Sunday, April 12, 2009

Marcello Avallone's Specters (1987)

If I had a calling in a former life or had I followed a childhood aspiration, then I would have become an archaeologist. That is, I would have become a movie archaeologist. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) planted the seed within me. I wanted to grab a whip and don a fedora and get into adventures. My goal was to discover treasures and hope to have them robbed, so I would have an excuse to get into more adventures. Even cooler adventures would involve the supernatural. Really, I wanted to be like El Santo in Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy (1971). Now, El Santo wasn't an archaeologist but had a job as a wrestler and the world's greatest superhero (who also had the greatest superhero vehicle: a Jaguar convertible). The lessons of Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy, and many archaeologically-themed genre movies, are crypts and tombs are destined to be disturbed, the dead will eventually rise, and if your fortunate, El Santo is around to body slam them for you. Shinya Tsukamoto's phenomenally cool, Hiruko the Goblin (1991) involved ancient burial mounds under a high school, in which the reluctant archaeologist had to come with his homemade gadgets and stop the demons. Armando Crispino's giallo spin on the archaeological dig (with supernatural overtones), The Etruscan Kills Again (1972), is without equal in the giallo genre for its setting and atmosphere. I really never wanted to heed the words of Indiana Jones in Raiders: archaeologists are lovers of history, spend most of their time in libraries, and have, most importantly, Ph.Ds. I, however, wanted to do what he did. In the movie. Movie archaeologists are always the most fun, and if there is an archaeological genre in cinema, then consider me a huge fan. Marcello Avallone's Specters (1987) is about the vast catacombs under Rome in which archaeologist, Donald Pleasence is making some unpleasant discoveries. The tomb, which he and his assistants eventually uncover, had a number of tenants, some of whom liked to engage in human sacrifices. As the team digs deeper, more and more unpleasantries are revealed.Avallone has less than ten directorial credits with Specters being the only that I have seen. However, I am eager to see Maya (1989) and The Last Cut (1997), and from what I have read, they are two that appear to be interesting. Specters isn't a particularly strong film. It suffers from a complete lack of focus. The script appears to be written daily and the film, overall, edited clumsily to create a coherent film. Legendary Italian FX artist Sergio Stivaletti provided, when they actually appear, some great special effects.
It is a miracle that beautiful Katrine Michelsen appears in this film, as the actress/singer girlfriend of one of the archaeological team. Michelsen appeared previously in Lamberto Bava's Delirium (1987). Her addition to the film seems to want to place Specters among other Italian genre films involving beautiful models, such as Delirium, Nothing Underneath (1985), Fashion Crimes (1989), and Too Beautiful to Die (1988). Michelson's performance is a highlight and a saving grace for Specters, making it a guilty pleasure. Donald Pleasence is a very fine actor and gives a competent performance in a regrettably small role. Pleasence would appear in a number of Italian films after his famous role of Dr. Loomis in Halloween (1978), one of the standouts being Dario Argento's Phenomena (1985).

Even with Specters lack of focus, there are a lot of fun scenes to make it worth seeing. In a great scene, influenced by Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), one of Pleasence's team ventures under the catacombs to discover its parameters. The glorious technology reveals a circular tomb leading to a pit. There's a hideous discovery at the bottom. If Specters comes your way, take a peek. It's not that hideous.

1 comment:

Giallo Guy 82 said...

I actually didn't mind Spectres. A bit slow, yes, but so was Maya. Marcello's meager horror output seem to be more about atmosphere than shocks, and work in that sense. Plus, it DOES have a synth soundtrack!