Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Welcome to 31 Days of Fright: Mach 7!

The warm weather around these parts might convince you otherwise but a quick look at the calendar next to my desk confirms that, yep, it's October.

And you know what that means... the shackles come off and for 31 glorious days it's not just ok to be a horror fan it's downright encouraged!

Pumpkin-flavored goodies fill store shelves (though pumpkin beer is getting dangerously close to being a July 4th offering), every sitcom, cooking show and renovation-centered "reality" program trots out a Halloween theme and some spooky music, and the fine folks at TCM and AMC start airing the flicks in primetime that they usually relegate to the 2 AM on Saturday morning graveyard slot. (You can also check out the ABC Family lineup here or view The Atlantic's exhaustive list of every horror flick airing this month.)

But, so what? As much as my viewing tastes may have wandered from the horror trenches over recent years it's still fun to embrace all that's great, not so great, fun, silly, scary (sometimes), entertaining and lovably dumb about this time of year.

So, as we've done every October for the last seven (!) years it's time for our annual '31 Days of Fright' blog feature, complete with reviews, links, clips, trailers and whatever else we can dig up to make the month fun.

We also have a new issue of ER to promote so be sure to head over to the Exploitation Retrospect Facebook page, "Like" us and watch for giveaways featuring our latest issues as well as DVDs and more.

And, much like Christmas traditions, we here at ER have our own '31 Days of Fright' tradition that kicks off the series each year...


Friday, September 19, 2014

Exploitation Retrospect 52 Now Available!

Just a quick note on a Friday afternoon to let you know that Exploitation Retrospect #52 is officially available for purchase!

I didn't want to promote it too much till I saw an actual printed copy and made sure I wasn't yanking it from Amazon due to some horrific oversight (though my wife did mention that because I cut my editorial I neglected to thank her in the issue... doh!).

My initial copy arrived last night and despite some nit-picky stuff like a too small gutter margin and some cropping issues with the pages I'm very pleased with how the issue turned out.

Contents include:
  • David Zuzelo's penetrating look at Nikkatsu erotic cinema
  • John Grace on Hollywood bully Burt Lancaster
  • Jonathan Plombon's examination of WAVE  Productions, death fetish films and the cult of pseudo-snuff
  • Chuck Francisco on those naughty Nazi Zombies
  • A beefy review section featuring manly action flicks and men's action novels – in particular Remo Williams aka The Destroyer – with many contributions from Mitch Lovell
  • Plus, tons of reviews on the best and worst in horror, sci-fi and sleazery from Douglas Waltz, John Grace, David Zuzelo, Chuck Francisco, yours truly and many more
It's all wrapped up in a beautiful glossy cover featuring exclusive artwork from Rondo Award-winning illustrator Neil Vokes with colors by Matt Webb.

You can order from CreateSpace, Amazon or directly from ER HQ.

And stay tuned for a new look – and new content – coming to the website soon!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

ZOMBIE PIRATES (2014)

Now that ER #52 has been put to bed it's time to turn our attention to the flicks, zines, books and comics we were not able to get into the latest issue. Stay tuned to the blog as we'll be ramping up the pace with plenty of junk culture and fringe media reviews as summer draws to a close. Today's review comes courtesy of David Zuzelo (Tomb It May Concern) who took the plunge and tested the waters of the new Retromedia TV with the cool looking ZOMBIE PIRATES...

ZOMBIE PIRATES could not have been better targeted than directly at me. Let's see... a kick ass poster of (not surprisingly) ZOMBIE PIRATES? Yep! A description that includes a tribute to THE BLIND DEAD? OK, now I have to buy it. And gore? Oh, sure... there is some gore! What isn't to like? Well, I found ZOMBIE PIRATES to be an entertaining enough micro-budget film that looks sharp and contains a few nifty tributes to the undead Templar titans as well as a few good performances from the leads, though it has so much padding that I think long time trash cinema fanatics will feel like the original GHOST GALLEON plays as fast-paced as a fight from ONG BAK comparatively. While things meander a bit, and I feel like I could now close up a tattoo parlor, right down to changing the paper towels, I really liked it overall! So, recap time...

