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Umberto Lenzi - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2008

Films directed by Umberto Lenzi on (re)Search my Trash

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Let me state one thing up front: Umberto Lenzi is not a great director.

He is no visionary like fellow Italian genre directors like Dario Argento, Mario Bava [Mario Bava bio - click here] or even Sergio Leone, nor is he a genre auteur like Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here] or Lucio Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click here], not even a craftsman as gifted as Antonio Margheriti (= Anthony M.Dawson) [Antonio Margheriti bio - click here] or as wily and enjoyably trashy as Joe D'Amato [Joe D'Amato bio - click here].

Umberto Lenzi's directorial style could be best described as Spartan. His films had little room for visual experiments, and pretty much everything is shot in a straightforward style - which made him the perfect hired-hand director who could deliver his films on time and on budget, and who was always willing to compromise and/or make concessions - and occasionally his films looked it, some of his films actually look incredibly shoddy. That all said, if given a decent budget and free reign over his films he could put out quite acceptable movies - but unfortunately this wasn't always the case ...

 

Having gotten all that off my chest, it should be pointed out that Lenzi over the years has become famous (and notorious) primarily for his gore shockers including several cannibal and zombie films, but actually these films are only a fraction of his actual output, and at least some of them, despite being considered cult-items nowadays, are actually among his poorest films and have gained fame and notoriety solely for their excessive gore scenes.

 

It would be wrong though to label Lenzi simply as a gore director, he was more of a craftsman who would work equally well (or un-well) in whichever genre was thrown at him, be it period pieces, Westerns, gialli, poliziotteschi, cannibal movies, zombie flicks, shockers, war movies, adventure movies ... and as a consequence, his filmography closely mirrors the history of Italian genre cinema as such as Lenzi has made films of whatever genre was popular at any given time ... 

 


 

Early Life, Early Career

 

Umberto Lenzi was born in Massa Marittima, Grosseto, Italy on August 6, 1931. From an early age on, he was fascinated with movies, and he started various film fan clubs during his days as a student. But despite his love for cinema, he initially studied law until his true love won the upper hand and he ditched law school for studying the technical arts of filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale de Cinematografia, where he earned a degree in 1956.

 

After having finished his studies, Lenzi didn't enter the film industry as such immediately but wrote articles on films for several publications as well as some fiction (usually murder mysteries), which he released under various aliases.

(Actually, he continued writing until late in his life, which includes screenplays for himself as well as for others and the occasional short story, for one of which, a mystery, he earned an award at the 1983 Cattolica Mystfest.)

Eventually all of his writings opened him the doors to the film industry, and he intiially became assistant director on a handful of films in the early 1960's, until he was actually offered his first film as a director, a pirate movie ...

 


 

Period Pieces, Peplums, Pirate Movies - The Early 1960's

 

In the early 1960's, period pieces formed the bulk of production of Italian genre cinema. Mainly these were peplums (= Italian sword and sandal movies), but quite a few pirate movies, Zorro-movies (with Zorro not necessarily being restricted to his native America), Robin Hood movies and the like were being produced as well. And though the films were all posing as historical dramas/adventures, they usually did not care much about accuracy or were in the least faithful to their sources (and you will see what I mean later on).

 

So when in the early 1960's, an aspiring director wanted to make his first feature film, he was almost certainly assigned to a period piece of one sort or another, simply because they were cheap to make (since sets and costumes were usually shared by many films), an already experienced crew could help out in case the director failed, these films were almost sure to make their money back, and many of them could even be exported to the rest of Europe and sometimes to overseas as well.

 


In that light it should come as no surprise that Lenzi's first feature was a pirate movie, Le Avventure di Mary Read (1961), in which Lisa Gastoni can be seen as Mary Read, a female corsair, who takes over a pirate ship to wreak havoc on the high seas.

