Zombie Club stalwart Al Cliver is back with us again, in the illustrious company of his regular employer throughout the 80s, the one and only Lucio Fulci. But this isn't en evening to celebrate those pedigree classics like Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, or Don't Torture a Duckling (which if edited together could be called Beyond the Flesh of Tortured Ducks). Times of change are upon us, as we take a great leap into murky territory of Fulci's autumnal output, where he not only remembered to call his old pal Al Cliver for those supporting roles, but also used a new leading man in the shape of Brett Halsey. Tonight, Halsey features first as a quite mental serial killer in Touch of Death, and second as one of the few sober archeologists in Demonia.
Tonight's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee in association with some really unattractive sex and a topless nun ghost.
Touch of Death (1988)
Plot A moody, middle-aged gigolo kills off rich (and usually ugly/annoying) women for their money and uses their body parts for trophies and for consumption.
Zomblee A couple of years ago, my curiosity got the better of me and despite warnings to steer well clear, I decided to watch Fulci's 'autobiographical' curio, A Cat in the Brain. For those of you familiar with this disaster, you will know that it features great amounts of gore, gleaned from a selection of the director’s autumn output. Turns out, much of the said grue was gleaned from this little ditty called Touch of Death, which is about a completely unhinged gambling addict named Lester Parson (Brett Halsey), who appears to spend his time luring lonely women into his clutches, before offing them and using their money to pay off illegal bookie Al Cliver.
And how he offs them. The first victim is already dead at the beginning of the movie, and after frying up and eating a chunk out of her thigh, he happily adjourns to the basement where she lays dead on the table, and proceeds to chainsaw her into easily disposable sections ("Would you say he's doing that nonchalantly?" - Rawshark). She is the first ugly women to die in Touch of Death ("What's wrong with her face?" - Jim), but she's a fashion model compared to the next beast, who stands as a contender for the hairiest woman we've ever seen ("I can't get over how hairy she is" - Jim, "I'll bet she's got more than a bush downstairs" - Rawshark). Soon, of course, she's a very dead hairy woman, because Lester has bashed her fucking brains out with a big stick, before melting her hairy face in the oven. I hope someone cleaned that up afterwards. Anyway, Lester isn't on top of his game, and if the really cheap-looking TV news reports are anything to go by, the police are closing in on this shoddy serial killer, imaginatively known as "the maniac".
If you're in a forgiving mood, this is a really enjoyable little movie. As much a black comedy as a horror film, it unfortunately suffers from extremely low production values, and also looks like it has been shot for television, though how anything this gory would have made it onto TV in 1988 is anyone's guess. I personally enjoyed Late Fulci man Brett Halsey's performance here, especially those looks of disgust on his face when seducing the unfortunate women. And in case you haven't already guessed, yes, this is Fulci at the height of his misogyny. It's difficult to know how many of the faults here can be attributed to a low budget, but it's good to see that Fulci could at least afford Zombie Club God, Al Cliver, who puts in a good turn here as Randy the bookie. The budget obviously allowed for Lester to drive a white Mercedes, too, and boy do they milk it! He loves driving that Mercedes around the low budget landscape with an assortment of dead ladies in it.
A real guilty pleasure, this one.
"I need to know what goes on in your mind."
Rawshark Whilst not as fully Fulci-conversant as my other two Zombie Club compatriots, I always look forward to seeing a Lucio movie I’ve yet to discover as there’s always something to take from his films - whether it be bizarre storylines that make very little sense, kooky characters or just the mischievousness of a director keen to toy with viewers’ expectations. And Touch of Death certainly doesn’t disappoint on that level, at once promising a slasher horror movie yet at the same time delivering a blacker than black comedy which I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Brett Halsey plays the demented Lester Parson, a nonchalant serial killer who has a severe case of schizophrenia and doesn’t quite realise that he is in fact ‘The Maniac’ that the TV news keeps reporting on. He lives a cosy life in his cool sunken lounge apartment, occasionally popping off to see his bookie (the ever enjoyable Al Cliver), and dating a series of women who would, let’s say, never challenge for a spot in the finals of Miss Universe. The second women he ‘dates’, complete with moustache, sideburns and big moles, particularly repulsed Jim, who screamed outraged that it was quite possibly ”the ugliest sex scene I’ve ever seen”.
However, she is killed in a very extreme way with mental gore as Lester clubs her hard, pulling her cheek out in the process, before foisting her into the microwave and turning the heat on high. It was not the right time to be eating pizza, and it must be said there was one slice of Pepperoni left that no one was in a rush to finish by the end of that scene.
The comedy is pretty spot on too, especially in the moments that Lester tries to unburden himself of the women’s dead bodies. Victim number one suffers the indignity of having her feet repeatedly slammed on when being crammed into the boot of his car, but it’s the second one that stands out (”It’s comedy corpse disposal scene two!” - Zomblee) as he drives his dead lady friend in the passenger seat, narrowly avoiding the cops’ suspicions as the she repeatedly falls into his lap whilst he’s at the wheel.