Linda (Sarah French/Scarlet Salem) is obviously one tough cookie. We meet her as she heads home with a bullet in her shoulder and a grimace on her face. Why? Well, it turns out she has robbed and killed a finder of artifacts (oh oh) and taken not only money, but some other things of mystical import. Enter the ominous, mustachioed Grant (J.C. Pennylegion), who takes a lot of time explaining that she has come into contact with a Necronomicon-esque book that contains the method to feeding flesh to undead pirates in return for silver and other treasures. AS LONG AS YOU DO IT RIGHT! Well, of course...

Linda gets forced into being said skin salesman or footage of her robbery will be sent to the police. She jumps right in, killing dudes left and right with a little seduction or even a sneaky kill a la the opening of HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY... and in comes the mossy maven of malevolence... CAPTAIN LASSARD (Eric Spudic). He looks cool as hell, though the HD video doesn't do the costume many favors in some ways.  This all continues until a bothersome officer of the law, Detective Knofke (Denman Powers) makes the scene and seems to have a fun obsession with using STAYING FOR COFFEE as a strong arm tactic. Make this guy a cup, even after he quits, because he has DNA evidence to hoodwink you out of, ladies. Pretty slick...

The Zombie Pirates have arrived!
But what happens when the cop gets hip, the sacrifice goes late and the ZOMBIE PIRATES lay siege to a rather nice little home on the water? Gore! CGI! FUN!

While it runs too long with many repetitive scenes as Linda drags her white-bagged victims out to sea, or folds and unfolds a chair in her bathing suit, there is a lot to like for the low budget fan. The monster suits are really nice and I was especially impressed by ZOMBIE PARROT as well as a tiny ship shot almost exactly like the Ghost Galleon that Amando de Ossorio forged for The Blind Dead. I think the tiny budget and extremely high quality video camera dents the atmosphere that they were going for when Lassard shows up at the door, but the boat sacrifices and nomnomming are very well done. It's hard to hang a movie on just those sequences however.

A Ghost Galleon by any other name.
Thankfully, the actors do a good job with the material. French pulls off her character's various moods and "take no shit" attitude nicely and her scenes with Powers as the chatty cop are great fun fodder. Something about cops in Retromedia presentations is always fun. While not going for comedy in most instances, the two gel nicely and even I wanted to smack the detective in the head.

Most notable for me is the score is a perfect example of keeping a film flowing even in the dead spots of running time filler. An electronic score that hums beneath the entire film, it's got enough creep to keep my attention even when it starts to wander. Director Steve Sessions knows how to shoot a zombie attack AND score it at the same time. I'm impressed!

Overall, it would take a seasoned micro-budget fan to really love ZOMBIE PIRATES, but it's a serviceable slab of schlock for Blind Dead fanatics to take a look at.

Zombie Pirate nomnoming on a victim.
Another thing of note: this was my first purchase at the launch of RETROMEDIA.TV, a new service from Fred Olen Ray's company. Available through Vimeo, the movies are available to rent (for $3.99 a week) or purchase. Never having tried digital purchasing through Vimeo, I was really pleased with the quality of the product. For $7.99 you get an MP4 file that looks incredibly sharp. While you can stream through Vimeo, it is currently not on the Roku that I use. I simply put the file on a USB stick and played through my blu-ray player. The service could be a huge boon to Funky Cinefiles ready to accept medialess purchase (I'm very hesitant, personally). With the promise of items like an uncut TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF ahead, I'm sure it will be something to watch.

While I can't comment on the DVD release of ZOMBIE PIRATES, I did notice that the Retromedia disc contains HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES/GHOST GALLEON as an extra. Now that is a great flick and will certainly help anyone befuddled by the main feature as to what the tribute mentioned on the box was all about.

Definitely a decent sign of things to come, the Retromedia empire is about to enjoy some digital dominance I hope!

Zombie Parrot says... OUTTA HERE. SQUAAAAAK!!! – David Zuzelo

ER 52 Sneak Peek and a Glimpse of What's Coming

Front & Back Wrap of ER #52!
Whew! That's pretty much all I can say.

