Conan the Barbarian and its success just meant that Italians could go back to making the peplum films they made for more than a decade in the 50s. The locations were there, the props were easy and all it took was the germ of an idea to send tons of Italian filmmakers out and about to make their own sword and sorcery movies, like Franco Prosperi’s Gunan, King of the Barbarians and Throne of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Ironmaster and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s Sword of the Barbarians.

For my money, no one made a better barbarian movie on a smaller budget than Joe D’Amato with his Ator films. Made from 1982 to 1990, three of these four films were filmed by D’Amato under his David Hills name. The other one was directed by Alfonso Brescia and D’Amato didn’t like it! As for actors, the first three feature Miles O’Keeffe and the fourth has Eric Allan Kramer as his son.

Instead of just being a big dumb lunk like Conan is in the movies — we can discuss Conan being a thief in the books and comics any time you’d like — Ator is also an alchemist, scholar, swordmaster and even a magician who can materialize objects out of nowhere.

We’ve pulled together our past reviews of Ator’s films, added some content and put them all in one place to introduce you to these astounding movies and hopefully get you watching them.

Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982): Once, Ator was just a baby, born with the birthmark that prophesied that he’d grow up to destroy the Spider Cult, whose leader Dakar (a pro wrestler who appeared in Titanes en el Ring against Martín Karadagian) tries to kill before he even gets out of his chainmail diapers.

Luckily, Ator is saved and grows up big, strong and weirdly in love with his sister, Sunya. It turns out that luckily, he’s adopted, so this is only morally and not biologically upsetting. His father allows them to be married, but the Spider Cult attacks the village and takes her, along with several other women.

Ator trains with Griba, the warrior who saved him as a child (he’s played by Edmund Purdom, the dean from Pieces!). What follows are pure shenanigans — Ator is kidnapped by Amazons, almost sleeps with a witch, undertakes a quest to find a shield and meets up with Roon (Sabrina Siani, Ocron from Fulci’s batshit barbarian opus Conquest), a sexy blonde thief who is in love with him.

Oh yeah! Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle herself, shows up here too. It is a Joe D’Amato movie after all.

Ator succeeds in defeating Dakkar, only to learn that the only reason that Griba mentored him was to use him to destroy his enemy. That said, Ator defeats him too, leaving him to be eaten by the Lovecraftian-named Ancient One, a monstrous spider. But hey, Ator isn’t done yet. He kills that beast too!

Finally, learning that Roon has died, Ator and Sunya go back to their village, ready to make their incestual union a reality. Or maybe not, as she doesn’t show up in the three sequels.

Ator is played by Miles O’Keefe, who started his Hollywood career in the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan the Ape Man, a movie that Richard Harris would nearly fist fight people over if they dared to bring it up. He’s in all but the last of these films and while D’Amato praised his physique and attitude, he felt that his fighting and acting skills left something to be desired.

Ator the Fighting Eagle pretty much flies by. It does what it’s supposed to do — present magic, boobs, sorcery and swordfights — albeit in a PG-rated film. It’s anything except boring. And it was written by Michele Soavi (StagefrightThe ChurchThe SectCemetery Man)!

You can watch it on Tubi in either the original or RiffTrax version.

Ator 2 – L’invincibile Orion (1984): Joe D’Amato wanted to make a prehistoric movie like Quest for Fire called Adamo ed Eva that read a lot like 1983’s Adam and Eve vs. The Cannibals. However, once he called in Miles O’Keefe to be in the movie, the actor said that he couldn’t be in the film due to moral and religious reasons. One wonders why he was able to work with Joe D’Amato, a guy who made some of the scummiest films around.

Akronos has found the Geometric Nucleus and is keeping its secret safe when Zor (Ariel from Jubilee) and his men attack the castle. The old king begs his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster, who starred in the Cinemax classic Fanny Hill and later became a special effects artist and video game developer) to find his student Ator (O’Keefe).

Mila gets shot with an arrow pretty much right away, but Ator knows how to use palm leaves and dry ice to heal any wound, a scene which nearly made me fall of my couch in fits of giggles. Soon, she joins Ator and Thong as they battle their way back to the castle, dealing with cannibals and snake gods.

Somehow, Ator also knows how to make a modern hang glider and bombs, which he uses to destroy Zor’s army. After they battle, Ator even wants Zor to live, because he’s a progressive barbarian hero, but the bad guy tries to kill him. Luckily, Thong takes him out.