 

While certainly no classic, the film is well-enough made to inspire producers to hire Lenzi for more period pieces of all sorts:

  • Duello nella Sila/Duel of Fire (1962) is set in 19th century Europe while Il Trionfo di Robin Hood/The Triumph of Robin Hood (1962) is yet another reworking of the Robin Hood legend, starring the relatively unknown American actor Don Burnett in the lead.
  • Caterina di Russia/Catherine of Russia (1963) tells the story of Catherine the Great (portrayed by Hildegard Knef) but takes a few too many liberties with history as such to be taken seriously.
  • L'Invincibile Cavaliere Mascherato/Terror of the Black Mask/The Invincible Masked Rider (1963) is a Zorro-ish adventure that also includes horror elements and the bulbonic plague. Pierre Brice plays the lead [Pierre Brice bio - click here]. For some incomprehensible reason, this film was marketed as a Robin Hood-picture in German language countries.


  • The funniest (if maybe also worst) of this bunch of films though is Zorro contro Maciste (1963), in which popular characters Zorro and Maciste are both torn from their respective historical contexts (19th century in the former case, antiquity inthe later, though the Maciste-legend was known to travel in time a little) and pitted against each other in a fantasy kingdom remotely resembling midieval Spain. In the finale they unite though to give the baddies their just desserts. Zorro is in this one played by Pierre Brice, Maciste by Alan Steel aka Sergio Ciani. Peplum regular Moira Orfei also stars.


Umberto Lenzi next tried his hands on what can be labelled as one of Italy's (pulp-)literature's greatest heroes, Sandokan, created by Italian author Emilio Salgari (1862 - 1911). Basically, Sandokan is a pirate from Malaysia, but his appeal is not so much his murdering and pillaging but his relentless fight against the British and Dutch colonialists in the South China Seas.

Umberto Lenzi shot two Sandokan-movies, both with ex-Mr Universe Steve Reeves (who keeps his shirt on during most of the movies) in the lead, Sandokan, la Tigre di Mompracem/Sandokan the Great (1963) and I Pirati della Malesia/Sandokan - Pirate of Malaysia (1964) [Steve Reeves bio - click here]. Both films were quite decently made actually, but looking closely, you can't help noticing the amount of time Sandokan the pirate spends on land due to budgetary restraints. Still, there are waaay worse examples of this in Italian pirate movie history.

 


To make the most of the Sandokan-sets and costumes, Umberto Lenzi made three more similarly-themed movies during that time, Sandok, il Maciste della Giungla/Temple of the White Elephants (1964) starring Errol's son Sean Flynn, I Tre Sergenti de Bengala (1964), and La Montagna di Luce/Temple of a Thousand Lights/Jungle Adventurer, the last two starring Richard Harrison [Richard Harrison bio - click here], which would also share some of the cast with the Sandokan-movies.

From today's jaded point of view, sharing sets and costumes might sound a bit greedy, but actually such tactics would ensure each film higher production values than they could boast on their own ... and thus all five films actually look pretty good, at least production value wise.

 

In between these films Umberto Lenzi also made L'Ultimo Gladiatore/Messalina against the Son of Hercules (1964), Lenzi's only actual peplum (despite the Maciste-character, Zorro contro Maciste does not really classify as a peplum due to its sets and pseudo-historical backgrounds). 

This one, set in the times of Caligula and Messalina, once again stars Richard Harrison, this time as a gladiator out to overthrow Rome's evil rulers, with Lisa Gastoni playing Messalina and Charles Borromel Caligula. In all, L'Ultimo Gladiatore fails to stand out of the heaps of peplums made at the time, with only some torture scenes providing some fun for acquired tastes. By and large, it simply has to be noted, the sword-and-sandal genre had run its course by the mid-1960's ...