Well, actually, I'm going to say some more.

At this moment the inside pages of Exploitation Retrospect #52 (?!) have been uploaded to CreateSpace and all we're waiting for is approval for the cover wrap (shown at right featuring artwork by Neil Vokes and colors by Matt Moore alongside a bevy of men's action novels from my shelves).

Once that happens the new issue will be available for sale through CreateSpace.com with other outlets like Amazon.com and Amazon.uk following suit.

I say that like I know what I'm talking about. This is actually our first on-demand publishing venture. ER #51 – still available directly from us – was an actual print project using small run, web-based publishers and it was pretty successful. We got great response to a zine that had been mothballed for over 13 years and to date there have been three press runs.

But I'm intrigued by the whole "on demand" printing concept, especially in light of how pals Tim Paxton and Brian Harris have embraced it for their Kronos Publications line featuring Weng's Chop and Monster!.

While the former has grown in size with each installment – the just-released Weng's Chop #6 weighs in at a whopping 200+ pages and is quite deserving of the "mega-zine" title – Paxton's revived Monster! has turned up with (infuriating) regularity since he announced its return. And while I'm not foolhardy enough to suggest that ER will return in anything resembling regularity, if this venture works out I'd guess that we'll be darkening your doorstep on a more regular basis than once every couple years.

And re-launching the print version of our sister publication The Hungover Gourmet, as well.

But enough about future plans. Let's talk about now! ER #52 is 64 pages (plus cover) of junk culture and fringe media glory complete with: David Zuzelo on Nikkatsu Erotic Cinema; Chuck Francisco examining the history of Nazi Zombie Cinema; Jonathan Plombon's explorations of WAVE Productions and the cult of death fetish films; a heaping helping of men's action (in both print and film); John Grace on Burt Lancaster: Big Screen Bully; and, reviews of the best (and worst) in sci-fi, horror and trashy sinema courtesy of a bulging review section.

Big thanks to all our contributors but special thanks to Neil Vokes and Matt Webb for the awesome cover art and to the man I affectionately call "Damn You!" David Zuzelo who pushed me over that last hump, told me it was okay to cut some stuff to get to print and sent down some of his Relentless HorrorDad Enthusiasm to help see the project across the finish line.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

1984-ATHON: THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL

Thanks to the folks at Forgotten Films for letting me participate in this week's 1984-Athon. Rather than review a beloved flick from that year – and what a year it was as I graduated high school and got my first Mac – I decided it was the perfect opportunity to pick a flick that had been staring at me from my office bookshelf for years. And so, I dusted off the Warner Bros. VHS big box, prayed the tape wouldn't break and strapped myself in for THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (1984, duh) directed by George Roy Hill and starring Diane Keaton and Klaus Kinski...

"The revolution doesn't just sit around and sunbathe, does it?"

The 1980s was definitely an age of best-selling novels being adapted into major motion pictures - with varying degrees of success. For every THE SHINING (1980) there's a FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). For every THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986) there's a BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY (1988). For every THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (1982) there's a trip to DUNE (1984). In other words, what happens when you yank the printed word from a reader's hands and splash it up on the big screen isn't always pretty. Or successful. George Roy Hill's boring 1984 adaptation of John Le Carre's 500-plus-page international bestseller THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL is no exception.

A woefully miscast Diane Keaton stars as Charlie, a pro-Palestine, American actress working on the London stage. While acting in a commercial shoot for Klaus Kinski's wine company (?!) she falls under the spell of Joseph (Yorgo Voyagis), a swarthy charmer she suspects is a Palestinian terrorist. Swept into his world of clandestine meetings, secret bouquets and masked speeches she discovers that it has all been a rouse to lure her into the ranks of Israeli operatives run by Martin Kurtz (the aforementioned Messr. Kinski)!

