Athena (2022)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

This is a solid action / drama with beautiful camera work and an artsy, almost documentary feel. Centered around a low-income housing block, it’s cops vs activists vs gangs vs well-meaning Muslims. They’re all interconnected and it’s a crazy spectacle from start to finish. There has been criticism that Athena is all style and little substance, and it does have a few flaws. However I was thoroughly entertained and thought that the various plot lines were worked out by the end of the film. Yeah, the director could have made a powerful social critique, but he just ended up making a damn good, fast-paced, great looking film.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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District B13 (2004)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

A cop and a former hooligan join forces to stop a disaster. District B13 remains one of the more over-the-top action films I’ve seen in the last 20 years. It’s also on the cheesy and unrealistic side, but if that doesn’t scare you off… buckle up. This movie isn’t even 90 minutes long and the pace is insanely fast. You won’t know what hit you.

Available on Blu-ray from Magnolia.

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On the Count of Three (2021)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer

Two friends are fed up with the world, enter into a suicide pact, and whacky hijinks ensue. Jerrod Carmichael directs and stars in this entertaining buddy / black comedy. His co-star is the excellent Christopher Abbot (Possessor, Catch-22). This movie is fast paced and as dark as can be, while remaining legitimately funny throughout. You have to be a bit of a creepy weirdo to appreciate On the Count of Three, but that’s what makes it Anomalous.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Italian Cult Film Sub-Genres & Beyond

I recently received a question from Anomalous Cinema enthusiast Max P about Italian cult films. It wasn’t specifically about sub-genres, but I got onto the topic in my reply, and could not find a simple online article covering the subject. I am trying to fix that here.

NOTE: As I have said, I am not a “real writer” on the the topic of cinema. PLEASE comment, or email me, to suggest changes, improvements, and/or edits to this article.

Italians are well known for creating film sub-genres primarily motivated by cashing in on other popular movies. “Oh, The Road Warrior and Escape from New York were successful? Let’s do a cheaper version, and make some quick money.” Occasionally this made for some very entertaining films like 2019: After the Fall of New York. Here are the main Italian Film Cult Sub-Genres, with examples linked to imdb. If I am particularly fond of the example, it is in bold.

Three Arguably Original Italian Sub-Genres:

CANNIBALNOT FOR THE SENSITIVE VIEWER! Jungle adventure films that began firmly in Italy with The Man from Deep River (not recommended, it is slow and overstuffed with animal abuse). Most of these films are very nasty and only for die-hard cult film fans. This is primarily because of horrible real-life animal killing for the camera. Italian cannibal films are often sexploitational, naively racist, and a little bit violent, to full-blown G-R-O-S-S. Examples (all by Ruggero Deodato): Jungle Holocaust (a good starting point), Cut and Run, and the most notorious of them all, Cannibal Holocaust. The latter is particularly nasty, but honestly borders on art film quality at times, if you can stomach it. Thankfully Grindhouse Releasing added an “animal cruelty free” play option to their discs. The Cannibal Holocaust soundtrack is also stunningly beautiful. You should definitely check out Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox as well if you appreciate Deodato’s cannibal films.

GIALLO – Giallo is Italian for yellow, like the covers of cheap murder mystery paperbacks. They are a spin on Alfred Hitchcock-type mysteries and horror thrillers. Some are quite tame and heavy on the thriller, while others are more like slasher horror films. The stabby ones range from mildly to EXTREMELY violent. Gialli are often erotic, and/or psychedelic as well. Examples: Blood and Black Lace, Tenebrae, All the Colors of the Dark, House of the Edge of the Park, and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

PEPLUM (often referred to as Sword and Sandal) – Peplum is a reference to Ancient Roman / Greek clothing. This sub-genre was inspired by films like Ben-Hur, and the excellent Jason and the Argonauts (1963). I am saying this is arguably an original Italian deal, as they added their own action-packed twist. Examples: Hercules, The Colossus of Rhodes (the first film by Sergio Leone) and Hercules in the Haunted World.