After all that, Akronos gives the Geometric Nucleus to Ator, who also pulls that old chestnut out that his life is too dangerous to share with her. He takes the Nucleus to a distant land and sets off a nuke.

Yes, I just wrote that. Because I just watched that.

If you want to see this with riffing, it’s called Cave Dwellers in its Mystery Science Theater 3000 form. But man, a movie like this doesn’t really even need people talking over it. It was shot with no script in order to compete with Conan the Destroyer. How awesome is that?

You can get this from Revok or watch Cave Dwellers on Tubi.

Iron Warrior (1988): 

I always worry and think, “What is left? Have I truly exhausted the bounds of cinema? Have I seen all there is that is left to see? Will nothing ever really surprise and delight me ever again?” Then I watched Iron Warrior and holy shit you guys — this movie is mindblowing.

Alfonso Brescia made a bunch of Star Trek-inspired Star Wars ripoffs in the late 70’s, like Cosmos: War Of the Planets, Battle Of the Stars, War Of the Robots and Star Odyssey. Before that, he was known for working in the peplum genre with entries such as The Magnificent Gladiator and The Conquest of Atlantis. And some maniacs out there may know him from his Star Wars clone cover version of Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast — complete with the same actress, Sirpa Lane — called The Beast in Space.

Today, though, we’re here to discuss Brescia taking over the reins of Ator from Joe D’Amato after Ator the Fighting Eagle and Ator 2: The Blade Master. I expected another muddy cave dwelling movie livened up only by nukes and hang gliders. What I received was a movie where a frustrated artist was struggling to break free.

This movie goes back to the beginning of Ator’s life, where we discover that his twin brother was taken at a young age. Now, our hero travels to  Dragor (really the Isle of Malta) to do battle with a sorceress named Phaedra (Elisabeth Kazaand, who was in the aforementioned The Beast) her unstoppable henchman, the silver skulled, red bandana wearing Trogar (Franco Daddi, who was the stunt coordinator for both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Curse), who is the Iron Master of the Sword.

Princess Janna (Savina Gersak, who was in War Bus Commando) and Ator (the returning Miles O’Keefe) join forces and man, Janna’s makeup and hair is insane. She has what I can only describe as a ponytail mohawk and has makeup that wouldn’t be out of place on the Jem and the Holograms cartoon.

Imagine, if you will, a low budget sword and sorcery film that has MTV style editing, as well as gusts of wind, constant dolly shots and nausea-inducing zooms. It’s less a narrative film as it is a collection of images, sword fights and just plain weirdness. Like Deeva (Iris Peynado, who you may remember as Vinya, the girl who hooks up with Fred Williamson in Warriors of the Wasteland) saying that she created both Ator and Trogar to be tools of justice? This movie completely ignores the two that came before — and the one that follows it — and I am completely alright with all of it!

Supposedly, D’Amato hated this movie. Lots of people hate on it online, too. Well, guess what? They’re wrong. This is everything that I love about movies and proved to me that there is still some cinematic magic left in the world to find.

How about this for strange trivia? When they made the Conan the Adventurer series in 1997, Ator’s sword was repainted and used as the Sword of Atlantis!

You can buy this from RoninFlix.

Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990): If there’s a 12 step group for people who watch too many Joe D’Amato movies, well I should be the counselor, helping talk people off the ledge after they think they need to watch Erotic Nights of the Living Dead or Eleven Days, Eleven Nights or…hell, I can’t do it. For all people heap scorn on the movies of the man born Aristide Massaccesi, I find myself falling in love more and more with each movie.

D’Amato hated what Brescia did with his creation, so he starts this one off by killing Ator and introducing us to his son. Obviously, Miles O’Keefe isn’t back.

This one has nearly as many titles as Aristide had names: Ator III: The HobgoblinHobgoblinQuest for the Mighty Sword and Troll 3.

That’s because the costumes from Troll 2 — created by Laura Gemser, who is in this as an evil princess — got recycled and reused in this movie. D’Amato proves that he’s a genius by having whoever is inside those costumes speak.

Let me see if I can summarize this thing. Ator gets killed by the gods because he doesn’t want to give up his magic sword, which he uses to challenge criminals to battles to the death. The only goddess who speaks for him, Dehamira (Margaret Lenzey), is imprisoned inside a ring of fire until a man can save her.

