tirsdag 28. april 2015

Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion

Italy, 1970

Directed by John Shadow

Alex Rebar, Ewa Aulin, Carlo De Mejo, Eugene Pomeroy

Wow! Where do you begin with something like this? The title alone should give you some idea of what to expect here, and indeed, Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion is a bafflingly strange, nonsensically titled film that defies all categorization. Practically unreleased anywhere in the world, it is surely one of the rarest and most overlooked Italian productions of the early 1970s – made all the more fascinating due to its muddled release history and the fact that it somehow stars famed Swedish bombshell Ewa Aulin. It crops up every so often in discussions about particularly rare Italian films, but not many appear to have actually seen it.

So what’s it all about? Well, the plot deals with the stiff-lipped and self-important college professor John Fink (Alex Rebar), who is mortified after one of his students dies while under the influence of drugs. Professor John blames the widespread use of drugs among his students on rebellious heroin-addict Billy Fisher (Carlo De Mejo), but doesn’t want to expel Billy or report him to the police in fear of tarnishing the school’s reputation. Instead, the professor recruits the help of his nerdy star pupil Henry (Eugene Pomeroy) to trick Billy into joining them for a weekend getaway at Professor John’s isolated villa in the Italian countryside.

Of course, it’s all just a pretense to lure Billy away so the professor can use him in an experiment to cure him of his drug addiction. As soon as they’ve arrived at the villa, John disconnects the phone and sabotages the car to prevent Billy from leaving, bugs his room and begins messing with the boy’s head.

Professor John

Billy the druggie

The professor starts playing mind games on Billy

Joining them is the professor’s subservient and much younger wife, Elizabeth (Ewa Aulin), who is upset by the way her husband is treating Billy, and who would rather have the two of them spend some time alone at the villa. John criticizes her for her priorities and staunchly defends his experiment, which he is determined to carry out under his motto of “no emotions”. Unfortunately, things quickly get out of hand due to the professor’s inability to confiscate Billy’s stash of drugs, and worse yet, Elizabeth – having grown tired of being neglected by her manipulative husband – takes a liking to Billy and gets hooked on his drugs…

Elizabeth and Billy hit it off...

...leading to more drug abuse...

...and freak-outs

This genuinely strange zero budget oddity currently only circulates via grey market dupes of a rare Greek VHS release from the 1980s, and has long been subject to a lot of debate over who actually directed it and whether or not it ever received any sort of theatrical run. According to the onscreen credits, Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion was written, produced and directed by John W. Shadow, who is also credited with writing all of the songs for the soundtrack. According to the notoriously unreliable IMDb, John W. Shadow was a pseudonym used by small-time Italian producer Roberto Loyola, who never directed anything else. The name John Shadow also crops up as the writer-director for the decamerotic film Tales of Canterbury (1973) and as a screenwriter on J.P. Simon’s notorious Spanish slasher epic Pieces (1982), and in these two instances the IMDb claims the man hiding behind the John Shadow name is Joe D’Amato. A little bit of research quickly reveals, however, that John Shadow is actually a real person. He is/was a British songwriter who was married to Ewa Aulin from 1968 to 1972 – a marriage that produced a son, Shawn, born in 1969. Shadow wanted to branch out into movies but never received much, if any, attention for his brief filmic output, and what little press he did get was almost without exception connected to his marriage to Aulin, who was a big star and favored object of the Italian yellow press in those days.

John Shadow and Ewa Aulin pictured together in the La Stampa newspaper in 1969

One of the very rare instances in which Shadow did get some press on his own was when Variety ran a few pieces about the production of Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion in early 1970. These pieces, while brief, reveal several fascinating details about the production history of the film, as well as some welcome information about Shadow’s background, and I am thus choosing to reproduce them here in their entirety.

