Skip to content

Plot: struggling British model is haunted by malefic spirits of the dead.

By the late 1980s the Italian exploitation industry was on the verge of extinction. What little still sold internationally was anything coasting on the dying embers of genres previously profitable, mainly daft action, soft erotic dross and horror. The latter two converged in Minaccia d'amore (or Threat Of Love, for some reason released in the Anglo-Saxon world under the semi Hitchcock-ian title Dial: Help), a self-professed erotic thriller from Tinto Brass producer Giovanni Bertolucci that’s largely in line with what was popular at the time. That means that in effect it’s more of a supernatural horror. If it’s remembered for anything, it’s for Charlotte Lewis and if it has attained any sort of longevity that was thanks to Silvio Berlusconi infamously buying it for his Mediaset where it found a second life on Italian television where it was regularly broadcast.

Deodato learned his craft under Roberto Rossellini and Sergio Corbucci. Under Corbucci he assistant directed the peplum The Slave (1962) and the spaghetti western Django (1966). From there he went on to assistant direct another peplum under Antonio Margheriti. Having accumulated the necessary experience and expertise he ventured out on his with a now long forgotten fumetti. Everything would change in 1968. That year he was chosen to direct the sequel to Gungala, Virgin of the Jungle (1967) (that had made a star out of Kitty Swan). A trio of comedies that nobody really remembers followed and soon Ruggero was heeding the call of the burgeoning television market. It was only after 1973 that Deodato returned to the big screen with the giallo Waves Of Lust (1975) and the poliziottesco Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976). Apparently somebody had taken notice of Deodato’s Gungala sequel as the German distributors offered him to direct what would become Last Cannibal World (1977), a spiritual and thematic follow-up to Man From Deep River (1972) that Lenzi had declined. Two years later Deodato would catapult himself to global infamy with Cannibal Holocaust (1980), an unsurpassed exercise in nihilism that remains just as shocking 40 years later.

That Cannibal Holocaust (1980) would cast a shadow over anything Deodato would do after was expected. The House On the Edge Of the Park (1980) was a senseless The Last House on the Left (1972) knock-off redeemed for the most part thanks to an all-star cast that included former Jean Rollin belle Annie Belle, Lorraine De Selle, and Brigitte Petronio as well as David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice. For the sci-fi/post-nuke diversion Raiders Of Atlantis (1983) he dialed up the silliness to Luigi Cozzi levels and the entire thing felt almost Bruno Mattei-ish in how many different American properties it ripped off in just 90 minutes. Almost a decade later the reputation and legacy of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was both inescapable and inarguable. Its shadow still loomed long and ominously over anything Deodato would lend his name to afterwards.

Compared to the American style slasher Body Count (1986) and the more slasher-ific An Uncommon Crime (1987) (with Edwige Fenech and Michael York) from the year before Dial: Help is far more subdued and surprisingly atmospheric when it gets its ducks in a row. If comparisons must be made Lucio Fulci’s Manhattan Baby (1982) and Aenigma (1987) come close. Franco Ferrini had written a screenplay called Turno di note that he shopped around but “that no one wanted.” In 1983 Dario Argento "showed a certain interest" in it but not enough to attach himself to directing it thus landing it on Deodato’s desk. He liked the supernatural and fantasy element and set to filming it, with or without a decent budget. Ferrini would later write Phenomena (1985) and Opera (1987) for Argento as well as Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986) for Lamberto Bava and The Church (1989) for Michele Soavi, all of which Argento helped either writing or producing. The average moviegoer probably remembers him for co-writing Sergio Leone's nearly 4-hour crime epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984).