That takes eighteen years, because Ator the son’s mother gave the sorcerer Grindl (the dude wearing the troll costume) her son to raise and the sword to hide. She then asked him for a suicide drink, but he gave her some Spanish Fly and got to gnome her Biblically in the back of his cave before releasing her to be a prostitute and get abused until her son eventually comes and saves her because this is a Joe D’Amato movie and women are there to be rescued, destroy men and be destroyed by men.

This movie is filled with crowd-pleasing moments and seeing as how I watched it by myself, I loved it. Ator (Eric Allan Kramer, Thor in the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns and Little John in Robin Hood: Men In Tights) looks like Giant Jeff Daniels and his fighting skills are, at best, clumsy. But he battles a siamese twin robot that shoots sparks, a goopy fire breathing lizard man who he slices to pieces and oh yeah, totally murks that troll/gnome who turned out his mom.

This is the kind of movie where Donald O’Brien and Laura Gemser play brother and sister and nobody says, “How?” You’ll be too busy saying, “Is that Marisa Mell?” and “I can’t believe D’Amato stole the cantina scene!” and “What the hell is going on with this synth soundtrack?”

Here’s even more confusion: D’Amato’s The Crawlers was also released as Troll 3. Then again, it was also called Creepers (it has nothing to Phenomena) and Contamination .7, yet has no connection with Contamination.

Only Joe D’Amato could make two sequels to a movie that has nothing to do with the movie that inspired it and raise the stakes by having nothing to do with the original film or the sequel times two. You can watch this on YouTube.

While there have never been any official Ator toys, check out the amazing custom figures that Underworld Muscle has made:

Thanks for being part of all things Ator. Which of the movies is your favorite?

JOE D’AMATO WEEK: 2020 Texas Gladiators (1982)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We wrote about this movie all the way back on September 27, 2018 so we added some new info to this article as we celebrate a week of Joe D’Amato.

A film with many AKAs — Anno 2020: I Gladiatori del Futuro (Year 2020 Gladiators of the Future), Futoro, 2020: The Rangers of Texas, 2020: Freedom Fighters and Sudden Death — the film we’re going to call 2020 Texas Gladiators starts with a long battle after the end of the world, bringing you in before there’s even any story. Who even cares if there’s a story? People are getting killed left and right!

We have 5 heroes here — who would assume are the Texas Gladiators– and they are Nisus (Al Cliver, EndgameWarriors of the Year 2072), Catch Dog (Daniel Stephen, War Bus which is a totally different movie than War Bus Commando)Jab (Harrison Mueller, She), Red Wolfe (Hal Yamanouchi, Rat Eater King from 2019: After the Fall of New York) and Halakron (Peter Hooten, the original Dr. Strange!).

They have to save this monastery, but they just sit and watch as more people get attacked, a priest gets crucified and a nun gets so upset over everything that she grabs a piece of glass to slice her own throat What are they waiting for? Are they just going to watch everyone die?

Then, to make them look even more inept, Catch Dog tries to rape one of the survivors! You guys are the heroes? Well, at least they kick him out after that. And that unfortunate woman is Maida (Sabrina Siani, Oncron from Conquest!), who hooks up with Nisus. Years later, they’re all settled down, the rest of the guys have gone their own way and Catch Dog has started an evil gang. Just like your friends from college. Except that Catch Dog hasn’t forgotten anything.

Of course, Catch Dog’s gang attacks the town where Nisus lives with his family. Surprisingly, they fight back the invaders, but then a vaguely Nazi army attacks and defeats our hero, shooting him across the forehead. Then the army kills and rapes everyone and everything, taking the town apart.

The leader of this army, Black One (Donald O’Brien, Dr. Butcher M.D. himself!) tells everyone that he’s in charge. They then take Nisus and force him to watch his wife get raped. This movie has more violent sex than — oh, Joe D’Amato and George Eastman directed it? Yeah. It figures.

In one of my go-to reference guides to Italian exploitation, Spaghetti NightmaresD’Amato says that Eastman “didn’t feel confident enough in the action scenes and so I dealt with those, leaving him to the direction of the actors. But in this case, the name recorded at the Ministry (director’s credit) was mine.”

Later in that book, Eastman pretty much makes anyone who likes these movies feel bad about their chocies: “These (post-atomic) films, which were made in the wake of the various Mad Max movies, were decidedly crummy. The set designs were poor….and the genre met a swift and well-deserved death. I only wrote these awful movies for financial reasons….no attempt at originality was made at all.”

