Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Zeder (1983) aka Revenge of the Dead
Dir. Pupi Avati
Written by Pupi Avati, Antonio Avati, Maurizio Costanzo
Starring Gabriele Lavia, Anna Canovas,

I love this Italian poster for the film, which is just metal as all fuck....

So I guess it's no surprise that this ridiculous thing is what they went with in the US. And who the hell is John Stacy, and why does he get top billing?

“ interminably long giallo almost completely lacking in the elements that usually make the genre entertaining….I watched a few seriously uneventful movies in October, but this might have been the worst.” --Dan P

“it abounds with creepy, decaying sets, weird ideas, and a sense of seriousness that adds to the quietly unsettling buildup...the film does have a certain dark magic that almost imperceptibly creeps up on you.” --Me.

If there was a single film which stood out as a starkly divisive love-it-or-hate-it affair last year, it had to be Pupi Avati’s HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS. While I had to admit it was overlong and mostly too uneventful, I was surprised and impressed by it’s unusually confident slow burn pace and seemingly deliberate aversion to the usual givens of Italian horror (sex, gore, overt stylization and nonsensical plotting). By almost any standard you can think of, HOUSE is a deeply unusual Italian horror film which seems almost entirely shot on location, spills shockingly little blood, and puts a strong emphasis on mystery rather than splatter.

He's not a vampire, just missing some key teeth in the middle.

Well, for better or for worse, ZEDER proves that HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS was no accident. Even with almost a decade between them, ZEDER is immediately recognizable as a film guided by the same vision. In fact, if anything by 1983 Avati seems even less interested in sex and violence and more determined to craft a staid, plotty mystery film with a nonetheless distinctly bizarre Italian Horror sensibility. You may not love his style (though I do), but you have to admit that Avati has a distinct ability to evoke a sense of place through his fastidious use of real locations and his near-fetishization of Italian rural decay. Crucially, while most giallo directors seem to cultivate a stylized, dark fairy-tale depiction of their homeland, Avati harkens to the Italian Neo-Realists, with their evocative depictions of cities as graveyards, where crumbling ruins of ancient civilizations coexist with an encroaching modernity. But where the images in, say BICYCLE THIEF or UMBERTO D juxtapose the old city with the new and seem to suggest the cyclic nature of life, Avanti seems to find something darker here. His ruins aren’t just bombed out wrecks from the world wars or the ancient shadows of Roman splendor; they’re the evidence of something perverse rotting under the surface, just behind the new coat of cheap paint. There’s an ineffable sense that something is deeply, deeply wrong in ways which are not immediately obvious, but perhaps are somehow reflected in the decaying corpses of the derelict structures which dominate his films.

Avati eschews the usual primary color bath of the giallo in favor of a palette of Earth tones.

It’s this unique sense of dark atmosphere which gives Avati his most potent weapon, but ZEDER does make a few distinct improvements over HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS. It’s shorter, for one thing; HOUSE felt somewhat fatty and uneventful, but ZEDER moves inexorably forward. It probably helps that the mystery here is a little better, too. It begins with writer Stefano (Gabriele Lavia, DEEP RED) acquiring a used typewriter and, on a whim, checking the spent ribbon to see what it’s previous owner had been up to. When he finds what appears to be the work of Paolo Zeder, the late scientist who claimed to have found a way to raise the dead, he becomes curious and then obsessed with getting to the bottom of that matter. As he pursues his various leads, it becomes clear there is some kind of conspiracy afoot, but who is behind it and what are they hiding in an abandoned half-constructed hotel in rural Spain?

This will be hard to explain in the inevitable remake.

This plot is not only a better and clearer mystery than HOUSE, it also allows for a much more cinematic narrative. Less long expository conversations, more actual digging for clues at various creepy locations. The acting here is significantly better than you would usually get in an Italian horror film (it helps that it’s subtitled, not dubbed) but even so, Avati’s unique sensibility works best in quiet scenes than in labored conversation. Less dialogue means the characters are more active and easier to root for. Lavia, especially, makes a believable, charismatic lead and he’s complimented nicely by Anne Canovas as his wife who doesn’t really give a shit about any of this but nicely tries to help her errant husband with his investigation. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable role for a woman, actually; wifey is full of good ideas and neatly avoids the usual trap of being the obligatory weepy character who wants her husband to stop being so awesome. Not bad for an Italian film. Add to that mix a moody and memorable score by Riz Ortalani (MONDO CANE, AFRICA ADDIO, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING) and you’ve got something with a lot of stuff going for it that often gets neglected in this genre. If it, in turn, neglects the heady thrills you’re expecting from an Italian horror film, well, at least it’s in the service of doing something different, and doing it successfully. Not for all tastes, but those like me who are on Avati’s wavelength will find it a gripping, deeply unsettling and subtly weird experience.


  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: None
  • BOOBIES: Amazingly, no. In fact, the hero even turns down sex with a nymphomaniac co-ed because he loves his wife. What is this, a Saudi Arabian film?
  • DECAPITATIONS OR DE-LIMBING: All limbs stay attached.
  • ENTRAILS? None.
  • CULTISTS: There's a conspiracy, but it doesn't seem religious.
  • ZOMBIES: It's a little coy, but yeah, there are zombies.
  • SLASHERS: None.
  • CURSES: No
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: High. Out of print, tiny cult following.

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