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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Panic (1982) review


David Warbeck (Captain Kirk), Janet Agren (Jane), Roberto Ricci (Professor Adams/Monster), Franco Ressel (Mr. Milton), Jose Lifante (Sgt. O'Brien), Miguel Herrera (Professor Vince)

Directed by Tonino Ricci (as Anthony Richmond)

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

The Short Version: "Terrible" Tonino Ricci is the mindless master behind this Italo-Spanish trash that contaminates slasher, monster, and disaster movie cliches. The fallout brings an inescapable amount of unintentional comedy best appreciated by viewers jonesing for a 90 minute camp crap cocktail. If you've savored any of director Ricci's other celluloid catastrophes you already know what you're ordering on the menu. Italian cinema fave David Warbeck plays Captain Kirk; only not the Federation's galactic Casanova who constantly bluffs his way out of ultimate destruction, but a detective trailing what looks like a cross between the Chlorophyll Monster and The Brainiac. Despite a vacuous script, Warbeck manages to keep his composure. Elsewhere, Euro horror scream queen Janet Agren manages to keep her clothes on. Still, there's gratuitous gore and guffaws aplenty in this minor-league NIGHTMARE CITY so don't PANIC.

When a germ warfare experiment at the incontrovertibly named Chemi-Cal corporation goes awry, a scientist working on the mysterious Plurima Project disappears. Not long after, a mutated half-human monster with claws, shambles around the sewers of a small English village--surfacing to rip its victims apart and drink their blood. A detective and a lady scientist try to find the monster to end its killing spree. Meanwhile, corporate big wigs decide one rampaging rat man is reason enough to implement Plan Q (Plan 9 wasn't available) to bomb the entire town into oblivion.

There's no escaping it. PANIC is a terrible movie--in virtually every way. Imagine NIGHTMARE CITY (1980)--which is basically a minor league version of Lenzi's movie--having to settle with but a single irradiated vampire creature, while never satisfactorily explaining anything, and you have something resembling PLACIDITY more than a PANIC. 

If you're familiar with Tonino Ricci's work, when you see his name in the credits you know what you're getting. Every genre he touches he destroys... but in a good way if you can enjoy atrocious movies. He savaged the Wild West with KID TERROR OF THE WEST (1973); soured SciFi-adventure with ENCOUNTERS IN THE DEEP (1979); pillaged barbarian fantasy in THOR THE CONQUEROR (1983); brought a reckoning to the post-nuke flicks with RUSH (1983); and poached the killer shark sub-genre in NIGHT OF THE SHARKS (1987) to name a few.

With PANIC, he mutilates a few genres at once--melding slasher and 1950s monster motifs with 1970s eco-horror. We have the killer POV shots, the theme of sex equals death, and even a PSYCHO-style shower murder; a decently rendered mutant by Rino Carboni (played by the director's son, Roberto Ricci) inspires comparison with BLOOD ISLAND's Chlorophyll Monster and Mexico's infamous Brainiac; the strain of eco-horror stretches back to George Romero's THE CRAZIES (1973); another film that PANIC resembles in addition to other similarly themed 'viral outbreak' pictures. It's worth mentioning that 1985s WARNING SIGN feels like a bigger budgeted, better written, more stable do-over of Ricci's movie.

The script by Victor A. Catena and Jaime Comas is incredibly stupid even by bad movie standards. Even more surprising than how awful the script turned out is that both Catena and Comas were among the five writers on Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). They also collaborated with other writers on Lenzi's action-packed SANDOKAN sequel, SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964). With both being the sole authors on the credits of PANIC, their script not only sacrifices logic for thinly veiled political subtext; but it has more holes than the monster's numerous pus-dripping orifices.

Watching the movie, it often feels like two different films were being made; with the "best" of both edited together without any regard for continuity or common sense. PANIC fumbles from one scene to the next with its disjointed narrative; coupled with a budget too low to bring a modicum of justice to the patchwork of better movies it wants to glorify. Ricci's patently lousy direction ensures zero interest by anyone other than the most dedicated Euro-horror aficionados digging deep to find a nugget of bad movie gold; and PANIC accommodates them with a bumper crap of badness. 

Below is a list of PANIC's inept highlights that, if you appreciate movies that are enjoyable because of how terrible they are, should determine whether or not you'll want to add it to your collection.

1. Rats were a prominent feature in trashy Italian movies of this era. Italy's preeminent Kingpin of reprobate cinema, Bruno Mattei, used them in HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) as a lazy plot device to start the spread of flesh-eating zombie contagion. Mattei struck again in 1984's Post A-crap-alyptic RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR. Like Mattei before him, Ricci and his team can't even conjure up a reason for how his virus escapes; well, the script can't make up its mind if there's even a virus at all.

2. In normal society, if there's a criminal on the loose, it's all over the news and radio. In Ricci's movie, the police hit upon the brilliant idea that keeping news of a "homicidal maniac" on the streets from the press and public will somehow keep people safer.

3. In one of the attack scenes, a hot and bothered couple don't mind having sex among the patrons in a movie theater watching a picture even worse than the one we're watching; it's some guy driving down the road in his car accompanied by a horrendous Casio soundtrack.  The young lady about to be fully naked from the waist up pulls her boyfriend's hand out of her flimsy tank-top and says if he wants anything more he'll have to earn it. She's a cheap date, though, and only requires he get her an ice cream from the shop down the street (an act of mercy considering what's transpiring onscreen inside the theater). Meanwhile, the monster, stumbling around in the back of the theater, hears the awful music of whatever the hell it is the people are watching and rips through the theater screen in a scene DEMONS (1985) did much better a few years later. Everybody flees except for the sultry woman waiting on her ice cream; guess it was worth the risk being mauled by our goop-covered man-rat.

