Italian Horror Spotlight: Cannibal Apocalypse (dir by Antonio Margheriti)


The 1980 film Cannibal Apocalypse begins in Vietnam.

Sgt. Norman Hopper (John Saxon) leads his troops into a Vietnamese village.  A dog approaches.  One of the soldiers starts to pet it.

“Watch it, asshole!” Hopper shouts.

Too late.  The dog explodes and takes the soldier with him.  That’s just the first of many explosive events in the film.  Minutes after the dog blows up, Hopper discovers two American soldiers being held prisoner in an underground cage.  One of them is named Charles Bukowski (yes, I know) and he’s played by the great Italian actor, Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  The other one is named Tommy (Tony King).

“Hey,” Hopper says, “I know these guys!  They’re from my hometown!”  He reaches down to help them out of the cage.  Charlie and Tommy promptly take a bite out of his arm….

Suddenly, Norman Hopper wakes up in bed, next to his wife.  He’s been having another nightmare.  In the years since returning from Vietnam, Hopper has married, started a family, and bought a nice house in Atlanta.  He seems to have his life together but he’s still haunted by what happened that day in Vietnam.

Charlie and Tommy are also still haunted.  Unlike Hopper, they haven’t been able to get their lives together.  Charlie’s a drifter and, when he shows up in Atlanta and calls Hopper at his home, Hopper isn’t particularly happy to hear from him.  After talking to Hopper, Charlie goes to a movie where he watches a couple make out in front of him.  Soon, Charlie is trying to eat the couple while panicked movie lovers flee the theater.  (“What type of cinema is this!?” one man cries out.)

Forced to eat human flesh while being held prisoner, Charlie and Tommy are both cannibals today.  However, as the film makes clear, cannibalism travels like a virus.  Anyone who gets bitten by Charlie and Tommy becomes a cannibal themselves.  That includes Hopper.  For years, Hopper has managed to resist the craving but, as soon as he gets that call from Bukowski, he finds himself tempted to take a bite out of his flirtatious neighbor.

With the authorities determined to eradicate not only the cannibalism plague but also those infected, Hopper finds himself forced to go on the run with Charlie, Tommy, and an infected doctor (Elizabeth Turner).  Eventually, everyone ends up in the sewers of Atlanta where people are set on fire, one unfortunate is literally chopped in half by a shotgun blast, and the rats turn out to be just as hungry as the humans….

And here’s the thing.  You’re probably thinking that this sounds like a really bad movie but it’s actually kind of brilliant.  I may love Italian horror but, for the most part, I’m not a fan of cannibal movies.  But, thanks to the performances and the energetic direction of Antonio Margheriti, Cannibal Apocalypse transcends the limits of the cannibal genre.   Obviously, gorehounds will find what they’re looking for with this movie but far more interesting is Cannibal Apocalypse‘s suggestion that war (represented by the cannibalism that Hopper, Tommy, and Bukowski bring back from Vietnam) is an infectious virus.  Once someone gets bitten, it doesn’t matter who they are or what type of life that they’ve led.  The infection cannot be escaped.

In an interview that John Saxon gave for the film’s DVD release, Saxon said that making this film actually left him feeling suicidal.  It wasn’t just the fact that the film itself presents a rather dark view of humanity.  It’s because it upset him to know that there was an audience that was as rabid for violence as Norman Hopper is for human flesh.  Saxon said that he had never seen the film and, in the interview, he had to be reminded what happened to Norman Hopper at the end of the film.  It’s a bit of a shame because Saxon gives a brilliant performance as Norman Hopper.  Saxon plays Hopper as being a sad man, a man who knows that he can’t escape his fate as much as he wants to.  There’s a tragic dignity to Saxon’s performance, one that gives this cannibal film unexpected depth.

