They say some films are just too good for Zombie Club, and that’s one of the factors we regularly have to consider when choosing a line-up. Tonight’s line-up is, arguably, too good for Zombie Club, but I thought, what the hell, if we can’t break the tradition for our hundredth (Yes, 100th!), then when can we?
But the menu tonight isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. Far from it. In keeping with the exploitation / Italian tradition we hold dear, we’re paying tribute to a true master of cinematic style, Mario Bava, with his final film, the deliciously cruel Rabid Dogs - essentially a movie about a bunch of thugs taking innocent people hostage following an armoured car robbery. Expect funny masks, claustrophobic settings, sexual humiliation, and a great twist ending.
Representing our trans-Atlantic friends, all hail one of the bonafide classics of 70s exploitation, the one and only The Candy Snatchers - a film about a bunch of thugs kidnapping a jeweller's daughter with disasterous consequences. Expect funny masks, claustrophobic settings, sexual violence, and another great twist ending.
This evening’s Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee, in association with the synchronising of watches.
Rabid Dogs (Cani arrabbiati) (1974)
Plot Following a bungled robbery, three violent criminals take a young woman, a middle-aged man, and a child hostage and force them to drive them outside Rome to help them make a clean getaway.
Zomblee If you have any appreciation of the 70's polizioteschi then Bava's final film is an absolute essential, along with Fernando Di Leo's Milieu trilogy. Apparently Bava wanted to show he could still cut it as a contemporary director, thus making the kind of movie everyone else was doing at the time. He not only achieved that but eclipsed pretty much everything else in the genre. No hard-as-nails cops who are "sick of a system where the law favours the criminal" here (did Maurizio Merli ever get tired of saying that?); instead a trio of down 'n' dirty bank robbers: knife enthusiast 'Blade' (Don Backy), pervy Thirty-Two (George Eastman), and the cool, collected 'Doc' (Maurice Poli).
The films basically follows this unholy trio after they loot one hundred million lira and make a corpse-ridden getaway, eventually taking over a car driven by a middle aged man, Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla), who is taking his sick son to hospital for an operation. Not any more, he’s not. Joining in the fun is Maria (Lea Lander), who the rabid dogs have kept as their hostage, soon to be subject to the kind of sexual humiliation that usually permeates this type of movie. Most of the action takes place within the confines of this car, the robbers assuring Riccardo they will let everyone go when they eventually reach “safety” (”Where is ‘Safety’, then?” – Jim, ”Just outside ‘Danger’” – Rawshark). Needless to say, it all doesn’t go according to plan.
The less talented Lamberto Bava reputedly put the finishing touches to his father’s final film, which wasn’t released until 1997. It was worth the wait. The claustrophobic setting of the car and a great script are complimented by an exceptional cast who look like they don’t need to act their roles, while Stelvio Cipriani’s monumental soundtrack does what most other Cipriani scores do, sometimes being used to very clever effect, like Jim noticed: ”I like the juxtaposition of the music on the radio and the soundtrack. Did you like my use of the word, ‘juxtaposition’ there?” And despite all its bleakness (seldom do we have such a serious ‘good’ film at ZC!), there is a lot of fun to be had if you’re in the right company, such as Blade’s intense obsession with the purity of country grapes (”I wouldn’t want to be sitting in front of Blade right now!” - Jim), or trying to understand the exchange rate for Italian lira to English pounds, so that we could work out how much they really had in that bag (”There’s a lot of mathematical equations in this movie!” - Rawshark)
”Now wipe yourself with your panties, then throw them away.”
Rawshark Yep, we certainly did try and work out how much this terrible trio had actually made away with. Going along the lines of the tollbooth charging 7000 lira to pass through, we came up with the idea that 100 million lira probably equated to something like £200,000 (roughly), which was around £70,000 for each criminal. Not a huge amount then, and certainly dwarfed by the final ‘twist’ sum of three billion lira, which is the equivalent of about... well, whatever, you get the idea.
Anyway, Mario Bava’s final film (his son Lamberto apparently only added in the crying girl shot from the film’s opening) is simply sublime - a small ‘stage-like’ film with fantastic characters, great (Italian) dialogue and just the right amount of suspense and blacker than black humour. Our old pal George Eastman is great in the role of Thirtytwo (and yes, we do get to find out why he’s called Thirtytwo), wearing his traditional beard described by Zomblee as ”The Eastman”, and after seeing so many films featuring George with a dubbed voiceover, it was, as Zomblee commented, ”great to hear what he really sounds like”.
Don Backy is also fantastic as the supremely unhinged Blade (”I don’t like Blade, although I do like him cinematically” - Jim), but it’s Maurice Poli who really steals the show as the masterful Doctor, playing his criminal genius role with the perfect amount of calm and menace. No dodgy irrational behaviour from this guy – he has his plan and by jove he’s going to stick with it no matter what hurdles are thrown his way.
