Thunder Warrior (aka Thunder) (Fabrizio De Angelis, 1983, Italy)
What would you say if I simply described Thunder Warrior as a mid- ’80s Italian-produced Native American-themed First Blood knockoff? Really, my review could end there. That should be enough info to send you scrambling to find this film but, don’t worry, I’ll give you some more to go on.
We start with the titular Thunder (Mark Gregory from 1990 Bronx Warriors) arriving in a western town only to find out from his wife-to-be Sheila and her elderly father that the town has disregarded their land treaty and is preparing to bulldoze their tribe’s burial ground. After a confrontation with the construction crew, Thunder walks into town, framed treaty in hand, to complain to the police and the bank. He’s ignored by Sheriff Bill Cook (Bo Svenson) and harassed by Deputy Barry Henson (Raimund Harmstorf). Sure, the Sheriff could have diffused the situation but he’s preoccupied with a toothache and tells Deputy Henson to drive Thunder to the edge of town to drop him off.
Of course, Thunder fights with the construction workers again and heads right back into town. This leads to another fight with the police. Then things are off and running with Thunder fleeing into the desert while the construction crew (led by Antonio Sabato) aid the cops in tracking him down. Things go as expected (in true First Blood form) with Thunder making his pursuers look like fools. Thunder Warrior adds a reporter and radio DJ who promote his cause. Meanwhile, there’s an attack on Sheila and the killing of her father.
The film plays out much like its American predecessor and has a great conclusion with Thunder returning to town, driving a bulldozer and brandishing a bazooka in a climactic action set-piece that must have eaten up most of the film’s budget. Ever want to see Rambo drive a bulldozer directly through a building? Well, here’s your big chance, kind of.
Thunder Warrior is a great piece of schlock cinema and comes highly recommended for those late nights where you just want to watch an Italian non-actor play a Native American defending the treaty between a town and what is apparently a tribe of three people while things get blown up left and right. Director Fabrizio De Angelis knew what his audience wanted and how to give it to them, obviously something he learned from his years as a producer on everything from Emanuelle around the World to Zombie to Rat Man. The combined effect of Sergio Salvati’s (Zombie, Four for the Apocalypse) cinematography and Francesco De Masi’s (The Inglorious Bastards, Johnny Hamlet) fine score give this film a spaghetti western vibe that will be familiar to most fans of cult cinema. This film is not available on DVD so you’ll either have to hunt down a VHS copy or find some other means of viewing it but I’m certain that when you do, you will quickly want to acquire both of its sequels.
Liz & Helen / A Doppia Faccia / Double Face (Riccardo Freda, 1969, Italy)
This taught thriller stars Klaus Kinski as John Alexander, a business man who meets Helen Brown (Margaret Lee) whilst vacationing in the Alps. They quickly fall in love and marry, but when they settle back in London their relationship quickly takes a turn for the worse. They soon become distant and Helen spends an increasing amount of time with her friend Liz (Annabella Incontera). After telling John that she has named him sole heir to her fortune, Helen decides to take a vacation without John or Liz, although it would seem someone wants her gone for good as a bomb is planted in her car. After Helen’s accident she is presumed dead, and Inspectors Gordon and Stevens (Luciano Spadoni and Günther Stoll) zero in on John who took his own impromptu vacation at the recommendation of his father-in-law.
The mystery soon develops when John arrives back home and finds a strange girl named Christine (Christiane Krüger) in his house. After kindly driving her back to town she lures him into a fantastical sixties London Mod party at which an underground porn film is being screened starring Christine and his supposedly deceased wife Helen. Upon inquiring about the film he is informed that it was made recently and that the other woman is only known as the countess and that she is dangerous. From here on the twists come at you like Hitchcock in a blender and without spoiling anything I can tell you that it has a satisfying end.
Superbly directed by Riccardo Freda, who is one of Italy’s first masters of suspense and horror, the film entwines a wonderful mix of classic thriller characters and the gothic set pieces of classic European architecture and drawn from a script co-written by Lucio Fulci. The lighting along with the contrast of the drab backgrounds and the bright flare of the mod settings give this film a memorable atmosphere shot wonderfully by Gabor Pogany. This film also deserves some special attention for the great and underplayed performance by Klaus Kinski whom proves here that he can be intense without raging. Along with all of this you get a haunting score by Nora Orlandi, which like the scores of other classic Euro horror films will play in your head for days. If you’re looking for a good piece of semi-sleazy early giallo euro-mystery then you’re in for a treat here. Not your typical black gloved giallo but comparable to films like Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia, also from 1969.
