted adrift on the ocean. Once at Skull Island, its business as usual as Kong takes a shine to Dwan, and Wilson hatches a plan to sell Kong to the natives back in New York...

There’s a scene after the first encounter with Kong at the sacrificial altar, where Jeff Bridges says to an incredulous Charles Grodin, Who do you think did that, a guy in an ape suit? – this cheeky exchange sums up the breezy mood of Kong ’76. The pioneering stop motion effects that brought Kong to life in the 1933 film have been replaced here by Rick Baker’s apesuit. It’s a dicey prospect and admittedly some of the effects creak and groan like old floorboards, most of all in the final act where Kong scales the World Trade Center. Still, it’s a huge leap forward from Toho’s 1962 effort King Kong vs Godzilla, and while Peter Jackson’s 2005 film is Kong is the most magisterial, Baker’s face masks are wonderfully expressive – the look of melancholy on Kong’s face, held captive in the hull of the ship is heartbreaking. Carlo Rambaldi designed an animatronic Kong but it looks awful and thankfully is used fleetingly in the finished film.

Of the three leads, Jessica Lange, girlish, gorgeous and sexy in her first role looks every bit the movie star her character aspires to be in the film. The scene where Kong playfully removes her skimpy ceremonial costume is genuinely erotic stuff. Jeff Bridges, bearded and beatific is strong as the hero and Charles Grodin playing the oilman-turned-PT Barnum is great, and throws out some of the film’s best lines (Take plenty of TNT when you go inland. Any sign of a monkey bigger than four feet send him bang-bang).

Director John Guillermin, having previously made The Towering Inferno does a fine job bringing Lorenzo Semple Jr's screenplay to the screen. The widescreen vistas of Skull Island (or Hawaii) look great and there are a number of excellent set pieces throughout the film – look out for the brilliant sequence where a fearsome Kong smashes his way through the island’s high wooden wall and is snared in the chloroform pit. Also worth mentioning is John Barry for his suitably epic score, and cameraman William Kline who’s shadowy lighting smooths over some of the shortcomings of Rick Baker’s ape suit.

Long available on Paramount DVD on both sides of the Atlantic, the best way to currently see King Kong ’76 is the region-free French Blu-Ray which towers above its DVD companions. Included on the Blu is a short making of, and some deleted scenes. Well worth seeking out.