Also giving great performances are Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Tony King.  As played by Radice, Charlie is a living casualty of war, a man who served his country and came home to be forgotten.  You understand Charlie’s anger and his resentment.  (When Bukowski finds himself in a stand-off with the police, one the cops explains away Bukowski’s actions by dismissively saying, “He’s a Vietnam vet,” a line of dialogue that not only explains Charlie’s anger at America but also calls out America for not taking care of its veterans,)  Meanwhile, Tony King gets one of the best scenes in the film when, seeing Hopper for the first time in years, he grins at him and yells, “Remember these choppers!?”

As strange as it may seem to say about a film called Cannibal Apocalypse, this is a film that will bring tears to your eyes.  It’s one of the classics of Italian horror.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Bucktown (dir by Arthur Marks)


Welcome to the town of Buchanan!

It’s a small Southern town, popularly known as Bucktown.  It’s a town where you can literally get anything, as long as you know who to pay off.  Upon arriving, don’t be surprised if a little kid approaches you and asks you what you’re looking for.  He can get it for you.  That kid had connections!

The population of Buchanan is almost entirely African-American but all of the cops are white.  Under the leadership of the redneck police chief (Art Lund), the cops have turned Buchanan into their own private kingdom.  If you want to do anything in Buchanan, you have to be ready to pay the cops for protection.  Refuse and you’ll get arrested.  Continue to refuse and you’ll probably end up getting shot.

Obviously, someone needs to clean up Buchanan?  But who!?

How about Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson)?  Duke’s brother owned the hottest nightclub in Bucktown, Club Alabama.  Or, at least he did until he announced he wasn’t going to pay anymore protection and he ended up getting gunned down by the cops.  When Duke arrives in town, he thinks that he’s just going to stay long enough to attend the funeral and sell his brother’s bar.  However, when Duke find out that he has to wait 60 days until he can sell the bar, he decides to stick around.  Not only does he move in with his brother’s former lover, Aretha (Pam Grier), but also reopens the Club Alabama.

Soon, the cops are coming around and demanding their share.  However, they quickly discover that no one tells Duke Johnson what to do.  Like all good action heroes, Duke has friends all over the country.  He places a call to Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) and soon, Roy, TJ (Tony King), and Hambone (Carl Weathers) show up in Bucktown.  They quickly wipe out the corrupt police force.  The local citizens are so happy that they make Roy the new police chief and his men the new police force.

Unfortunately, that turns out to be a mistake.  Apparently, giving some totally random dude complete and total authority to enforce the law in whatever he sees fit isn’t always the best way to handle things.  Roy and his men quickly become just as corrupt as the old redneck policemen.  The only thing protecting Duke is his friendship with Roy but even that is endangered when T.J. decides that he wants Aretha for himself.  T.J. decides to turn Roy and Duke against each other.  It all eventually leads to an epic fist fight, with the winner earning the right to remain in Bucktown…

(Of course, you may be wondering why anyone would want to remain in Bucktown as the place is kind of a dump, regardless of who’s in charge.)

Released in 1975, Bucktown is a pretty basic action film but I liked it because it appealed to all of my anti-authoritarian impulses.  There have been so many movies about what it takes to clean up a town but there haven’t been many made about what actually happens after all of the corrupt cops and greedy businessmen have been kicked out.  Thalmus Rusulala was great as the charismatic but dangerous Roy and Tony King, a favorite of Italian exploitation fans everywhere, was an effective villain.  Pam Grier doesn’t get to do much but she does the best with what she’s provided.  Of course, the entire film is dominated by Fred Williamson, who may not have been a great actor but who had an undeniable screen presence.  Williamson struts through the film like the hero of stylish Spaghetti western.

Bucktown is an entertaining 70s action film.  Though it doesn’t deeply explore any of the issues that it raises, it still deserves some credit for raising them.  If nothing else, it’s a film that shows why Fred Williamson retains a cult following to this day.