Here are the other major sub-genres to the best of my knowledge:

NAZI EXPLOITATION – Nazi-themed films inspired by The Night Porter, that spun off into the sleaziest and most ridiculous concentration camp trash because of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. In case you’re thinking, how AWFUL, well… the bad guys always get their just desserts in these flicks. Examples: Salon Kitty, Gestapo’s Last Orgy, and Women’s Camp 119.

NUNSPLOITATION – Naughty nun flicks inspired by Ken Russell’s excellent film The Devils. Examples: Flavia the Heretic, The Killer Nun, and Images in a Convent.

POLIZIOTTESCHI – Italian crime films influenced by The French Connection and Dirty Harry. There’s a good documentary called Eurocrime! if you want a full rundown. Examples: High Crime, The Big Racket, Contraband, and Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man.

POST-APOCALYPSE – As mentioned above, films influenced by The Road Warrior and Escape from New York, that also sometimes mixed in elements of The Warriors. Examples: 2019: After the Fall of New York, Endgame, and 1990: The Bronx Warriors.

SPAGHETTI WESTERN – I don’t need to explain this one right? Well, if you like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, check out these examples: The Great Silence, Cut-Throats Nine, and The Big Gundown.

ZOMBIE – This movie craze happened because of Dawn of the Dead, and should be self-explanatory. Examples: Zombie, Burial Ground, and Nightmare City (yeah, yeah, they’re technically not zombies, but CLOSE ENOUGH).

There’s are also Macaroni Combat (WW2), Post-Star Wars, Post-Exorcist, and Animal Attack films that I am not even getting into. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out crazy sub-genre mashups like Cannibal Apocalypse, and the arguably terrible films Conquest and Zombie Holocaust.

Do yourself a favor and just watch films by director. Most Italian filmmakers touched on several of the above sub-genres. I suggest Mario Bava (his son Lamberto made some decent movies too), Enzo G. Castellari, Joe D’Amato, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and Sergio Martino. Proceed with caution, all of them made some AWFUL films. I recommend using imdb ratings and critic / user reviews to avoid the stinkers.

And BEYOND….

What about Italian cult movies after 1994 or so? There are almost ZERO good spaghetti cult films after Dellamorte Dellamore. That film’s director, Michele Soavi, went on to work in TV, including the very good Uno bianca, and three episodes of the well-received Rocco Schiavone. Dario Argento keeps making movies, but they all range from meh to suck after Tenebrae in my opinion. Well, Jenifer and Sleepless were not bad.

The only good stuff I’ve seen come out of Italy in the last 25+ years are their mafia / crime related movies and series. The best feature film example is Gomorrah, and it is a serious movie with no exploitation elements.

I am familiar with two decent Italian crime series, but they’re mostly drama. When the action kicks in they can be great, but you have to sit through a lot of talking. I watched quite a bit of Suburra: Blood on Rome, but fell off watching it (because of all the TALKING). That series is on Netflix – I recommended the movie version on Anomalous a long time ago, but they took it down. The other series was Romanzo criminale, but again, I stopped watching because there was SO… MUCH… TALKING. Additionally, there’s a series based on the movie I mentioned earlier, Gomorrah, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Here’s a list of a BUNCH more Italian crime series. That must be why there are no great spaghetti cult sub-genre films after 1994. All the damn money goes to criminale shows! What a pity.

Again, please educate me if there’s any glaring gaps or errors above.

Thank you and buona visione! -Jonathan Canady

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Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters (2019)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

This is an excellent doc on the man behind so much amazing creature / FX design and stop motion animation, including the OG Star Wars trilogy, RoboCop 1 and 2, Starship Troopers, Jurassic Park and much more. I had no clue the depth of his career until seeing this film. It also covers a bit of his recently released movie Mad God (recommended – currently streaming on AMC+ and Shudder).

