6. Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971, Dario Argento)
Artists are not great judges of their own work. James Joyce thought Ulysses sucked, Lovecraft apparently hated all of his work and Argento has cited Cat O’ Nine Tails as his least favourite of all his films. Each one of them is wrong: Ulysses is one of the great works of western literature, Lovecraft was always batting .800 or higher and the worst Argento movie is Mother Of Tears. But more so than that, Cat O’ Nine Tails is great enough it’d make virtually any other director feel like a master.
The movie follows two journalists, one of whom is blind, plus the blind man’s daughter, on the trail of a killer connected to some top-secret pharmacological research. Really, this is as giallo a movie a you’re likely to find anywhere: it’s a murder mystery where the murders keep on coming and the detectives are always two steps away from the chopping block.
For anyone familiar with Argento’s work, you won’t be surprised by the Byzantine plot and the beauty he finds in death. For those unfamiliar – well, this might not be the best introduction. Start with Suspiria and Deep Red and then come back to this one. But you won’t be disappointed.
7. The Psychic (1977, Lucio Fulci)
Some years ago, the website Grindhouse Database posted a list of their top grindhouse movies of all time to which none other than Quentin Tarantino voice an objection. Some of these movies, he reasoned, had never even played at grindhouses, which should exclude them from the list.
With that in mind, he wrote his own, and the results ran the gamut from classics like Halloween and Dawn Of The Dead to martial arts movies like Master Of The Flying Guillotine and The Five Fingers Of Death. But amongst all of these was a weird Fulci movie called The Psychic which seems to get to no play whatsoever, but which is absolutely equal to better-known works like The Beyond and New York Ripper.
The Psychic is about a clairvoyant woman who’s found a skeleton in her husband’s home and is guided by visions to seek the truth behind the death. But there’s something suspicious about the nature of her visions – they might not be as they appear, a mystery which leads her to a nightmarishly bleak conclusion. And because Fulci’s so good at what he does that you, the hapless audience, will never see it coming.
Truthfully, you’d be hard pressed to find a bad Fulci movie. His movies are always dreamy, always crazy, and most often gory as hell – but in The Psychic you’ll find a version of him less off-the-rails and more atmospheric than you might have previously.
8. Bay Of Blood (1971, Mario Bava)
Exploitation films are notorious for ripping off other, more successful movies. For instance, Jaws was the biggest movie ever, so Roger Corman made Piranha. Also Demon Of Paradise. Also Up From The Depths, Dinoshark, Sharkotpus, Supergator and Humanoids From The Deep. But while their usual modus operandi is to capitalize on another film’s success, there are times when these movies break away just enough from their sources that to become progenitors of new styles. This is the case with Bay Of Blood.
Ask yourself: it was in Friday the 13th Part 2 that the coitally-engaged couple was stabbed doubly with the spear that went right through the bed? That took place around the bay? That had the person get the huge cutting implement to the face? Well, you’re right – but these are all elements taken from Bay Of Blood, which represents the moment the giallo turns into full-blown slasher.
Which, admittedly, is the total attraction to this movie. Despite being directed by Bava, it doesn’t have the same uncanny beauty that The Whip And The Body does, nor does it have the drama of his earlier pictures. Even Christopher Lee, so the story goes, went in to see Bay Of Blood out of interest in what his one-time director was up to and found himself revolted in a way that wasn’t uncommon upon its release. But then, Lee was famous for being part of the crew which showed blood in colour for the first time, so who was he to judge?
Look, this was never gonna win any screenwriting awards. This is a death movie, and one of the best of its type. It won’t let you down. Bay Of Blood is an underrated gem.
9. Invasion Of The Flesh Hunters (1980, Antonio Margheriti)
If The Long Hair Of Death was atypical for an exploitation movie, then Margheriti’s Invasion Of The Flesh Hunters is much closer to its Platonic ideal. Better-known by its title Cannibal Apocalypse, this is a title which, in either case, lets you know that this is, without a doubt, a horror movie of the Italian type – bloody, crazy and unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else.
Combining the cannibal movie with the zombie movie with the Vietnam movie, Apocalypse digs into post-Vietnam-era fears of reintegration by having POWs return with a virus that turns the infected into cannibals. Like zombies, it spread through biting – like with zombies, absolute mayhem ensues. Oh, and it also stars John Saxon. How’s that for a sell?
While not representative of Margheriti’s work as a whole, this is a perfect addition to your marathon if your marathon includes Antropophagus, City Of The Living Dead and Nightmare City. You’re gonna see a lot of people get eaten, there’s gonna be guts falling about all over the place, and you’re probably gonna have a good time doing it. One day Margheriti will get the respect he deserves.
10. Cut And Run (1985, Ruggero Deodato)
Ruggero Deodato isn’t a household name, but his work is infamous. Even if you haven’t heard of him, you’ve heard of his brutal, nihilistic masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust, which is still spoken of in hushed circles amongst people who know better than to announce their appreciation of it in public. It’s also possible you may have heard of The House On The Edge Of The Park which, while not as brutal as Holocaust, is just as nihilistic. With that in mind, I’m gonna tell you something you may find surprising: Cut And Run is a cool, exciting and fun movie.
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its bloody moments – there’s one in particular where a man gets fishboned that’ll put your hair on your chest, and at least one disemboweling. But the tone of the movie is closer to what you’d find in an ‘80s thriller, complete with a synth soundtrack, gunfights and a mystery around what a man, once presumed dead, is doing alive in the jungle.
Distributed by Corman’s New World Pictures, Cut And Run is like the Canon movie that never was. Trust me, I saved the best for last. Cut And Run is one of the best movies I’ve seen in years.