So what happens with our hero? He attacks one of the guys and gets shot a hundred times and dies. Is that the end of the movie? Nope. Instead, our old friends Halakron and Jab find Maida, who has been sold to a gambler, and Halakron wins her in a game of Russian Roulette. They all get busted for a bar fight, where they get tortured in salt mines. Luckily, Red Wolfe comes to save them.

Catch Dog’s gang attacks, but our heroes fake their deaths. They also meet up with a gang of Native Americans. Jab has to defeat one of them in battle to get them to join with our heroes. Of course, he wins. He’s Jab, bro.

Maida gets to kill Catch Dog, but Jab doesn’t make it. He dies in his friend’s arms because this is an Italian movie and even the heroes can die. Luckily, Halakron gets to kill Black One with a hatchet. So there’s that.

Halkron, Red Wolfe and the Native Americans win the day, save everyone and then ride off into the sunset, because post-apocalyptic Italian movies are just spaghetti westerns with shoulder pads. Italy is Texas. Texas is Italy.

There are better post-apocalyptic films than this. But there are worse ones, too. It’s a hard one to get, but luckily Revok can help you.

JOE D’AMATO WEEK: Caligula… The Untold Story (1982)

After the media excitement around the controversy of Tinto Brass’ Caligula, there came — pun intended, always — plenty of ripoffs as is the Italian exploitation cinema way of life. They include the Bruno Mattei films Caligula And Messalina and Nerone e PoppeaCaligula Reincarnated As Hitler (AKA Cesare Canevari’s The Gestapo’s Last Orgy so it’s a really Naziploitation and not Caligulaspoitation or even Roman Porno, which comes from Japan, not Italy), Bruno Corbucci’s Messalina, Messalina! (AKA Caligula II: Messalina, Messalina and shot on the very same sets and using the same costumes as Brass’ film with no permission), Lorenzo Onorati’s Caligula’s Slaves (a ripoff of the movie we’ve about to discuss), Jaime J. Puig’s Una virgen para Calígula and this film, written by the unholy trio of George Eastman, D’Amato and an uncredited Michele Soavi.

Caligula (David Brandon, JubileeStagefright) has been having nightmares of being stalked and killed by a man with a bow and arrow. This does not stop him from continuing his aberrant life, filled with murder, lust, mayhem and well, everything that makes a Joe D’Amato movie.

The film starts with Domitius (Soavi) attacking Caligula and being beaten down and then ruined for life by having his tongue sliced off and the tendons of his legs cut. Caligula keeps him alive and tortures him with female slaves for most of the rest of the film. Our antagonist follows this by assaulting Livia in front of her new husband Aetius. After she commits suicide rather than be touched for one moment more, the crazed emperor kills her lover and blames it all on Christians, something the senators can’t believe.

Meanwhile, as the couple is buried on a beach, Miriam Celsia (Laura Gemser) proclaims herself a priestess of Anubis and claims that the Christians must forget their God and turn to her god of vengeance, burning their bodies and setting off for revenge. She sacrifices her virginity to Anubis in exchange for strength for her revenge and then somehow falls in love with Caligula and that’s not how that’s supposed to work.

But it does work — he ends up causing his own downfall, bringing the movie right back to its original nightmare.

The first two times this movie went before the rating board — which is absolutely hilarious that they were forced to watch this — it was kept out of theaters. 22 minutes of footage was removed, replaced by 15 minutes of tamer scenes — no more fellatio, no more real horseplay, no more nine minute orgy scene. Supposedly, there’s a two-hour plus cut and when you think, “Hey this is 85 minutes,” you can only imagine what was cut.

I always have a but with D’Amarto. Despite the sheer volume of manaical acts in this…but it’s gorgeous. Seriously, he’s making a film that looks as good — and at times better — than Brass’ better known and more overblown film. He has no pretense toward being an artist or intellectual. He just wants to make a movie that makes money, yet he’s talented in spite of himself, making a movie with underwater camera shots, effective dream scenes and huge tableaus of debauchery.

D’Amato used footage from this movie when he remade it in 1997 as the adult Caligola: Follia del potere. By that point, he wasn’t making movies like this any more, even if he was making movies like this.