Overall, Touch of Death is a great little twisted back comedy about an already insane killer slowly going even more mad, and the moments where he actually phones himself (via the use of a tape recorder) border on genius. Go in with an open mind and prepare to be entertained, outraged and very much amused.
”What’s happened to my shadow?”
Jim Yeah, so the film opens with our man Lester Parson (Brett Halsey, who according to Zomblee was in a lot of late Fulci movies) watching some ugly chick dancing on TV while eating a chunk of juicy steak. But it's not steak, of course, and after following the cheeky camera around Lester's trendy pad (with sunken area in the lounge, something I've always wanted) we soon see the ugly lady from the TV lying dead on a slab in the basement, with a large, steak size chunk cut from her leg.
Turns out Brett's a gambling addict and a crap serial killer. He lures ugly, middle aged women to his flat from the lonely hearts columns, charms them, chats to them about his dead wife whose likeness adorns the lounge wall ("He's got a really crap painting of his wife!" - Zomblee), drugs them, kills them, eats a bit, disposes of their bodies clumsily by driving them to a ditch and chucking them in ("Comedy corpse disposal sequence!" - Zomblee - there were a couple of those) and spends their cash on his gambling habit. He does this a couple of times until inevitably he's witnessed in the middle of a comedy corpse disposal, and from then onwards he gets sloppier and sloppier at both the killing and the disposing until eventually he gets the comeuppance he deserves.
But that's not why I'll never forget this film. I'll never forget this film because of the second lady he brings back to his house. Lester has very low standards in the women he's going to seduce, kill, rob and eat, and the second lady is something out of a nightmare. She's fat, has a lot of facial hair and has big hairy moles. She's got big hairy moles on her tits, and the scene where he's shagging her kissing those hairy lips and fondling those big fat hairy moley boobs is a scene that will stay with me for my entire life.
The following sequence, where she keeps comically and accidentally foiling his attempts to drug her so he resorts to beating her with a stick then trapping her head in the oven is funny ("I think he's going to oven her." - Rawshark), and the oven face melty effects are great ("What was that, her eye?" - Rawshark). But nothing will ever in my mind match the fat hairy moley boob shag sequence.
Urgh, just thinking about it makes me feel unclean, I'm off to take a shower. Urgh.
"Lester, you still haven't told me why you made me sell all of my shares."
Director Lucio Fulci
Cast Brett Halsey
Ria De Simone
Marco Di Stefano
Runtime 86 mins
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Plot A Canadian archaeological team in Sicily accidentally unleashes vengeful ghosts of five demonic nuns who were murdered 500 years earlier and the ghosts now set out to kill the group and townspeople alike.
Jim And straight on with some more Fulci gibberish. It's basically the story of a bunch of archaeologists that are "digging for ancient Greek stuff" (as Zomblee informed us) but keep getting distracted by mildly hysterical Liza, who is continuously drawn to exploring the ruins of a nearby nunnery instead (much debate ensued as to weather the term 'nunnery' is technically correct in that respect) where five naughty nuns were once stoned and crucified by a gang of overly superstitious villagers. The expedition is led by man-of-the-moment Brett Halsey (no moley, hairy-boobed chicks in sight though), with nunnery loving Liza as his main sidekick, and a couple of other Italian faces in the team too, most noticeably Al Cliver in his last film role, albeit looking strangely familiar ("He's sporting his Zombie Flesh Eaters look!" - Zomblee)
The archaeologists disturb the nuns' tomb, Liza starts having nightmares almost immediately and expedition members start dying randomly. The villagers get very nervous, as explained to us by Police Chief Lucio Fulci, in one of his short but many scenes ("I've got to go direct the movie…" - Zomblee). There's a particularly angry young butcher that we all warmed too, ghosts of crucified nuns keep popping up and Liza takes to wearing a really old fusty looking dress, just to make us think that, just maybe, Liza's gone mad (or is possessed by a nun) and is murdering her colleagues herself.
At least, we sceptically entertained that subtle concept until Al Cliver was shot at point blank range by a topless nun ghost with a harpoon gun. ("What a way to go, that was his swan song!" - Rawshark) Now, there's a few standout scenes in this film - a typically bonkers Fulci cat attack sequence ("I think that's the highlight of the movie so far guys." - Zomblee), and a guy getting ripped apart later on ("That's horribly fake, that's okay though!" - Rawshark), but nothing in my book compares to Al Cliver's last on screen moment consisting of him getting shot with a harpoon by a topless nun. I couldn't fucking believe it at the time and to be honest with you part of me still disbelieves it, but at the same time I can't think of a better way for Al to end his career, especially as he's credited as 'Al Clever' in the credits. Pinch me someone.
