Although the Italian horror industry in the late ‘60s and throughout the 1970s seemed to be fairly well focused on the giallo film, and that genre’s stylish and often grisly murder mysteries, other types of horrors were still being produced for the ever-hungry audiences of the day. In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to focus on a quintet of Italian horrors that veered away a bit from the strict formula of the giallo. Thus, here you will find films dealing with rejuvenation, murders in a sanitarium, a vampiric countess, Frankensteinian hijinks, and modern-day zombies … all with a distinctively Italian zest. And all five of these films, need I even mention, might make for perfect watching during this most ghoulish of holiday seasons… 

SATANIK Horror film movie reviewsSATANIK Horror movie reviewsSATANIK (1968)

You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Marnie Bannister, a lab worker in Madrid, at the beginning of Satanik. So hideously scarred – no, we never find out how she got that way – that she makes the Vina character in Star Trek‘s “The Menagerie” episode look good, life certainly does not hold much promise for her. Until, that is, the day when she swallows an experimental cell rejuvenation serum, and morphs into a hotty that few men seem able to resist. Too bad that her homicidal tendencies don’t change with her improved looks, however… Satanik, I must say, is an interesting experience. A joint Italian/Spanish production, shot in Madrid and Geneva and directed by Piero Vivarelli, it boasts some nice European settings and an engaging story. Lead actress Magda Konopka is as sexy as can be, particularly during two striptease scenes; it’s difficult to believe that the scarred Marnie is played by the same woman (I’m assuming that she is). Perhaps the single best aspect of Satanik, though, is its chic, jazzy score; what a terrific soundtrack CD this would make! Unfortunately, the Retromedia DVD presentation that I recently watched is something of a mess. The full-screen image is quite grainy, and a good deal of the picture seems to be missing at times. The film has been horribly dubbed, as well; subtitles would have been infinitely preferable. The excellent reference book DVD Delirium 2 claims that this Satanik DVD is an improvement over the VHS incarnation, but it still looked pretty crummy to me. And yet, as I said, the movie is pretty interesting, and briskly paced as it is, flies by pretty quickly. It’s no Mario Bava picture, but still, I don’t regret having experienced it…

SLAUGHTER HOTEL Horror film movie reviewsSLAUGHTER HOTEL Horror movie reviewsSLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971)

A textbook definition of the term “Eurosleaze,” Fernando Di Leo’s Slaughter Hotel dishes out the sex and violence in fairly equal measure. The “hotel” of the title is actually a sanitarium for homicidal, depressive and suicidal women, at which Dr. Francis Clay (Klaus Kinski) tries to keep some kind of humane order (and the fact that Klaus Kinski, of all people, seems to be the most normal person on display here should give you a clue that this is gonna be one bumpy ride!). Still, this clinic does seem like more of a luxury hotel than anything else, as the regulations are few, informality reigns, and all the inmates and nurses are hotties. Plus, have you ever been to a rest home in which medieval weapons and torture instruments are casually arrayed on the walls? This last fact just makes it all the more easy for the black-caped killer who has lately started to terrorize the old pile. What follows, in true Eurosleaze fashion, is a mix of decapitation, strangulation, hatchet, arrow and iron-maiden murders with nude massages, lesbianism, female masturbation, and shower and bathing scenes. It all builds to one completely over-the-top finale, with the killer running amok with a hatchet through the nurses’ quarters. Basically well-put-together junk, Slaughter Hotel, an Italian production, yet boasts two excellent features. First, Silvano Spadaccino’s score, ranging from catchy lounge music to sinister musique concrete, is outstanding. And second, Rosalba Neri, who plays Ann, a lustful nymphomaniac, is so appealing and so hot – I’m talking almost on a par with Edwige Fenech here, believe it or not – that she just about steals the whole show. In all, not a bad time killer, and with a nice presentation on the great-looking Shriek Show DVD that I caught it on.

THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT (1973) Horror film movie reviewsTHE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHTHorror movie reviewsTHE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT (1973)

There are roughly 18,262 days in a 50-year period. Thus, I would have to say that the odds of twin brothers Karl and Franz Schiller, in the 1978 Eurosleaze horror flick The Devil’s Wedding Night, arriving at the castle of Countess Dolingen de Vries in Transylvania on the one night in 50 years when village virgins are sacrificed is, well, 18,262 to 1. Still, the viewer can well imagine on which night they DO arrive: that’s right, the Night of the Virgin Moon! In their quest for Wagner’s legendary Ring of the Nibelungen, which gives its owner almost limitless powers, the brothers (well played, I suppose, by Mark Damon) run afoul of not only the beautiful vampiric countess, but her castleful of zombie retainers, as well. In the role of the countess we have the perfect-10 Eurobabe Rosalba Neri (here called Sara Bay, for some reason), an actress who I only recently became enamored of after admiring her performance as the doomed nymphomaniac in 1971’s Slaughter Hotel. Rosalba, though a talented thespian (and, in this film, lesbian) and much more than just a gorgeous face, nonetheless still looks incredible here, especially when streaked with blood and rising out of a steaming vat. She easily flaps away with the film. But there are still other, modest pleasures to be had here, in a film that ultimately comes off as sleazy shlock. Like another Italian film that I recently saw, 1960’s Mill of the Stone Women, The Devil’s Wedding Night features a disorienting, drug-induced, psychedelic freakout sequence that comes roughly halfway in. Codirectors Luigi Batzella and Joe D’Amato’s and composer Vasili Kojucharov’s contributions do create a film with some creepy atmosphere, and for all you hound dogs out there, the five virgins that are called to the castle, stripped and butchered are quite a toothsome lot. In all, certainly not a classic or even very good film, but still fun. Unfortunately, the DVD from Shout Factory showcases a very damaged-looking print that is only just barely watchable, and with no extras to speak of other than some snide comments from Elvira. Even this sleazy piece of Eurohorror deserves a better treatment!