You can now order this from Severin, whether you want a Caligula Bundle that comes with a coin, foto-comic and a copy of Bruno Mattei’s Caligula and Messalina or you can order it all by itself. I’m ready for that cleaned up Italian extended cut. Alert the authorities.

Midnight (1982)

EDITOR’S NOTE: You all know we love Midnight enough that we reviewed it here on October 30, 2019 and even got a quote on the back of the new Severin release. But we’re all about more people getting into this movie. 

We’re also about new writers on the site, so say hello to Jason Kleeberg. We shared his Ultimate Guide to Christmas Horror and now we’re excited to have his first review on the site. 

Jason is the host, writer, producer, and editor of the Force Five Podcast. In addition to being a podcaster, he’s a Blacklist screenwriter (The Gumshoe, Powerbomb, Anglerfish), filmmaker (Clarks), and Telly Award winner (2005) from the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s also an avid physical media collector. When Jason isn’t watching movies, he’s spending time with my wife, son and Xbox — not always in that particular order. This article originally ran on the Force Five site.

Fleeing her sexually abusive stepdad, Nancy hitches a ride with two guys heading west. Her goal is to get to California. At some point, the trio decides to stop and camp out in a town they were warned about, and run into a family who sacrifices people for Satanic purposes.

After watching Vinegar Syndrome’s release of The Laughing Dead, I decided I wanted to watch some more Satanic cult films and someone on Twitter recommended the recently released Midnight from Severin, also released in certain low budget theaters as The Backwoods Massacre. This was written and directed by John A. Russo, writer of the classic Night of the Living Dead, and with a tagline of “A Startling & Shocking Adventure – As Three College Students Take a Strange Detour to the Land of the LIVING DEAD!”, how could it disappoint? Well…it found a way. It’s slow, mean-spirited, and just generally uninteresting. The main draw for me watching this one was that Tom Savini had done the special effects for the picture, choosing the opportunity to work on this instead of Friday the 13th Part 2 which had me intrigued. Unfortunately, the bulk of the gore is machete throat cuts that look great, but are few and far between.

The opening scene in this extended cut is pretty promising – we hear some screams over an open field, only to discover a girl who’s been overpowered by a group of youngsters. Their mother looms over them, approving of their actions. Soon we cut to a satanic sacrifice, and I was legitimately intrigued. Unfortunately, that initial excitement will soon fade, as over half of the movie is a bland road trip. We spend an interminable amount of time with Tom and Hank, two guys who have clearly never seen a map of the United States because they agree to take Nancy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania towards California on their way to Florida, barely tolerate her and duck local law enforcement because they’re stealing food from grocery stores along the way. The trio of bumpkins consists of two typical Deliverance yokels, a normal looking woman, and a rotund guy who does nothing but laugh as he saunters around the forest like a demonic Hamburglar possessed with the soul of a hyena. There’s really nothing that makes any of them stand out aside from Cyrus’s annoying cackling, although the reveal of their mother was pretty effective late in the film.

As a final girl, Nancy really doesn’t do much aside from tag along until she’s captured. Near the end she finally gets to fight back, but by then it was too little, too late, especially considering who comes to her rescue. For most of the movie, she’s either in the back of a van or in a dog cage. She leaves town after her drunk stepdad, played by Lawrence Tierney, tries to rape her. The scene is unsettling but it’s also backed by this low key, upbeat tune that you might hear in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, as if we’re not supposed to take it too seriously. She gets out of the situation by hitting him in the head with a portable radio with less force than it takes to loosen the lid on a jar of pickles. It was just a bad scene all around but perfectly sets the stage for the mediocrity ahead.

The film is full of stupid characters playing overt stereotypes and isn’t good enough to sit with the upper echelon of backwoods psycho films. Deliverance, The Last House on the Left, Southern Comfort, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were all obvious influences, but it never does anything new, fun or interesting with the premise. What we’re left with is a bland road trip movie that never gets as wild as it should have. This one is an easy skip.

The Severin disc looks nice (it was pulled from a fresh 4K scan of the original negative) and I think this is the first time this film has been released uncut in the United States (if anywhere). There are a few interviews included with the disc that I haven’t seen. Unfortunately it lacks any commentary tracks.

Philippine War Week II: Wild Cats Attack (1982)

When I was a kid, my grandfather worked all night shifts at the mill and would come home in the middle of the night and crack open Pabst before anyone though that was cool and just watch war movie after war movie, the entire small house shaking and lit up by tracer fire and I could hear him laughing and having one heck of a time. And hey look — forty years later and here I am, watching a war movie from the Philippines and getting drunk.

