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8 Cannibal Apocalypse: Cannibal and Zombie Films

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

CANNIBAL AND ZOMBIE FILMS

Antonio Margheriti’s Apocalypse domani (Cannibal Apocalypse, 1980) tells the story of retired Green Beret captain Norman Hopper (John Saxon), who attempts to settle back into life in suburban Atlanta after serving in the Vietnam War, only to find that he is suffering not only from post-traumatic stress disorder, but also from a contagious virus that is slowly changing him into a bloodthirsty cannibal. The film opens with a flashback sequence detailing a wartime mission he led to rescue a pair of American POWs held captive at a North Vietnamese village. His unit storms the village and locates the two soldiers, Charlie Bukowski (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and Tom Thompson (Tony King), who are imprisoned in a pit. Recognizing Bukowski as a hometown acquaintance, Norman drops to his knees and extends his hand to help the men out. As his eyes adjust to the gloom, however, he is horrified to see that they are busy feasting on the corpse of a young Vietnamese woman who fell into the pit with them during the firefight. Before Norman has time to react, Thompson lunges toward him and takes a bite out of his arm. The flashback ends, and Norman is back in the United States after his tour of duty, unable to adjust to life at home. He is emotionally distant from his wife, Jane (Elizabeth Turner), suffers from terrible nightmares, and battles an almost uncontrollable craving for human flesh. This craving – which family friend and psychiatrist Dr. Mendez (Ramiro Oliveros) variously describes to Jane as a “contagious illness that manifests itself as a form of rabies” and a “biological mutation due to a psychic alteration” – only grows more powerful when the supposedly cured Bukowski is released from a nearby mental hospital and insinuates himself into Norman’s life. Norman finds himself opening his refrigerator in the middle of the night to stare hungrily at a slab of raw meat that has begun to drip bloody juices onto the shelf below. During a guilty tryst with Mary (Cinzia De Carolis), a rebellious teenage girl who lives next door with her aunt and younger brother, he cannot keep himself from biting her leg in the throes of passion. Even when Bukowski is recommitted after a violent confrontation with the police at a local flea market, Norman cannot rein in his cannibalistic impulses. Ironically, it is when he visits the hospital where both Bukowski and Thompson are being held, desperate for treatment, that he finally surrenders to his urges, feasting on a lab technician and helping a nurse named Helen (May Heatherly), who has also been infected by the cannibal virus, to free his former army buddies. In a climax that recalls the ending of Carol Reed’s postwar thriller The Third Man (1949), the quartet of runaway cannibals are pursued by the police through the sewers of Atlanta, where they are gunned down one by one until only Norman survives. He returns home and dresses in formal military attire before shooting his wife – who has been infected by Dr. Mendez, a victim of nurse Helen – and then himself. Arriving belatedly, the police pronounce the strange case closed. In a twist ending, however, it is revealed that Norman’s teenage neighbor, Mary, and her younger brother have both contracted the contagious cannibal virus and are feeding on the flesh of their aunt, whom they have murdered and stored in their fridge.

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Note on Film Titles

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

Most of the Euro horror films discussed in this book have at least two different titles: their original, foreign-language titles and the English ones they were given upon their American theatrical or home video premiere. Many, however, have acquired other titles as they have been released and re-released in different markets over the years. Consider the (admittedly extreme) case of Mario Bava’s 1971 film, Bay of Blood, which has played to audiences around the world under more than a dozen titles, including Reazione a catena, Antefatto – Ecologia del delitto, Bloodbath, The Last House on the Left: Part II, and (my favorite) Twitch of the Death Nerve. To avoid confusion, I have elected to introduce the Euro horror films discussed in this book by their original, foreign-language titles, followed in parentheses by the English titles under which they are most widely known and available in the United States today; all subsequent references use the English titles. Thus the aforementioned Bava film would be introduced as Reazione a catena (Bay of Blood, 1971) and thereafter referred to as Bay of Blood. Readers who look up a Euro horror film in the index will find the foreign-language title there, though they will be directed to the English title for a list of the pages on which the film is discussed.