Bava’s direction is flawless, lending Parenzo’s tight script the perfect pacing and only occasionally showboating with stunning shots, as he does when Blade and Thirtytwo uncomfortably force their kidnapped girl Maria to take a pee whilst standing up (”In a weird way, that’s a great shot” - Jim). Reminiscent of both a previous film screened at Zombie Club Hitchhike and the forthcoming Stacy Keach / Jamie Lee Curtis Roadgames, Rabid Dogs surely stands up as one of Mr Bava’s masterpieces, and if that’s not recommendation enough you’re on the wrong website. See it.
”Kids scream more, but they have a higher resistance to pain”.
Jim Well, that's a strong recommendation from our man Rawshark, but it's one that I'm going to have to agree with. I knew Rabid Dogs would be a good Zombie Club movie as Zomblee had been singing its praises for ages, but I didn't realise it would have us on the edge of our seats for the duration, and then knock us sideways with that awesome twist at the end.
It all opens brilliantly, of course. The botched robbery is great, with the masks and "Great Italian sunglasses" (Rawshark) for good measure, but things really come to life when they get into the tense and brutal car park shoot out. They're cornered and take hostages, and then, I guess to prove they mean business, Blade doesn't hesitate in killing one of the hostages in front of the cops. They grab the next car, the one with Riccardo in, and make their getaway. We all put down our wine glasses, grab our notepads and concentrate on the screen. You have to love Zombie Club.
The rest of the film is, well, the guys above me have described the movie with great clarity so I haven't got a great deal to add. I'm glad Zomblee mentioned Cipriani's score, and the fact that I actually noticed how good it was, because I have to admit I usually don't notice good scores, only bad ones, although he did have trouble writing my quote down in the dark while drinking and watching a subtitled Italian film. ("Writing juxtaposition at Zombie club is rubbish!" - Zomblee). Mind you, Zomblee's always very knowledgable about movie scores here at Zombie Club, in the same way that Rawshark always picks up on things like script quality, pacing and the quality of shots on show, while also being our international monetary exchange expert, so I'm glad he reported on both those things. They're good guys to have around, those two.
Me, I wrote down how shocked Rawshark was when the subtitles revealed one of the cast had said the Italian for cunt "There's a cunt!", and how we didn't initially catch George Eastman's character's name ("He's called Thirtytwo, I've seen this before." - Zomblee,
"He's called Thirtytwo, what a stupid name." - Rawshark). I also noted down the appreciation we all had building for Doc ("Doc's got it together." - Zomblee, "He's on the ball all the way." - Rawshark) and that at some point Zomblee said "Guys, George has got his cock out." I think actually that was just after the garage scene where they stock up on supplies, hit the road again, and then things get a bit messy. ("Looks like there's a sandwich and whiskey session going on in the back of the car." - Zomblee, "Oh look, did I drop some mayonnaise on your tit?" - Rawshark)
Those crazy Italians, as Zomblee said "You don't know when to laugh or not, do you?". And he's absolutely right. What a great film, and totally fitting of our 100th Zombie Club.
"You can't have two Maria's in the same film!"
Director Mario Bava & Lamberto Bava
Cast Riccardo Cucciolla
Runtime 96 mins
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The Candy Snatchers (1973)
Plot An abused autistic boy is the sole witness to the kidnapping of a teenage heiress.
Jim The second film of Kidnap Night is an American offering in a very similar vein to the first one, which the boys spotted straightaway with their razor sharp detection skills ("Wahey - they've got noses and glasses!" - Rawshark, "Just like the last film!" - Zomblee). Yes, it's another bungled kidnapping, also from the 70s, and it's also the kind of movie that Zombie Club was created for.
The kidnap gang (which consists of hot hippie chick Jessie, an arrogant blonde guy who we named Curly and a Fat Guy that's as irritating as you'd think) have what looks like a foolproof plan. Kidnap Candy (the movie's namesake), hide her in an underground coffin thing that has a tube coming out of it to allow her to breath and call the father with a ransom demand. Then all they need to do is watch the drop off point and when the estranged father drops of the loot they phone through Candy's location and hit the road. Good plan eh? Well, it would be if they'd done their research.
You see the dad, it turns out, is not her father but her stepfather. When they contact him about the kidnapping he heads home, pours his wife the stiffest drink I think we've ever seen at Zombie Club ("Brilliant, he's got a pissed wife!" - Zomblee) and then goes shags his secretary. So with no ransom in sight, the kidnappers are forced to dig up Candy, take her to their nearby hideout and try and work out what to do next.