Turns out that the Israelis have captured Michel: Palestinian terrorist, brother of elusive bomb expert Khalil, and notorious ladykiller. (Literally. The Israeli agents tell Charlie that he sent one of his galpals on a flight with a suitcase full of boom-boom.) After giving Charlie a crash course in Michel 101 they blow him up and plant love letters and other evidence that will lead the Palestinians into thinking that Charlie is his lover and sympathetic to their cause. Which she was... earlier... until she caught a look at Joseph... looking all pensive and staring out windows.

Naturally, Kurtz's plan works (of course it does... it's Kinski!) and the Palestinians spirit Charlie to a horrible looking boot camp in Lebanon where she does some light cardio, assembles a rifle while blindfolded and leads her fellow guerillas in a rendition of "Downtown".

Hahahahaha... good times, good times.

But things get all real when they blow away a spy in front of her and ask her to deliver a bomb to some peacenik Israeli professor. Will Charlie deliver the bomb? Will she cheat on the memory of her dead non-boyfriend and sleep with his brother, the elusive Khalil? Will Joseph ever crack a smile?

You'll be hard pressed to care as whatever characterization, personality, intrigue and tension Le Carre's novel once possessed has been rung out of it by screenwriter Loring Mandel and director George Roy Hill, who delivers an uncharacteristically flat film that lacks any of the anarchic spark that fueled his best work.

Keaton – who seems completely out of her depth here – ping pongs between the flighty actress with a penchant for lying and a semi-pro spy whose hard-boiled line readings come off as unbelievable at best and laughable at worst. I spent most of the 130-minute running time wishing that the role had gone to someone who could have delivered the necessary blend of sex appeal and idealistic conviction the role requires. Think Susan Sarandon, Barbara Hershey, Jessica Harper or even Margot Kidder. Or, as my pal Bruce suggested, simply replace Keaton with a rock.

Keaton's not alone, though, as the usually charismatic Kinski delivers his lines in an over-caffeinated jibber-jabber frenzy (while stroking his hair) and Voyagis mopes around so much that I realized I liked him much better when I thought he was a filthy terrorist. Sami Frey, as the charming but deadly terrorist bomber Khalil, is the only character you wish would stick around. And he's a bomb making terrorist!!

Given the novel's length, complex storyline, vast array of characters and globe-hopping locations, one wonders if THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL wouldn't have been better suited to the then-popular 80s medium of the television mini-series. Spread over two or three nights the flick's storyline might have even made sense and scenes intended to build tension would have, you know, built tension.

As a longtime fan of both Hill and Kinski it surprised me how long I'd let THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL sit in its VHS big box cocoon on my office bookshelf. After watching it I made note to trust my gut more often.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Men Of Action... Assemble! Bolan and Remo to Battle for Big Screen Bragging Rights?

You can have your superhero movies... this was a great week to be a card-carrying Man Of Action.

First came the announcement that the grandaddy of the men's action novel – Mack Bolan aka The Executioner – was in development (again) for the silver screen. Bolan has been a property of interest in Hollywood pretty much since Don Pendleton debuted the character in 1969's WAR ON THE MAFIA.

Still chugging along thanks to a dozen or so new titles each year, Bolan has drawn the attention of everyone from Steve McQueen and Sly Stallone to Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and even Groot himself, Vin Diesel (that one I can't see). I even have several copies of 70s-era Bolan paperbacks with a flag on the cover trumpeting its imminent arrival as a "major film series".

Alas, the film series we all wanted never materialized – I'd still love to see a young, lean Burt Reynolds in the role – and I think fans had long given up hope of ever seeing Bolan on the big screen. Then news arrived that AVATAR sequel screenwriter Shane Salerno had obtained rights to the long-running series from the Pendleton estate and was pitching a gritty, action-oriented (though PG-13) trilogy showcasing the man who basically wrote the book for The Punisher.

While the news was met with enthusiasm by myself and fellow men's action lovers/Bolan fans, I think that we all were taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach given the series' lengthy flirtations with the silver screen.