Bonus: Many short films mentioned in the doc, including the fantastic Prehistoric Beast, plus tons of behind the scenes videos, are on Phil Tippett’s YouTube channel.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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Girl in the Picture (2022)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

A young woman is murdered, her son is kidnapped, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg in this very disturbing crime documentary. It’s based on two books by Matt Birkbeck, A Beautiful Child and Finding Sharon. I’ve heard that they are arguably superior to this film, so if you’re a true crime buff you may just want to read those instead. Girl in the Picture is a well constructed doc, and the overall look of the movie is very good. You get your usual bits of true crime reenactment, but they’re not too bothersome here. WARNING – things just keep getting more and more dark as it moves along, so if you’re on the sensitive side stay away.

Not available on Blu-ray.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

Yes, I’m finally getting around to an Argento movie. This is his first film, and among his best. I wouldn’t recommend Dario newbies start with this one, as it is honestly very slow, and almost bloodless. It’s definitely a giallo, but far more thriller than horror. However this movie is as creepy as can be, beautifully filmed, has a very good cast, and the Morricone score is phenomenal. Most people see Suspiria first, and are a little disappointed by Argento’s other great films. Then they go on to be downright depressed by the rest of his output (I gave up after sitting through Giallo). Sadly he has not made a decent movie since Sleepless, but he was excellent acting in Gaspar Noe’s Vortex. Besides Suspiria, my personal favorites are Tenebrae and The Cat o Nine Tails (honorable mentions for Deep Red, Inferno, and DA’s edit of Dawn of the Dead). Did you hear that? It was the sound of dozens of horror nerds yelling out What about (fill in the blank)?!?!?!

Available on Blu-ray from Arrow.

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Reign of Fire (2002)

Streaming on Hulu | imdb | trailer

Some executives got together and agreed to green light a $60 million movie that is The Road Warrior + DRAGONS. Yep. As weird as that sounds, it’s pretty damned good. It’s not even rated R, and it’s still an entertaining flick. The CG even holds up 20 years on. Reign of Fire does have some cheesy moments, but all the fast-paced action makes that worth enduring. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that Matthew McConaughey’s look is inspired by Steve Von Till from the band Neurosis

Available on Blu-ray from Touchstone.

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The Girl Next Door (2007)

Streaming on Netflix | imdb | trailer

It would probably be best for you to NOT watch this movie. This is possibly the most extreme horror / exploitation flick currently on Netflix. Are you still reading? Ok, well… this is a fact-based film about a young girl that was tortured and abused back in 1965. I saw this when it came out, and it made quite an impression. Back then I was a much more negative horror maniac, and it cut right through my “I’ve seen it all” bullshit. I didn’t feel titillated. I felt sympathy and dread. This was originally a novel by Jack Ketchum, who was likely the smartest author working in extreme horror. Maybe only Clive Barker’s early work was a match. If the above has not scared you off, and you’re ready to be brutalized for “entertainment”, check out The Girl Next Door. Also look into Ketchum’s books. The ones I read were a big step above most horror fiction.

Available on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay.

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Bacon’s Arena (2006)

Streaming on YouTube | imdb

Francis Bacon was one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. He also led a very interesting and tumultuous life, which was the focus of the dramatic bio pic Love is the Devil (worth a watch). You are familiar with his work, wether you know it or not, as it is referenced in popular culture regularly. He is best known for painting disturbing, distorted images of the human face and figure like his “screaming popes.” Bacon’s seated figures were sloppily brought to life by Lucio Fulci in A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (which is an excellent giallo, but Bacon must have despised it). This excellent TV movie is the best biography of the artist I’ve seen yet. The quality is not quite up to current standards, but don’t let that deter you. If you have an interest in counter culture on the dark side, this is mandatory viewing.

Not available on Blu-ray.

If you are a fan of Anomalous Cinema, please consider supporting this site by donating any amount (even $1.00 is appreciated) via Venmo @vergeoflight / Cash App $vergeoflight / or Paypal at this secure link. A Paypal account is not required. Thank you.