 


 

Thrillers, Espionage, Westerns, War - The Late 1960's

 


Umberto Lenzi was nothing if not versatile (which you had to be as an Italian genre director in the 1960's to remain in business), in the mid-1960's he easily shook the confines of period pieces and adapted to whatever was thrown at him - which immediately were a handful of espionage inspired by the then immensely popular James Bond movies: A 008: Operazione Sterminio (1965), Superseven chiama Cairo/Super Seven Calling Cairo (1965), Le Spie Amano i Fiori (1966) and Un Milione di Dollari per Sette Assassini/Last Man to Kill (1966) all didn't even try to set themselves apart from the James Bond-series (words like A 008 and Superseven in the title were obviously not chosen by chance), but quite in general, Italian espionage movies never had the budget, the scripts or indeed the cast to challenge the British superspy-series, and by and large, these films seem ridiculous from today's point of view (Lenzi's films included), though at times ridiculous in an entertaining way.

 


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The big moviegenre in mid-1960's Italy though was the Western, and Lenzi of course made a couple of them as well, Tutto per Tutto and Una Pistole per Cento Bare (both 1968), which were ok but quite unremarkable genre entries. Same can probably be said about his war films, Attentato ai tre Grandi/Desert Commandos (1967) and La Legione dei Dannati/Legion of the Damned (1969), which first and foremost shared the fate of most of Italian war films from the late 1960's - a serious lack of budget, which results of course in a lack of spectacular setpieces ... still, interestingly enough, Lenzi would return to the war genre quite frequently, and only rarely with adequate budgets ...

 

Lenzi's first real claim for fame though arrived in 1966, with his film Kriminal. Kriminal was the story of a supercriminal who commits all his crimes in a black bodysuit with a skeleton painted on it, based on the popular Italian comicstrip by writer Max Bunker (Luciano Secchi) and artist Magnus (Roberto Raviola). The Kriminal-comicstrips actually were fumetti neri, which literally means black comics and refers to their anithero- or even villainous lead characters. The film Kriminal, with Glenn Saxson in the lead, works pretty much along the lines of then-popular espionage films (of which Umberto Lenzi made quite a few, see above) but is more stylish and playful than your typical James Bond-rip off, and not at least thanks to its stylishness and intentionally campy elements it has since become a bit of a cult item (even though it was always overshadowed by Mario Bava's similarly themed Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik from 1968, and deservedly so). However, Kriminal was actually more important in being the first fumetti neri being brought to the big screen, and over the next few years, quite a few would follow ...

Eventually, the film Kriminal proved successful enough to spawn a sequel, Il Marchio di Kriminal, in 1968, which was not directed by Lenzi though but by Fernando Cerchio.

 

It was however another genre that Umberto Lenzi made his own in the late 1960's: The giallo.

The giallo - a distinctive Italian version of the traditional murder mystery often involving psychopaths and horror elements - was back then still in its infancy (Dario Argento, who is nowadays considered as the visionary of the genre, made his first giallo L'Ucello dalle Piume di Cristallo/The Bird with the Crystal Plumage only in 1969) and was initially little more than an attempt to cash in on the then immensely popular German Edgar Wallace series - but just like the spaghetti Western which was spawned by the German Winnetou series, the giallo developed into something generic before long.

Umberto Lenzi had a special affinity to the giallo genre because he had written several murder mystery stories over the years and it was a genre he really loved, too. Lenzi's first giallo, Orgasmo/Paranoid (1969) did actually come out almost a full year before Argento's first, even if it ultimately did not have the same impact as Argento's film(s), and of course it was not the first ever giallo.

Still, the film had everything that would soon become a genre mainstay: an overly complicated plot full of murder and blackmail, its fair share of sex, and plottwists aplenty that are simply too outrageous to come across as believable. But stil, casting plausibility away for a moment, in itself, Orgasmo, the story of a widowed and wealthy American woman (Carroll Baker) who falls prey to a couple of golddiggers (Lou Castel, Colette Descombes), actually works if taken as a genre flick, and it became a big success in Italy as well as quite successful internationally - successful enough for Lenzi to also cast Carroll Baker again for his next two gialli, Cosi Dolce ... così Perversa/So Sweet ... so Perverse (1969) and Paranoia/A Quiet Place to Kill (1970) - this one obviously titled to cash in on the international title of Orgasmo - as well as his later Il Coltello di Ghiaccio/Silent Horror/Knife of Ice (1972), which, believe it or not, is also a giallo ...