A military squad commander has found a Red Book filled with military secrets, but the rebels attack and steal it and our hero’s girl, so he has to battle them all over again to get it back. There’s also a scene that features a long bit of the score from Raiders of the Lost Ark, so that book is not all that’s been taken illegally.

Also known as Task Force Alamid, this is a down and dirty effort. I mean, we’ve been doing these movies all week, but this is one of the lowest of the low ones when it comes to expenses. The VHS box is where most of the money — and the fake American acting names — went.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Human Animals (1982)

After a nuclear war, two men and one woman awaken in a deserted landscape unsure of how they arrived and unable to speak. One of the men and the woman are brother and sister who show up dressed as if they were attending a party when the end came, while the other man appears to be a tougher man, perhaps a biker.

Then, the crabs attack.

The stronger of the men destroys them and cracks open their shells so that everyone can eat before taking the woman while her brother can only watch. Soon, they’re joined by a gigantic dog who becomes bonded to the woman in ways that the men soon can only hope for, turning the entire film into an exploration of bestiality and incest and man’s inhumanity to man and animal, but all through the lens of art. Yet isn’t art just the right theater instead of the grindhouse.

This movie has taught me that if you piss on a dog, it will steal your woman.

But seriously, this is a surreal take on the end of the world movie and I’ve never seen anything like it. I honestly believe that I will never see another movie like it again either.

The Mondo Macabro release of this film has a brand new 4K transfer from the original film negative and an interview with director, writer and producer Eligio Herrero.

You can get this from Mondo Macabro.

National Lampoon’s Movie Madness (1982)

Originally made as National Lampoon Goes to the Movies, this film sat for two years, perhaps to age like cheese, and was intended to be a parody of ten film and television genres. It ended up being three movies — a divorce story, a making-it-big movie and a cop caper. When it played a test screening in Rhode Island, the audience was so upset that they tore up the theater seats.

Yes, it wasn’t going well. And the disaster movie that was intended to be part of it — directed by Henry Jaglom — was completely taken out of the film despite being completed done. This threw the whole movie off time as it’s too short with only three parts.

“Growing Yourself” is about the divorce of the Coopers, Jason (Peter Riegert) and Susan (Candy Clark). It’s very late 70s and at this point, I figured that everyone making this was just doing coke — confirmed — and coasting thanks to Animal House, the Lampoon name, having an animated opening and getting Dr. John to do the theme. That said, Diane Lane is in this and that kind of made it better.

“Success Wanters” is about a woman (Ann Dusenberry, Jaws 2) who goes from exotic dancer to margarine magnate — Robert Culp has a heart attack and she gets it all — to First Lady. It’s kind of like those 40s rags to riches stories yet not good.

The last story, “Municipalians” teams a rookie cop (Robby Benson) with a crusty veteran (Richard Widmark) on the hunt for a serial killer (Christopher Lloyd). It’s worth just seeing the casting.

Bob Girladi directed the first two stories and Jaglom the final one. He’d been told by Orson Welles that he needed to do a studio movie. Well, after this one, never again.

While this movie isn’t all that funny or well made, it is a significant cultural artifact, the first film after the Lampoon made one of the most important comedy movies of all time and stumbled. For lovers of comedy, it’s at least worth that historical look.

National Lampoon’s Movie Madness is available from Kino Lorber.

Slasher Month: Early Frost, aka Chilling (1982)

I watched this Australian noirish thriller back-to-back on the same day as the supernatural slasher Stones of Death. I like to tell you that this Down Under rip of American film noir fared better than that Aborigine Freddy Krueger rip in a Poltergeist world.

Well, with this soap opera-laden tale — about a divorce investigation that leads to the discovery a dead body — that’s not going to happen.

Sure, it’s well shot and the editing is alright . . . but nothing happens . . . as Mike Hayes, an aged, private detective (Guy Doleman), and a 13-year-old fatherless local boy, Joey Meadow (Daniel Cumerford) — who keeps scrap books of newspaper articles on the town’s local kidnappings and murders — jointly investigate and — discover — a link in a series of fatal “accidents” in the city of Blacktown are actually the intelligent workings of a serial killer.

Finland release, courtesy of Video Space.

