If you missed the first half of this list, you can read it here. The rest of you, come along—before we’re done, things will go gloriously downhill…
The Grapes of Death (1978)
A glance at French director Jean Rollin’s sprawling filmography (fifty-one films since 1958) reveals titles such as The Rape of the Vampire, Caged Virgins, Hard Penetration, and Discosex. I haven’t seen any of these films nor do I plan to do so, but if The Grapes of Death is any indication, there must be something among that sea of sleaze worth watching.
IMDB describes the plot of Grapes thusly: “A young woman discovers that the pesticide being sprayed on vineyards is turning people into killer zombies.” That’s it in a nutshell and there is little need to expound upon such succinctness. Grapes is a slow-burn, gradually moving along—some would say creeping—tossing in the occasional blood-spattered T&A sequence and offering some truly beautiful lingering shots of the French countryside along the way, ramping up at last to a zombie-filled final act that pulls out all the stops and delivers some truly horrific moments of grand guignol.
The Grapes of Death is at times trashy. This is no surprise, given Rollin’s other work, but it’s also elegant and classy, atmospheric and, at times, genuinely creepy.
Nightmare City (1980)
I really don’t want to hear any nonsense about this not being a zombie movie because the things in it run and wield knives and carry machine guns and fly planes.
Sure, sure—they’re mutants, not zombies, and let’s talk about 28 Days Later while we’re at it, okay? That’s not a zombie movie, either, I know, I’ve heard, but never you mind that Night of the Living Dead wasn’t a zombie movie when it was released in 1968, either. Zombies were, to quote Romero, “those guys in the Caribbean doing Lugosi’s wet work,” until he redefined them.
Nightmare City, also known as City of the Walking Dead, is a zombie movie. And so is 28 Days Later. Now get the hell out of here and let me finish. This list isn’t for you, anyway—I said that at the start of this mess.
Where were we? Oh, yeah:
Not the Nazi-killing Basterd of the same name—the Mexican actor for whom the Nazi-killing Basterd was named. Stiglitz plays Dean Miller, a reporter awaiting the arrival of a scientist that he is supposed to interview regarding, oh… I don’t remember. Something to do with nuclear power, I think. An unmarked plane makes an emergency landing, spilling the aforementioned swift and well-armed mutants onto the runway, where they hack and stab and lap up spilled blood. Miller gets away and brings news of the attack back to his station manager, and for a while there’s some speculation that the creatures are extraterrestrial in nature.
No such luck—it’s radiation, man, and as the terror spreads, Miller rescues his wife, a doctor, and the two hit the road, where they pontificate on the nature of man and all, and are soon pursued once more by the hatchet-wielding, blood-drinking mud-faced zombie mutant things. The climax takes place in an amusement park, just like Zombieland only not nearly as idiotic, but the final scene is guaranteed to make you moan loudly and/or throw something at the television, so don’t watch it with your cat in your lap and if you have one of them fancy newfangled plasma screens, you should probably hide the remote and keep a Nerf ball handy.
Director Umberto Lenzi apparently wasn’t happy that he was stuck with Stiglitz as his dashing bearded lead, but what does he know? In the interviews accompanying the widescreen DVD release of Nightmare City, Lenzi tries to draw some poignant comparisons between his 1980 zombie mutant movie and the AIDS epidemic. “It could happen,” Lenzi says. “And I’d like to say that it did happen.”
Yeah, because AIDS patients are always storming television studios with machetes and hacking up the Solid Gold knockoff dancing girls. This, kids, is why you should always use protection.
Its obvious shortcomings notwithstanding, Nightmare City is actually the most entertaining movie on this list.
Hell of the Living Dead (1980)
There’s a misconception that most Italian zombie flicks are nothing more than rip-offs of Dawn of the Dead. Released in Italy as Zombi, Dawn of the Dead certainly did usher in a new era of Italian zombie horror. Fulci’s Zombie was released there as Zombi 2, so as to inspire confusion in its target audience, and several Zombi sequels followed, none of which were, appropriately enough, actual sequels to Zombi 2. While these films certainly rode the post-Dawn zombie wave, they actually bear little in common with that film. Aside from borrowing some imagery here and there and lifting Romero’s flesh-eating, shoot-them-in-the-head shamblers, the makers of these films did, for the most part, try to do their own thing.
And then there’s the perfectly-titled Hell of the Living Dead. The plot isn’t really worth going into. It’s got something to do with a nuclear power plant mishap, or something, and then there are blue-gray-faced zombies in the jungle, all of which seem to have loafed off the Monroeville Mall set of Dawn of the Dead and into, well, wherever the hell they shot this movie… a movie that you should probably never view under any circumstances…
Unless maybe you’re a masochist or just plain drunk-bordering-on-death-from-alcohol-poisoning, in which case the movie’s SWAT heroes and unauthorized use of Goblin’s excellent Dawn of the Dead score will confuse you into thinking that something has gone terribly wrong and Romero’s classic is now awful and unwatchable and bursting at the bloody seams with stock footage of animals leaping in slow motion and gruesome tribal burial footage ripped from some rancid seventies Mondo flick.
And then you’ll die crying.
Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)
I really can’t bring myself to say much about this film. It is god-awful. Not quite as god-awful as our previous topic of discussion, but awfully god-awful nonetheless. Unlike Hell of the Living Dead, Burial Ground can (and should) be screened at your next party without fear that folks will drift away and you’ll be left alone with a vat of popcorn and all that sweet, sweet firewater. No—quite the opposite. Put this bastard on and folks will stop talking and converge around your television. Slack-jawed confusion will give way to explosive bursts of incredulous laughter, and by night’s end you just may have an orgy on your hands.
Highlights include an FX budget so shoestring that one of the standout zombies is someone wearing a Boris Karloff Frankenstein’s Creature Halloween mask spruced up with a little dirt and latex and a disturbingly oedipal subplot involving a mother and her young son, played by, uh…
Ruin one of the greatest WTF moments in film history? Not I! You’ll have to take my word for it: drop everything you’re doing right now and see this damned movie.
Come to think of it, maybe you should just Google Image Peter Bark, the actor who portrayed the little boy who just loved his mama’s breasts, like when he was a baby. I’ll wait.
R.J. Sevin got into this zombie nonsense when he was ten years old. He’s pushing forty now and his mom keeps assuring him that she’d really hoped he would have “outgrown all of that by now.” His nonfiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Dark Discoveries, Fear Zone, and Famous Monsters Online. His short fiction has appeared in Bits of the Dead, Postcards from Hell, and The Living Dead 2, with an upcoming appearance in Cemetery Dance.
He and his wife run Creeping Hemlock Press, a New Orleans-based specialty press offering fine limited editions of tasty genre books. In addition to an upcoming release of Campus Tramp, a long out-of-print Lawrence Block smut novel, they will soon launch a new imprint, Print is Dead, a line of, wait for it… zombie novels.