4. The script can't decide if a virus has been unleashed or not. We keep hearing about it and yet everyone killed by our walking pus monster with the pulsating cranium never get up and kill. We hear about the supposedly acidic, radiation-infused green goo the monster has dripping off of him... Captain Kirk (yes, that's the lead character's name) stupidly puts his hands in it, and nearly gets mauled in an attack by the monster; but nothing happens to him either.

5. While that fickle plot point plays out, there's the pharmaceutical company's bright idea of wiping the town off the face of the Earth to protect the company's interests; yet it's just one mutant guy doing all the damage. It's clear none of the townsfolk--living or dead--are affected by the so-called contaminant leak. Wouldn't the clean up and rebuilding cost more money than to simply send a team in to test the inhabitants? The writers seem more interested in clumsily inserted political posturing over a virus that the script can't decide exists or not.

6. When the military cordon off entry and exit to the town, a mob of people attempt to leave anyway. After the military commander tells everyone to go back to their homes, two guys--one of whom is armed with a shotgun--decide to drive through the blockade anyway. Naturally, this doesn't go over very well. The military open fire and the car crashes into some flimsy wooden boards that cause the car to inexplicably explode. The driver doesn't make it out but the flame-engulfed passenger does and is noticeably unfamiliar with 'stop, drop, and roll'. Kirk and O'Brien then leave the guy there while his friend's corpse burns in the car; when asked how the fellow is, Warbeck replies with, "nothing serious!"

7. Sergeant O'Brien, the excellent tactician that he is, decides it's best to flood the sewer tunnels with poisonous gas. Captain Kirk (who, at least on STAR TREK, was a genuinely excellent tactician) agrees with this plan. Both men seem to forget this a few minutes later when they go into the sewers to kill the monster and nearly choke to death in the process.

8. Since bullets prove ineffective against Rat-men (SABATA's Franco Ressel somehow manages to empty 4 shells from a double-barreled shotgun into the monster), Captain Kirk equips himself with a fire extinguisher with a biohazard symbol on it for the maximum in rodent disintegration. Kirk tells Professor Vince he needs "two units of Necron". The professor seems shocked Kirk knows about this apparently Top Secret chemical. We're just as confused as he is considering we've not heard of it till now... and we never do find out what it is. Judging by the final confrontation, Necron has a corrosive effect when it comes into contact with living tissue. Apparently, Necron was used on the script as well.

9. As is always the case in movies where a timer ticks downward, threatening destruction of the protagonists or catastrophe of a larger scale, the danger is averted always within the last seconds; not in PANIC. They have 12 minutes to spare when the bomb drop is called off; the relief on the pilots' faces--two of the worst actors in history--evokes laughter before an end credit card copies the one seen in Lenzi's NIGHTMARE CITY finale. They even screw up the timer. 4:48am changes to 4:49am thirty seconds after it's supposed to.

10. At one point, the monster literally shows his ass. Displaying plumber's crack while on a sewer sojourn, a minor goof reveals the monster's gluteus maximus is impervious to contamination. As far as movie monsters go, Roberto Ricci does a good imitation of the slow-moving creatures seen in any of your finer of the lesser 1950s monster pictures. As mentioned earlier, Rino Carboni's (who worked on some high profile westerns including some of Leone's and Sollima's best) monster makeup is effective with the stringy white hair and Melting Man appliances--seen to greater effect during the no-holds barred finale.

Amazingly, PANIC does have a few irrefutably good things in it; one of these is the energetic finale where Warbeck squares off against the monster. Further, some of the shots in the sewers are lit remarkably well and afford Ricci's movie some much needed atmosphere.

The director does try for some blasphemous symbolism in one of the attack scenes. The monster lays siege to a church to get at a group of altar boys and a priest. Sacrificing himself so the boys can escape, the priest is killed in a way mimicking Christ on the Cross--impaled on a spike railing through his neck and hands; the camera ascending to show an illuminated cross above him. Aside from these bits, PANIC revels in its inadequacies.

David Warbeck is another bright spot along with cult film siren Janet Agren. Warbeck had a lengthy career working in Europe--particularly in Italian schlock. Some of his Italian horror, action and fantasy works are sublime, while many are just substandard. PANIC has no standards at all. The bacteria-suffering script gives the man little to sustain himself--acting as a half-cooked Dirty Harry Callahan-type character--walking from one scene to the next waving his pistol when he needs attention.

Agren has less to do, rarely leaving the lab set where she's attempting to develop a cure for Adams' mutant malady. Both Warbeck and Agren worked well together and co-starred again in another killer rodent flick, RAT MAN from 1988.

PANIC's dubbed version is a riot, making the schlock oozing from the screen even more palatable. In the original Italian language included on this bluray, the film takes itself deadly serious. Regarding the Italian version, the opening has a narrator setting up the story; unfortunately, no subs are provided for this opening voiceover (but the rest of the movie is subbed with dubtitles). During this sequence on the English track, the opening dialog is replaced by Marcello Giombini's main theme.

In the right mindset, PANIC is a good deal of fun. Having never looked as good as it does on this bluray release helps a lot if you've only ever saw murky VHS releases. If nothing else, Tonino Ricci, the auteur of awful, is not only consistent in making tripe, but entertaining tripe. Mildly engaging because of its silly, Z-grade quality horror, and incomprehensible from start to finish, PANIC's sewer setting is metaphoric of its place in the Euro-sleaze pantheon.

This review is representative of the Code Red bluray. Specs and Extras: 1080p HD 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English dubbed version; Italian with English subtitles; trailers; running time: 01:33:22

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