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Plot: journalist and mercenary take down corrupt South American dictator.

Of all the talentless hacks working the Italian exploitation circuit from the 60s to 80s shlockmeister Alfonso Brescia by far was the most seasoned and mercenary. Over a three-decade career Brescia built a reputation on doing it quicker and cheaper than everyone else. He made whatever was fashionable (or profitable) irrespective of whether he had any affinity or interest in the genre he was contributing to. As such old Alfonso made everything from peplum, superhero movies, and comedy (or some cross-pollination thereof) to commedia sexy all’italiana, World War II epics, a Shaw Bros co-produced martial arts slapstick romp and helmed a series of five of the cruddiest, sloppiest, and frequently most incoherent space operas ever to come out of Italy following the box office success of George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977). Strangely he never partook in either the cannibal craze of the seventies or the zombie fad of the eighties. While Brescia was a director of dubious merit he occassionally stumbled onto a good idea, either by design or by pure dumb luck. That serendipity struck again on Cross Mission (released domestically as Fuoco incrociato). In North America it was part of Cannon’s four-part Action Adventure Theater series, introduced by the king of low-budget action himself, Michael Dudikoff. All things being cyclical Cross Mission ended up inspiring the sixteenth James Bond episode Licence to Kill (1989).

While there’s no contesting that Brescia’s oeuvre mainly consists of some of the worst genre exercises ever conceived old Alfonso could actually make a decent feature if given the chance. He, after all, directed the very enjoyable duo of peplum The Revolt of the Pretorians (1964) (featuring Richard Harrison a full twenty years before he got lost in the wacky world of Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung (何誌強)), the The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) plagiate The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), the early (and relatively tame) giallo Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972), the The Amazons (1973) derivate Battle Of the Amazons (1973), the bootleg Ator sequel Iron Warrior (1987) (which Joe D’Amato, not exactly a paragon of integrity, famously denounced), and the Zalman King inspired erotic thriller Homicide In Blue Light (1991) (with French sexbomb Florence Guérin). In between those last two Brescia helmed a globe-trotting and explosive international action movie so hopelessly inept (and completely enjoyable for exactly that reason) that it makes the body of work of Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, and Wilfredo dela Cruz look measured and sophisticated in comparison. What was he ripping off this time, you ask? Well, the thing every Italian director was back then… Rambo, or more specifically, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988). The only reason to stay awake during the endless montages of jeeps driving, stilted firefights, and bamboo huts blowing up is Caribbean one-hit wonder Brigitte Porsche. Porsche not only gets to wear a Versace dress but also does karate… We love you, miss B – wherever you are!

General Romero (Maurice Poli) is the tyrannical dictator of some unspecified backwater banana republic somewhere in the Latin American jungles. With Nancy Reagan’s War On Drugs in full swing Romero shows UN inspectors that he’s dealing with his country’s narcotics manufacturing and - trafficking problem by very publicly burning some smaller marijuana plantations whilst secretly still controlling the bigger ones for his own personal enrichment. A press attachee releases a statement that there are no Contra-rebels in the region. Plucky photojournalist Helen (Brigitte Porsche, as Brigitte Porsh) doesn’t believe the official story and convinces the General’s former right-hand-man, and sometime Marine, William Corbett (Riccardo Acerbi, as Richard Randall) to help her in taking down his former employer, the self-proclaimed "El Predestinato". Along the way Helen and Corbett fall in with local guerrillas led by Myra (Anna Silvia Grullon, as Ana Silvia Grullon) and Ramirez (Riccardo Petrazzi). It’s all fairly standard jungle action fare until General Romero summons Astaroth (Nelson de la Rosa), a pint-sized warlock, and makes people do his bidding by putting them under macumba spells. Will the combined firepower of Helen, Corbett and the local Contra-rebel enclave be enough to overthrow an enemy of such awesome magnitude and influence?