Jenny Cooper (Charlotte Lewis) is a British model struggling to make a living in the bustling, fast-moving city of Rome. Lovelorn and heartbroken she’s desperately trying to get a hold of an unnamed, unseen suitor. One night Jenny mistakenly dials the wrong number at a payphone reaching a closed down dating agency (“Loneliness does not exist, trust your heart to us!” screams a banner in the derelict office building). There Jenny’s desire awakens a diabolic force that has lain dormant all these years in the collected tape recordings of all the lonely hearts that called the agency. The force takes a liking to Jenny and soon starts to kill anybody and everybody that gets in its way. Nobody, especially not the police and law enforcement, puts any stock in Jenny’s stories. Not even her friend Carmen (Carola Stagnaro ). Nobody believes her – except her shy, introverted, and considerate university student neighbor Riccardo (Marcello Modugno). She never noticed him until now because she was too self-absorbed and preoccupied. At a swank party Jenny is stressed out and her good musician friend Mole (Mattia Sbragia) offers to install a new phone in her apartment, check and adjust the switchboards accordingly, and locate the source of her distress by any means necessary. When people start dying mysterious and unexplained deaths her case eventually attracts the attention of Prof. Irving Klein (William Berger). Will Jenny be able to exorcise the demons before she too will fall victim to their malefic powers?

Charlotte Lewis was a British actress of Chilean-Iraqi descent who shot to superstardom virtually overnight by appearing in two widely-publicized productions, the first of which was Roman Polanski’s Academy Award-nominated swashbuckler Pirates (1986) and followed that with the Eddie Murphy fantasy comedy The Golden Child (1986). You’d imagine that a beginning like that would be a guarantee for a long and prosperous career in the A-list. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lewis too strangely got caught up in the tendrils of late-stage Italian exploitation just like Jennifer Connelly and Josie Bissett before her. Instead of following her Italian detour up with prestigious Hollywood projects instead she ended up in the Dolph Lundgren actioner Men of War (1994) and the Alyssa Milano erotic potboiler Embrace of the Vampire (1995). In truth, Lewis has far more renowned for her high-profile romantic liaisons moreso than her movies. Over the years she has been romantically linked with everybody from Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey and Charlie Sheen to classical dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and American rock/blues singer-songwriter Eric Clapton. She fell head over heels for Polanski but was rebuffed and almost instantly was romantically linked to famous ladies’ man Warren Beatty upon their introduction. At 21 miss Lewis was at the height of desirability and Deodato ensures everybody knows. Especially in the third act when Charlotte can be seen in skimpy lingerie and a brief bath scene. As far as 80s babes go miss Lewis bears some semblance to France’s Florence Guérin, a young Jennifer Connelly and Emmanuelle Béart circa Manon de Sources (1986).

Of all the Italian exploitation grandmasters perhaps Ruggero Deodato had the most peculiar career trajectory. Over the span of some six decades he only directed a modest twenty-something features the majority of which aren’t horror. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is an uncontested classic and the original found footage flick. That it requires an iron stomach and that you’d like a shower afterwards is something that comes with the experience. We, personally, tend to gravitate more towards his Last Cannibal World (1977).

Lucio Fulci made gialli and zombie movies but never partook in the cannibal cycle. Ruggero Deodato was otherwise occupied in the South Asian jungles when the giallo exploded in popularity during the 1970s and neither did he contribute to the gothic horror revival during that time. He likewise sat out the domestic zombie craze in the following decade. Not that Deodato was sitting on his hands doing nothing. He continued churning out horrors of various stripe and across budgets. He wasn’t as versatile as, say, Sergio Martino or Giuseppe Vari nor did he specialize in action like Antonio Margheriti or produce late-stage domestic classics the way Lamberto Bava did. It’s no surprise then that Deodato turned to television once Italian exploitation had run its course. That he remains active to this day is to be applauded and something of a minor miracle when you think about it. Dial: Help might not look like it but it generates enough electricity to prove that old Ruggero hadn’t lost his touch.

Plot: workaholic ad executive dies for the job… and comes to regret it.

