11/4/11

Ectovember: Ghosts of Sodom (1988) - Fulci Gets Spooked

Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with ghosts. A head shrinker might tell you that has to do with my own fears of death, and they might be right. But that seems like a bummer doesn't it? I like to think it has more to do with what I can see. Vampires, Frankenstein monsters, zombies, and werewolves, while dangerous, are corporeal beings (or corpse-poreal as the case may be). They're solid, there's tried and true ways to kill them, and, most importantly, you have a chance to see them coming. A vengeful poltergeist, a malicious ghost, or a spiteful spirit person could be anywhere, and there's no telling what they might be getting up to. Ghosts are also the only movie monster one has a chance of running into on a day to day basis. The chances are I won't go anywhere (except a museum) and find out it's inhabited by Mummies, but anywhere could be a haunted place. After all, I live in America. This whole place is an ancient Indian burial ground, and anyone who has seen Poltergeist (or Poultrygeist) can tell you how well that works out. That's why I thought I'd take November, excuse me, Ectovember and look at a number of films featuring the ectoplasmic entities. The first on my list is Lucio Fulci's attempt at a film devoid of the usual slashers, hell gates, and zombies that typically inhabit his films. In their place, he decided the way to go was Nazi ghosts, and the De Sade inspired title, Il fantasma di Sodoma, The Ghosts of Sodom. 


Anyone who has seen a Nazi-spoitation movie can yell you that there's little that Nazi officers like more than a sadistic orgy of one sort of another. As Fulci's movie begins, one is in full swing, and the officers' Caligula-like orgy continued right up until Allied forces bombed the house killing everyone inside. Forty years later, a group of students studying in France are traveling through the countryside on their way back to Paris. Trying to get there before night, Marc (Joseph Allen Johnson) takes a "shortcut" which leads them right to an abandoned (yet maintained) mansion. Once inside things start out strangely. They find the abandoned house stocked with wine and food, but soon the group makes themselves at home. As events conspire to keep them in the house, first their car breaks down and then they find they're locked inside, the students soon discover they are not the only residents of the mansion. The spirits of the Nazi officers, headed by Willy (Robert Egon), still occupy the mansion, and they're ready to get their party started again.

There are many great things I can say about Lucio Fulci. I highly recommend everyone go back and look at other reviews I've done of his films to see those things because there's not going to be so much of that here.   The late 80's were not a high point in Fulci's career. Starting with 1984's Murder Rock, Lucio went into nearly a decade long slump that he didn't break until 1991's Cat in the Brain (which grafted the usable parts of several of his late decade films into one film.) Ghosts of Sodom was nestled right in this period.  Fulci penned the original story and collaborated on the screenplay with Carlo Alberto Alfieri (writer, Shanghai Joe). It's a mystery how Fulci alone, much less with help, could have penned such a laughable, predictable script. I mean seriously, lost kids end up at a haunted house where their car won't work, the phone goes out, and the doors lock them inside. Perhaps Fulci was looking to hearken back to haunted house films of the '50's and '60's, but did so by way of placing as many naked people as he could into the aforementioned stock context. Lucio knows how to do sleazy. Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Perversion Story are both sleazy films, but Ghosts of Sodom should top them both. With a title like that, drawn from the work of Marquis de Sade (which is where the connection to his work ends), and Nazis to boot, I expected a Salo, or The 120 Days in Sodom level of sick, debauched, perversion. However comparing Pasolini's film to Fulci is like comparing Se7en to Beverly Hills Cop. 


Along with lacking imagination, Ghosts of Sodom also lacks any charismatic actors to propel the story along. Fulci often worked with the same actors over and over, but none of them show up on the roll call for this flick. (Save for Al Cliver who appears briefly and uncredited.) In fact, most of the actors' résumés start and end at Ghost of Sodom. Only Joseph Alan Johnson, who plays the headstrong Marc, had any previous credits to speak of having appeared in Slumber Party Massacre and Hollywood Hot Tubs. In 1988, he would also write and star in the ski resort slasher Iced (which can't be as good as Shredder). Robert Egon, who played the strangely named Willy the Nazi, would go on to make a couple of brief appearances in bigger films playing "Perfect Young Italian" in the 1990 Captain America film and "Italian Street Boy" in My Own Private Idaho. It appears that if you had a vague Italian character, he was the go to guy of the moment. The film's high point may be the synth score by Carlo Mario Cordio, composer for Fulci's previous two films and later of the soundtrack for that best worst movie, Troll 2, which attempts to focus some mood on Fulci's wan film making.

Before I sign off, let me take a moment to talk about the ghosts of Ghosts of Sodom. First off, there's not nearly enough of them. Only Willy the Nazi shows up regularly to menace the students (though in one scene he has card playing co-horts), and his plans to scare and kill seem awfully convoluted. Taking a look at the film's spirits from a paranormal point of view, it seems logical that Nazis killed mid-drug and sex orgy might haunt the building in which they were killed. I don't think they'd try and lure people into Russian Roulette games as Fulci has Willy do in the film, but many paranormal researchers believe people that meet a violent and emotional end often stay here as spirits. This is exactly why if you're in the market for a French mansion you really need to check out who the previous owners were. Was it just a kindly old Madame who lightly used her home and only left for church on Sundays or was it inhabited by drug snorting Nazis with a predilection for sex parties?

That brings us to the end of the first installment of Ectovember, and I'll be back next Friday with another installment. Until then, join me back here Sunday for my thoughts on Megaforce, Monday will see my review of Jeff "Project:Valkyrie" Waltrowski's new film It Came From Yesterday, and then Wednesday will see another treat when once again  It Came from TCM. Stay tuned until then, and keep an eye out for ghosts. They're keeping two out for you!

Bugg Rating 

There's no dialog to this, which is probably for the best, but it does feature the score and one of the film's better effects shots. I would consider this a spoiler if it actually made sense in context, but it doesn't so no worries.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice write up! To be honest, I haven't really seen many of Fulci's later films - though the trailers have provided me with some slack-jawed moments! When he isn't being masterfully unsettling, his stuff can be so dreary and depressing - which just adds to the doom-laden tone of his work. I think my favourite film of his is Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Even his weaker work - cheap and shoddy - boasts something unsettling within it. The scene you embedded above for example - that persistent music, the disgusting effects, the lack of any narrative thrust or sense of urgency - it is strangely typical of Fulci's ability to still get under your skin despite the crassness of it all!

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