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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Morituris (2011) review



Andrea Di Bruyin (Morituris #1), Valentina D'Andrea (Morituris #2),  Desiree Giorgetti (Morituris #3), Giuseppe Nitti (Morituris #4), Simone Ripanti (Morituris #5), Francesco Malcom Trulli (Jacques), Bianca Ciocca (Manicurist), Mariano Baffi (Trace), Carlo Di Angelis (Secutor), Flavio Fortuna (Caronte), Adriano Malloni (Rizario), Franesco Bernardini (Mirmilloni)

Directed by Raffaele Picchio

The Short Version: After a decades long slumber with infrequent revivification, Italian horror returns once more in an effort to reclaim its nasty horror crown it wore proudly in the 1980s.  MORITURIS (Latin for Those Who Must Die) is ensnared by a horrifically messy script, and thrown to the lions for the amusement of no one. The past and present clash when three Italian men pick up two Romanian hitchhikers and subject them to rape and torture till five undead Roman combatants appear and attack everybody. If that strange marriage of ideas weren't stupefying enough, this wildly offensive trash attempts to mask its sadism as a political statement(!), tying itself to a real crime, that, as it happened, didn't involve zombie gladiators from beyond the grave. Et tu, movie?

***WARNING! This review contains imagery of nudity and gore***

Three Italian men pick up two Romanian women with the intent of attending an all night rave party. Unfortunately for the two ladies, the evening itinerary doesn't include the sort of party they expect, but one of rape and torture in an isolated area of a forest. What the group doesn't realize is this particular spot is host to an ancient Roman burial ground where five rebellious, and murderous gladiators were put to bloody rest. Upon setting foot on their grave, the five undead arena warriors rise and subject both the men and the women to their own brand of persecution.

Beginning with a strange loop of 8mm home movies from the 1970s that show a family out on a picnic, these clips (who exactly is running them is never revealed) end with the threat of pedophilia before some offscreen menace massacres everyone. The camera moves over the corpses (again, who is filming this?), resting on the sight of a grave marker with the Latin 'Hic Sunt Leones', or 'Lions Sleep Here' engraved on it. The title appears, then things switch to a gruesome opening credits sequence in ancient Rome that may befuddle audience members as to what sort of movie they are about to see. Having now finally seen this under-the-radar Italo horror, MORITURIS is one of the most morally bankrupt, sloppily handled examples of Euro horror ever conceived; although, ironically enough, one not without some points of interest.

In many Italian genre pictures of old, there's always this seemingly irresistible desire to make a political statement as opposed to making a straightforward movie. For director Picchio's picture that mixes true crime with zombie gladiators, he and scripter Gianluigi Perrone fail spectacularly at both. There are a great many reasons to avoid MORITURIS, and a few reasons to satisfy ones curiosity by viewing it at least once. It all depends on where your loyalties lie where Euro horror is concerned. But since this soulless film has mostly extraneous links to an actual crime, it helps to know a bit about said crime in order to put Picchio's movie into perspective.

The Circeo Massacre of 1975 involved three men who coerced two young girls (one 17, the other 19) into attending a party at a villa in San Felice Circeo. It was anything but a party as the men instead subjected the young girls to rape and torture for nearly two days. One girl died while the other managed to escape by feigning death. She died in December 2005. Incidentally, one of the murderers, Angelo Izzo, was released on parole earlier that year in '05 and proceeded to kill again, this time targeting a woman and her 14 year old daughter. As of 2009, he now serves a life sentence. In another surprising turn, the third killer, Gianni Guido, was released in August of '09. Andrea Gyra, the first of the murderers, used an alias (Jacques, like the one named in the film), and is believed to still be alive despite DNA evidence to the contrary and statements of sightings in other countries.

To have made a film about this true crime would have been much more satisfying than the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) nonsense Picchio indulges in -- beginning his film one way, and ending up as something else. MORITURIS succeeds at neither. Borrowing heavily from a variety of sources, one of the most obvious is Wes Craven's infamous THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).

The Circeo Massacre likewise provided an escape route for sensationalized brutality in a handful of Italian crime pictures in the 1970s; the most savage of which would likely be Sergio Grieco's VIOLENCE FOR KICKS (1975). The violation of women in that film mirrors the extremes present in Picchio's movie. A scene in Grieco's film where a woman has her face furiously raked across barbed wire before she's raped comes to mind in comparison to similar scenes in MORITURIS. For example, a woman is forced to fellate a man, then kicked in the stomach repeatedly till she pukes up the semen he deposited; a short distance away, her friend is violated with scissors before she's raped. This is not graphically shown, but still disturbing. 

Another scene finds a woman tied down naked and tortured with acid dripped onto her belly. Her inquisitor then inserts a mouse into her vaginal region with a tube. This sequence tries for artistry by taking place in front of a projection screen where a torture scene from Massimo Pupillo's BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) is playing.