Argentine vampire horror has come a long way. In the Golden Age of exploitation Latin – and South American gothics took primarily after Universal Horror and Hammer Films, respectively. Reflective of our more enlightened times Dead Man Tells His Own Tale (released domestically as El Muerto Cuenta su Historia) is a horror comedy that at points is a zombie, ghost, vampire, Satanic cult, and post-apocalyptic flick. It bounces into several different directions at once yet manages to stay surprisingly coherent – even if it comes at the price of never truly developing anything that it presents to any substantial degree. More importantly, Dead Man Tells His Own Tale pushes an outspoken feminist agenda that couldn’t feel more relevant considering women’s rights still regularly get trampled on in Argentina. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale may not have the subtlety of The Love Witch (2016) or be as on-point as Shaun Of the Dead (2004), Fabián Forte is onto something – even if he’s not the Argentine Álex de la Iglesia.

This is what you get when you combine The Day Of the Beast (1995), a hetero-normative take on Vampyros Lesbos (1971), a zombie subplot out of Idle Hands (1999), spice it up with a dash of Liar Liar (1997), a bit of What Women Want (2000) and sprinkle it with the feminist theory and women’s lib angle from The Love Witch (2016). Suffice to say Dead Man Tells His Own Tale fuses together influences and inspirations that have no sensible reason to go together but somehow do anyway. It’s leagues better in terms of writing and direction than Bolivian sex comedy My Cousin the Sexologist (2016) while having that same made-for-TV look. For no apparent reason other than to look cool Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts in medias res, is told out of chronological order, and switches viewpoint characters around during the third act. It has no reason to work but somehow it does anyway. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale is chuckle-inducing at points and some of the gore scenes are surprisingly well-realized. As the complete antithesis to Emilio Vieyra's legendary Blood Of the Virgins (1967) (with Susana Beltrán and Gloria Prat) these vampires are of the mind rather than of the sanguine persuasion.

Ángel Barrios (Diego Gentile) is a workaholic ad executive in Buenos Aires. He’s shallow, self-centered, and chauvenist and sexist to a fault. He has a loving wife in Lucila (Mariana Anghileri, as Moro Anghileri) but he ignores her whenever convenient and at this point his relationship with her is purely transactional. On top of that, he’s estranged from his precocious daughter Antonella (Fiorela Duranda). Lucila and him have been going to relation therapy with doctor Ana (Viviana Saccone) but Ángel’s not interested in improving himself and blames Lucila for their problems instead. Ángel’s best friend is his work associate Eduardo (Damián Dreizik) who still lives with his elderly mother Cristina (Pipi Onetto). One day Ángel and Eduardo are ordered to helm a commercial for a perfume brand. During the shoot Ángel scolds the hired model (Victoria Saravia) for no apparent reason. From that point forward Ángel finds it difficult to tell what is real and what’s not. He loses all track of time until one night he finds himself in a bar getting seduced by Bea (Emilia Attías), Eri (Julieta Vallina), and a woman looking just like doctor Ana. The seductresses slash his throat, and exsanguinated he ends up on the medical slab of Dr. Piedras (Chucho Fernández).

He awakens, hobbles home, and is greeted by little Antonella who immediately notices that there’s something different about him. Lucila is understandably annoyed but shrugs it off as another of Ángel’s all-night binges. When he meets Eduardo the following day Ángel is startled by his new condition. Eduardo explains that they were killed by three Celtic goddesses for their sexist - and toxic behaviour and that they now exist in a state of unlife (or undeath). To deal with their predicament he has started a therapy group with fellow victims Norberto (Lautaro Delgado), Sergio (Berta Muñiz), Coco (Pablo Pinto), and Gustavo (Germán Romero) – all of whom, just like himself, merely exist as golems. Ángel feverishly continues to work while being something of a ghost in his own household. He learns that the three goddesses are preparing for the resurrection of the Morrígan Macha (Marina Cohen) by killing all sexist males. To make matters worse Cristina indoctrinates and inducts Lucila into the cult of the Morrígan. As the cult conducts a nocturnal ceremony the dead rise, the earth splits open, and Macha is indeed resurrected. Unable to stop the looming apocalypse Lucila and Ángel are witness to how society and power structures change overnight. In the aftermath they reunite with Antonella and with more understanding of their own sensitivities they roam the wastelands in their jeep fighting to restore the world they once knew.