The screenplay from brothers Donald and Gaetano Russo is about as terrible as their collective filmography. There’s no chemistry between Porsche and Acerbi, and their characters are so terribly underwritten that it makes you wonder why they even bothered differentiating them. Helen’s only character trait is that she’s a journalist. Corbett is a mercenary who sees the wrongs of his way, and tries to better himself. Corbett nor Helen have any signature lines or moves, and the only memorable scene is when Corbett gears up for vengeance in a montage clearly imitated from the Arnold Schwarzenegger body count movie Commando (1988). That said montage isn’t followed up upon is, of course, expected in a cheap, cruddy Alfonso Brescia production. That is to say, Corbett is the only character to even have an arc. General Romero is the fairly standard greedy, megalomaniac evil dictator until Brescia pulls the voodoo act towards the second half. It’s exactly the kind of stunt that made him famous some two decades prior with the sudden explosion into 1950s science fiction insanity on the otherwise perfectly enjoyable but otherwise unassuming peplum The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965). If Cross Mission is remembered for anything (if it’s remembered at all, that is) it’s solely for the duo of Nelson de la Rosa and Brigitte Porsche.

Brigitte Porsche is as much of an enigma as the girls from the Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) opening. Porsche seems to have no ties to the Austrian industrialist dynasty of luxury car manufacturers, or at least none of which there’s any historical documentation. As these things go, Cross Mission was her sole acting credit and her identity is shrouded in mystery – something not uncommon around this time with late Italian exploitation. Whether she was of Filipino or Dominican Republic descent is difficult to ascertain as in all likelihood Porsche used an Anglicized alias as many were prone to when working with Brescia. Writer Gaetano Russo famously was in The Red Monks (1988), a gothic horror throwback so tedious and directionless that not even the gratuitously exposed body of Lara Wendel could possibly redeem.

Also hiding under an alias is Riccardo Acerbi who, while not as prolific in exploitation as co-star Maurice Poli, starred in some of the worst latter-day Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato productions including Aenigma (1987) and Frankenstein 2000 – Return From Death (1991). Poli - who debuted in an uncredited role in the acclaimed World War II epic The Longest Day (1962) and became a spaghetti western and war movie regular afterwards - had been in Giuseppe Vari’s Urban Warriors (1987) just the year before. Maurice Poli and Peter Hintz were in Apocalypse Mercenaries (1987), while Anna Silvia Grullon and Nelson de la Rosa were both in Ratman (1988). Grullon would do nothing of particular interest afterwards, and de la Rosa would go to co-star alongside Marlon Brando in The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996). Even by late 1980s Italian exploitation standards Cross Mission had a cast of complete and utter nobodies. Hell, Cross Mission is so much of a curio that not even The Italian Movie Database, nor the Caribbean Film Database for that matter, seem in any hurry to acknowledge its existence.

By the time Cross Mission went into production the Italian film industry was in shambles as television provided entertainment across all age brackets. In the late 1980s the famous Cinecittà studio compound was on the verge of bankruptcy, and budgets all but dried up. Italians went en masse to the multiplexes, while older movie theaters simply disappeared altogether, but primarily for big-budget Hollywood productions while domestic movies hardly attracted an audience. Much in the same way was the illustrious career of Alfonso Brescia, probably one of Italy’s most journeyed but least competent exploitation directors, coming to a crawl. Brescia would shoot only four more movies after Cross Mission before passing away in June 2001. Cross Mission was a Filipino co-production afforded location shooting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

However there isn’t anything that Brescia and Ferrando can’t make look absolutely god-awful despite a wealth of natural beauty and scenic vistas. This could have been shot on decaying leftover sets from Zombi Holocaust (1980) or Devil Hunter (1980) and nobody would be any the wiser. Ferrando worked on All Colours Of the Dark (1972), La Liceale (1975), Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), and Hands Of Steel (1986) but apparently phoned it in here. The cinematography is as flat, hideous and ugly as Fausto Rossi’s work on Battle Of the Amazons (1973) more than a decade prior. Brescia could produce a decent movie if his heart was in it, as The Adolescent (1976), Frittata all'italiana (1976), Big Mamma (1979), and his many sceneggiatta with Mario Merola attest to. Clearly Alfonso didn’t care much, or at all, about the international action movie. We are a long way from Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972) and an even a longer way from The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), indeed.