Picchio, like other Italian exploitation filmmakers, was seemingly influenced by Wes Craven's THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). They may want their film to feel more important by parallels to a real-life tragedy, but comparisons with Craven's notorious tale of barbarism are even more inescapable the way Picchio handles his scenario. What's interesting to note is that Italian filmmakers (and Picchio haphazardly does it here), particularly of the left wing, love to make social class comparisons towards so-called wealthy oppressors and their less privileged victims. In this case, it's the upper class strata of the killers in the original case. Craven's LAST HOUSE, which this film clearly imitates, is a reverse of this when the upper class must turn barbaric to counter Krug and his cronies whose only means of attaining anything in life is to take it, and inflict pain while doing it. 

That is an entirely different piece altogether, but the point is, Picchio and his writer want to make a horror movie with societal relevance, and they do a miserable job of it. Political propaganda was more palpable in some of the above-mentioned 70s crime movies, but here, it's more of a ruse to do an Italian version of LAST HOUSE with a dash of HOSTEL (2005) thrown into the mix. Coincidentally, there had already been a newer LAST HOUSE styled horror in Italy with 2006's THE LAST HOUSE IN THE WOODS; the difference being there were no zombie gladiators in that one. Which brings us to what should be the bread and (circuses?) butter of this moribund movie.

The gladiatorial slasher portion of MORITURIS feels an awful lot like TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971), but without the moldy corpses; or Amando De Ossorio's creative ingenuity for that matter. The same thing happens -- a group of people stumble onto an ancient burial place and the dead rise to attack. Only here, the zombies look like muscle men wearing Roman gladiator attire with dust all over them. Aside from a closeup of a mouth with jagged teeth, these five Spartans from beyond the grave look like deranged gym rats doused with flour. We never even see them rise from their burial pit, they simply walk out of the shadows. We do, at least, get some background about them. 

Following the unnecessary prologue mentioned elsewhere, an animated opening credits montage takes us back in time to 73 BC. We see there were five of these psychotic Spartan rebels (gladiators were generally criminals, slaves, or prisoners of war) who escaped their bonds and went on a murder and raping spree before being captured, killed, and buried in a pit watched over by a statue of Nemesis, Greek Goddess of, among other things, retribution, and a patroness of the arena gladiators. More could have been done with them, but yet again, Picchio skims the surface hoping that shock effect and perversity will be enough.

MORITURIS tries to be many things, yet manages to accomplish nothing except to turn off its audience, or bewilder them into wondering just what in the hell the filmmakers were trying to do here. There was a potential for a decent, if standard horror feature, but this is sabotaged for the sake of a half-baked political statement. MORITURIS does, and likely inadvertently, proves that gory violence is no substitute for acts of savagery that involve no blood and guts at all. The lengthy rapes and tortures of the two women surpass the indignities wrought by the zombie Roman arena fighters. That leaves us with very little that's salvageable in this Euro gore throwback.

The practical effects are the work of elder statesman of Italian horror, Sergio Stivaletti. They look fine even though they're obscured by darkness since nearly the entire movie takes place at night. If only his FX belonged to a better movie; like DEMONS (1985), or OPERA (1987) where his work is better served.

Daniele Poli's photography is occasionally startling, if dark, often too dark. His shots are highlighted with blue lighting that, while seen in many other horror films, manages to derive some atmosphere; even if the filmmakers squander it for the sake of senseless shock value.

The score, along with the Euro metal music is good, recalling the sort of thing Argento would get up to during his best days. The sound design is likewise effective, especially where our slow-motion, rampaging gladiators are concerned.

The next to last closing credits reads 'In Memory of Humanity'. This should have been 'In Memory of Italian Horror'. MORITURIS (Latin for 'Those Who Must Die') is symbolic of the state of horror cinema in Italy; and if this is the sort of thing to be expected from Italy's infrequent, limp genre offerings, they should leave the horror to France who have been doing far better examples of the form.

MORITURIS was banned in Italy before its reportedly small release in its home country. This banned status is one of the reasons the movie hearkens back to the heyday of Euro horror perversity that garnered attention outside of Italy. The films brutality didn't go unnoticed for its German DVD release. Shorn of nearly 20 minutes(!!!), it runs approximately 64 minutes, so beware of that one. Curiously, a German Blu/DVD combo contains the uncut version. Another World Entertainment has also released it. As of this writing, no US release has been announced.

Further, the tagline on the films poster is 'Evil Prevails'. Essentially giving away the finish (not that there's anything here that's surprising), about the only message this movie manages to get across succinctly is that sometimes in real life, evil does in fact succeed. It's also telling that one of the films other advertisements displays a thumbs down; an ancient gesture often (some sources state erroneously) associated with the death of the fallen in the gladiatorial arena. In the case of MORITURIS, thumbs down simply means Picchio's movie has failed to curry favor with this viewer.

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