"I still don't know who this angry young butcher is." said Rawshark, and he's got a point. As the movie wraps it's hard to make sense of what's happening, and the supernatural nun imagery (supernatural numagery?) decends into total Fulci gibberish at the end as all the surviving cast meet up at the nuns' tomb for the lame finale, but what do you expect from a this late Fulci? Shame on you for expecting anything more.
"There once was a girl called Liza..."
Rawshark On the flipside, or B-side, to Touch of Death, you have Demonia, a movie that although has flashes of great touches (the cat attack is a high point) is far from full fat Fulci. Kicking off with a pre-credits sequence set in Sicily in 1846, the plot sees several sisters dragging a screaming nun through a corridor (”I don’t think it’s her birthday” - Zomblee) and into a room with five crucifixes. Needless to say, things don’t end too well for the screaming nuns in that room.
Cut back to present day (that’s 1990 as the on-screen credits tell us), and Brett Halsley plays an archaeologist on a dig, along with a beautiful blonde girl (Liza) and some speccy lawyer. After a brief cut to Al Cliver sporting his Zombie Flesh Eaters beard, the obvious happens and Liza breaks into a convent and, with one of the film’s most striking sequences, sees skeletons in a coffin vault with the aid of her camera flash (”Seeing something scary in the dark with only a camera flash is a scary way to see those things” - Zomblee). So, has she stumbled on the old burial place of the pre-credit crucified nuns and managed to awaken their vengeful spirits? Well, what do you think?
Meanwhile, the redundant (in this movie at least) Al Cliver gets shot by a topless ghost with a speargun, and Liza continues her search for the Chronicles of Santos Rosalina, whilst occasionally encountering an angry butcher and having flashback / dream moments of Satanic nuns having wild orgies (NB – not as exciting as it sounds unfortunately). Finally Al’s head makes a late appearance on an anchor before the whole town turn out as a daytime lynch mob (”It’s ok, they got their torches working” - Zomblee) to burn the yellow-puking evil nuns at the climax.
Basically a bit of a mess of a movie with inadequate gore (”that’s the worst tongue-nailing I’ve seen on the last few days” - Zomblee), we actually spent a lot of time debating the nun lifestyle (”Should nuns even have double beds?” - Zomblee), as well as trying to find as many words as we could that rhyme with Liza (”Oh Liza, fertiliser, took ten men to stablise her” - Jim). The things you do to pass the time on a below-par Fulci movie.
”Liza? Liza… Oh, Liza”.
Zomblee One would like to think that they could at least get the spelling of Al Cliver's name right in what was sadly to be his final movie. 'Clever' may be his surname this once, but it sure isn't how you would describe Demonia in general. Alas, it falls into boring old Fulci territory, featuring Brett Halsey as an archaeologist who likes to talk about archaeology to his colleague lady archaeologist Liza (Meg Register), who cares less about archaeology (or talking about it) and more about that imposing monastery sat atop the hill. She feels inexplicably drawn to it, and decides to explore, bashing down basement walls with a pick-axe, thus releasing the spirits of evil nuns who were crucified there hundreds of year ago. Or something.
The murders soon begin, and the local police force - represented here by budget-cutting Lucio Fulci - begin to ask questions. The town mayor makes an appearance to warn Halsey and his men that the 'locals do not understand', that they believe 'the dead should rest in peace', and before you can say 'angry butcher', a very angry butcher emerges to warn them to leave the monastery alone. Warning enough, you might think, but Brett Halsey dismisses this as ignorant superstition while people start dying in mysterious, unusual circumstances all over the place.
Demonia is nowhere near as good as we hoped, and while Fulci does proffer some degree of atmosphere (the Sicily location photography really works), it's a clumsily-worded and sluggish film with only a small handful of bloody set-pieces to keep you awake. Highlights include a creepy cat woman who's eyes get clawed out by her possessed moggies, and a squeam-inducing tongue nailing sequence. As we're big fans of Al Cliver, it's only fair to mention his last ever scene in Italian cinema, which involves his alcoholic 'old hand' archaeologist - who has conveniently moored his boat at the local jetty in Sicily - being harpooned by a topless nun ghost ("what a way to go!" - Rawshark). Why does Al Cliver keep dying all the time?! Predictably enough, it all ends with an unconvincing lynch mob who love to shout things like...
"Let's burn her!"
Director Lucio Fulci
Cast Brett Halsey
Runtime 85 mins
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I knew my buddies here would lap up the exploits of Lester Parson and his penchant for slaying annoying women then getting confused after. Those comedy corpse disposal scenes got us every time, and I know for a fact that Jim is still in shock at having to witness the ugliest sex scene we've ever had here at Zombie Club. Demonia, however, really sucked a fat one, but it was great to catch Al Cliver's last ever screen appearance as the drunken archeologist, even though his CV is crying out for a more worthy swansong. Despite Demonia's faults, we were nevertheless treated to some disgusting gore and that naked nun ghost with the harpoon gun. Bravo, Lucio!