 


 

Gialli and Poliziotteschi - The 1970's a.k.a. The Golden Years

 

Arguably, the 1970's - and I mean especially the first half - were the golden age fof Italian genre cinema: Much of the output of the Italian film industry was distributed internationally, be it murder mysteries (or gialli), cop movies (or poliziotteschi), sex movies or horror flicks - and quite naturally, international marketability meant higher budgets and thus higher production values. Plus, by and large, Italian genre films from that era had a certain look to them that was simply lacking in films from earlier eras.

 

 

The heyday of Italian genre cinema of course also meant that Lenzi's career during that era was doing extremely well, and his films looked the best and slickest in the former half of the 1970's.

He started the decade by doing more gialli, above mentioned A Quiet Place to Kill as well as Un Posto Ideale per Uccidere/Deadly Trap/Oasis of Fear/Dirty Pictures (1971), Sette Orchidee Macchiate di Rosso/Seven Blood-Stained Orchids/Das Rätsel des Silbernen Halbmonds (1972) - this being one of the last films of German production company Rialto's Edgar Wallace series -, above mentioned Silent Horror, Spasmo/The Death Dealer (1974) and Gatti Rossi in un Labirinto di Vetro/The Eye/Secret Killer/Eyeball (1975), which were maybe no masterpieces, but uniformly well-made and stylistically accomplished murder mysteries. Sure, most of them had plots that defied plausibility, but in all honesty, this is something they shared with the giallo genre as a whole.

 

 

The other genre that has become very popular was the cop movie or poliziottesco. Basically, polizioteschi were violent, police-themed action movies (as opposed to, let's say, police procedurals), full of car chases, explosions and shoot-outs with heroes who often saw themselves above the law to get their results, and they were definitely from the more exploitative end of the cop movie genre as such. And while there were Italian cop movies before the 1970's and even the occasional film that could have been labeled poliziottesco, the genre came into full swing following the successes of US-American cop flicks like Dirty Harry (1971, Don Siegel), French Connection (1971, William Friedkin) and Serpico (1973, Sidney Lumet). Death Wish (1974, Michael Winner), though technically not a cop movie, also had an impact on the poliziottesco. What set poliziotteschi apart from their American inspirations though was that they did often include Italian political and socio-economic situations in their plots, and not only for that they were unmistakably Italian.

 

Key directors of the genre were Fernando di Leo, Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here] and Umberto Lenzi - with, truth to be told, Lenzi being possibly the least talented and interesting of the three, but still he turned out many an exciting poliziottesco during the 1970's, as his Spartan directorial style actually fitted the genre quite well, and he proved to indeed be able to handle complex action sequences with ease.

 


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Lenzi became involved in the genre via a gangster flick, Milano Rovente/Burning City/Gangwar in Milan (1973), which dealt with Italian pimp Antonio Sabato putting up a fight against French drug kingpin Philippe Leroy because he couldn't accept the low standards of the Frenchman who was already trying to take over his territory. By definition, Milano Rovente was of course not a poliziottesco (no cops as lead characters), but in concept - a violent tough guy loner with a set of rules of his own fighting an evil syndicate that easily outguns him - the film was very much in tune with the neighbouring genre.

 


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Milano Odia: La Polizia non puo Sparare/Almost Human/The Kidnap of Mary Lou (1974) is Lenzi's first poliziottesco per se. In this one, the slightly insane small time crook Tomas Milian tries to hit the jackpot by kidnapping Laura Belli, the daughter of a rich man. Cop Henry Silva sees to it that things are put right again, no matter what the cost.

