1986. Italy. Dir. Ruggero Deodato
The mid-to-late 80s was a lean time for slasher movie fans. The classic era had come to an end, replaced with vacuous trash like Doom Asylum, Terror at Tenkiller and The Last Slumber Party.
Dark days indeed.
Thankfully, the last gasps of the dying Italian genre-film industry gave us a couple of classics to make up for American efforts like Psycho Cop and Iced. Dario Argento’s Opera, Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, and Lamberto Bava’s Delirium were typically Italian slasher flicks with one foot firmly planted in the giallo tradition. Not to be outdone, Ruggero Deodato turned in Bodycount, a film that desperately wants you to believe it’s American, but is fooling no-one.
But isn’t that part of the fun? I’m just happy to see a late 80s slasher that is at least trying to be a good film, and not some self-satisfied smugfest or shot-on-video bore. The perennially underrated Ruggero Deodato assembles an all-star cast of ageing Italian genre veterans into some kind of slasher movie supergroup, crankin’ out the hits one last time.
We’ve got David Hess (still playing an asshole) and Mimsy Farmer (still playing a neurotic woman-on-the-edge).
We’ve got Charles Napier with a jaw so big you could play poker on it. There are also small and completely inessential roles for giallo legends Ivan Rassimoff and John Steiner. Steiner plays a doctor who has a stethoscope surgically attached to his neck, while Rassimov is a cop who seems to have wandered in from a different film entirely.
In true slasher fashion, the film begins with a violent double murder, and then cuts to —
This is a big twist, because usually slasher films take place 5 YEARS LATER. Ah, those excessive 1980s. I blame all the cocaine.
Anyway, we are introduced to our heroes, and by ‘heroes’ I mean ‘assholes’.
Everyone is interchangeable, apart from the lady with the unique seduction technique of shoving stranger’s heads up her top.
The partying teens soon hook up with another carload of jerks, and the lot of them end up at Hess and Farmer’s campsite, much to the chagrin of the local fishermen.
‘You know what I think about democracy…let alone campers!’ sneers one guy in the film’s best/worst line (delete as applicable).
So far, so standard, but there’s something there. Something different, slightly…off. In a good way! The score, by Goblin alumni Claudio Simonetti, is an absolute beast — propulsive, danceable and ominous in equal measure.
The camerawork is frequently impressive, with a wealth of fancy tracking shots and beautiful panoramic vistas. If, like me, you’re a sucker for a mountainous woodland horror film, you’ll be in your element here.
And lets not forget our exploitable elements. Pretty much every female cast member strips off to take a shower in the most insalubrious shower-block you’ve ever seen, and the kills are wildly inventive and silly.
That’s one of my favourite things about Bodycount — Deodato stages the murders in ways that make absolutely no sense. The killer constantly appears from places he couldn’t possibly have been in. Inside police cars, behind mirrors, he’s everywhere, all the time, and I love it. I don’t watch these films for cast-iron logic. I want shocks and surprises, and Deodato has a ton of them up his sleeve. There’s even a murder that explicitly references Dario Argento’s giallo Four Flies on Grey Velvet, with a face reflected in a plunging knife.
You might not like the movie, but you can’t accuse the crew of not trying.
And boy, is that title appropriate or what? The body count never ends. Characters die or go missing, but their friends either don’t notice or don’t care, continuing to drink, party and do mountaintop aerobics.
There’s so many of them, it’s impossible to keep track of who’s who. I swear, every time it cuts back to our happy campers, there’s more of them, like they’re multiplying offscreen or somethin’. And if your tolerance for 80s teenagers isn’t as strong as mine, then don’t worry — the film devotes plenty of time to a Hess-Farmer-Napier love triangle subplot. Man, this film is the gift that keeps on giving.
I’m totally serious, by the way. Bodycount is never less than entertaining, and the last twenty minutes in particular are a whirlwind of outrageous deaths and set-pieces. There’s a dream sequence so absurd it belongs in a Lynch movie, where one character finds a severed head in a jar that suddenly comes to life and then he falls backwards and is trapped by a net and then a snake attacks him and then the snake EXPLODES INTO MAGGOTS and then…and then…sorry, I’m out of breath.
Bodycount will do that to you. It’s all part of the charm.
Look, it’s never gonna be hailed as a classic, but I loved every mad second of the film, from the pointless opening kills to the preposterous Scooby Doo ending. Deodato would go on to make even wackier films, like the insanely entertaining killer telephone movie DIAL: HELP, but Bodycount will always be my second favourite of his movies (after Cannibal Holocaust, ‘natch.) It’s just a pity the film has never even been remastered for DVD, never mind Blu-ray! The print under review is from the fullscreen, smeary, overly dark VHS, and this is, as far as I know, currently the only way to watch the movie until some heroic label swoops in to the rescue.
My fingers remain forever crossed.
As a final note, here’s my favourite shot of the film, in which our gormless heroes look like an eighties jangle-pop band posing for their first album cover.
Bodycount — will you marry me?
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. A lifelong devotee of horror, his first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
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A group of desperate student filmmakers break into Crawford Manor for an unauthorised night shoot. They have no choice. Their lead actress has quit. They’re out of time. They’re out of money.
They’re out of luck.
For Crawford Manor has a past that won’t stay dead, and the crew are about to come face-to-face with the hideous secret that stalks the halls.
Will anyone survive…the NIGHT SHOOT?
A delirious homage to the slasher movies of the 1980s, Night Shoot delivers page after page of white-knuckle terror.