There’s probably a reason why Cross Mission is the only full-on action movie in the Alfonso Brescia repertoire. It’s emblematic for Brescia’s late eighties output as it generally moves too slow, has an inpenetrable plot, and the action is far more lethargic than it ought to be. Brescia would helm two more action-themed yarns with the buddy cop movie Miami Cops (1989) and Deadly Chase (1990) in the following years. The defining characteristic of Brescia’s career has always been that of underarchievement and Cross Mission is no different. Iron Warrior (1987) had Hong Kong written all over it – and you’d halfway expect Brescia to finally get a clue. That wasn’t exactly the case as with Homicide In Blue Light (1991) old Alfonso managed to fumble his way through an erotic thriller. Il faut le faire… Like any good obscurity Cross Mission deserves the proper high-definition digital remaster/restoration treatment, and hopefully some courageous company will rise to the task. It makes you wonder what Antonio Margheriti and Bruno Mattei could have done with a premise like this and what could have become of miss Porsche had she been employed by Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, or Wilfredo dela Cruz. Alas, the world will never know…

Plot: catastrophic homicidal pandemic causes citywide pandemonium

Umberto Lenzi, just as many of his contemporaries in the exploitation field, was a workhorse director who could anticipate what an audience wanted. In a career spanning four decades he contributed to every low-budget genre under the sun. Lenzi, if nothing else, was able to conjure up fast-paced, regressive, and often (unintentionally) humorous genre pieces on a small budget with enough starpower for the international market. Lenzi was a versatile writer and tried his at hand every genre; be it peplum, Eurospy, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, giallo, cannibals and/or zombies. In 1972 Lenzi pioneered the cannibal subgenre with Man From Deep River, a reworking of the plot from A Man Called Horse (1970). As the 1970s gave way to the exuberant eighties Lenzi didn’t stay behind as the horror genre became increasingly more gory and setpiece-based. In the beginning of the decade Lenzi directed two movies, the pulp cannibal exercise Eaten Alive! (1980) and Nightmare City (1980). Of the two Nightmare City combines Lenzi’s workmanlike direction with deliberate borrowing from other sources and some striking imagery.

Nightmare City has, perhaps unjustly, been classified as a zombie film, and most of its detractors tend to focus on its handling of that aspect. However Nightmare City is rather Lenzi’s take on earlier American pandemic epics I Drink Your Blood (1970) or The Crazies (1973) and their European counterparts The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974), and Jean Rollin's The Grapes Of Death (1978) than an imitation of Lucio Fulci’s classic zombie tryptich. It goes without saying that Nightmare City is ludicrous and often borderline cartoony. Taken on its own merits, and if one is prepared to meet it halfway, Nightmare City is actually a surprisingly striking and effective little shocker when it wants to be. The rest of the time it is either obnoxiously stupid, plain dense or an unguided projectile. As always Lenzi was able to rope in reliable players from the continental European scene.

A leak at the State Nuclear Plant in some undisclosed, apparently unnamed city has the authorities, both scientific and military, desperately trying to contain and keep a lid on the unfortunate incident. Investigating the strange going-ons surrounding the nuclear plant are journalist Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) and his cameraman (an uncredited Antonio Mayans). When an unmarked Hercules military cargo plane disgorges not the member of the scientific community he was scheduled to interview, but a murderous horde of pustulent mutants instead it sends Miller not only on a citywide mission to rescue his wife Dr. Anna Miller (Laura Trotter), but also from stopping the city from tearing itself apart from the inside out. Contrary to earlier exercises in pandemic chaos Nightmare City doesn’t concern itself much with the workings of the military or the government during such catastrophic event, but focuses on the resilience of the family unit instead.

It is under these less than ideal circumstances that Major Warren Holmes (Francisco Rabal), spends a day off at home in company of his artist/sculptor wife Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) before the military brass summons him back to headquarters. The scene largely exist as a pretext for then 26-year old Omaggio to take her bra off with Rabal, then 54, engaging in a pertinent case of cradle robbing. Not taking her clothes off is Sheila’s friend Cindy (Sonia Viviani) whose demise is a classic piece of exploitation filmmaking both in setup and delivery. In an other part of town Jessica (Stefania D'Amario) - the daughter of General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), himself occupied with trying to contain the rapidly escalating situation – and her boyfriend are on a roadtrip just to spite her old man. Meanwhile an elite team of scientists, led by Dr. Kramer (Eduardo Fajardo) is desperately seeking a cure. As the ravening mutant hordes expand in numbers with alarming speed, and society starts collapsing in on itself, will anybody be able to survive to save the Nightmare City?

