Friday, February 17, 2012

Primal Rage (Rage, furia primitiva) (1988)

Primal Rage (Rage, furia primitiva) (1988) is one of two "Harry Kirkpatrick" films, shot in Florida. Harry Kirkpatrick is a pseudonym for Umberto Lenzi and he is credited with the screenplay for Primal Rage. Its director is Vittorio Rambaldi who is, according to the IMdB, the son of Carlo Rambaldi. Carlo and Alex Rambaldi are credited with the special and visual effects within Primal Rage. The companion film to Primal Rage is Welcome to Spring Break (Nightmare Beach - la spiaggia del terrore) (1989). Welcome to Spring Break is directed by Lenzi who co-scripted the film with Vittorio Rambaldi. Vittorio and Alex Rambaldi contributed to the special effects on Welcome to Spring Break. Both Florida productions were scored by Claudio Simonetti and photographed by Antonio Climati. Many of the performers of the two productions, like Sarah Buxton, appear in both. Now let us dispense with this mechanical and fact-riddled paragraph and break to hear from Florida’s greatest bard:

Donna, donna, dark,
Stooping in indigo gown
And cloudy constellations,
Conceal yourself or disclose
Fewest things to the lover--
A hand that bears a thick-leaved fruit,
A pungent bloom against your shade. (*)

Primal Rage is set in a Florida university. Student journalist Sam (Patrick Lowe) zips around campus on his red scooter while snapping photos of the excited student population. Beautiful student, Lauren (Cheryl Arutt) is about to have her vehicle towed away, but Sam is able to step in and be her “white knight.” Lauren returns to her dormitory room to discover pretty Debbie (Sarah Buxton), her new roommate. Debbie had to miss much of the semester, because of a medical condition. Sam returns to the campus newspaper office and engages in witty banter with colleague, Duffy (Mitch Watson). Duffy encourages Sam to investigate the experiments of university professor, Dr. Ethridge (Bo Svenson) and his top-secret scientific work. Duffy says that Sam should break into his laboratory to get the big scoop, but Sam plays by the rules and says no. Duffy borrows Sam’s camera and infiltrates Dr. Ethridge’s lab. Once inside, Duffy encounters an extremely angry monkey in a cage. It breaks out of the cage, whips Duffy’s ass a little bit, and bites his arm. Wonder if the animal carries anything infectious? Duffy is curious, too.

Primal Rage is notorious for having the congenial or innocuous tone and visual style of an American made-for-television film combined with some particularly nasty scenes of violence. The film is the very opposite of the cartoon-ish gore flicks made during the same period such as Re-Animator, Street Trash, and Bad Taste. The lack of irony not only adds to the camp value of Primal Rage but it also kind of makes you cringe a little bit in a sickening way. The following paragraph is an example and it contains SPOILERS:

Do you remember the costume party that Daniel (Ralph Macchio) attends in the original Karate Kid (1984)? Daniel opts for a humorous costume (a shower, complete with curtain and nozzle), while his nemeses, the Cobra Kai, don those iconic skeleton costumes (which make them look kind of sinister). As a result of the ingenuity of his costume, Daniel gets to cuddle and dance with his sweetheart, Ali (Elisabeth Shue), without being harassed by the Cobra Kai. Daniel, using stealth (again, as the result of his costume), plays a few pranks on the Cobra Kai. Daniel gets beaten by them pretty badly as a result. Pat Morita, of course, saves Daniel and the world becomes a better place. This whole dance sequence is sweet and overall, very heartwarming.

To contrast, Primal Rage also ends with a costume party, complete with live band in attendance. Previously in the film, Sam and Lauren and Debbie and Duffy, while on a double date, get harassed by three aggressive and belligerent students. These three students are revealed, later in the film, as psychopaths and rapists. They become infected by the titular “rage virus.” One could imagine that the “rage virus” enhances rather than retards their psychopathic behavior. However, the virus does not stop the trio from donning their skeleton costumes and attending the party. When they arrive at the party, they begin killing people by ripping out their throats and beating them to death. They are also doing this quite gleefully. The visual style and tone of this sequence, like almost all of Primal Rage, is completely detached, and this sequence, again like the whole film, is impressive in its stomach-turning quality. END SPOILERS.

Welcome to Spring Break (Nightmare Beach - la spiaggia del terrore) (1989) benefits from the performance of two of its veteran actors, John Saxon and Michael Parks. Bo Svenson lends his veteran talent to Primal Rage, but unfortunately his talent is under-utilized. He appears to be cast to capitalize upon his name recognition. Svenson is an imposing figure physically and in my opinion, he is the action hero to most likely gently squeeze the life out of an opponent. Playing the bookish, self-serving professor does not really mesh with Svenson’s performance. Like Lowe, Arutt, and Watson, Svenson gives a competent and satisfactory performance. Very attractive Sarah Buxton gives the best performance as Debbie. Not only does her character have to endure most of the terrible shit in the movie, she also has to provide the emotional core of the film. As a reward for this focal performance, Debbie is given the most unintentionally hilarious and worse dialogue. Buxton is fantastic and gives an even better performance in Welcome to Spring Break.

Incidental note: Welcome to Spring Break also includes a party with a live band and the same song is performed in both films: "Say the Word" by Kirsten. I have no idea whether its the same band in the two films, but the song is absolute brilliance. It also plays over the opening credit sequence of Primal Rage. Speaking of music, there is a really, really offensive scene within Primal Rage that reuses a metal song from Dario Argento’s Opera (1987). That being said, Simonetti’s score doesn’t really stand out. Considering that three of the Rambaldi family worked on Primal Rage, the gore effects, despite the low budget, are quite credible and nasty.

I have quite the fondness for Florida. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so when I see the characters walking outside, I can smell the sea air and feel the breeze. I also have a nostalgia for this period of cinema and a serious weakness for Italian genre cinema. These biases considerably enhance my enjoyment of Primal Rage. Bear that in mind. As a final note, I own two DVD editions of Primal Rage: an Italian release by Millennium Storm and an American release by label Code Red. If you want a technical comparison of each DVD, then I would refer you to another site. I only mention the two discs, because the Italian disc seems to be missing quite a bit of the gore that is present in the Code Red DVD.

* “O Florida, Venereal Soil,” by Wallace Stevens. The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens. Random House, New York, NY. Vintage Books Edition, 1990.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Thanks for turning me onto this, Hans! Great review. I don't think I've ever heard of PRIMAL RAGE before, but I have seen WELCOME TO SPRING BREAK (aka NIGHTMARE BEACH). Even though I wasn't stoked on SPRING BREAK as a whole, I definitely liked certain aspects of it, namely the killer, the Florida setting, and the lead actress who I found to be pretty cute. I'll definitely be picking this one up, if anything just for the novelty of it being a companion piece to SPRING BREAK and to see Sarah Buxton is something else.