VIDEO NASTY DOUBLE FEATURE: THE BURNING/CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE
In the early 1980s, VHS was beginning to rise in the United Kingdom, and there had not been a film classification/censoring system in place for video as there had been for theatrical films. Due to the lack of regulation, many distributors could put out whatever they wanted to, no matter how violent or pornographic, until a bunch of cocksuckers started complaining about stuff they didn’t actually watch. In 1982, after numerous raids and arrests by policemen who didn’t really know what they were looking for, the Video Recordings Act was passed which brought similar regulations to video, and 39 films were made illegal to watch or own in the country which were collectively referred to as the “Video Nasties”. Naturally, the Video Nasties list became a checklist for gorehounds, and I’m going to review a bunch of these films, two at a time.
THE BURNING (1981, USA, TONY MAYLAM)
I’m sure many of you horror fans wince at any mention of the Weinsteins, the infamous Hollywood producers known for their incessant interference and editing of the movies they distribute to produce the most “profitable” movie possible, but turn said films into mediocre crap. They’ve softened films by filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, turned Children Of The Corn into a franchise and completely ruined the Hellraiser and Halloween franchises, but did you know that the first film they ever produced themselves was a hardcore slasher flick released only a year after Friday The 13th proved the profitability of the genre and was surprisingly really goddamn good?
The film starts with a few boys attempting to play a cruel prank on Camp Blackfoot’s caretaker named Cropsy, a drunk man who is sadistic to the children, with a worm-encrusted skull with candle eyes, and accidentally set him on fire and burn him badly. Five years later he arises from the hospital, badly burnt and with the intent to murder those who committed the prank, and soon finds them on Camp Stonewater, where they’re working as camp counselors, grown up and with friends and love interests. Cropsy, who couldn’t give less of a shit about how their lives turned out, grabs for a pair of garden shears and starts his attempts to murder them for their actions after they take a canoe ride out to another section of the wilderness, along with anyone who gets in his way. They don’t know what’s responsible for the murders at first, but they soon find out, lure Cropsy into an abandoned copper mine, and fight him for their lives and the lives of their friends.
One of the most pleasant surprises this film provides is that all of the characters are extremely likeable and very easy to invest time into, and given the nature of many characters back in the slasher’s heyday back in the 80s to be worthless, one-dimensional, and only around to become bait for the killer, it’s rather nice to have people to invest time into, especially when the gruesome killings don’t really start until later on into the film. As soon as you arrive at Camp Stonewater, you see that many of the people around are far more respectable than people in most slasher films outside of the Nightmare On Elm Street series; even the people you would typically hate, such as the sex-crazed jock and the “funny” guy, can prove themselves to actually be nice people who can actually look out for one another, such as in a scene long before the killings occur where one of the characters has a moment of creepiness and tries to spy on a girl in the public shower, as their reactions are very realistic rather than cartoonishly mean.
And since the characters are very likeable, it only makes their inevitable deaths much more horrifying, although the gory deaths courtesy of special effects maestro Tom Savini are great in and of themselves. You may have seen an infamous portion of the film where a group of campers are slaughtered in a raft by Cropsy, where every time he raises his shears into the air before his next cut and slices their fingers off among other actions, and this is definitely one of the best and goriest moments of the film. However, there are plenty of other kickass moments in this as well, provided that you get the uncut version (MGM’s DVD is the uncut version, as is Netflix’s streaming copy); granted, they’re all basically the same kind of slashes and swipes you’d expect from a typical gory slasher film, but they still provide enough blood and gore to make it look horrifying. The best makeup here, though, is Cropsy’s burned face, as he looks like much of his face has melted away, and seeing a crazy bastard like that charging towards you with garden shears is sure to turn you white with fear.
If you think you’re a slasher film aficionado after watching the Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street but haven’t seen this flick (or any of the less popular entries in the recommendations below), then what the fuck are you waiting for? I’ve gotta be honest, this movie is actually superior to the movie it’s trying to copy, not only for the badassery of Cropsy’s physical appearance and method of killing his victims, but also for how you can get a real feel for the characters before Cropsy offs them, giving it a humanity not found in many other slasher flicks. Find a copy of this movie and pop that fucking thing in, and let the gory goodness contained within take over. Watch it, and then realize where the Weinsteins came from, and if you ever see them, force them to realize it as well and look at what they had done for years with Dimension Films, and how many horror franchises they’ve ruined.
