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Sodoma's Ghost (DVD)

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Director: Lucio Fulci / Studio: EC / Run Time: 84 minutes

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      27.01.2013 15:31
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      A dismal Italian horror

      A film-only review. A DVD can be imported for about £9.

      For a time in the early 1980s, Lucio Fulci was Italy's best horror director. He made four savage and fantastic zombie movies which are still held in high regard by genre enthusiasts. Unfortunately, as the 80s wore on, Fulci lost his mojo. A combination of ill health and the general contraction of the Italian film industry made his last few films pretty lame. The best known of these late efforts is Cat In The Brain, which is at least entertaining.

      Sodoma's Ghost was one of three Fulci films released in 1988. The others are the hilariously bad Zombie 3, and Touch of Death, a film which is rancidly misogynist even by Fulci standards. Sodoma's Ghost isn't offensive, although it would dearly like to be, but sadly isn't the laugh riot of Zombie 3. It certainly isn't good in any way, but I wasn't expecting it to be.

      In a pre-credits sequence we see a bunch of Nazis enjoying a vigorous orgy with some hot babes (who have very 80s hairstyles). They are then possibly bombed, apparently by their own side - it's not really clear, we see stock footage of planes dropping bombs, anyway. The Nazis end up dead, that's all that matters. Years later some annoying kids on their way to Paris stop off at the now deserted Nazi mansion, and end up staying there when their Land Rover breaks down. You can probably imagine what happens - the Nazis start appearing to the characters through the mirrors, the house locks the kids in, the ghostly Nazis start killing people, yadda yadda.

      Nobody in the film is called Sodoma, incidentally. The title is a mystery to me.

      It's a bumbling mix of slasher film and sleazier Italian exploitation. The characters are stalked round the house by Fulci's prowling camera, which keeps ducking behind corners as if to avoid being seen by them. There are, I guess, a couple of shots which are almost atmospheric. Wandering round a house you don't know at night is a spooky experience, and a few sequences where that happens are about as good as this gets. One of the maddening things about this film is the way the characters will insist ongoing off by themselves despite knowing there's something nasty out there hunting them down. Even after the deaths start, people are still quite happy to go to bed alone, and then have the temerity to look shocked when a ghost comes and does something nasty to them. This is shoddily plotted with no imagination at all.

      It fails dismally as a slasher film, though, because there's precious little actual gore in it. There's one body which slowly starts to dissolve into goo, but there isn't the parade of knifings, decapitations and eye trauma that a film like this really needs. Instead the ghosts are seductive. Well, kind of. One ghost appears in a girl's room and starts slapping her; she admits reluctantly that she enjoys that. This is the kind of thing you have to get used to watching Fulci's films. He does not seem to have been fond of women.

      Another girl, this one a busty lesbian, has a ghostly woman appear and start rubbing heather over her naked boobs, which doesn't seem so bad as these things go. There are many worse things a ghost could do to you. And one guy is forced to play Russian roulette in a sequence that goes on forever, and not in a good way.

      Although light on the gore, this is still pretty sleazy. The film begins with several minutes of Nazi orgy footage. Decadent Nazi sex had been all the rage in Italian exploitation about a decade earlier, so perhaps Fulci was trying to get that bandwagon rolling again. But there's nudity - even some full frontal - and all the usual things that happen in scenes like this: naked women getting champagne poured on them, two girls kissing, drunk Nazis lolling around laughing. Et cetera. There's also a man trying to play snooker while a naked woman lies on the table, which is peculiar. We even get to watch the same Nazi orgy footage all over again towards the end of the film, so Fulci must have been proud of it.

      Of the six kids trapped in the mansion, three are ladies. Two of them get naked for our delectation, although one is clearly using a body double for the full frontal shots. Perhaps inevitably, one is a lesbian with designs on one of her friends - Fulci subtly conveys this to us early on by having her shove her hand down the other girl's shirt. He was always a forthright director.

      But apart from the unrequited lesbian pash, there's no indication at all about the relationships of these people. They've apparently been on holiday together, at least according to the DVD blurb, but they don't seem to like one another much. None of the girls is paired off with the guys, which is extremely unusual in a film like this. No attempt is made to characterise any of these people. We know no more about any of them at the end than we knew at the beginning, except for how a couple of them look when they're naked. Characters in films like this tend to be a bit generic, but these people have no character at all. I didn't recognise any of the actors in this, but to be honest, even Marlon Brando would have had trouble bringing their dialogue to life.

      The mansion itself is rubbish. There are a couple of too-narrow corridors with curtained windows, which might actually be the same corridor filmed from different angles (the film makes no attempt to let us understand the house's layout). There's one staircase where an awful lot seems to happen. There's a rather charming little kitchen. And there's the big 'orgy' room which is covered in erotic art (most of it far too modernist to have appealed to Nazis). There is a rather nice large porcelain dog, which sits impassively through everything going on around it. That was probably my favourite thing in the entire film. I wonder what became of it. Oh, and the swastika patterns on the windows are kind of funny.

      There are a few funny moments, but probably not enough to really make this worth exploring. The production values are poor - it almost looks like it might have been filmed for TV. There are only eight speaking parts and a few raunchy Nazis. The location is small and unimpressive, and the music is dreadful, clichéd synth pap, too jaunty at the beginning (it's almost Benny Hill-esque in the orgy scenes) and far too generic later on. The only reason this film has been released on DVD - and presumably the only reason it was made in the first place - is because the director used to be really good. This is just sad, like Shane Warne's recent attempt at a comeback. Better to just stick with Fulci's good films.

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