Another book on Italian horror/splatter, this time concentrating on cannibal and zombie films: just what we need, right? That’s what I thought, at least, when I picked up Eaten Alive!. The editor/co-author Jay Slater is a regular contributor to The Dark Side. There’s no doubting his enthusiasm, but it didn’t promise much more than a fanboy effort with a few nice pictures. And the stills (and some of the posters) it has to be said, are often brilliant: all the naked Amazonian cannibals and putty faced zombies, but with a few nice surprises like some of the hairier moments from Cannibal Holocaust/Ferox and some wild gory Indonesian posters specially reproduced in colour.
What was more suprising is that the text really delivers the goods too. Slater’s own articles and interviews with people like Giovanni Radice/John Morghen (pretty funny) or Catriona McColl (jolly hockeysticks), which make up about 55% of the book, veer between treating the whole scene as strictly cheesy fun, with thankfully not too many silly puns, and adopting a tone of seriousness when the going gets heavy with a film like Gestapo’s Last Orgy. He does his best to be definitive, starting from a fairly obscure 1964 peplum, Roma contra Roma/War of the Zombies, through all the inevitable Lucio Fulci zombie movies, right through to the film which Rupert Everett always seems to airbrush out of his CV (and must be his best by a long shot), Dellamorte Dellamore. If some titles don’t seem to justify their inclusion (Planet of the Vampires? Werewolf Woman?), then Slater demonstrates how they fit into the grand tapestry of spaghetti horror, particularly with his exhaustive notes. There are also some artier entries that, while the films are about cannibalism, really widen the scope of the book: Pasolini’s Pigsty, Love Ritual, Flesh (not the Warhol/Paul Morrissey film), and the odd obscurity like the sleazy sounding nun-erotica film Highest of the Skies that make you want to shell out for DVD imports just out of curiosity.
But the main strength is how Slater lines up so much solid support, and it’s not just the ‘names’: Jim Van Bebber goes gonzo over Third World cannibal films. Kim Newman is as authoritative as ever, though you kind of wonder why he bothered when he hates cannibal movies so much. Film academic Ben Halligan weighs in with compelling analysis of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, The Perfume of the Lady in Black and Marco Fererri’s art film Flesh. Julian Petley draws lines between the plot of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue and agricultural disasters like BSE and foot-and-mouth disease(!). Lloyd Kaufman offers a thought-provoking analysis of Cannibal Holocaust as a statement about media manipulation, which will be a real surprise to anyone who’s followed Troma’s output or read his autobiography. But the real find here, for me is a guy called Donato Totaro who I’ve never heard of but is another academic. While he intellectualises the splatter genre, you never feel he’s doing it just to apologise for liking this stuff – whether he’s giving us the HP Lovecraft angle on Fulci’s well-worn Gates of Hell films or drawing lines between Michel Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, he convinces with his intellect and that he clearly loves these films.
I didn’t think I needed another book on Italian horror, but Slater and his team have tied up the definitive work on the zombie + cannibal genres. It’s quite a result.