The first Variety piece is from 18 March 1970:

Sound Productions is a new film company in Rome, inaugurating activity with a semi-experimental low-budgeter "Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion", which John Shadows will produce and direct from his own screenplay. “Liquid Subway” is a warmup exercise for Shadows who has set up a base here with Swedish actress (and wife) Ewa Aulin. The young producer is a nephew of the late Ella Shields, a Jolson era entertainer known on both sides of the Atlantic. His background also includes founding membership in Radio Caroline, the station that operated in extra-territorial waters off the British coast, with a peak audience of 18,000,000 listeners when Shadows left to enter cinema. Innovation in “Liquid Subway,” Shadows said, would cut to the bone the standard screen reactions and gestures, and prod participation by filmgoers to insert them mentally as the pic unspools. Sound properties are “Only One Way To Go,” an original by Shadows and film publicist Hunt Powers, and “Question Of Innocence,” a Shadows screenplay. As his program develops, he intends to raise financing from a public stock issue, but not until cast and directors are committed. The young filmmaker-promoter is a strong believer in the stock counter as a new source of industry financing, providing the producer can line up a major broker, bank endorsement and a top law firm as a guarantee of legitimate enterprise. “Once this is done,” Shadows said confidently, “the angels will come forward.”

The film is then briefly mentioned again in a Variety issue from 22 April 1970:

John Shadows completed shooting on “Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion” on a three-week schedule and a $70,000 budget. Party, headed by Ewa Aulin, Alex Rabar, Alida Valli's son Carlo Demejo and Eugene Pomeroy together with lenser Gabor Pogany and all others on the unit, accepted salary minimums for profit participation. Shadows also produced for his Sound Pictures and directed from his own script.

A third and final mention of the film occurs in a Variety issue dated 20 May 1970:

“The Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion” is described by its director John Shadow as Italy's answer to the New York. Shot in 17 days and starring his wife Ewa Aulin, songwriter Shadow brought off his filming debut with no financial problems. Backers came out of the walls after comments by Dr. Christiaan Barnard encouraging the undertaking. Shadow formed his own company, Sound Productions Ltd., in the Bahamas a year ago to insure independence, and began working on the film based on a story about a London friend hooked on drugs. Cast also includes Alex Rabar, Eugene Pomeroy and Carlo de Meo, Alida Valli's son. After his first “underground” effort which included writing the script, directing and producing the film and composing the sound track, Shadow says he has other films in preparation.

Unfortunately, Variety didn’t run any more pieces on the film after this point, and this is where things start to get complicated. Shadow shot Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion in Italy, where he and Aulin were based, and the film appears to have been an Italian production, yet it is not listed in the official registrar of Italian films and there is no evidence of any sort of theatrical release in Italy. Somewhat confusingly, American-born actor Eugene Pomeroy, who played the nerdy Henry in the film, mentions in an interview that his family came all the way from the States to attend the premiere in Italy, at which John Shadow and Ewa Aulin were also present. However, this was most likely some sort of private screening for cast, crew and their families rather than a real cinema premiere. Again, the film does not appear to have received any kind of official theatrical release, and no posters or promotional art for the film has surfaced anywhere. Clearly, the production must have run into difficulties – with Shadow perhaps being unable to find a distributor. While one cannot completely rule out the possibility of brief theatrical runs in other European countries, this seems unlikely. In fact, the only known release of the film anywhere in the world is the Greek video release from the 1980s, although how on earth the film ended up on a Greek VHS after being unseen and undistributed for so many years is a mystery that is still waiting to be solved.

The rare Greek VHS release of the film. Note how the highly misleading cover art is stolen from Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon (1981). No original artwork for the film appears to exist

As for the film itself, I’m afraid the complicated release history and confusion over who directed it is far more intriguing than the actual product, which is neither particularly well-made nor enjoyable. For what is ostensibly a drug movie, Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion is curiously lacking in terms of psychedelic imagery – with the only exception being the stylish opening credits, which feature a syringe injecting drugs into a colored bubble, weird sounds, and fish-eye lens shots of a spaced out Ewa Aulin dancing in slow motion. It’s a terrific opening sequence and that only makes it all the more disappointing that the film doesn’t have more scenes like this.

