After posting THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM yesterday along with a way too heavy blog post, I realized that I needed to inject some sleaze into this year’s horror movie list real fast before an imbalance occurs.The whole blog might tip and fall over if art isn’t carefully balanced with trash. Today’s movie should more than make up for any overemphasis on philosophical profundity and historical significance.
Lamberto Bava is often grouped in with the elite Italian horror film directors considered top tier to cult film fans and critics. These include Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Michele Soavi, and Lamberto’s own father, Mario Bava. Lamberto gets membership in this elite group primarily because of three, possibly four, films. His first movie, MACABRE (1980) had the benefit of being scripted by the excellent art film director Pupi Avati (director of ZEDER, which I have previously posted here). However, Bava must be given the director’s credit for making a movie that was compact, commercial, and swiftly paced. Breaking a trend with Italian horror, Bava avoided unnecessary action and loose narrative ends. The film was tight…and this was something highly unusual in Italian horror films at the time. Bava applied the same commercially successful style to A BLADE IN THE DARK (1983)…another film which I have previously posted in this blog.
Ultimately, Bava is best known for his movie DEMONS (1985), in which he seemed to have perfected a kind of sleazy, commercial glossiness that eschewed the psychological complexities traditionally underlying Italian horror films and went for balls-to-the-wall rollercoaster fun. On the other hand, DEMONS was the first movie in which Bava, possibly inspired by Lucio Fulci, introduced another element into his work which would be repeated in his later films. While the film moves at an easily digested breakneck speed and is primarily superficial and campy (obvious central metaphors aside), all of the action in the film is orchestrated by a mysterious metal faced villain who is never identified and whose motivations are never explained. This unlikely character’s very presence, in contrast with the sleazy, superficial, commercial, sometimes campy horror in the rest of the film, creates an uncanny atmosphere that transforms and elevates the rest of the film above the trashy trifle it might otherwise have been. DEMONS 2, more uneven than its predecessor, relied upon the same contrast of familiar horror tropes and unexplained “happenings” that defy expectations.
Bava continued the practice of introducing contradictory, surreal touches to otherwise cookie cutter, downright cliched horror with DELIRIUM (1987) and, thereafter, never made a film again with the same level of critical or commercial success. With the exception of a fantasy based series he made for Italian television, most of his post-DELIRIUM output is generally considered pretty terrible.
It’s the movies he made after these string of successes, mostly for television broadcast, that I most enjoy. Perhaps because they are made for television, the then “commercial,” most achingly trite aspects of these movies – including cliched, ridiculously unrealistic dialogue and stereotypical characters that seem as if they sprang fully formed from the imagination of a sexist 12 year old boy – are amped up way off the scale of realism. Meanwhile, the surprisingly “surreal” narrative and visual elements in these films are thrown in, pell nell, like absurdist bombs. Seriously, when the violence or other nastiness hits (and Italian television had very little censorship of violence in the 80s), it feels like a Saturday morning cartoon has just gone horribly wrong. It’s like watching a 1980s Doublemint gum commercial (look them up on Youtube) that suddenly, without warning or justification, crosses over into the gory slapstick territory of the Evil Dead franchise.
I love it.
THE PRINCE OF TERROR, made for TV by Lamberto Bava, features a stereotypical horror writer/film director, yuppies, lots of hairspray, 80s decor, fog machines, a teenage girl played by a thirty year old (undoubtedly it was considered in bad taste to subject an actual teenage actor to a role in which she is threatened with rape, over and over, for sixty minutes…as if watching an adult woman play the role of that teenage girl is not also in bad taste…), about five or six or more sudden plot turns, and…oh, yah…an inexplicably inflating corpse, satanic golfballs, a completely unnecessary set of oozing, monster-themed gloves, a player-piano rib cage, and a rapey, psychotic Uncle Fester impersonation. That’s not even the weirdest stuff on display here…
This is a pretty rare Lamberto Bava movie. It was never released on video or DVD. The English dubbed version of the film is only available in a terrible, washed out copy with “Not For Commercial Use” written across the screen. A better version is available on Youtube in Italian with no subtitles.
In order to make this incredibly rare film more watchable, I decided to apply the soundtrack of the dubbed “Not For Commercial Use” version to the Italian video and re-upload it to Youtube.
Unfortunately, the speed of a video is not always constant so the English audio, once applied to the Italian video, was completely out of synch. I had to go through the audio by hand, make splices, and spread out the sound in order to get lips to match spoken dialogue. As a result, especially early on in the film, there are some moments in which the sound skips or repeats itself briefly. I get better at synching as the movie goes along…there was a learning curve. The video quality is not pristine or high resolution or anything, but this is now the best English language version available online.