Even though he suffered a severe emotional trauma as a youth when he was forced to clean out a filthy guinea pig cage, Judge Bill Gibron managed to survive this sextet of man vs. nature extravaganzas.
Our reviews of The Bela Lugosi Collection (published September 26th, 2005), The Cat O' Nine Tails (Blu-ray) (published May 31st, 2011), Parasite (published December 4th, 2002), Rats: Night Of Terror (published July 5th, 2002), and Slugs (published November 14th, 2000) are also available.
Lions, and tigers, and bears…and slugs, and cats, and dogs, and parasites, and rats, and…sexually confused killers, oh my!
They say that a dog is man's best friend. They say that people don't own cats, but that cats own their so-called masters. They also argue that butterflies are free, that mares eat oats and does eat oats, but little lambs eat ivy, and if you take away their wings, the birds will have to walk to get around. Animals and man have such a longstanding species peace treaty that to see it turn violent and ugly is not very pretty—entertaining and eerie, maybe, perhaps even a bit sinister and shivery. But overall, humans and their four-legged (or webbed, or segmented) friends are happier when they all just get along. Still, the horror genre is filled with films where the little critters of the land decide to get back at people for stealing their milk, domesticating their wilder instincts, and forcing them to feast on ersatz nourishment like Gaines Burgers (or the dreaded, meat "by-product"…ewww!). Thanks to Anchor Bay and their ongoing box-set scheme, we get a six-pack of nature gone nutty (well, a five-pack plus a Dario Argento giallo) that reminds us that sometimes, the beasties of the backwoods are not our pals. On occasion, they can turn into Man's Worst Friends.
Facts of the Case
• Parasite (1982):
• Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1977):
• The Black Cat (1981):
• Slugs (1987):
• Cat O' Nine Tails (1971):
• Rats: Night of Terror (1984):
Sometimes, when you're saddled with a collection of below-par motion pictures, you've got to find something to keep your cinematic spirits up. Bad films can foul your mood worse than an excess of sugar or a lack of caffeine (or any combination thereof). If you're not careful, they can undermine your very belief in the benefits of movies as entertainment. That is why the "Saving Grace" was invented. It allows for schlock film fans to cuddle up to even the most repellant cesspool of celluloid and walk away with most of their sanity intact. Though the six films in this set offer differing levels of lethalness (and a couple couldn't kill a fly if they tried), this review will still provide a calming charm for each movie. Remember them as you dive into the impending idiocy, or use them as a kind of logic life preserver when your tolerance for irrationality and inanity has worn out. They may be able to save your filmic soul, even if your principles are parched along the way. Let's start with one of the most worrisome wastes in the box:
For those who fancy Demi Moore, she is indeed here to turn on the titillation. But be warned: this is the frail—and decidedly flat-chested—St. Elmo's Fire version of the future vixen at play in this puke. Still, she is the only interesting thing here—unless your idea of fun is seeing a great stage and screen star—Guys and Dolls' definitive Adelaide, Vivian Blaine—slumming away for scale. The effects are laughable (Troma's Penis Monster is more realistic) and the overall atmosphere replicates a kind of Six-Gun Territory version of The Deadly Spawn. This is no-budget bullspit at its most limited and lousy. When even your title terror can't pull off a decent death scene, there's no reason to stick around for this faux Futureworld foolishness.
• Zoltan: Hound of Dracula
But one minor plot point almost singlehandedly saves the film. During the initial dog/Dracula material, our title hound snacks on a random puppy. The poor pooch is found and, since his undead status is unclear, he gets buried. Frankly, you haven't lived until you've seen a baby German Shepherd rising from the grave. As the ground moves and the infant furball's sound effects reverberate across the soundtrack, we get that classic scene from the time-honored monster movie tradition of the creature crawling out of the dirt. Naturally, it's a tiny little bundle of oatmeal-scented love, and it's absolutely hilarious. Later on, after the carnage is completed and all seems right with the world, we are treated to a return of the vampire puppy, and his closing shot is another certified scene-stealer. This obvious puppet, with a mouth full of jagged, snaggled teeth, gives the camera a full on close-up and as the eyes glow with demonic glee, our Hellspawn hound snarls with full fake-tongue action. It's aces. Too bad the rest of the film couldn't be this much crazy, campy fun. A vampire puppy is pure genius. The rest of Zoltan is utter garbage.
