This film, unsurprisingly, is not that well known outside of cult circles. The director is- even if you haven’t seen his films, you will have frequently seen his name mentioned in the horror press at some point or another – Joe D’Amato. D’Amato has directed nearly 200 films across a variety of genres; including an astonishing nine alone in 1980, the year of this film- being best known to horror fans for his exploitative and pornographic output; including Anthropophagous, Buio Omega and Porno Holocaust. Directing his first film in 1972 (More Sexy Canterbury Tales) it would be only a year before he moved in horror based territory with the giallo Death Smiles at a Murderer. This led him into his initial soft-core and horror phase that included several Emmanuelle rip-offs such as Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals.
From a critical and career perspective, D’Amato is a strange one, boasting a strong pedigree- having worked with the likes of Dallamano, Fulci, and Mattei behind the camera in his career- his horror output never reached the highs nor the quality of any of these names. As the director’s career would show, he would fade back into relative obscurity, resigned to directing porn until the end. Although by all accounts if it was profitable then this is all that mattered to the man, and that mantra certainly is evidence.
Of course to us zombiphiles it is this film, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, which interests us- a hardcore porno mixed with, when the rutting allows it, the odd scene of zombie horror. Interestingly enough, and no doubt for reasons akin to economies of scale, this film was shot in the same location, with practically the same cast as D’Amato’s Porno Holocaust (1980); providing an extreme, yet perfect example of this director’s desire for profit over production values or even demands of individual films.
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead follows property developer and human hard-on John Wilson (Mark Shannon – Porno Holocaust, The Porno Killers) as he attempts to purchase a supposedly deserted Caribbean Island to be transformed into a holiday resort. Wilson enlists the help of sailboat captain Larry (played by the massive George Eastman aka Luigi Montefiore, who also wrote this film under his writing name Tom Salina – Antropophagus, Absurd) and rather oddly his sexy hotel room neighbour Fiona (Dirce Funari – Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals), whose only purpose on the trip is to seemingly service the gentlemen on board. Upon reaching the, seemingly, deserted Cat Island, it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems. John Wilson and co. come across a blind old man and his ghostly grand-daughter Luna (genre star Laura Gemser – Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Women’s Prison Massacre), who warn them to stay away but to no avail and the living dead soon appear to protect their land.
Now I know what you are thinking- this synopsis doesn’t sound too bad, if a little derivative of some other, more famous Italian zombie movies- but let me tell you, there is a reason that this film is still only known to the hardcore and for the hardcore.
Beginning in a mental institute the film barely takes three and a half minutes before some sexual activity occurs between two patients (Larry and Fiona) before a sudden quick cut to a luxury yacht out deep sea fishing. If that sounds like bad editing, either stay away or get used to it, for it will happen a lot in this film- which for the first hour is almost a mish-mash of scenes, predominantly sexual. What’s more if you are a person who can’t stand bad dubbing (Bob from the House by the Cemetery excluded) then again you should stay away from this film. In some scenes it appears the mouths aren’t even moving, but that’s the least of this film’s problems.
It takes around 13 minutes for any zombie action at all (complete with terrible acting). This is interspersed with a quick scene in a casino followed by yet another sex scene- this one a full on hardcore one with both oral and penetrative sex, which took even me by surprise due to it’s graphic nature of a threesome. But at least the writer penned an unintentionally hilarious line as the two prostitutes’ ran from the room, not due to Mark Shannon’s hideous warty testicles (which as the viewer you will have a front row seat to), but because he asked about Cat Island. This seemingly innocent question causing them to flee and be pursued by Shannon’s character shouting “wait a minute you dumb whores, you forgot your money!” down the hotel corridor. But never fear, rather than any guests lambasting him for his oh-so-subtle behaviour, his alluring neighbour Fiona actually is seduced by it.
By 25 minutes into the film, you are starting to forget you are even watching a zombie film as the sex scenes come thicker and faster than a teenage Peter North, and I start to doubt my own critical analysis and consider reviewing this as porno instead of a horror. Thankfully my own self doubt is quickly erased as I remember I put this film on for gut munching not cock munching, and thankfully it does also deliver the later.