Concrete Jungle: REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER (United Artists 1975)


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REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER usually gets lumped in with the plethora of 70’s cop films, but I viewed it as a neo-noir. It’s structure tells the tale mainly in flashback, from the participating character’s differing perspective, and is dark as hell. I’m sure co-screenwriters Abby Mann and Ernest Tidyman were well aware of what they were doing: both men were former Oscar winners (Mann for JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG, Tidyman for THE FRENCH CONNECTION   ) familiar with the conventions of the genre. The solid cast features a powerhouse collection of 70’s character actors, led by Michael Moriarty’s patented over-the-edge performance as protagonist Bo Lockley.

Lockley is a young, idealistic cop caught up in circumstances beyond his control, snaring him in an inescapable downward spiral. The film opens with a pair of New York City detectives discovering the body of a young woman, who turns out to be one of their own, an undercover…

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6 Action-Filled Trailers For Memorial Day Weekend!


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Well, it’s Memorial Day weekend!  As some of you may remember, I ran into some trouble last weekend when I got my dates mixed up and I was forced to post a hastily compiled, somewhat random edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!

Fortunately, I’ve got my dates correct this weekend!

Anyway, without further ado, here are 6 action-filled trailers for Memorial Day!

Inglorious Bastards (1978)

No, not the Quentin Tarantino Oscar winner!  This is the film that gave its name to Tarantino’s later work.  The 1978 version of Inglorious Bastards was directed by Enzo G. Castellari and stars Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson.

From Hell To Victory (1979)

This World War II film was directed by Umberto Lenzi and features a surprisingly impressive cast for a Lenzi epic.  (Surprisingly, for a Lenzi film of this period, it does not appear that Mel Ferrer is anywhere to be found in From Hell To Victory.)

The Last Hunter (1980)

This is actually one of the best Italian war films ever made.  It was directed by Antonio Margheriti (who was given a shout out in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) and stars David Warbeck, Tony King, John Steiner, and Mia Farrow’s sister, Tisa.  Tisa also starred in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Tiger Joe (1982)

Margheriti followed up The Last Hunter with Tiger Joe.  Also returning (though in different roles from The Last Hunter): David Warbeck and Tony King.  The female lead was played by Annie Belle, who is probably best remembered for her co-starring role in Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park.

Tornado (1983)

Tiger Joe was enough of a success that Margheriti made one more Vietnam-set film, Tornado.

Last Platoon (1988)

I’ve never seen this movie but the title was probably meant to fool audiences into thinking that it was a sequel to Oliver Stone’s Platoon.  I will say that, having watched the trailer, it’s interesting to see Donald Pleasence playing an American army officer.  This Italian film was directed by Ignazio Dolce.

To all of our readers in the U.S: Have a safe Memorial Day weekend!

The Daily Grindhouse: The Raiders of Atlantis (dir by Ruggero Deodato)


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It’s been a while since I’ve done an entry in the Daily Grindhouse here at the Shattered Lens.  (And please, no snarky comments about the definition of the word “daily.”  I’ve been doing such a good job of controlling my temper lately…)  So, I figured I’d correct that oversight by taking a few moments to tell you about The Raiders of Atlantis, an Italian film from 1983.

(If you’re a regular reader, you know how much I love Italian exploitation films.)

On many a Saturday night, I have gotten together with my fellow members of the Late Night Movie Crew (including TSL’s own Patrick Smith) and we’ve watched movies with titles like Samson Vs. The Vampire Women, Cruel Jawsand Space Raiders.  Whenever it’s my night to pick the movie, I’ve always been tempted to select The Raiders of Atlantis.  In many ways, it’s the perfect film to watch with a group of snarky and outspoken friends.  The film is action packed, it features a lot of over-the-top melodrama, the pace is relentless, and the film is so defiant in its refusal to follow any narrative logic that you can’t help but respect its defiant soul.

(If Raiders of Atlantis could talk, it would say, “I do what I want!” before giving the finger to anyone complaining about not being able to follow the plot.)