A few images from the stylish opening credits

But while the film may be lacking in psychedelic imagery, it offers no shortage of shock zooms, slow motion, subliminal inserts, bizarre camera angles, jumpy edits, extreme close-ups of faces, echoing sounds, and confusing cutaways. All this results in quite a trippy and weird atmosphere but, unfortunately, it does not translate into a particularly pleasurable viewing experience. The plot makes about as much sense as the nonsensical title, the pacing is languid and the whole thing is frequently boring in spite of the sky high bizarro factor.

Several reviews have commented that the film has a raw, unfinished feel to it, yet the various Variety pieces all indicate that it was indeed completed, so any such feeling is surely down to the inept staging and direction. Among the most confusing aspects are the brief but frequent cutaways to entirely unrelated scenes of Billy’s hippie friends camping out in the woods. It really makes no sense whatsoever. Equally incomprehensible is the decision to film the first 12 minutes (minus the opening credit) in sepia tones. If the transition from sepia to color had occurred at the moment when someone shooting up, it might have made some sense, but instead it happens completely at random – much like everything else in the film. It is of course possible that Shadow simply didn’t have enough money to shoot everything in color. We’ll probably never know.

Some of the head-scratching cutaway footage to Billy’s hippie friends

Sepia toned scenes

In all fairness, the film is not entirely bereft of talent. Gabor Pogany’s cinematography (which is partially cropped on the Greek VHS version) is fairly stylish, and employs some very unusual and inventive angles that are put to particularly good use in a loopy sequence where Professor John is messing with Billy’s head during a game of billiard, or when Billy has tied himself to his bed to fight off his withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, the songs on the soundtrack (written by Shadow and performed by American-born but Italian-based R&B, blues and disco singer Ronnie Jones) are actually very good and nicely fit the film’s thematic and mood, and there’s even some nice instrumental music by Bill Conti and Marcello Gigante thrown in – featuring the ubiquitous wordless female vocals that seem to have been considered obligatory back then.

The zany billiard sequence is a trippy montage of weird camera angles, shaky camera shots, zooms and snappy edits that nicely illustrate Billy’s state of mind during his withdrawal period

Some pretty effective camerawork during the scenes where poor Billy is tied to the bed

The small but interesting cast is headed by American actor Alex Rebar as the strange Svengali-like professor. Rebar was apparently a personal friend of John Shadow and later acted for him again in Tales of Canterbury, but is best remembered for playing the title role in the American cult classic The Incredible Melting Man (1977) as well as serving as executive producer and occasional writer on such amateurish and cheap slashers as Terror on Tour (1980), To All a Good Night (1980), Demented (1980) and Home Sweet Home (1981). He gives a terrible performance here – coming across as both awkward and hammy. Faring infinitely better is Euro-horror favorite Carlo De Mejo in one of his early film roles. Seeing him without the trademark beard he sports in the likes of City of the Living Dead (1980), The Other Hell (1981) and Blade Violent (1983) is a little baffling at first, but De Mejo is quite good here and really invests himself in the role the rebellious druggie even if the script doesn’t give him a whole lot to work with.

By far the biggest name in the cast is Ewa Aulin, who had become something of an international celebrity after starring alongside the likes of Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn and Ringo Starr in the sex farce Candy (1968), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for most promising newcomer. Aulin seemed destined to become the next big thing in Hollywood, but things took a disastrous turn after she was cast alongside Lee Van Cleef and Jim Brown in the US western El Condor (1970). She began working on the film in late 1969, but clashed with director John Guillermin and producer André De Toth over some sex scenes that Aulin refused to appear in – causing her to promptly walk away from the film and be replaced by Marianna Hill. An article about the incident in Time Magazine gives the impression that the then 19-year old Aulin’s decision to not appear nude (even though she had no such qualms when she starred in Candy) may at least partly have been spurred on by Shadow, who was sometimes described in the Italian press as being very jealous and possessive of his 12 years younger wife.