 


Lenzi kept Tomas Milian from Almost Human for Roma a Mano Armata/Rome Armed to the Teeth (1976), but this time around he plays a machine gun carrying psycho-hunchback pitted against cop Maurizio Merli. Maurizio Merli was effective enough that he returned as a cop later that year in Napoli Violenta/Violent Naples (1976), while in Il Trucido e lo Sbirro/Tough Cop/Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976), Milian is back, this time playing a drug dealer who the titular tough cop Claudio Cassinelli teams up with to save a kidnap victim from gangster kingpin Henry Silva. Interestingly, Milian's character was so popular in this film that two more films were made about him, La Banda del Trucido/Destruction Force (1977) by Stelvio Massi and La Banda del Gobbo/Brothers till we Die (1978), again by Lenzi himself, the latter actually having been co-scripted by Milian. These three films though all had an ironic edge to it missing from Lenzi's earlier work.

 

Il Cinico, l'Infame, il Violento/The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (1977) is a direct sequel to Rome Armed to the Teeth, and again it pits Maurizio Merli against Tomas Milian (and John Saxon [John Saxon bio - click here] for that matter, who was also in Violent Naples), but that's not to say the film is purely derivative. Actually, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist is a pretty effective and fast-paced crime thriller in its own right.

 

Da Corleone a Brooklyn/From Corleone to Brooklyn/The Sicilian Boss (1979) quite obviously tries to liken itself to Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather-series titlewise, but actually it's another effective poliziottesco starring Maurizio Merli.

 

 

Apart from gialli and poliziotteschi, Lenzi only made a handful of other films, crime thrillers (L'Uomo della Strada fa Giustizia/Manhunt in the City and Il Giustiziere sfida la Città/Syndicate Sadists/Rambo's Revenge [both 1975]), war films (Il Grande Attacco/Battle Force/The Great Battle [1978] with a stellar cast including Henry Fonda, Orson Welles, Stacy Keach, Helmut Berger, Samantha Eggar, Giuliano Gemma, John Huston and Edwige Fenech and Contro 4 Bandiere/From Hell to Victory [1979] starring George Peppard, George Hamilton, Horst Buchholz and Capucine) and a sex comedy (Scusi, lei e Normale ? [1979]).

However, the film from the 1970's that has brought Umberto Lenzi the most recognition internationally and has really put his name on the map of exploitation film was of another genre altogether: violent adventure, or the cannibal movie to be more precise ...

 


 

Jungle Adventures: Umberto Lenzi and the Cannibals

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

In 1972, Umberto Lenzi was still making gialli, almost exclusively actually, but for Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio/Deep River Savages, he left the genre (and Italy as such) behind for a bit to film this jungle adventure movie in Thailand. The film is a very savage adventure movie that tells the story of a white man (Ivan Rassimov) getting lost in the jungles of Thailand and getting picked up by a tribe of natives who just won't let him go anymore ... and slowly the white man comes to terms with living among the natives. Of course, the fact that he and he daughter (Me Me Lai [Me Me Lai bio - click here]) of the chief have fallen in love makes things a lot easier for him, but even after she dies giving birth to his child, he feels he does indeed belong to the tribe now.

In itself, the film, a competent adventure movie that fitted Lenzi's rather Spartan directorial style perfectly, would probably not have caused much of a sensation wouldn't it have contained some very graphic cannibal scenes that in their explicitness were unheard of at the time. And even though the cannibals are mere supporting characters in Deep River Savages and their scenes only make up a small portion of the film, the movie is (with some justification) laneled the first Italian cannibal movie and has therefore become a part of exploitation cinema history. Still, the film did not kickstart the cannibal genre by itself and did not find many imitators immediately after its release - which is significant in itself since the Italian filmindustry was traditionally quick in imitating any box office success.

 

It wasn't until 5 years later actually that another Italian cannibal movie would be made, Ultimo Mondo Cannibale/Jungle Holocaust (1977), a film directed by Ruggero Deodato [Ruggero Deodato bio - click here], which was a more all-out cannibal flick than Deep River Savages. Later, both Lenzi and Deodato would claim to have invented the genre as such, a question that can be answered in two ways: While Deodato put the cannibals center stage in his movie, he was quite obviously influenced by Lenzi's film - up to a point where he re-cast Deep River Savages' two leads Ivan Rassimov and Me Me Lai. 