And BAM! Like Bolan taking out a warehouse of oily thugs with a trusty rocket launcher we got word that not only had the trilogy found a studio with some background in the Men of Action market – Warner Bros. – but that the project had secured A-list talent in front of and behind the camera. Warner has locked up director Todd Phillips and – thanks to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – red hot Bradley Cooper as the lynchpins for what could be an action franchise to rival the Bonds and Bournes of the cinematic world.

Admittedly, I've grown to love Bolan – which wasn't easy after my first attempt at the character via the clunky TENNESSEE SMASH – so I'm thrilled to see him coming to a multiplex near me, in 2017-ish. (Which should coincide nicely with ER 53 featuring... MACK BOLAN!) But my initial thought upon hearing the news of A-list talent being attached to the character was the hope that maybe, just maybe, a blockbuster Bolan flick would result in Hollywood getting off their collective ass and making the movie I really wanted... a new Remo Williams/The Destroyer flick!

I've made no secret of my love for both Remo Williams (the book character) and the film REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. In fact, our new issue – out soon! – features cover boys Remo and Chiun imagined by award-winning illustrator Neil Vokes. And if any series lends itself to our turbulent times with its blend of action, sci-fi, martial arts, politics, bromance and satire it's The Destroyer.

So color me shocked when I pulled up Facebook on my phone this afternoon as I sat on the beach and saw ER scribe John Grace crow "this is even better news than the Mack Bolan movie". Even as I shaded the phone with my hand and squinted through my sea-spray-coated specs I knew exactly what he was talking about – a new Destroyer flick was in the works!

But it wasn't just the news that Sony was planning a new Remo big-screen adaptation that got my brain going, it was the news that longtime Destroyer fan Shane Black was attached to direct a script co-written by series author James Mullaney (he co-authored #88: THE ULTIMATE DEATH and went on to author novels #111 through #131 as well as several installments of THE NEW DESTROYER series).

Though both projects are in the early stages of development – no casting has been announced for either project besides Cooper as Bolan – and it will be a few years before we see either on the big screen, this was a good week to be a fan of The Men of Action!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SNOW JOB (1972)

SNOW JOB (1972) features a thin, transparent plot with Olympic gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy starring as a ski instructor who cooks up a plot to steal a quarter of a million dollars from the resort where he works.

He enlists his rich girlfriend (real life wife Daniele Gaubert) and an American pal (Cliff Potts) to help with the scheme and all's well until a charming insurance investigator played by Italian cinema legend Vittorio De Sica arrives to find the stolen cash.

Director George Englund takes his time with SNOW JOB's setup and heist, showcasing the skiing skills that made Killy an international star. Unfortunately, the skier is no actor and is largely outshone by both Potts and De Sica and has surprisingly little chemistry with his wife, who would disappear from the big screen after this flick.

Working from a script by first-time scribe Jeffrey Bloom (who would go on to write and direct such 80s schlock as BLOOD BEACH and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC), Englund somehow manages to make SNOW JOB feel both languid and rushed. Clocking in at an even 90 minutes, he crams the film's best part – Enrico Dolphi (De Sica) arriving in town to investigate the heist – into the last 15 or 20 minutes while too much time is spent watching Killy and Co. schush around the mountain to Jacques Loussier's jaunty score.

I suppose SNOW JOB is supposed to capture the same crackle as heist flicks like GRAND SLAM (1967) but Englund never creates much tension with either the robbery or its aftermath. If you've watched a couple of similar European "caper" flicks you're bound to see the twist coming from miles away. This was Killy's only dramatic role though he would make an ill-advised appearance as himself in the 1983 Jim Carrey dud COPPER MOUNTAIN, co-starring Alan Thicke and Dick Gautier.

Available via streaming on Warner Archive and Amazon, SNOW JOB is one of those obscure flicks that's itching for a proper remake.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

LUCIO FULCI: An Appreciation of the Italian Grandfather of Gore

Lucio Fulci would have turned 87 today. And while most gorehounds discovered his work thanks to his Golden Age of Gore that features such classics as ZOMBIE, THE GATES OF HELL and THE BEYOND, his lengthy career in Italian cinema stretches far beyond the genre in which he's frequently pigeonholed. A slightly different version of this appreciation of Fulci appeared in issue #24 of the late, lamented music/wrestling/smut/movie mag Carbon 14. 