I’ve come very close to picking it on a few occasions but then I always remember just how violent this film can be.  By the standards of Italian exploitation, The Raiders of Atlantis is actually rather tame but it still features a lot of people dying in a lot of disturbingly graphic ways.  People are set on fire.  People are graphically shot in the face.  One unfortunate woman gets a dart fired into her neck.  Heads roll, literally.

The Raiders of Atlantis tells the story of what happens when a bunch of scientists on an oil rig accidentally cause the lost continent of Atlantis to rise up out of the ocean.  A Caribbean island is conquered by an army of heavily made up, motorcycle-riding, mohawk-sporting “interceptors,” who claim to be the descendants of the original inhabitants of Atlantis.  Led by the evil Crystal Skull (Bruce Baron), the Interceptors are determined to kill everyone who does not possess Atlantean blood.  When they’re not randomly killing, they’re searching for an artifact that will … well, to be honest, I’m not sure why they wanted that artifact but they certainly were determined to find it.

Who can stop the Interceptors?  Well, how about Mike (Christopher Connelly) and Washington (Tony King)?  They’re two mercenaries who just happened to be nearby when the continent of Atlantis rose out of the ocean.  Along with a group of scientists, an escaped convict, and a random bald guy in tuxedo, it’s up to Mike and Washington to save the world!

(Washington, incidentally, has just converted to Islam and spends most of the movie demanding that Mike call him by his new name, Mohammad.  I imagine this is one of those subplots that would be abandoned if the film were remade today.)*

So, as I said before, The Raiders of Atlantis makes absolutely no sense but that’s actually a huge part of the film’s charm.  This is one of those relentless action films that truly does seem to be making it up as it goes along.  There’s something very enjoyable about seeing how many movies The Raiders of Atlantis can rip-off in just 98 minutes and you soon find yourself thankful that the film didn’t waste any time trying to justify itself.  The film may not be traditionally “good” but it is flamboyantly bad and, in many ways, that’s even better.  Maybe you have to be a fan of Italian exploitation cinema to truly understand.

Speaking of which, if you have any experience at all with Italian exploitation, you will immediately recognize half the cast of The Raiders of Atlantis.  You may not know they’re names, because these actors frequently changed their Americanized screen names from film to film.  But you’ll definitely recognize the faces and one of the more enjoyable aspects of The Raiders of Atlantis is that you get to see all of these familiar faces together in one movie.

For instance, Christopher Connelly is best known for starring in Lucio Fulci’s ill-fated Manhattan Baby.  Tony King gave memorable performances in both The Last Hunter and Cannibal Apocalypse.  The cast also features giallo and spaghetti western mainstays George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov, along with Filipino Z-movie veteran Mike Monty.  Stefano Mingardo, who appeared in a handful of violent actions films, shows up as an escaped convict and livens up every scene in which he appears.  Even Michele Soavi, years before he would direct the brilliant Dellamorte Dellamore, appears in a small role.  Unfortunately, George Eastman is nowhere to be found but still, The Raiders of Atlantis is worth seeing for the cast alone.

The Raiders of Atlantis was directed by Ruggero Deodato, who is best known for directing such controversial films as Cannibal Holocaust and The House At The Edge of the Park.  Raiders of Atlantis is nowhere close to being as extreme as either one of those films.  If anything, it feels like a more violent than usual SyFy movie.

The Raiders of Atlantis has apparently slipped into the public domain and, as of this writing, it’s been uploaded to YouTube.  You can watch the trailer below.  This trailer not only captures the feel of the film but it also features the film’s enjoyably vapid theme music.

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*And why not remake it!?  Chris Pratt and Tyrese Gibson could play Mike and Washington.

Shattered Politics #31: The Godfather (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


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“I got something for your mother and Sonny and a tie for Freddy and Tom Hagen got the Reynolds Pen…” — Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) in The Godfather (1972)

It probably seems strange that when talking about The Godfather, a film that it is generally acknowledged as being one of the best and most influential of all time, I would start with an innocuous quote about getting Tom Hagen a pen.