For Shadow it was obviously convenient that his wife dropped out of El Condor since it meant she was available to star in Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion, but for Aulin it was a catastrophic, career-killing move that put a definite end to any hopes she may have had of conquering Hollywood. She had to have been at least somewhat aware of that while she was making the film, and this may account for her slightly disengaged performance. She looks lovely as always but the only scene in which she seems to come to life is when she dances around the villa in a drugged state pretending to be some Greek goddess.

Ewa on a trip

In his aforementioned interview, co-star Eugene Pomeroy recalls an incident that occurred while he was working on dubbing the film into English together with Ewa Aulin and John Shadow: “I do remember John screaming at her during the dubbing sessions. I found dubbing to be quite easy and fun. There was one scene where Eva had to scream or cry and John kept making her do it again. I realized after the tenth, or was it the twenty-fifth take, that all he wanted her to do was to scream, but he kept screaming things like ''I want you to put more emotion in it!'' and reduced her to tears”. It is perhaps not such a wonder then that the two went their separate ways in 1972 after just four years of marriage. Intriguingly, the relationship between Aulin’s character, Elizabeth, and her husband can be read as a reflection of Aulin and Shadow’s real life relationship – with Elizabeth portrayed as young, naïve and subservient to her older selfish husband (that is until the use of drugs set ‘free’ and enable her to stand up to her husband). I would assume that these similarities are unintentional but it nevertheless adds a little extra layer of interest.

Summing it up, Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion is far more interesting than it is enjoyable. It isn’t very good but it is really weird, very rare and endlessly fascinating, and as such it is worth seeing if for nothing else than to make up your own mind about it.

© 2015 Johan Melle

The cast:

Alex Rebar as Professor John Fink

Ewa Aulin as Elizabeth Fink

Carlo De Mejo as Billy Fisher

Eugene Pomeroy as Henry Keating

søndag 19. april 2015

The Night of the Damned/La notte dei dannati

Italy, 1971

Directed by Filippo Walter Ratti

Pierre Brice, Patrizia Viotti, Angela De Leo, Mario Carra, Antonio Pavan, Alessandro Tedeschi, Daniela D’Agostino

My craving for obscure European horror films apparently never seizes and now it’s time to look closer at The Night of the Damned directed by Filippo Walter Ratti (under the anglicized pseudonym Peter Rush), a comedy director whose career started in the 1940s but who today is remembered largely because of his brief brushes with horror and giallo territory in the twilight years of his career.

The plot is set somewhere in France and deals with sharp-witted journalist Jean Duprey (Pierre Brice), who has become famous after helping the police solve a high profile murder. His charming wife Danielle (Patrizia Viotti) seems impressed by all the attention bestowed upon her hubby but Jean himself couldn’t care less. His interest is raised, however, when he receives a cryptic letter from the prince Guillaume de Saint Lambert (Mario Carra), a once dear friend that Jean lost contact with years ago. Jean soon discovers that the letter contains a code leading to a couple of macabre passages from Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection The Flowers of Evil. Danielle is confused since the Baudelaire passages don’t clarify anything but Jean explains that Guillaume has always been a bizarre character with a fondness for puzzles. He interprets the macabre passages as meaning that Guillaume’s life is in danger, and quickly drags Danielle along to go check up on his old friend.