Well, that’s quite something, isn’t it? Let’s break down what we have here. First, the general plot concerns a chauvenist pig getting a royal come-uppance much in the way of the French comedy As the Moon (1977) or What Women Want (2000). Ángel falling under the spell of Bea is lifted wholesale from Vampyros Lesbos (1971). The Morrígan cult scene will look familiar to anybody who has seen Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), or Satan's Slave (1976). The dead rising to do their witch mistress’ bidding sounds an awful lot like Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973). Ángel not being able to tell what is real and what is not reeks of The Game (1997) and him becoming a ghost in his own house reeks of The Sixth Sense (1999). Three misfits trying to stop the impending the impending apocalypse was, of course, the whole of The Day Of the Beast (1995). Finally, it concludes with the ending of The Terminator (1984) copied almost verbatim. There’s absolutely no reason why any of these should go together, but somehow they do. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale starts out as a conventional drama but soon transforms into a ghost horror, a zombie romp, a gothic horror, a Satanic cult flick and towards the end it briefly becomes a post-nuke yarn. Under no circumstance do any of these subgenres usually go together but here the transitions are seamless. That Dead Man Tells His Own Tale never devolves into incoherence attests to Forte’s vision.

Argentinian horror has come a long way since the halcyon days of Armando Bó ushering his bra-busting paramour Isabel Sarli through near-constant controversy and into superstardom, where “la diosa blanca de la sensualidad” Libertad Leblanc hopped across genres and neighbouring countries turning heads and dropping jaws along the way, where Emilio Vieyra’s kink-horror exploits with his trusty mujer sin ropas Gloria Prat and Susana Beltrán upset censors continue to speak to the fertile imagination of cult movie fanatics everywhere more than five decades later. It was here that Roger Corman and his Concorde Pictures struck a partnership with Aries Cinematográfica Argentina to produce some of the most gratuitous barbarian/sword-and-sorcery features with locals Alejandro Sessa and Héctor Olivera and a host of buxom American starlets willing to take their tops off for the right paycheck. Expect no such excesses here. While chaste by exploitation standards Dead Man Tells His Own Tale boasts former model and television personality Emilia Attías and Mariana Anghileri among its principal cast. Attías and Anghileri combine the best of Cristine Reyes, Anne Curtis, and Fernanda Urrejola. Thankfully they act better than Bolivian sexbomb Stephanie Herala. As important as a few pretty faces and hardbodies may be to the marketability of a production, the script of Nicolás Britos and director Forte matters even more. As a bonus, the special effects are a pretty even mix between practical and digital.

It’s a question for the ages why a pretty little fright flick like this ended up with the somewhat misleading Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2017) derived title that it did. As these things go, its closest cousin is Álex de la Iglesia’s Witching and Bitching (2013). Director Fabián Forte was nominated for a Golden Raven at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (BIFFF) in 2017 and while he did not win, he might be one of Argentina’s directors to look out for. In the years since Forte has mainly been assistant directing and doing television work with no features for the immediate future. Dead Man Tells His Own Tale proves that there’s still some life to the old corpse and that Argentinian horror can still be relevant and exciting in this day and age. If titles such as Terrified (2017) are anything to go by Argentina is, just like any other country, swamped by the current trend of The Conjuring (2013) and Paranormal Activity (2007) imitations. As lamentable as that evolution is, it makes you long for simpler times when Latin America could be counted upon to deliver something different from its European and American peers. Is that still the case? That’s difficult to say. At least Dead Man Tells His Own Tale can content itself with its old school sensibilities and retro aesthetic.