• The Black Cat
Fulci's flummoxing way with a storyline doesn't really rob this movie of its plentiful pleasures. Up to his usual tricks, the director devises several splattery death scenes with people finding their faces, hands, and bodies sliced open by little cat's feet. There is also a nasty bit of immolation, a moldering nude corpse, and a drunk doing a swan dive onto some construction spikes. As the mystery gets more and more muddled, Patrick Magee (of A Clockwork Orange fame) gets more and more Method, shivering and simmering under some of the rummiest eyes this side of Oliver Reed (if the guy didn't/doesn't drink, he should start). The rest of the cast (including a few Fulci faves) all play it straight, believing 100 percent that a kitten with a killing complex can actually turn adults into tender vittles. It may not pay off in a rational or reasonable manner (and the last minute bow to Poe's original tale is a stretch at best), but we sure do enjoy the ride along the way.
Simon offers up the most quarrelsome, confrontational set of characters in the history of a horror film. Every individual we meet has a chip on their shoulder the size of a sump pump, and can't seem to get over the fact that there are people with power over and around them. Like office politics gone potty, the Health Inspector hates the sheriff, the sheriff hates the Sanitation chief, both dislike the Water commissioner, and the Mayor ain't too happy with the lot of them. These pencil-pushing putzes argue incessantly among themselves as the citizenry gets chewed up by leeches with issues. Perhaps part of the problem with these peons is they are all saddled with gloriously unattractive shrews for wives. Our garbage man in particular has a spouse who looks 58 (as well as capable of taking him, two out of three falls) while a friend is hampered by a harpy with a constant Cognac buzz on. In many cases, the slaughtering slugs are godsends for the people they peel and eat. Add in some delicious gore (including a stellar exploding head) and lots of dizzyingly dumb dialogue ("Killer Slugs!!! What's next? Demented Crickets???"), and you've got a wonderfully warped view of gardening's grosser side.
• Cat O'Nine Tails
There are a few mistakes here and there. The character of the niece is kind of annoying, since she appears to have no other purpose than to provide a last act threat for the blind man to overcome. Also, the storyline gets convoluted along the way, especially with all the discussion about XX/XY chromosomes and the link to violent behavior. Individuals anxious to see Argento lay on the grue will be disappointed in the rather tame bloodletting this film offers. And the overall feeling is kind of forced, with the plot pushing along the individuals involved, not the other way around. Still, as the best movie in this box set, Cat O'Nine Tails deserves your attention. It shows a new artist getting a handle on his muse, and a pair of expert actors showing how it is done. It is easy to see why this film found the Mediterranean master labeled the Italian Hitchcock. Dario Argento is just that good.
• Rats: Night of Terror
And then there are the rats—or the oversized hamsters painted up to look like gray turds. These beasts are not bad, they're adorable—in a slimy, beady-eyed sort of way. They have to be thrown at the actors to fake angry attacks, and are so apathetic most of the time that the movie could be called Attack of the Killer Snow-Pea Pods and it would be just as scary. In a move atypical for director Bruno Mattei, there is minimal gore here. Sure we see a couple of mangled corpses, and one of our nomadic hoodlums burns up real good, but mostly, we are treated to red splotchy clothing and faces full of fake fur as the effects highlights. The ending will leave you scratching your head, the dialogue is the very definition of ersatz action scripting, and the performances range for over the top to hilariously hysterical. Sadly, this movie just can't manage to get itself over into the "so bad it's good" category of crap. Instead, it's an endurance test laced with many mouse droppings. The only future up for grabs in this dreary little drivel is your propensity to ever look at Italian horror films the same way again.