Jean and Danielle try to decipher the cryptic letter

It turns out that Guillaume lives in an old, crumbling and supposedly haunted castle with no electricity installed. Danielle and Jean are greeted by Guillaume’s attractive wife Rita (Angela De Leo), who Jean has never met or heard about before, and she tells them Guillaume is gravely ill from a strange disease. Jean immediately runs to Guillaume and finds him in a morose and agitated mood. He claims his sickness is the result of a three centuries old family curse that afflicts all men of the Saint Lambert family when they turn 35 – striking them with a sickness that consumes them until their brains explode with madness. Guillaume then begins to speak in riddles about a horrifying truth but goes into a hysterical fit before he can reveal anything else.

Jean is reunited with the sickly Guillaume

Guillaume’s mysterious wife, Rita

Later at dinner, Rita tells Jean and Danielle that Guillaume’s illness is completely imaginary. Danielle is rather upset by the whole thing and when she’s about to go to bed she is greatly disturbed by an old drawing depicting a witch burning. In her sleep, Danielle sees the flames in the drawing come to life and she has a terrible nightmare about being burned alive as a witch.

An old drawing upsets Danielle...

...and leads to disturbing nightmares

Jean tries to talk to Guillaume again but he just keeps on speaking in riddles about a “horrible truth” that is hidden in the library. He finally agrees to tell Jean everything tomorrow but postponing the revelation of whatever forbidden knowledge one possesses until the next day is never a good idea in movies, so it comes as no surprise that poor Guillaume is found dead in his bed the next morning. Rita quickly throws together a rather ghoulish funeral ceremony in an eerie candle-lit crypt complete with white-hooded pallbearers.

Poor Guillaume’s macabre funeral

That same night a nubile young blonde is abducted and taken to a misty underground lair where Rita, who it turns out is a witch, sits on a dragon-headed throne and presides over a satanic ritual that involves her naked female servants engaging in a lesbian orgy with the kidnapped girl. At the end, Rita herself gets up and attacks the girl with her deadly claws. The next day, the poor girl’s naked, mutilated body is discovered not far from the Saint Lambert castle – her body having been drained completely of blood.

A hapless young woman is abducted...

...and meets her fate in Rita’s mist-enshrouded lair

The poor woman’s lifeless remains

The case is assigned to the bewildered Inspector Gérard, who quickly recruits Jean to assist in the investigation. In a puzzling turn of events, the victim is revealed to be Guillaume’s cousin and Jean is convinced that the key to the mystery is the “horrible truth” that Guillaume said was hidden in the castle’s library. As he obsessively searches for clues, Jean fails to notice that his increasingly unstable wife starts falling victim to Rita’s satanic powers. She is quickly bewitched into a lesbian affair with Rita, who has macabre plans for both Jean and Danielle...

Jean searches for answers in the castle library...

...and is completely oblivious to the fact that his wife is bewitched into a deadly lesbian affair

The Night of the Damned was Filippo Walter Ratti’s first attempt at making a horror film, and the script by Aldo Marcovecchio is molded in the then rather passé tradition of the Italian gothic horror films of the early 1960s but with vamped up visuals of steamy nudity and lesbianism to make it more appealing to an early 70s grindhouse audience. It comes with all the necessary ingredients for an Italo horror fan favorite but instead it vanished into obscurity due to the decades-long unavailability of an English-friendly variant as well as a full uncut version. The Night of the Damned was originally released in Italy in a heavily watered-down version that cut out nearly all of the graphic lesbianism. This cut was also released on Italian VHS on the Shendene label (running 83 minutes) and it has been the most commonly seen version of the film – thus damning it to a similar fate as that of Ratti’s next film, the forgotten giallo Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1973), which also contained a series of explicit sex scenes that were hacked out by the Italian censors. But unlike the uncut version of Crazy Desires of a Murderer, which is probably lost forever, the naughty bits excised from The Night of the Damned still exist since a steamier version was prepared for export to countries with more relaxed censorship policies. There’s a French VHS release under the title Les nuits sexuelles, which contains a whooping 12 extra minutes of graphic lesbianism. However, this version is actually ten minutes shorter than the Shendene tape due to the elimination of a significant number of plot and dialogue scenes – making it somewhat of a bastardized ‘sexy version’ of the film. Thankfully, some kind soul has created a composite variant by adding the naughty bits from the French version to the censored Italian cut as well as adding English subtitles. A most welcome treat indeed, even if the steamier parts are in dire shape.