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4 Playing Dead, Take Two: Euro Horror Film Reception

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR FILM RECEPTION

Postmodern filmmaking practices provide part of the explanation for the performative spectatorship fostered by Euro horror cinema, but not a full account. For that, we need to consider the uniquely performative ways in which Euro horror movies are now being watched in the United States. To a certain extent, film viewing always involves an element of performativity. In her phenomenological account of the cinematic experience, Vivian Sobchack appropriates Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s description of the “intertwining” or “chiasmus” of subject and object that takes place at the moment of perception in order to argue that watching a movie should be thought of not as an act, but rather as a dialogue that involves the audience and the film as equal participants. Writing that a movie “is as much a viewing subject as it is . . . a visible and viewed object” (51), Sobchack demonstrates that spectatorship is necessarily “a dialogical and dialectical engagement of two viewing subjects who also exist as visible objects” (52). Despite the fact that there are “always two embodied acts of vision at work in the theater, two embodied views constituting the intelligibility and significance of the film experience” (53), though, we often fail to recognize this, missing entirely the “dynamic activity of viewing that is engaged in by both the film and the spectator, each as viewing subjects” (45). Rather than treating the movies we watch as partners in dialogue, we tend to see them as events to which we must play passive witnesses. As a rule, the “returned gaze” (Dixon, It Looks at You 2) of cinema goes unmet.

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7 The Whip and the Body: The S&M Horror Film

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

THE S&M HORROR FILM

Mario Bava’s kinky gothic melodrama La frusta e il corpo (The Whip and the Body, 1963) stars Christopher Lee as Kurt Menliff, a sadistic aristocrat who returns to his family’s ancestral home after a period of banishment to reclaim his patrimony as the eldest son of the ailing Count Menliff (Gustavo De Nardo) and to prevent his younger brother, Christian (Tony Kendall), from marrying Nevenka (Daliah Lavi), Kurt’s former lover. The sudden reappearance of Kurt, who was exiled by the Count years earlier, throws the Menliff household into turmoil. He terrorizes his family from the moment he arrives, badgering his dying father to write him back into his will and tempting Nevenka to resume their violent, sadomasochistic love affair. Kurt’s reign of terror is brought to a shockingly abrupt conclusion when he is murdered one night by an unseen assailant. Each member of the family is a suspect in his murder, since they all had ample motive; questions of guilt and innocence are soon forgotten, though, as strange lights start to appear at night in the windows of the mausoleum where Kurt’s body is interred and Nevenka begins to have visions of a ghostly Kurt entering her chambers to whip her as she lies in bed – visions that are seemingly proven real when muddy boot prints are found on the floor of her room in the morning. Finally, a desperate Christian, believing that his brother has indeed returned from the grave to further torment them, opens Kurt’s coffin and burns the remains he finds there along with the infamous whip. As he is returning to the house, however, he notices a figure dressed in Kurt’s clothes walking ahead of him. Christian confronts this mysterious person, only to find to his astonishment and horror that it is Nevenka. Fleeing from Christian, she locks herself in a cell inside the mausoleum, where she speaks to Kurt as if he were alive, leading Christian and the audience to understand that she murdered Kurt in an outburst of violent passion and then, regretting her act, “absorbed” his personality and began to carry on a double life as “Kurt” and “Nevenka.” As Christian watches helplessly, Nevenka embraces an invisible Kurt and cries, “I love you, Kurt, only you!” before stabbing herself to death with a dagger. In the final moments of the film, the director cuts to a shot of Kurt’s corpse, still burning in the coffin, and – as the film’s lush orchestral score swells – slowly zooms in to a close-up of his whip, which twists like a living thing as it is consumed by the flames.

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3 Playing Dead, Take One: Euro Horror Film Production

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR FILM PRODUCTION

Euro horror movies encourage performative spectatorship because of the way in which they are made. I want to be mindful of the danger of overgeneralizing about the common identity of these films, despite – or rather because of – the fact that they are regularly lumped together by their contemporary American fans. After all, Europe comprises over fifty countries, two dozen languages, and a wide array of cultural, social, economic, political, religious, and artistic traditions. The challenge that such diversity poses to anyone wanting to make grand statements about “the” nature of European cinema is obvious. As Ernest Mathjis and Xavier Mendik write:

 

There is hardly a more difficult object of media study than European cinema. Although seemingly evident by its geographical boundaries, from the Atlantic to the Urals, from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, its cultural, aesthetic, economical, political and ideological demarcations are far from clear. European cinema cannot be pinned down to a small number of production strategies, or reduced to a limited series of intentions or ideological perspectives; it does not even fit barriers of language or nations. It cannot be defined through audience and reception practices, nor through its range of textual meanings. There are no straightforward genres to hold on to, no uncontested canon, not even an undisputed series of countries (Flemish cinema? Yiddish cinema? Turkish cinema? Yugoslavian cinema?), people (Alfred Hitchcock, Luc Besson, Paul Verhoeven?) or texts (Stranger than Paradise, Buena Vista Social Club?). (“Introduction” 1–2)

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