Is it sad that I attach more sentiment to my memories of Lucio Fulci – The Italian Grandfather of Gore – than I do to my own ancestors? I suppose it isn't surprising when you consider their respective roles in my upbringing. All my grandparents were dead by the time I was a teenager, right around the time Grampy Lucio took my hand and guided me through his world of grindhouse cinema.

At the drive-in we sat in our lawn chairs, sipped cheap beer and watched GATES OF HELL (aka CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) as John Morghen got a drill through the head for being creepy, slow-witted and trusting. We cut classes at Drexel to venture to the Budco Midtown for something called SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH (aka THE BEYOND) which featured sinister spiders, nasty zombies, and another of Lucio's trademark head-scratcher endings. Good times, good times. And I haven't even mentioned the hours spent watching – and re-watching – flicks like ZOMBIE, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, MANHATTAN BABY and NEW YORK RIPPER.

But recently, something interesting has happened – I've discovered another side of Grampy Lucio. It's like flipping through your grandparents' photo album and realizing that the loose-looking flapper or the Zoot-suited hoodlum is actually the kindly old soul who bakes pies for holiday dinners or took you to the fishing hole for a lesson in baiting a hook.

Despite a filmography that's top-heavy with juicy, paint-the-screen-red titles like those mentioned above, Fulci was quite the cinematic chameleon. After toiling as a screenwriter and assistant director on a number of Italian comedies, he began his directorial career with THE THIEVES (1959) a flop that drove him into a succession of musical comedies, a genre that had become a worldwide sensation thanks to Elvis, Frankie and Annette. The influence of the early days of the James Bond series can even be seen in the mid-Sixties spy flick 002 OPERATION MOON, which can be found under numerous alternate titles like MOST SECRET AGENTS, OH! THOSE MOST SECRET AGENTS and WORST SECRET AGENTS.

Sergio Leone's landmark Spaghetti Western A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) may have been responsible for MASSCARE TIME (1966) a Franco Nero vehicle that represented Fulci's first foray into that genre.

As the swinging sixties came to a close, the director tackled one of his most complex and intricate tales, a thriller called ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER (1969, aka PERVERSION STORY). Having been raised on a steady diet of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma, it became apparent – after a ferociously upbeat jazz-scored credit sequence – that this would be a sinister tale of murder and misplaced accusations. It's got it all – the sick wife, the creepy sister-in-law, the two medications that if switched could prove fatal, the glory-hog doctor/anti-hero, and so on.

Once our victim checks out and signs start pointing to the handsome doc, Fulci kicks it into "innocent man wrongly accused" overdrive and we're left to ponder a number of questions as the story unfolds. Who's the hot blonde doppelganger doing the striptease on the motorcycle? Why is that guy shadowing our hero? Am I gonna get some Euro-lesbian action or WHAT?!

ONE ON TOP is actually one of those rare instance where I wish the flick was longer. Things are going along nicely with Fulci delivering an involving thriller despite some wooden acting and convoluted scenes. And then BLAM! It's like there's 45 minutes missing! Suddenly, our good doctor is on death row, it's getting near gas chamber time, the culprits appear to have gotten away with murder and then twists are layered on top of surprises... all delivered by a newsman talking into a microphone! It's like a comedy sketch where they've run out of money and just tell you what happens rather than show it.

Fulci's 1970s output jumped all over the cinematic map, ping-ponging between thrillers (LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) and Dario Argento-influenced giallos (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING and the haunting THE PSYCHIC) to westerns (FOUR GUNMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE) and horror comedies in the wake of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (DRACULA IN THE PROVINCES).

The success of 1979's ZOMBIE – which established Fulci as the premier Italian gore film director – was due in large part to the success of George Romero's landmark DAWN OF THE DEAD (1977). Produced in association with the legendary Argento, Romero's flick ignited Italy's Spaghetti Splatter industry and ushered in the grisly gorefests that would keep grindhouse fans and drive-in patrons glued to their seats for years to come.

