From the 1960s to the 1980s, Italy became known for its exploitation cinema, which ranged from gialli and “Mondo” films to Spaghetti Westerns and Nazisploitation. The Italian film market churned out dozens of exploitation films in order to capitalize on the latest cinematic crazes (in some instances, filmmakers even ripped off other Italian exploitation films). The films below represent the underbelly of Italy’s exploitation market, showcasing some interesting stories and banal efforts. Fortunately, home media, pirating, and YouTube have made these under-seen films more readily available.
Warning, not everything listed here is going to be an enjoyable experience.
14. La casa sperduta nel parco (Dir. Ruggero Deodato, 1980)
Alternate Title: The House on the Edge of the Park, The House of the Park on the Edge
Deodato is notorious for Cannibal Holocaust, but he reached new levels of sliminess with The House on the Edge of the Park. The film follows a mechanic named Alex (David Hess), who savagely rapes and murders a young woman. Some time later, he and his coworker (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) invade the home of a yuppie couple, only to discover that the couple is not going down without a fight. This is one of Deodato’s uglier films. Though it tries its best to replicate Craven’s The Last House on the Left (which also starred Hess), The House on the Edge of the Park makes you feel more violated than vindicated. You will definitely leave your experience with a pit in your stomach.
13. Virus: L’inferno dei morti viventi (Dir. Bruno Mattei, 1980)
Alternate Titles: Virus, Hell of the Living Dead, Zombie Creeping Flesh, Night of the Zombies
When a chemical leak at the Hope Center leads to an outbreak of flesh eating zombies, it is up to a covert team of commandoes, a cameraman, and a topless journalist to stop the epidemic. Hell of the Living Dead uses the same tropes that can be seen in every other zombie movie, but it tries to make the film more exotic by placing the characters in Papua New Guinea. While the film never reaches the brilliance of Fulci and Romero’s zombie films, Mattei still constructs a semi-decent thriller about people who can’t seem to keep their clothes on.
12. Tentacoli (Dir. Ovidio G. Assonitis, 1977)
Alternate Title: Tentacles
The recipe for Tentacles is simple: Take Jaws, remove the interesting characters/shark, add a giant octopus and aging Hollywood stars, and you have yourself an underwater exploitation film. The film follows the homicidal instincts of a giant octopus and the alcoholism of the fantastically chapeaued Shelley Winters. Its paper-thin plot, as well as the cheap special effects, always seem to fall short, and you’re left being more interested in watching Shelley Winters’s antics at a yacht race than you are when seeing who the octopus will kill next.
11. La polizia chiede aiuto (Dir. Massimo Dallamano, 1974)
Alternate Titles: What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, The Coed Murders, The Police Want to Help
A young girl is found hanging from a rafter in a loft, leading the police to believe the death was a suicide. However a series of attacks and mounting evidence force to police to investigate the death as a murder. Think of this film as an Italian “Law and Order,” but with questionable investigators and an “after school special” tone. Dallamano starts his film on a false note with a giallo-esque murder, but what follows is a procedural crime drama that lags for a majority of the runtime. By the time the film reveals its true message about a middle school prostitution racket, you have already lost interest.
10. John Travolto…da un insolito destino (Dir. Neri Parenti, 1979)
Alternate Title: The Face with Two Left Feet, The Lonely Destiny of John Travolto
Travoltasploitation was apparently a fad. The Face with Two Left Feet tries to capitalize off of one single plot point: a bumbling chef named Gianni (Giuseppe Spezia) looks like John Travolta with a mustache. That’s it. That’s the entire plot. The rest of the film is filler for his friends’ antics, his love interest, and a “real” Travolta that is only shown as a pair of feet. The film can’t bear the weight of its lackluster plot, and it implodes on itself faster than you can imagine.
9. Cannibal Ferox (Dir. Umberto Lenzi, 1981)
Alternate Titles: Woman from Deep River, Make Them Die Slowly
Gloria (Lorraine De Salle), Rudy (Bryan Redford), and Pat (Zora Kerowa) travel deep into the rainforest to research Gloria’s new book on cannibalism. They inadvertently stumble upon American criminals, whose provocations result in an onslaught of attacks by the natives. The film is a lot more enjoyable than Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, not only because it is less abrasive, but because the characters are more engaging. Though I still can’t forgive Lenzi for asking the same clichéd question: Who are the real cannibals?
8. Rats: Notte di terrore (Dirs. Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, 1984)
Alternate Titles: Rats: Night of Terror, Blood Kill, Rats
In 2015, the world was destroyed by nuclear warfare. Centuries later, a group of scavengers finds a paradise filled with food, shelter, water, and rats. The preposterous story is a silly send up of both zombie movies and post-apocalyptic films. It is Day of the Dead with rats instead of zombies…scratch that, it is Day of the Dead if you replace the zombies with stage hands who dump buckets of rats onto the actors. No amount of schlock and exploitation can save the film, but it is still a much more enjoyable entry in Mattei’s filmography.