As I dug into the backstory: It turns out my “soap opera” instincts were on point: most of the actors — if you know your Aussie soaps — were once prominent actors in the ’70s daytime dramas Restless Years and The Young Doctors. In addition, thanks to a 2005 IMDb comment from David Hannay, the project’s producer, this TV Movie production (marketed on video in the overseas markets) was a troubled one. The original director (a real-life local Blacktown boy done-good, Terry O’Connor, who also scripted) was fired midway through. So, Hannay, along with his co-producer, Geoff Brown, did what they could to “save the picture.” The end result: it’s the only film released in Australia without a director’s credit.

And the “trouble” shows: Again, nothing happens here: A shopping mall maintenance man is knocked off a ladder to his death. A woman returns home from a date for an electrocution-by-faulty light switch to a non-thrilling tedium, etc., and so on. Well, there’s a severed head . . . at the very end (that we don’t see cut off). And there’s some shenanigans with a booby-trapped spear gun that’s not the least bit graphic (poorly lit and poorly shot, with no visual impact). Oh, a XJ6 Jaguar (owned by David Hannay) is blown up.

Whatever. It doesn’t suck, but I am just bored by it all.

The killer gets away with three more murders . . . and the killer fills another page in the scrap book. The end.*

If you’re a fan of Micheal Caine — and aren’t we all — you’ll notice veteran actor Guy Doleman from Caine’s pretty fine The Ipcress File (1965) in the cast. Fans of the Syfy Channel import Farscape will recognize a young David Franklin in an early role as our serial stalker-murderer (or is he?): he portrayed Meeklo Braca in that series; he also portrayed Brutus in several episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess. Mad Max fans may notice Ms. Rockatansky, aka Joanne Samuels, in a support role. Then there’s the career-never-realized of the late Jon Blake (of the Risky Business-inspired car romp, Freedom) in the cast (is he trying to kill his and his brother Joey’s mom?). As result of Jon Blake, and later, at the age of 19, Daniel Cumerford, each dying tragically — compounded by the troubled production’s woes — the Aussie press wrote a series of articles about “The Jinx of Early Frost.”

Blake’s career was ironically cut short by a tragic car accident on the last day of filming the biggest film of his career, the 1987 WW I war drama, The Lighthorsemen. Cumerford’s death was the result of “taking a shortcut” across a suburban train line near Rockdale, New South Wales. Cumerford made only one other film before quitting the business: the comedy Ginger Maggs (1982).

You can watch Early Frost on You Tube.

* Plot Spoiler: Joey was lashing out for his mother “accidentally” killing his father years earlier during a local swimming hole picnic, thus the “cold” of (alternate) title, we think: for there is no frost in the spring time.

Spanish market version, aka Cold to Death, courtesy of Mercado Libre.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Secta Siniestra, aka Bloody Sect (1982)

There’s ripoffs of The Omen (The Visitor, The Tempter, Holocaust 2000), then there’s Spain’s “Roger Corman,” Ignacio F. Iquino — anglicized, here, for U.S. drive-in consumption as “Steve McCoy” — bringing on the double-live gonzos, Antichrist weirdness. (I’ll forever pair Iquino’s horror opus with Bigas Luna’s Anguish. I’m weird that way, anyway. . . .)

In his only horror film, Iggy wastes no time in serving up the gore and the sleaze — remembering his back resume is mostly softcore skin dramas that jumped on the Jess Franco sex-wave band wagon — in a tale of a woman pregnant with the Antichrist pursued by a Satanic cult (led by the sinister-good, yet one-film-and-gone Henry Ragoud). It’s a film that, as you watch, you’ll feel the proceedings are more Roman Polanski than Richard Donner — but there’s no arguing that Lucio Fulci’s gag-inducing influence is afoot in the frames. So yes, if you know your Fulci: eyes are gouged out. And the gallons upon gallons of blood belched would give Sam Raimi pause . . . heck, even Joe D’Amato threw-up in his mouth (and he knows a thing or two about inducing gags with his own, 1974 Antichrist romp, The Tempter, and 1979’s Blue Omega).

It all begins with Frederick, an ex-mercenary stuck in a loveless marriage with Elizabeth, his home bound, mentally and physically scared wife — an injury caused by his own misadventures with the bottle. He comes to fall in love with Helen — and loses his eyes via a red-hot fire poker (not before offing the maid) wielded by his now institutionalized wife. Now married and wanting to raise a family, Fredrick and Helen discover they can’t conceive (poor Fred . . . he loses his eyes, now he’s shootin’ blanks). Consulting a fertility doctor, they discover — too late — the good doctor is part of a Satanic cult . . . and he’s artificially inseminated Helen with “Satantic Sperm” to birth the Antichrist.

