Wortvogels Gastarbeiter (3): William WilsonThemen: Neues |
William S. Wilson is a film writer who graduated from the College of William & Mary with a degree in Literary and Cultural Studies. He currently writes for fun on the Video Junkie blog. When he is not watching good movies, he is usually watching really bad ones.
From Italy with Odd
First off, I want to thank Torsten for his kind offer to do a guest blog and I only hope I can match the standards his readers come to expect. Initially I was very torn on what to cover under the blanket of “write about anything you want” and my mind fluctuated from topic to topic. Then it struck me that a love of exploitation films is what brought Torsten and me together, so what better subject matter than that. And who does exploitation almost better than anyone? Why the Italians, of course.
“I never met a man I didn’t like” is the famous Will Rogers quote and the same sentiment can be applied to Italian exploitation filmmakers and popular genres. If an American film became a worldwide box office success, you can bet the Italian film industry took notice and quickly started making knockoffs. Popular films such as SPARTACUS (1960) begat the sword and sandal genre; American westerns birthed the spaghetti westerns (some of which proudly became classics of their own); crime thrillers such as DIRTY HARRY (1971) and THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) established the prolific poliziotteschi subgenre; STAR WARS (1977) put Italian sci-fi into overdrive with titles like STARCRASH (1978); and George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) helped resurrect the horror/gore film from the grave. The Italians give it their all when it came to low budget copies and it often ended them up in strange places. Today we’ll look at two of the odder entries to emerge from the land of carbon copy cinema – Franco Prosperi’s WILD BEASTS (1984) and Fabrizio De Angelis’ THE LAST MATCH (1990).
Lions, tigers and bears…oh crap!
Fans of the “killer animals” genre popularized by the likes of THE BIRDS (1963) and JAWS (1975) should get a kick of this Italian variation that appeared almost a decade after the genre peaked. With the world having endured films about everything from killer grizzly bears to hungry piranha, the Italians had to think outside the box and that is exactly what they did. The plot: a dose of PCP mysteriously gets into the water supply of a metropolitan zoo, causing the animals to break loose and roam around the city maiming, goring and crushing the citizenry. Naturally, it is up to the local police force with the help of the zoo’s animal experts to stop these rampaging animals.
You have to admire the pure exploitation on display in WILD BEASTS. You can almost hear the producers saying, “So the public likes wild animals attacking human pictures, eh? And drug pictures do business at the box office. Well, we’ll give them a bunch of drugged animals attacking a bunch of humans!” Directed by Franco Prosperi, this picture utilizes real animals roaming the streets of Frankfurt, Germany and thereby surpassing any of the “animals gone amuck” American films of the 1970s. Ah, who needs expensive and silly special effects? Standout scenes include a vicious rat attack on a necking couple, a cheetah chasing a girl in a Volkswagen resulting in massive motor madness, a tiger attacking a subway car full of passengers, elephants stepping on peoples’ heads and – in an incredibly surreal bit – a polar bear wandering into the halls of a dance school to menace small children. Mix in some heavy social commentary and some of the most priceless dialogue ever and you have all the ingredients for an exploitation classic.
Interestingly, director Prosperi got his start in a genre born in Italy – the mondo film. He co-directed the groundbreaking MONDO CANE (1962), which gave way to a whole subgenre of pseudo-documentaries that exploited the world’s most cruel and exotic practices at the time. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to shake his mondo roots as he includes several real-life animal killing scenes (an unfortunate practice of Italian exploitation cinema). Also interesting is the film was an entirely different beast when first announced in the early 1980s under the title SAVAGE ZOO. Promising location shooting in Berlin and South Africa, the filmmakers listed reliable German actor Raimund Harmstorf and Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia, as the leads. I’m sure that would have led to some interesting conversations at family get-togethers.
Mia: “I just finished shooting ZELIG (1983) and BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) with Woody. What have you been up to?”
Tisa: “I just finished a film about zoo animals hopped up on PCP that break out and attack folks throughout the city.”
Alas, it was not meant to be and Prosperi ended up with Lorraine De Selle and one-and-done John Aldrich as his leads. Surprisingly, Prosperi bowed out of the film industry after this film and never made another movie.
Hut! Hut! Hut!
The above chant is probably something more familiar to American readers and sports fans. Football (the American kind) is the most popular team game in the United States and you know that this fact never escaped Italian exploitation producers. One needs look no further than Joe D’Amato’s ANTHROPOPHAGUS 2 (1980) to see an example of how the Italians believe the Americans are obsessed with football. D’Amato has folks dressed in their fanciest outfits eating big bowls of pasta while going nuts during a televised game (a scenario that definitely draws laughs from anyone who has seen a football game). Regardless, Italian producers knew it was popular, so it had to be exploited. But what can one reasonably do with the football film genre? Prolific producer-director Fabrizio De Angelis answered with THE LAST MATCH (1990), a wild concoction that crosses football with MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978) and LET’S GET HARRY (1986).
Naïve Susan Gaylor (Melissa Palmisano) finds herself imprisoned in a Latin American country after being accused of drug smuggling. Her father, former footballer Cliff (Oliver Tobias), quickly heads there to help his daughter, but runs into nothing but bureaucratic red tape (courtesy of Charles Napier and Martin Balsam). All hope in freeing his daughter appears lost until his old football coach (Ernest Borgnine) shows up with some concerned former players and they agree to break her out of prison. After all, would you want your daughter at the mercy of a warden played by Henry Silva? They plan to storm the prison with guns and grenades. Hey, they’re dumb jocks, remember? And not only are they relying on their old game plays from the glory days, but they have decided to attack in their old white-and-yellow football outfits.
Exploitation with the highest aspirations and lowest results, THE LAST MATCH is truly a hoot to American football fans. De Angelis was known for snagging down-on-their-luck actors with recognizable names for his productions. He actually took it one step further here and alongside slumming familiar U.S. actors (Balsam, Borgnine, Napier, Silva) you will find a bevy of retired former NFL (National Football League) players in supporting roles. Most notably there are former Buffalo Bill quarterback Jim Kelly alongside the Miami Dolphin’s running back Jim Kiick and wide receiver Jim Jensen. To put it in context for European readers, imagine a movie where bunch of retired soccer (football, I know, I know) players decided to show up to do a prison break in their team uniforms and did stuff like put grenades inside of soccer balls and then kicked them at the bad guys. That sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Yet somehow De Angelis felt this was a surefire concept for the U.S. market. So that makes the fact that this has never been officially released in America – the country where most viewers would “get it” – all the more funny.