Alfa Digital’s disc is quite the treat as even though their release is a composite of at least two prints the picture and sound quality are descent and better than some commercial releases of such obscure films. The image has great colors and is presented in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen format and the audio is a mix of English and French with English subtitles due to the use of different release prints. The only extras are a short photo gallery and an insert with liner notes.
Slaughter Night / SL8N8 (Frank Van Geloven and Edwin Visser, 2006, Netherlands)
Slaughter Night concerns Kristel (Victoria Koblenko) who has survived a car wreck in which Martin, her father, died and feels incredible guilt over arguing with her father just prior to the accident. To cope with the loss Kristel offers to collect her father’s belongings and the manuscript for his just finished book from his office. It seems that Martin’s last book concerns Andreis Martiens and infamous child murderer from the 1850s who believed he had a way to travel in and out of hell freely and actually died in a nearby closed mine which is now a tour site. Apparently in the mid 1800s criminals sentenced to death were given a choice, either hang or be a volunteer "fireman." Not in the sense we are used to, but these "firemen" would enter mine shafts to manually ignite methane gas pockets to make it safe for the workers, if the prisoner lived through the explosion he was free to go. Andreis didn’t survive the blast.
Kristel collects her fathers manuscript and a few personal items (including a Ouija board and a music box supposedly belonging to Andries Martiens), and decides along with a group of four friends to join the last tour of the day for the old mines. Once underground lets just say things do not go as planned when the group find themselves trapped in the mine and decide to contact a spirit via the Ouija board. Unfortunately the first spirit they contact is the body-jumping murderous spirit of Andreis Martiens who still believes he can complete his ceremony to leave hell, but it seems they have also contacted the spirit of Martin who can give them clues as to the way out.
Overall entertaining Slaughter Night has a solid and believable cast to propel a sometimes familiar plotline. While occasionally too shaky, the camera work and lighting design is often effective in the underground scenes, making great use of the hanging lights on the mine set to create a disorienting feeling from the light flares. While early on the film seems like it may lose its way, with too many "ghost clichés" thrown out in one certain scene, once the group enters the mine the whole package comes together and I was along for the ride. The story may be derivative at points but the filmmakers bring enough of their own style to this film to make it their own, a couple of stand-out gore scenes and the design of the "fireman" make Slaughter Night creepy and memorable. I defiantly recommend this film as an interesting hybrid; sort of My Bloody Valentine meets Demons.
The DVD released by Tartan comes with the usual anamorphic widescreen transfer and the usual Dolby and DTS 5.1 soundtracks in the films original Dutch with English subtitles. The extras include a 25 minute making of which includes interviews with the key cast and crew while providing a wealth of behind the scenes footage. Also included is a four minute outtake reel, the original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Tartan releases.
Requiem for a Vampire (Jean Rollin, 1973, France)
Ah, the cinematic world of Jean Rollin, full of actual decrepit castles, ancient cemeteries, naked vampires, and driven by dream logic, magical thinking, and some of the strangest imagery ever committed to celluloid. Rollin’s films are often illogical from a storytelling standpoint while being enthralling from a visual perspective and Requiem for a Vampire is no exception of his style over substance oeuvre.
Requiem follows two young women who we meet mid-car-chase and shoot-out just before their male companion is shot and killed. The two girls, in full clown make-up and costume, burn their getaway car with their deceased companion within, before fleeing through the countryside and into a decaying graveyard. Once they have been sufficiently creeped out, and one of the girls has almost been buried alive, the two seek shelter in a crumbling chateau nearby only to be attacked by bats upon their arrival.
After wandering the creepy halls for a while, the girls hear organ music and enter a room where they find a tableau of robed skeletons arranged as if in mid-ceremony. This is where they first encounter Erica, a female vampire who, along with a small group of human servants is assisting the world’s last true vampire in his quest to repopulate their species. Once the girls have been used to lure new victims to the castle, they realize they must escape but, for one of them, it may be too late.
This is not the kind of film that you watch for the plot, and since there is barely any dialogue throughout, you have to rely on the mise en scène to set the mood and propel the story. Rollin is an assured director with a keen visual sense and style, which permeates his films. This is fully on display in Requiem, aided by the inventive photography of Renan Polles and a jazzy score by frequent collaborator Pierre Raph. Rollin’s use of actual ancient locations found in the French countryside lends his films an authenticity that supersedes most weaknesses in plot. Requiem’s chateau and graveyard are such memorable locations that they will stay in your memory long after viewing the film. If you are someone looking for something different in your vampire film and would like to pursue something more esoteric and less traditional in narrative you would find it worth your time and effort to seek out Kino’s DVD and Blu-ray reissues of Rollin’s films.
Note: While I had nothing to do with this particular film or release, I am a contributor to other DVD / Blu-ray releases of Jean Rollin’s films by Kino Lorber / Redemption Films.