(Whoever invented the cannibal genre as such though, it's no doubt that it was indeed Ruggero Deodato who made the ultimate cannibal movie, Cannibal Holocaust [1980].) 

 


Flix.com


Flix.com

Jungle Holocaust became quite a success and spawned a host of imitators, and thus it was only a question of time until Umberto Lenzi would be called back to the genre: In 1980 he made Mangiati Vivi/Eaten Alive, a film that combines cannibal genre mainstays with various facts about the Jonestown Massacre to a rather odd melange, and once again Lenzi used Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov in lead roles.

But while Deep River Savages was a serious if exploitative adventure film, Eaten Alive was pure trash, coming up with excuse after excuse to show extreme violence (also against animals, a genre trademark), nude women or even both. Plus, to cut costs, many scenes (and I especially mean costly gore scenes) were re-used from earlier movies like Deep River Savages, Jungle Holocaust and La Montagna del Dio Cannibale/The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978, Sergio Martino), for example Me Me Lai's extended death scene was completely lifted from Jungle Holocaust. Taken seriously, Eaten Alive is of course less than satisfying, but it has this certain so-bad-it's-good quality to it that (to trash fans like me) makes it extremely entertaining in its own way.

 


Flix.com


Flix.com


Flix.com

The same can unfortunately not be said about Cannibal Ferox/Make Them Die Slowly (1981), Lenzi's final cannibal film. This film is about a group of stupid youngsters out inthe jungle to prove that there is no such thing as cannibalism - only to be proven wrong, and savagely so. In this film, the plot is little more than an excuse to show scene after scene of extreme violence (as you might have guessed from my synopsis) with no suspense, no likeable characters, and not even all that talented actors. In a way it's Lenzi at his worst, and also a precursor of things to come in the 1980's.

 

Umberto Lenzi returned to the jungle once again in 1982, but this time not to find cannibals but to find your typical jungle girl in the form of Sabrina Siani in Incontro nell'Ultimo Paradiso/Daughter of the Jungle/Adventures in Last Paradise, and rather than a gore film this one is an erotic comedy.

 

(Speaking of jungle films, it scould possibly also be mentioned that Lenzi also was involved in writing the Tarzan film Tarzán en la Gruta del Oro/Zan, King of the Jungle [Manuel Cano] in 1969, one in a series of unauthorized Spanish Tarzan movies.)

 


 

The Decline - The 1980's

 

After the 1970's, which were a golden age for Italian genre cinema, the decline came all too rapidly in the 1980's. Basically, Italian films were driven out of the cinemas by US American blockbusters, a phenomenon that didn't even surface as such until the mid- to late 1970's and that now began to demand its toll. As a consequence, it seems that the Italians have lost all trust into their own creativity in the 1980's, and instead of making some generic films, they concentrated on making rip-offs of every (genre-)movie that was doing well at the box office, even if Italian films could not compete with their American counterparts on a budgetary level and often also lacked the technical prerequisites - which caused films from that era to look often shoddy and almost always derivative, but also often funny in their own (sometimes unintentional) way.

(Truth to be told, the Italians also were not shy to copy successful film concepts in previous decades as well, but never were they so unashamed at it as in the 1980's.)

 

 

Being the perfect genre director as it is, Umberto Lenzi was of course no exception to this trend:


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  • Quite obviously, the zombie film Incubo sulla Città Contaminata/Nightmare City (1980) - filmed between his two cannibal flicks - was inspired by George A.Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), and though it was not on par with that movie on any level (least of all the underlying parody of Romero's film), it is nevertheless one of the better Italian zombie movies from that period.
  • La Guerra del Ferro - Ironmaster/Ironmaster (1983) a barbarian flick set in the iron age to cash in on the success of Conan the Barbarian (1982) on the other hand is pretty much bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment - though admittedly, Italian barbarian movies from that era did look shoddy almost by definition.
  • Nightmare Beach/Welcome to Spring Break (1988), an American production, is pretty much your standard cheap and uninteresting slasher, with Lenzi's Spartan directorial style translating into uninspired. Actually there is very little this film has to go for it, and why the American producers needed to hire an Italian director to deliver a film as routine as this is beyond me.