(And it better have been a hell of a pen because, judging from the scene where Sollozzo stops him in the street, it looked like Tom was going all out as far as gifts were concerned…)

After all, The Godfather is a film that is full of memorable quotes.  “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”  “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  “It’s strictly business.”  “I believe in America….”  “That’s my family, Kay.  That’s not me.”

But I went with the quote about the Reynolds pen because, quite frankly, I find an excuse to repeat it every Christmas.  Every holiday season, whenever I hear friends or family talking about presents, I remind them that Tom Hagen is getting the Reynolds pen.  Doubt me?  Check out these tweets from the past!

[tweet https://twitter.com/LisaMarieBowman/status/411891527837687810  ]

[tweet https://twitter.com/LisaMarieBowman/status/280387983444697088 ]

That’s how much I love The Godfather.  I love it so much that I even find myself quoting the lines that don’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things.  I love the film so much that I once even wrote an entire post about who could have been cast in The Godfather if, for whatever reason, Brando, Pacino, Duvall, et al. had been unavailable.  And I know that I’m not alone in that love.

But all that love also makes The Godfather a difficult film to review.  What do you say about a film that everyone already knows is great?

Do you praise it by saying that Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Marlon Brando, John Cazale, Richard Castellano, Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco, and Talia Shire all gave excellent performances?  You can do that but everyone already knows that.

Do you talk about how well director Francis Ford Coppola told this operatic, sprawling story of crime, family, and politics?  You can do that but everyone already knows that.

Maybe you can talk about how beautiful Gordon Willis’s dark and shadowy cinematography looks, regardless of whether you’re seeing it in a theater or on TV.  Because it certainly does but everyone knows that.

Maybe you can mention the haunting beauty of Nina Rota’s score but again…

Well, you get the idea.

Now, if you somehow have never seen the film before, allow me to try to tell you what happens in The Godfather.  I say try because The Godfather is a true epic.  Because it’s also an intimate family drama and features such a dominating lead performance from Al Pacino, it’s sometimes to easy to forget just how much is actually going on in The Godfather.

The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone Family.  Patriarch Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) has done very well for himself in America, making himself into a rich and influential man.  Of course, Vito is also known as both Don Corleone and the Godfather and he’s made his fortune through less-than-legal means.  He may be rich and he may be influential but when his daughter gets married, the FBI shows up outside the reception and takes pictures of all the cars in the parking lot.  Vito Corleone knows judges and congressmen but none of them are willing to be seen in public with him.  Vito is the establishment that nobody wants to acknowledge and sometimes, this very powerful man wonders if there will ever be a “Governor Corleone” or a “Senator Corleone.”

Vito is the proud father of three children and the adopted father of one more.  His oldest son, and probable successor, is Sonny (James Caan).  Sonny, however, has a temper and absolutely no impulse control.  While his wife is bragging about him to the other women at the wedding, Sonny is upstairs screwing a bridesmaid.  When the enemies of the Corleone Family declare war, Sonny declares war back and forgets the first rule of organized crime: “It’s not personal.  It’s strictly business.”

After Sonny, there’s Fredo (John Cazale).  Poor, pathetic Fredo.  In many ways, it’s impossible not to feel sorry for Fredo.  He’s the one who ends up getting exiled to Vegas, where he lives under the protection of the crude Moe Greene (Alex Rocco).  One of the film’s best moments is when a bejeweled Fredo shows up at a Vegas hotel with an entourage of prostitutes and other hangers-on.  In these scenes, Fred is trying so hard but when you take one look at his shifty eyes, it’s obvious that he’s still the same guy who we first saw stumbling around drunk at his sister’s wedding.