Eventually some zombie action re-occurs and the make up of the morgue zombie sets the benchmark for the make up in the rest of the film. Sadly though it’s a benchmark that won’t be reached as even ‘Flowerpot’ zombies are too creative for this film, where the budget was most likely spent on lube than latex.
Another issue with the film, and its 1 hour 50 odd minutes running time, is that many of these sex scenes (and others to be fair) drag on too much and some are just bizarre; such as a stripper inserting and uncorking a bottle of champagne with her vagina, exploitation and sleaze with no justification to the film at all but which no doubt titillated the audience at the time. Once our merry band of protagonists (can we even call them that?) reach the island things do improve very slightly, but the core of the movie remains the same. Although the film introduces (but does not explain) a supernatural element to the film in the form of what can only be described as a ghost and a cat that possesses the strangest meow I have ever heard. Taking well over an hour before it gets going, it’s sad to say that even by removing the first 75% of the film you won’t have enough shots for a decent zombie short film. The long running time does not justify the three to four horror money shots that litter the film- but the out of no where blow job scene does come close- even if viewers can find that kind of action from many other films if they looked around.
But what of the zombies I hear you moaning, tell us more about them in this film, after all they are in the title so there must be some decent action? Well yes and no. There are perhaps three or four memorable scenes in the the whole film as previously stated but on the whole for the very little screen time the zombies get they tend to prefer to walk around in slow motion simply looking like peasants from the developing world. Like almost every other character in the film they are partial to human flesh, and in line with the movie that kick started the Italian zombie splatter cycle these are voodoo inspired creatures who can only be stopped with a bullet to the head or fire. When put down in writing it all sounds very promising, which is what makes it even more disappointing when you watch the film. In this movie, the sex is far more important than the horror, with many critics calling it sleazy. But I would also add it will appear distasteful and misguided to many of today’s audience.
The use of jump cuts, in particular between sex and horror scenes is a strange one, offering an almost juxtaposition of libido (life) and death but these actions also pose the worrying question of whether they are just haphazardly cut together with no real thought or it D’Amato wants us to relate violence and sexual pleasure. From the evidence I would argue for the latter- with particular reference to the infamous blow job scene. Although don’t be fooled, this is no promiscuity means death moral tale, as everyone is at it in this film, regardless. Interestingly, the “awkward mixture of soft-core and hard-core footage is the result of D’Amato being forced to go back and shoot additional hard-core material at the insistence of his distributor” (Blumberg and Hershberger, 2006) . So on the face of it, it would be easy to justify the poor editing choices and sexual focus as a result of external demands. However, simply looking at the back catalogue of D’Amato, one must think he really did make the film he set out to make- a film which placed a quick return ahead of lasting quality- and that is evident when audiences revisit it today.
Filled with poor dialogue, convenient character actions and very little horror but much sex, this is a terrible film no matter how you approach it. Although there are moments that work, and despite its lack of quality there is something more than competent about D’Amato’s work which begs further questions about his motivations and effort. What works about this film however is the music. Sometimes it lends a more sensual and emotional aspect to the film (similar to that of Cannibal Holocaust) hinting at a deeper meaning, despite the viewer knowing none exists and can see none exists. While Eastman has a strong screen presence helping to pull the film through. As for the violence, or what little there is of it, is more hit than miss, but that is not enough in an over-long, crass, ugly and cheap production that will appeal only to the most hardcore of fans. For those of you looking for more zombie hardcore action, perhaps check out D’Amato’s Porno Holocaust from the same year.
I watched the extended cut of the film and the terrible alternative ending, but would advise people to find the shortest version possible if you must watch it.
The best way to describe this film is to use an Italian saying, Mi fa cagare!
This piece was originally featured on the zombipedia.com blog site which has now been incorporated into the Gore Splattered Corner, bringing its undead goodness to a wider audience.