Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ruggero Deodato's Body Count (1987)

Ruggero Deodato's cinema is a combination of immorality, perversity, and fun. Who is having the fun, whether it's Deodato or the viewer, is intuitive. His films' extreme subject matter often overshadow his aesthetics: for example in perhaps his most infamous, notorious, and well-known film, Cannibal Holocaust (1980), accompanying the truly extreme violence was a vast array of masterful visuals, an even-more masterful use of Riz Ortolani's score, and most impressive, the narrative technique, never-topped, of viewer manipulation and image juxtaposition: think of the smile on the documentarian's face as he looks upon the impaled victim. Or think of the smile on the face of Marc Porel in Deodato's sole entry into the crime genre of the 70s and also one of its masterpieces, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976). What's he looking at? The corpse of the criminal he chased down. How about the pile of corpses at the feet of reporter Fran Hudson (Lisa Blount) in Deodato's nasty Cut and Run (1985)? Her reaction is also atypical. I could go on and on and I plan on revisiting several of Deodato's films here, but let's begin with his little-known film which few like entitled Body Count (1987) and head to the slasher's camp site.
Dr. Olsen (John Steiner) is the doctor for the school's basketball team. His daughter, Rose (Clelia Fradella) wants to go to the local camping grounds for a couple of hours but promises to be back before dark. Daddy doesn't like the camp site, but since she promises to be back before dark, he agrees. A couple of hours is just enough time for her to do the nasty with her fella, and night falls before she knows it. The camping grounds have recently been purchased by Robert and Julia Ritchie (David Hess and Mimsy Farmer, respectively). Julia's not too happy about the purchase (or really her marriage). Julia loves her young son, Ben, and has some roving eyes for Sheriff Charlie (Charles Napier). Robert is happy with the land purchase: supposedly located on Indian burial grounds where a Shaman put a curse upon it. Robert thinks the story is a bunch of crap: that is until Ms. Rose Olsen is sliced and diced that very evening. Was that a police cruiser in the background?
Cut to fifteen years later. Ben Ritchie (Nicola Farron) is a grown man and returning home to the camp site from his stint in the army. He's gratefully picked up on the side of the road by a bunch of teenagers in a Winnie. The group is out to have some fun, and Ben just knows his parents will be all right with their staying at the campgrounds. Meanwhile, Dave (Bruce Penhall) is rolling up the campgrounds on his radical motorbike with his buddy and his girlfriend. Julia is elated to see her son. Robert, not so much: Hess's Robert looks a little glazed over and crazy and these damned kids are bound to cause trouble. Robert has a confrontation on the side of the road with Sheriff Charlie: Charlie tells Robert to stop setting deadly traps on his property. Robert does what he wants with his property, because he knows the sinister Shaman's somewhere lurking and he's going to get him. By the way, says Robert, leave my wife alone, if you know better.
Anyone familiar with 80s horror knows its slasher film: dumb teenagers, bad acting, ridiculous and haphazard plot, some gore and a copious amount of female flesh. Body Count does not stray far from its contemporaries; however, Deodato throws his talent into the mix. David Hess, with whom Deodato worked previously on House on the Edge of the Park (1980), is really let go. With all due respect to Mr. Hess, he can really play nasty and disturbed characters. His performance as Robert doesn't disappoint: there are several scenes where it appears Hess has truly "lost it." In one scene, which has to be seen to be believed, a fat naked teenager runs in screaming "orgy" on Robert and Julia having a quiet dinner alone. The look on Hess's face is priceless when the fattie slips on the floor only to get up and rush out the door. The majority of the gore and the nudity is located at a rundown and nasty hunter's cabin, where the group of teenagers have made into a makeshift shower. The hunter's cabin becomes a den of sin for all its participants, both killer and victims, and Deodato puts so much energy into them, you'd think he's cast an evil spell over the location. The obligatory chase scenes are the visual highlight: with steadicam work, Deodato goes around trees and with the foilage and some creative editing, when the victim takes the expected fall, it really has an impact on the viewer. Deodato's flavor just drips throughout this production: Penhall's Dave is a great example: although his buddy, in a very humorous scene, and his girlfriend fall as the first young victims, well, hey, everything's going to be all right. Dave still has his radical motorbike and the opportunity to hang out and get laid: maybe with a couple of the girls.
The adults in this production are all Eurocult regulars and some are legends: David Hess, Mimsy Farmer, John Steiner, Ivan Rassimov, and Charles Napier. Hess worked previously with Deodato on House and Pasquale Festa Campanile's fantastically nasty Hitch-hike (1977), for example. Farmer appeared previously in Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Francesco Barilli's The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974), and Armando Crispino's trippy Autopsy (1975), alongside Ray Lovelock, for example. Deodato, like Hess, lets Farmer go: she has some great emotional scenes, sexual, crazy, and maternal. Steiner, in a small role, here, has numerous credits with some of my favorites in Deodato's Wave of Lust (1975), Mario Bava's Shock (1977), and Dario Argento's Tenebre (1982), for example. Steiner is the consummate professional. Rassimov in an even smaller role (and seemingly his last) is always great to watch. Some of my favorite performances are in Edoardo Mulargia's Cjamango (1967), Mario Gariazzo's The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974), as Satan, and in a true Deodato masterpiece, Raiders of Atlantis (1983). Napier had the privilege to appear subsequently in Fabrizio de Angelis's The Last Match (1990) and Umberto Lenzi's Cop Target (1990) before returning to Hollywood. Napier with his prominent jaw cannot keep his hands off of Farmer in Body Count. Famed composer Claudio Simonetti delivers a fun and synthy score that screams 80s.
When I initially saw Body Count years ago, I thought it was poor knock-off of the myriad of horror films that I had grown up with in the 80s. Since then, I've grown to know Deodato better and can really see him in this film. Interesting stuff for Deodato fans and of course, the curious.


Aaron said...

Dude, this sounds awesome. The screen shot of the two people doing aerobics on a hillside sold me. Unfortunately the first (and only) Deodato movie I've seen is Cannibal Holocaust and because of that movie I automatically hate the guy, but nonetheless a lot of his movies are on my "need to see" list. And you're right about Hess being good at playing nasty characters. Something about him just makes me feel uncomfortable. He's hilarious, though. Have you listened to the Last House... audio commentary with him and the other guys who played the killers? It's a riot. Great review, man.

J. Astro said...

I have an unofficial DVD release version of this from Cinema de Bizarre, and I can't say I'm as enthusiastic about it as you are, but maybe that's just because mine has a reeeeally murky picture quality and Japanese subs that you can't turn off. :)

But the Hess/Farmer dinner scene being interrupted by naked fatso IS hilarious. Thanks for reminding me.

Mr.LargePackage said...

This film is just further proof that the 80's were the best time period ever, or at least the only period that was large and in charge.

Tower Farm said...

I've wanted to see this for a long time...I've seen it billed as one of the best slashers nobody's ever seen. And I didn't even know John Steiner was in it...I'm obsessed with that guy!

Hans A. said...

Thnx, fellas for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.

Aaron--thnx, man. I haven't listened to the Hess commentary. He always comes off in interviews as a really nice and funny guy, though.

J.--no this one isn't for everybody that's for certain but I love that dinner scene too.

TF--just a reminder Body Count is a bad slasher film but an excellent Deodato film. Would love to hear your opinion about it. Steiner may have five minutes of screen time max

Mr. LP--you're still beautiful, baby, in any decade.

Thnx again for your comments. You all don't know how much I appreciate them and sorry I took so long to respond.