Like any good exploitation director Lenzi was able to assemble a strong cast of fresh new faces, old veterans of the genre, and a reliable leading man. Lenzi wanted Franco Nero or Fabio Testi, but the producers insisted on Hugo Stiglitz in order to appeal to the Mexican market. Mexican character actor Hugo Stiglitz, whose career spans nearly 5 decades and over 200 credits, commenced his acting career in movies from René Cardona Jr., and Rubén Galindo, but also appeared in John Huston’s Under the Vulcano (1984), and a seemingly endless array of spaghetti westerns and violent crime movies. In Nightmare City Stiglitz often looks more haggard and vagrant than the mutants he ends up fighting, and for a journalist he’s a damn good marksman. Antonio Mayans, here in an uncredit role, once acted in legitimate productions as King Of Kings (1961) and El Cid (1961), but by the late 1970s became a stock actor in Jess Franco movies. Laura Trotter, an Italian dime-store equivalent to Veronica Lake, debuted as a murder victim in the Umberto Lenzi giallo Eyeball (1975), and starred alongside Ray Lovelock, Sherry Buchanan, and Florinda Bolkan in Franco Prosperi directed Last House On the Beach (1978). Further Trotter appeared in The Exorcist (1973) knockoff Obscene Desire (1978) with Marisa Mell, and had a supporting role in Tinto Brass’ Monella (1998). Trotter is dubbed in the English version by prolific voice actress Pat Starke.

Sonia Viviani, a former glamour model that appeared on the covers of Skorpio (April 1983), Blitz (1984) and Interviu (1984), had starred and would star in far better and worse genre offerings than Lenzi’s enjoyable Nightmare City. Viviani starred in The Sinner (1974) with Zeudi Araya Cristaldi, the Alfonso Brescia commedia sexy all'italiana movies Amori, letti e Tradimenti (1975), Frittata all'italiana (1976), and L’Adolescente (1976) but also as bereft of both dialog and clothing in Pier Carpi’s controversial and budget-deprived The Exorcist (1973) knockoff Ring Of Darkness (1979). One of Viviani’s most memorable parts was that of seductive Amazon warrior Glaucia in the Luigi Cozzi scifi peplum The Adventures of Hercules (1985) with Lou Ferrigno, and Milly Carlucci. Also making an appearance is Viviani’s The Adventures Of Hercules co-star Maria Rosaria Omaggio.

In a career spanning two decades, from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s Sonia Viviani worked with a host of infamous directors including Bruno Mattei, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and René Cardona Jr.. Eduardo Fajardo would go on to star in the little-seen superior Spanish version of the Jesús Franco Afrika Korps gutmuncher Oasis Of the Zombies (1983). Stefania D'Amario, famous for her role as profusely sweating nurse Clara in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), had starred in the Walerian Borowczyk nunsploitation classic Behind Convent Walls (1978). In her post-acting career D'Amario reinvented herself as a wardrobe – and art department assistant working on Caligula’s Slaves (1984), Miranda (1985) from Italian master of eroticism Tinto Brass, and on the romantic drama The English Patient (1996).

Alternatively obnoxious, atmospheric, or nearly toxic in its lunkheaded creativity a lot things can be levied at Nightmare City, but never of it being glacially paced. Stelvio Cipriani’s main theme to Nightmare City makes the upbeat disco theme to Cannibal Ferox sound like an example of good taste and restraint in comparison. However before the carnage gets well underway Lenzi treats the viewer to one of those typical eighties aerobic dance shows complete with spandex costumes and irritating music. Some of the aerial shots are a bit keen in their earnest imitation of George A. Romero’s earlier Dawn Of the Dead (1978). As always the military brass and government procrastinate far too long instead of immediately deploying armed forces on the ground to contain the pandemic. The mutants retain most of their faculty and wield guns, knives, machetes, and other deadly utensils. In exploitation tradition girls frequently are stabbed in the chest, and when it is revealed that the mutants can be killed by a shot to the head, the military forces, of course, continue to shoot in them in the torso and body. Lenzi and cinematographer Hans Burmann manage to conjure up a few memorable scenes, interesting use of lighting (that sometimes is reminiscent of giallo), and the scene composition is far more creative than one would expect in the genre. The double-whammy ending is either the best, or worst, part about Nightmare City, depending on who you ask. If anything, it fits with exactly the sort of deranged atmosphere that Nightmare City goes for.