It really is something, what some erstwhile big-name actors will do to continue plying their craft and collect some lira! Case in point, the 1974 horror shlockfest Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, starring two such former matinée stars, here slumming for a paycheck. In the film, Rossano Brazzi, who had earlier starred in such wonderful pictures as The Barefoot Contessa, Summertime and South Pacific, plays Count Frankenstein (not the usual Baron; is this a promotion or a demotion? Someone, please check the comparative rankings of 19th century German nobility and find out!). When we first encounter him, the Count has just brought back to life a recently murdered Neanderthal (!) using the brain of a local village girl. When the Count evicts his dwarf servant Genz from the castle for some minor infractions, the little person marches off into the hills and finds a caveman of his own, who he christens Ook, and who he decides to use to take vengeance upon the Count, leading to a true clash of the titans: a living Neanderthal vs. a Neanderthal Frankenstein (who resembles nothing less than The Three Stooges’ Larry Fine on steroids!). Fortunately, Genz is portrayed by perhaps the most revered little-person actor in screen history, Michael Dunn, himself demoted here after having appeared in such career-defining roles as the (Oscar-nominated) observer in Ship of Fools and Alexander in the 11/22/68 episode of Star Trek, “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Anyway, while no one in his or her right mind would ever call the resulting production a “good film,” and while it is easy enough to make fun of derivative exploitation fare such as this, …Castle of Freaks yet manages to keep the viewer slack jawed and entertained. It features an oddball assortment of grotesque characters (the three aforementioned, plus a lusty hunchback) and occasional (what Radar O’Reilly would call) nudidity, courtesy of the Count’s daughter (Simone Blondell) and friend Krista (who joins the Count in his studies, and is played by the yummy Christiane Royce) going skinny-dipping in Ook’s cavern. The production values in the film are surprisingly decent, the Count’s castle having a convincingly moldering elegance; the direction by “Robert H. Oliver” (in actuality, it is believed, exploitation producer Dick Randall) is … well, let’s just say that he gets the job done; and the musical score by Marcello Gigante, largely electronic, is truly outre. In all, a surprisingly engaging piece of Euroshlock. Oh … the DVD that I just watched, from Shout Factory, looks fairly damaged in sections but at least sports some nice bright colors. My psychotronic guru, Rob, tells me that the Something Weird DVD looks a whole lot better…

CEMETERY MAN (1994) Horror film reviewsCEMETERY MAN Horror movie reviewsCEMETERY MAN (1994)

Michele Soavi’s Cemetery Man is to the traditional zombie gutmuncher what a painting in the Louvre is to one of my nephew’s doodles: a genuine work of art. In it, we meet Francesco Dellamorte, the watchman of the Buffalora Cemetery, who, with his imbecilic sidekick Gnaghi, not only tends the grounds, but also sees to the “returners” (the “z word” is never mentioned in this film) who appallingly resurrect after a week in the ground. But after meeting and losing the woman of his dreams, Francesco’s job starts to wear on him a bit, as all jobs will, and before long, the fine line between “the living dead and the dying living” becomes increasingly hard for him to discern… Featuring as it does stunning visual images and some almost poetic sequences, this film gives us much more than typical zombie mayhem (although genre fans should not be disappointed by the lurching undead here; I especially enjoyed that zombie Boy Scout troop!). The picture offers much in the way of strangeness (those ignis fatuus floaters, and Gnaghi’s romance with a severed female head), comedy (I love the line “She was the most beautiful living woman I have ever seen”) and mystery (why does the actress Anna Falchi – still a stunner, as a modern-day interview reveals – appear as three different women, and what does that existential, cliffside ending mean?). Rupert Everett and Francois Hadji-Lazaro are just perfect as Francesco and Gnaghi, and yes, the entire film is something of a gas; a genuine cult item if ever there were one. My beloved DVD Delirium book calls Cemetery Man “easily the most significant Italian horror title of the past decade,” and it very well might be right. More than highly recommended!

Anyway, folks, there you have it … a quintet of Italian horrors, all perfect fare for this Halloween season. My advice for you is to open a nice bottle of Nero di Troia Primitivo and enjoy. And when it comes to these films, Spero che tutti vi facciano venire i brividi!



  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

    View all posts