A few scenes from the stronger ‘sexy version’ in rather grotty quality

The film’s more graphic content also survives in the form of a photo-novel version published in the magazine Bigfilm, which devotes ample space to the many scenes of explicit lesbianism.

Some assorted scans from the rare photo-novel version, which strongly emphasizes the sexual content

An English-language version was also prepared, with dubbing expert Ted Rusoff in charge of adapting the dialogue to English and directing the dubbing. This version was released in the UK (after being cut by the BBFC in order to achieve an X rating) by Butcher’s Film Service, who paired it on a double bill with another Italian horror film: Mario Colucci’s Something Creeping in the Dark (1971). Surprisingly, the English-dubbed version never surfaced on VHS anywhere in the world, constituting the main reason why The Night of the Damned has remained obscure for many years. The film’s distribution rights are currently owned by Movietime but the description in their online catalogue only lists an 85 minute Italian-language version. Sadly, this indicates that they do not have elements for the steamier scenes cut from the Italian print, and it probably also means that the English dub track is lost. In other words: the currently circulating fan version may well be the best version we’re ever going to get.

As for the film itself, it is an interesting and atmospheric if not entirely successful slice of sleazy gothic horror. Its main drawback is that the lesbian sex scenes are drawn out to the point of near ludicrousness – stopping the film dead in its tracks for long stretches of time. The censored Italian cut is actually more agreeably paced but cannot be recommended due to its lack of frisson. In other words, the composite uncut version is still the way to go even if the repetitive, drawn out nature of the sex scenes do work to its disadvantage.

The film also suffers from a distinct lack of originality, with the basic premise playing like an amalgamation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, complemented by a host of familiar satanic and haunted castle clichés. But as long as you are able to overlook these misgivings, The Night of the Damned offers a series of finer points that work in its favor. The film is above all stylish and colorful to look at – starting with the wonderful credits sequence, which features flickering flames superimposed over still shots of the actors drenched in vivid Mario Bava-esque red and green lighting while the enchanting title song from Amando De Ossorio’s Malenka the Niece of the Vampire (1968) plays.

A few images from the gorgeous, Bava-esque title sequence

A similarly striking use of color lighting is later employed in a satanic orgy scene in which we see Rita sitting on her throne while a column of vibrant pink smoke rises from a cauldron next to her and imbues the screen in a pink hue. It’s just too bad that the film doesn’t experiment more with this type of stylish lighting. Instead it frequently opts for the more traditionally gloomy lighting that one typically associates with such old-dark-house movies and this approach admittedly works as far establishing classic gothic atmosphere goes.

Some dazzling use of sparkling colors

More classic gothic imagery

One particularly intriguing aspect to the story is the employment of cryptography, anagrams and poetry by Baudelaire as clues to solving the film’s mystery. This hints that The Night of the Damned was originally intended for a more sophisticated target audience but the way it ultimately turned out, these plot points are somewhat lost in the shuffle among all the lesbian shenanigans. Likewise, the fact that Rita is draining her female victims of their blood – apparently to retain an eternally youthful appearance, Elizabeth Báthory-style – opens the door for a vampiric edge, but it is never made explicit, and nothing much ever comes from this potentially interesting plot point.

Rita puts her deadly claws to use and drains her victim of blood

Even though the film never explores its vampiric theme, this newspaper ad misleadingly plays up that angle with the following tag line: “A mysterious castle: vampires, hallucinations, horrors! The countess Dracula in the latest and most chilling film of Terror!!!”