As a box set, this is a true 50/50 deal. Half the set is worth a look—Slugs, The Black Cat, and Cat O'Nine Tails topping the list. The other half is terrible, junk that gives the concept of a cinematic compost heap a bad name. In reality, Parasite and Rats are about the same, so if you like seeing bad attempts at post-apocalyptic social commentary, or various unattractive actors and actresses running around like runners-up in the Loverboy costume contest, you may also get a hoot or two out of these films. Sadly, Zoltan is a true hunk of garbage, a smelly-dog flop that no amount of vampire puppydom can cure. If push comes to shove, a horror buff should pick up this set. They will have fun with more than 50 percent of the offerings, and the others can be pawned off on friends as holiday presents or personal bribes.
As for the overall tech specs, let's label them as sporadic and leave it at that. Specifically, Parasite is 2.00:1 anamorphic widescreen that truly looks terrible. That's because this was once a 3-D spectacular and the out-of-focus facets from that outdated gimmick really gimp up the picture. Zoltan is 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen and has a TV-movie-esque feel, flat and lifeless. Cat O'Nine Tails and Black Cat are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Tails is terrific, while Black has some scratches and dirt. Slugs and Rats: Night of Terror are 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and both look great. On the sound side, there is nothing outstanding to report here. Parasite is Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1; Zoltan, Black Cat, Slugs, and Rats: Night of Terror are Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 Mono, and Cat O'Nine Tails is Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0.
If you're looking for added features, you are barking up the wrong box set. There are trailers on all six films. Only a few have anything more. Black Cat has a Fulci biography (text only), while Rats offers a nine-minute interview with director Bruno Mattei in which he discusses Rats and Virus (Hell of the Living Dead). Cat O'Nine Tails is the most fleshed out, with an interview with Argento, writer Dardano Sacchetti, and composer Ennio Morricone, trailers, TV spots, radio spots, radio interviews with Karl Malden and James Franciscus, and a Poster Art/Still Gallery as part of its package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It needs to be said one more time—Dario Argento's Cat O'Nine Tails does not belong here. The other five films have killer critters at their center. This movie just has a misleading name, and a connection to two other non-bestial entries in Argento's Animal Trilogy (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Gray Velvet).
So the next time you think your ferret is giving you the evil eye, if the gnats buzzing around your head appear to be conspiring against you, and if the albino cat in your fish tank appears poised to strike at your jugular vein, perhaps you should see a psychiatrist. Or maybe, you could pick up a copy of the Fright Pack: Man's Worst Friends from Anchor Bay. There, you will learn that stopping a blood-hungry dog is as easy as driving a large piece of wood through its belly, that slugs hate scientists with forced British accents, and cats can't stand it when their master overacts. While these lessons may not help you the next time your raccoon gets his chainsaw going, they may aid in settling some of your worst nature-based fears. Apparently, no matter how high the odds are against it, man always seems to win—unless, of course, you're talking about a post-apocalyptic landscape where mutant mice and oversized gut worms want you dead. That is one frigged-up future that no one can survive.
Okay, in a split decision, Cat O'Nine Tails, Slugs, and The Black Cat are all free to go. Parasite and Rats: Night of Terror are all held over for further action from the court. Sadly, Zoltan will be put to sleep, while his puppy will be placed in Hell Hound Foster Care. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice, The Cat O' Nine Tails
Perp Profile, The Cat O' Nine Tails
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, The Cat O' Nine Tails
• Interviews with Director Dario Argento, Writer Dardano Sacchetti, and Music Composer Ennio Morricone
Scales of Justice, Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
Perp Profile, Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula
Scales of Justice, The Black Cat
Perp Profile, The Black Cat
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, The Black Cat
Scales of Justice, Parasite
Perp Profile, Parasite
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Parasite
Scales of Justice, Rats: Night Of Terror
Perp Profile, Rats: Night Of Terror
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Rats: Night Of Terror
• "Hell Rats of the Living Dead" -- Bruno Mattei Interview Featurette
Scales of Justice, Slugs
Perp Profile, Slugs
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Slugs
• IMDb: Parasite
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