Yeah, the proceedings sometimes go down like a Bruno Mattei cheapjack joint (1980’s Hell of the Living Dead comes to mind) lacking in atmosphere that inclines more laughs that scares (the rubber bats! the devil baby!). The proceedings, however, are — without a doubt — outright mean and brutal with its eyeball operation (to at least fill in Fred empty sockets), abortions (the cult tracks down and kills the abortionist that kiboshed the last two Antichrist pregnations), and the big “Ruggero Deodato” move — only this time, it’s a (real) frog — in lieu of a river turtle — that gets the dagger holocaust. Then Elizabeth escapes the nuthouse (Diana Conca is off-the-chain and scene-chewing excellent throughout), Frederick’s obnoxious nephew is on the Damien fringes, there’s more nudity than a Paul Naschy joint, the cameras zoom and swirl, and the plot absurdities (also kitchen sink-clipping from The Shining, Suspiria, and Rabid) pile on and on and on as the pounding soundtrack sends Dario Argento screaming from the theater!

Remember how you felt when you witnessed the bat shite craziness of Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil (1974) and the great (!) Armondo de Ossorio’s Demon Witch Child (1975)? Well, Bloody Sect, as with those two post-Exorcist possession ditties, is never — ever — dull. And you get an Omen-Antichrist birth in the bargain, so what’s not to likey, here? Nothing. I love it all! Sure, we all remember Paul Naschy and Jose Ramon Larraz, but raise a pint for Ignacio F. Iquino giving it the genre-hoping, post-John Carpenter try, will ya?

Once very hard to find outside of Europe on VHS in the ol’ brick and mortar days — but the local comic book shop and VSOM/Video Search of Miami had the (poorly subtitled) greys for the taking — and utterly impossible to find on DVD, Vinegar Syndrome did this up right with a DVD/Blu-ray combo (that’s now out of print; but not to worry, Amazon has vintage copies).

About the Author: You can visit R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

SLASHER MONTH: He Lives By Night (1982)

A happily married graphic designer soon learns that his marriage isn’t all that happy, as his wife is cucking him with a man who dresses up in a woman’s white fish-net stockings. The married man goes insane and now feels the urge to dress up in women’s clothes and murder any woman who dares to wear the same white stockings. Now he has his sights set on a female disc jockey.

This movie’s a weird combination of giallo-infused slasher with romantic comedy, which I haven’t seen done before. It’s also packed with wacky moments, like a girl being born out of a slot machine in a stage show, directly followed by a kill that is lifted directly from TenebreHe Lives By Night actually feels like a movie that has heard the “are DePalma and Argento aware of one another?” question and says, “What if we made a movie that’s all Dressed to Kill and split screens and hazy photography but with the neon hues of Bava’s best student?”

Making this a movie that’s suddenly shot up on my list of films is the fact that it has some of the most garish movie punks ever lensed by a camera. Have any punk rockers worn KISS makeup at any point other than in movies and All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling? Regardless, I love every minute of this and the scene where the two shoplifting punks are met by the killer is great.

I’ve also never seen a movie where the killer makes use of a 7-UP machine.

Just to settle the “Is it a giallo or slasher?” debate — spoiler warning — the bad guy goes through a window and falls to his doom, cementing its place in the former genre. But it’s really a movie all on its own, where despite the fumbling in the dark comedic cops, it succeeds.

Director Po-Chih Leong has had a wild career. Born in England, he made most of his early movies in Hong Kong, including Foxbat, which was written by Terence Young and stars Henry Silva. He also made the arty Jude Law vampire film The Wisdom of Crocodiles, the Canadian slasher Cabin by the Lake movies and even some action films with Wesley Snipes and Steven Segal (what JCVD was too busy to work with another HK director?) and a Joe Mantegna Spenser TV move before going back to Hong Kong to create The Jade PendantThe Bounty Hunter and Baby Blues.

A killer that saves little girls from cars. An all-night talk show DJ who is also a nightclub showgirl. Ineffectual cops. Punks. Murder. Yes, He Lives by Night has it all and then some.

You can watch it on YouTube.