Still, while the film may miss out on the opportunity to explore the above plot points in a fully satisfactory fashion, one should appreciate the fact that they are there at all, as they do put a bit of a refreshing spin on the proceedings. And so do other memorably bizarre little moments scattered throughout the film, such as a scene in which the sickly Roderick Usher-esque Guillaume is talking to Jean and we see the image of a skull momentarily superimposed over Guillaume’s face. Hardly the most subtle way to signalize him as doomed but it is nevertheless a strange and eerie image that stands out. Other memorable and well-staged sequences include the macabre funeral procession and scenes down in Rita’s smoky, cobwebbed crypt – well helped by Girolamo La Rosa’s stylish cinematography and lighting, which makes good use of the medieval castle setting to create a delightful gothic atmosphere.

The rather bizarre skull scene

Rita’s misty underground crypt is a stylish, delightful sight

The interesting cast is led by handsome French actor Pierre Brice, who became a superstar in Germany in the 1960s due to his role as the Apache-chief Winnetou in a long line of popular German films based on the novels by Karl May. As the popularity of the Karl May adaptations began waning by the late 1960s, Brice tried to break free of the Winnetou image, and while he never quite managed to do so, his attempts saw him pop up in a couple of interesting French and Italian productions during the 1970s. The Night of the Damned was, however, not entirely new territory for Brice, who had already starred in Giorgio Ferroni’s stylish Italian gothic horror classic The Mill of the Stone Women (1960) way back in his pre-Winnetou days. Here, however, he’s not really at the top of his game – at times looking both a little bewildered and out of place while Ratti focuses most of his attention on the attractive female cast.

A slightly bewildered-looking Pierre Brice

Cast in the female lead as Danielle is well-shaped, blonde starlet Patrizia Viotti, who had started her career by appearing nude in erotic photo-novels while she was still underage, and who became a favored object of the yellow press due to a scandalous and highly publicized romance with British-born singer Mal in 1969. This propelled Viotti into a busy movie career in the early 1970s that started with the erotic film Erika (1971), which – like The Night of the Damned – was directed by Filippo Walter Ratti and paired Viotti with Pierre Brice. She also appeared in a small but pivotal part as Barbara Bouchet’s lesbian lover in Silvio Amadio’s enjoyable giallo Amuck (1972), was the female lead in Leopoldo Savona’s rather dismal giallo La morte scende leggera (1972), and appeared in a few decamerotic films before dropping off the scene almost as quickly as she had appeared. When watching The Night of the Damned it is easy to see why. Viotti simply wasn’t a particularly good actress – hampered by both a wooden demeanor and lack of expressivity. It’s obvious that she was put in movies simply because of her notoriety in the gossip pages and once that dried up, so did her career. Tragically, Viotti quickly fell on hard times – getting involved with drugs and being arrested numerous times – before passing away in 1994 at just 44 years old.

Patrizia Viotti in full scream queen mode

The most appealing presence in the film is unquestionably the mysterious witch played by the gorgeous, raven-haired Angela De Leo – best known for starring in a series of photo-novels (of both the romantic and the sexy variant). Clad in black gowns and with heavy eye-make up, she always has the same fixed expression and icy stare while the camera photographs her in under-lit tones to make her appear more sinister and mysterious. This gives De Leo a truly striking and uncanny appearance that commands attention, and she is used effectively even if she doesn’t do that much actual acting.

The ravishing Angela De Leo - heavily made-up and carefully lit at all times

While far from a lost classic, The Night of the Damned is just atmospheric and sleazy enough to keep fans of such movies diverted throughout its running time. You could definitely do a lot worse than this nice-looking little flick.

© 2015 Johan Melle

The cast:

Pierre Brice as Jean Duprey

Patrizia Viotti as Danielle Duprey

Angela De Leo as Rita Lernod

Mario Carra as Guillaume de Saint Lambert

Antonio Pavan (???) as Inspector Gérard

Alessandro Tedeschi as Professor Berry

Daniela D'Agostino as The maid