But that didn't stop Fulci from detouring into strange and unexpected territory. 1980's CONTRABAND pulls back on the gore reins while setting up a tale of naïve smugglers who resist influences to get them involved in the drug trade. Fabio Testi stars as Luka, a family man/smuggler who enjoys a good life while throwing cops off his trail with exploding boats loaded with rubber dummies.

When a shadowy underworld figure known as The Margliese starts applying pressure to the heads of the crime families, Fulci shines and the flick perks up. There's an uncomfortable sequence where a chick gets her head set on fire for trying to pass bad drugs and when the villains kidnap Luka's wife the body count rises, double crosses ensue, surprise revelations are, um, revealed and the master paints the screen red in the gory shootout finale. Occasionally confusing but frequently entertaining, CONTRABAND is an unexpected crime-thriller with enough action and sadistic gore to keep viewers interested.

The period after CONTRABAND represents Fulci's landmark era of horror cinema. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) would be a "greatest hits" reel for most directors of the time and 1981's THE BEYOND is one of the most haunting (and gory) masterpieces of horror cinema. While HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) is no match for the genius of THE BEYOND, it's still an effective and creepy take on haunted houses – with a zombie thrown in for old times sake. MANHATTAN BABY and NEW YORK RIPPER (both 1982) veered into the then-popular slasher genre but received limited distribution and lukewarm receptions at the time.

Between 1983 and 1984, Fulci helmed two more out-of-left-field projects: the futuristic actioner THE NEW GLADIATORS and the sword-and-sci-fi "epic" CONQUEST. Though they would represent his last efforts outside the horror genre, both flicks are intriguing and entertaining in their own way.

Pre-dating Governor Schwarzenegger's THE RUNNING MAN by several years, THE NEW GLADIATORS mines the fertile post-apocalypse genre for a tale that mixes equal parts social commentary and barbaric sports flicks like DEATHRACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL. Due to slipping television ratings, the World Broadcasting System has resurrected the idea of gladiators for 'The Battle of the Damned'. In a nutshell, a dozen convicted killers battle it out with the survivor receiving their freedom.

To goose the ratings, Cortez (the guy running the whole shebang) decides that he needs a people's champion. So, they hire Drake (played by Jared Martin, later seen on the syndicated 'War of the Worlds' )... a pasty-faced, sunken-chest ween we're supposed to believe is the world's greatest 'Death Bike' champ. He's in prison for the murder of the guys that offed his young bride. Along for the ride is Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, who (I hope) amassed a small fortune acting in these things.

As expected, 'The Battle of The Damned' is the flick's price-of-admission highlight – competitors get gouged, set on fire, decapitated (in loving Fulci slow-mo) and generally abused. Like THE RUNNING MAN, THE NEW GLADIATORS features a mission to knock out a satellite, a maniacal man in charge, framed competitors, a "people's champion" and more.

While NEW GLADIATORS lets Fulci deliver social commentary with the bloodletting, CONQUEST is nothing but a good-time genre-splicing mish-mash that will either entertain or enrage you. Grafting snippets of the sword-and-sandal genre (think CONAN) with a certain well-known space opera, CONQUEST has it all. If by "all" you mean: a bevy of chimp/wolf creatures that are like the third cousin of Chewbacca, twice removed; female actresses that are either topless, covered in blood, drawn and quartered, or all of the above; cascades of blood; a couple decapitations; and, who can forget the "arrows" that appear to have been created by scratching the negative with a paper clip!

Fulci would direct a baker's dozen of theatrical and TV flicks – give or take – after these final non-horror outings, though none met with the acclaim of THE BEYOND and ZOMBIE. In March of 1996, just weeks before beginning pre-production on THE WAX MASK (eventually helmed by effects guru Sergio Stivaletti), Fulci died as a result of a diabetic attack.

While the very mention of his name conjures up images of flesh-eating zombies, sharp implements to the head and visions of the afterlife, don't let Lucio Fulci's rep as the Grandfather of Italian Gore fool you. Check out the surprising and unique cinematic detours that dot his impressive filmography.