This is when things unravel and you begin to realise how good Candy Snatchers is. Fat Guy starts to spend too much time with Candy so that when they talk of cutting her ear off and sending it to the father he's having none of it and forces them to buy a dead person's ear from the morgue for 50 bucks. ("Ants love a bit of ear." - Zomblee). When that doesn't work they hatch a plan that involves stealing a phone repairman's costume, although that proves more difficult than you'd think when the phone repairman puts up a struggle. Tensions in the gang are stretched as Fat Guy forces himself upon Jessie in a very uncomfortable scene, while in the background we occasionally cut to Mute Kid, who finds the buried Candy early on then spends the rest of the film trying to communicate with his dysfunctional parents what he's seen ("But you can't tell anyone, eh Skippy?" - Rawshark).
So, all in all an excellent movie that draws you in and keeps you hooked right through to the final, and quite shocking, frame. This was the second movie of the night, we'd drunk more than we usually do (it was the 100th Zombie Club) but I remember every bit of this film. That's how good it is.
"No way, it's my knife, I'll do it!"
Rawshark Although not quite as good as Rabid Dogs, The Candy Snatchers is still a hugely enjoyable flick that is well deserving of it’s cult status. Opening with the Candy snatching of the title, our three kidnappers drive off in their cool van (which rather impressed Zomblee - ”They have a proper carpet in the back of their van!”) and bury their victim alive, watched by ”a Scooby-doo kid” (Jim) who can’t speak - and this is where the film really begins to get interesting.
In a lot of ways, the deaf and dumb kid Sean is the star of this film. His parents are brutes, always scolding him and forcing him to take baths and the like, so although he is the only witness to the crime, there is no one around prepared to listen to him. Alone with his knowledge, Sean then carries on throughout the film feeding Candy sweets whilst she is buried alive before helping to protect her Home Alone style when the kidnappers bring her to the surface due to Candy’s stepfather not caring one jot if she dies or not.
Aside from the Sean subplot, there’s still a lot of fun to be had as the kidnappers slowly begin to realise that their ”perfect crime” is not so perfect after all. There’s an uncomfortable scene as they almost cut off Candy’s ear, but instead decide to buy one from a corrupt Doctor with a toothpick in his mouth at their local hospital (”Rubbish ear!” - Zomblee) before the stress starts getting to them all and their tight group begins to fall apart. Candy susses that fat bloke kidnapper is in love with blondie kidnapper, which becomes doubly apparent when fat bloke then proceeds to rape blondie whilst Candy just repeatedly bangs her head on the floor.
After a few more inter-group betrayals and repairman impersonations, the kidnapping gang finally get their hands on the diamonds by using brute force only to fooled at the last step by Scooby-doo kid Sean, who proves after all that not everything is as easy as stealing Candy from a baby. A great last shot twist too…
”You’re two walnuts and 100 pounds short of telling me what to do”.
Zomblee As Rawshark already mentioned, I really did love that plush carpeted interior of the kidnappers' van. It looked so damn comfy, and even the ceiling was covered...you just don't see that enough any more. No wonder we love these movies, eh? So, another kidnap scenario for tonight's second movie, again featuring three masked sociopaths, just like in Rabid Dogs, but these lot are amateurs compared to Bava's nasty ensemble. Amateurs they may well be, but that doesn't stop them from synchronising their watches, which Jim seemed to approve of ("I love it when they synchronise watches").
Following successful synchronicity, things go downhill with the whole kidnap execution, the main problem being that Candy's randy flame-haired father doesn't appear to give two hoots, instead concentrating on extra-marital hanky panky with his dirty secretary (”I like every scene the secretary is in” - Jim). Such a bizarre twist showcases The Candy Snatchers’ charming, unpredictable quirkiness, helping it stand apart from the majority of American-made exploitation features from that period.
Another unique benefit is director Guerdon Trueblood’s real-life son Christopher – in his only ever film role - as little Sean, the downtrodden mute kid who can’t even cry wolf. His scenes really stand out, counterpointing the rather unpleasant goings-on really well, and we were almost missing him when he wasn’t around (”Where’s the mute kid gone?” - Rawshark).
Aiding this distinct little brew is a technique which rises above its exploitation expectations to deliver a nail-biting screenplay, with stunning cinematography and assured direction from Trueblood. He makes the most of a meagre budget with the type of resourcefulness which make little features like this stand the test of time and earn the cult status they deserve.
When this is all over we’ll have enough money to buy a bowling alley.”
Director Guerdon Trueblood
Cast Tiffany Bolling
Runtime 94 mins
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This was a big one for us tonight, and despite large amounts of celebratory booze being consumed, I think we remembered these two fantastic movies quite well. We've learned that city gangsters like proper country grapes, that downtrodden mute kids can wreck havoc when they want to, and most importantly, that vans had some really nice carpet back in the 70s. Ah...what great days they must have been.
See you next time for 101, when Rawshark is bringing us some Ozploitation classics.
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