(And, of course, it’s impossible to watch Fredo in this film without thinking about both what will happen to the character in the Godfather, Part II and how John Cazale, who brought the character to such vibrant life, would die just 6 years later.)

As a female, daughter Connie (Talia Shire) is — for the first film, at least — excluded from the family business.  Instead, she marries Sonny’s friend Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo).  And, to put it gently, it’s not a match made in heaven.

And finally, there’s Michael (Al Pacino).  Michael is the son who, at the start of the film, declares that he wants nothing to do with the family business.  He’s the one who wants to break with family tradition by marrying Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), who is most definitely not Italian.  He’s the one who was decorated in World War II and who comes to his sister’s wedding still dressed in his uniform.  (In the second Godfather film, we learn that Vito thought Michael was foolish to join the army, which makes it all the more clear that, by wearing the uniform to the wedding, Michael is attempting to declare his own identity outside of the family.)  To paraphrase the third Godfather film, Michael is the one who says he wants to get out but who keeps getting dragged back in.

And finally, the adopted son is Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall).  Tom is the Don’s lawyer and one reason why Tom is one of my favorite characters is because, behind his usual stone-faced facade, Tom is actually very snarky.  He just hides it well.

Early on, we get a hint that Tom is more amused than he lets on when he has dinner with the crude Jack Woltz (John Marley), a film producer who doesn’t want to use Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) in a movie  When Woltz shouts insults at him, Tom calmly finishes his dinner and thanks him for a lovely evening.  And he does it with just the hint of a little smirk and you can practically see him thinking, “Somebody’s going to wake up with a horse tomorrow….”

However, my favorite Tom Hagen moment comes when Kay, who is searching for Michael, drops by the family compound.  Tom greets her at the gate.  When Kay spots a car that’s riddled with bullet holes, she asks what happened.  Tom smiles and says, “Oh, that was an accident.  But luckily no one was hurt!”  Duvall delivers the line with just the right attitude of “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”  How can you not kind of love Tom after that?

And, of course, the film is full of other memorable characters, all of whom are scheming and plotting.  There’s Clemenza (Richard S. Catellano) and Tessio (Abe Vigoda), the two Corleone lieutenants who may or may not be plotting to betray the Don.  There’s fearsome Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), who spends an eternity practicing what he wants to say at Connie’s wedding and yet still manages to screw it up.  And, of course, there’s Sollozzo (Al Lettieri, playing a role originally offered to Franco Nero), the drug dealer who reacts angrily to Vito’s refusal to help him out.  Meanwhile, Capt. McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) is busy beating up young punks and Al Neri (Richard Bright) is gunning people down in front of the courthouse.  And, of course, there’s poor, innocent, ill-fated Appollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli)…

The Godfather is a great Italian-American epic, one that works as both a gangster film and a family drama.  Perhaps the genius of the Godfather trilogy is that the Corleone family serves as an ink blot in a cinematic rorschach test.  Audiences can look at them and see whatever they want.  If you want them and their crimes to serve as a metaphor for capitalism, you need only listen to Tom and Michael repeatedly state that it’s only business.  If you want to see them as heroic businessmen, just consider that their enemies essentially want to regulate the Corleones out of existence.  If you want the Corleones to serve as symbols of the patriarchy, you need only watch as the door to Michael’s office is shut in Kay’s face.  If you want to see the Corleones as heroes, you need only consider that they — and they alone — seem to operate with any sort of honorable criminal code.  (This, of course, would change over the course of the two sequels.)

And, if you’re trying to fit a review of The Godfather into a series about political films, you only have to consider that Vito is regularly spoken of as being a man who carries politicians around in his pocket.  We may not see any elected officials in the first Godfather film but their presence is felt.  Above all else, it’s Vito’s political influence that sets in motion all of the events that unfold over the course of the film.

The Godfather, of course, won the Oscar for best picture of 1972.  And while it’s rare that I openly agree with the Academy, I’m proud to say that this one time is a definite exception.