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  • La Casa 3/Ghosthouse (1988) and Paura nel Buio/Hitcher in the Dark/Hitcher 2 (1989), both produced by Joe D'Amato's Filmirage [Joe D'Amato bio - click here], were rip-offs of the Evil Dead-series (titled La Casa in Italy) and The Hitcher (1986, Robert Harmon) respectively even in title, however, they never even remotely reached their inspirations' effectiveness ... in fact both films are atrocious and among the worst Lenzi ever directed.

Apart from these rip-offs, Lenzi directed a few more horror films in the 1980's (Le Porte dell'Inferno/Hell's Gate/Gate of Hell, and La Casa del Sortilegio/House of Witchcraft and La Casa delle Anime Erranti/House of Lost Souls [all 1989] - the last two being parts of an unaired TV-series, Le Case del Terrore, for which Lucio Fulci [Lucio Fulci bio - click here] also made two films), but nothing really worthwhile. Also in the 1980's, he tried his hands on comedy (Pierino la Peste alla Riscossa and Cicciabomba [both 1982]), with only moderate success.

 




Of more interest might be the handful of Italo-Yugoslavian World War II movies (I Cinque del Condor/Thunder Squad/Wild Team [1985], Un Ponte per l'Inferno/A Bridge to Hell [1986] and Tempi di Guerra/Wartime [1987]) Lenzi made in the mid-1980's, if not necessarily for their inherent qualities but their almost obvious cheapness: All the more elaborte action scenes in these films are lifted from somewhere else and clumsily edited in, the actors are for the most part no-names (with almost all supporting roles cast with presumably cheaper Yugoslavian actors), and the plots are little more than tired routine. In fact it has to be credited to Umberto Lenzi that the films did not turn out to be total desasters.

 


 

Fade-out: The 1990's

 

In the 1990's, Italian genre cinema, which had experienced a surge thanks to the home video boom of the mid-1980's, was finally down on its knees, and consequently, Umberto Lenzi only made a few more films.

  • The crime action flicks Detective Malone/Black Cobra 4/Code-Name Insallah (1990, starring Fred Williamson), Cop Target (1990, starring Robert Ginty and Charles Napier) and Hornsby e Rodriguez - sfida Criminale (1992, starring Charles Napier) simply paled compared to his poliziotteschi from the 1970's.

  • Flix.com

  • Demoni 3/Black Demons/Black Zombies (1991), a cheaply produced zombie-shocker, is quite simply put atrocious.
  • Even worse though is Caccia allo Scorpione d'Oro/Hunt for the Golden Scorpion (1991), an adventure movie about a treasure hunt in some jungle or other which is to a good part made up from action scenes from a warmovie - which don't at all match the newly shot scenes, making the whole film a very schizophrenic experience.

Umberto Lenzi's last film (so far ?) is 1996's Sarayevo Inferno di Fuoco, a warmovie that left surprisingly little impact on anyone and that seems to to this day never have come out anywhere.

 

Lenzi, then aged 65, retired after this movie, and probably it was for the best: Italy did no longer offer a director of his ilk the prerequisites to make good films, instead from the early 1980's onwards he was pretty much forced to churn out one underbudgeted genre piece after another, films that effectively ruined the reputation he had built up for himself in the 1970's with solid genre entertainment. 

And while Lenzi was no great director in any sense of the word, he was a talented craftsman who could turn out quite entertaining fare, and he should not be remembered by garbage like Hunt for the Golden Scorpion, Black Demons or Ghosthouse, not even by the trashy but funny Eaten Alive, but by films like Orgasmo, Deep River Savages, Milano Rovente or Rome Armed to the Teeth, which might not be perfect films but good genre entertainment - and that's all someone like me needs every now and again ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

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Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
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