Also Check Out: Friday The 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday To Me, Just Before Dawn, Madman
CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980, ITALY, ANTONIO MARGHERITI)
I could rave about how awesome this movie is all day, my god… So you take actionsploitation director Antonio Margheriti, and you combine the two biggest and cheapest trends in Italian cinema at the time, the cannibal and the zombie film, combine that with a balls-to-the-wall action flick, throw in a bit of a Vietnam war movie, and trade the Amazonian jungles for the mean streets of Alabama and what you get is this film, a badass and truly unique film which is hard not to love, unless you REALLY hate Italian action movies for whatever reason.
The movie starts out with our three main characters in Vietnam; Norman Hopper, played by John Saxon, Tommy Thompson, played by Tony King, and Charlie Bukowski, played by professional scenery chewer and charisma machine Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Tommy and Charlie are POWs that Norman had to save, but while they are imprisoned by the Vietcong, they develop a bizarre hunger for human flesh. When they all come back to the States, Tommy and Charlie end up succumbing to their hunger again and every time they bite someone else, that other person turns into a raving lunatic cannibal. As police and renegade biker gangs try to take down Charlie and Tommy, and as the number of victims increase, Norman decides to try and help them to survive, despite the fact that they’re vicious cannibals, no matter what it takes.
If there’s any Italian zombie flick that I could say that this is close to, it’s Nightmare City; sure, neither Charlie and Tommy are decaying zombies, nor are any of their victims, and they definitely don’t have heads that look like badly burnt and deformed broccoli, but they are vicious people with a taste for human flesh, who run around like rabid freaks and use weapons, just as the pre-28 Days Later zombies in Nightmare City fucked shit up hardcore. However, they aren’t mindless freaks in this flick, since other than the whole cannibal virus thing they picked up from ‘Nam they’re pretty much normal people (and I’m pretty sure that Charlie has some form of PTSD, giving Radice another chance to act as the crazy character who steals the movie), which makes it surprisingly easy to sympathize with them rather than the police and bikers out trying to kill them. The characters aren’t given all that much development, since we are looking at an Italian zombie/cannibal/action/war flick, but they’re given enough to really get into everyone’s characters the way you wouldn’t expect to be able to in an Italian exploitation movie.
And where would a zombie movie or a cannibal movie be without extreme gore? I guarantee you that Margheriti didn’t skimp in this aspect, and although it may not be the splatteriest splatter flick you’ve ever laid eyes on, it’s got a shitload strewn throughout it. See that giant hole through the stomach on the VHS cover? That’s there in the movie as “Italy’s Whipping Boy” Radice’s death scene (it isn’t a spoiler if it’s in the trailers, is it?), and you get to see his guts get shotgunned out of the hole in his body, and it’s ridiculously awesome. Another really gory scene that comes to mind is the fight scene with the bikers where one of them gets slammed against a car windshield, and when they finally get their flesh broken into, the gory result is similarly spectacular.
Of course, since this is also an action flick, this movie also throws in plenty of badass things about the action films that Enzo G. Castellari and Margheriti were known for at the time, such as fast-paced action (another trait it shares with Nightmare City), badass cinematography which serves to accentuate the ridiculously cool action, and best of all, balls-to-the-wall vehicle action (mainly on motorcycles, due to the biker gang and all, and the standoff between the gang, the police and Charlie) and FLAMETHROWERS. Not only is there a flamethrower during the opening scene in Vietnam (this movie gets the war flick aspect out of the way pretty quickly, with the exception of the fact that the characters are ‘Nam vets and that it’s where the “virus” comes from), but plenty of things get set aflame during the rest of the flick, including rats in the sewer and even Tommy gets a badass turn as the Human Torch… although if there’s anything I would add to the movie, it would be more Castellari-esque slow motion. Now THAT would kick all sorts of ass.
Bottom line, this is an essential view for any Italian exploitation fan, not just for Radice’s performance, but also for the film’s unique blend of several different genres in a way that actually makes it work very well, unlike Porno Holocaust’s unsuccessful blend of horror and hardcore porn. Don’t watch it as its edited version known as Invasion Of The Flesh Hunters, since it edits out too much of the good stuff; grab an uncut import or the uncut Euroshock Collection DVD from Image if you can. It’s a perfect movie for any newcomer to Italian horror or perfect popcorn fare for an experienced viewer, but only if you view it in the way that Margheriti intended.
Also Check Out: Nightmare City, The Last Hunter, Zombi Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, House On The Edge Of The Park
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