AKA IL FANATASMA DI SODOMA, THE GHOSTS OF SODOM
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
At an isolated country house during World War II, a group of AWOL Nazi soldiers indulge in orgiastic behavior with a few prostitutes which is filmed by one of their number Willy, but then Allied bombs destroy the villa. In the present day, six teenagers on a touring holiday decide to spend the night in the same house which is miraculously okay. However, Anne dreams that Willy’s ghost violently seduces her, and the next morning, when they try to leave, the route leads mysteriously back to the villa….
I didn’t have time to do a Lucio Fulci movie review last month, but we’re back now. Following on from the non-horror but decidedly good Beatrice Cenci from 1969, we return to Fulci’s later years and, as I’ve probably said before, I really have to lower my expectations when approaching a late Fulci film, because the ailing filmmaker had definitely lost much of his old skill and couldn’t do much with the incredibly low budgets he was given to work with. I also feel that he lost some enthusiasm for the horror genre, a genre in which he was trapped despite probably wanting to make films in other genres like he did early in his career. But his penultimate film Voices From Beyond, the last but one Fulci effort that I reviewed, turned out to be surprisingly well put together and thought through, with little of the sloppiness that I’d come to expect. So what was Sodoma’s Ghost going to be like? Fulci called his only ‘teens in peril’ movie his worst ever, but then again he said that he was pleased with the dire Demonia so one shouldn’t necessarily take his word for it. The film’s title, whether Sodoma’s Ghost or The Ghosts Of Sodom, conjures up interesting possibilities, as does the idea of Fulci dabbling in the disreputable but morbidly interesting Naziploitation subgenre. Sadly, it’s yet another effort which isn’t nearly as good as it ought to have been, its premise certainly not being exploited fully, and matters suddenly running out of steam just it seems like we should be getting an exciting, scary climax. While you get plenty of boobs and a little bit of gore, it’s overall a bit tame considering the subject matter., though I suppose that’s partially a good thing seeing as Fulci’s work by now tended to throw in bits of explicit gore seemingly more because it was expected than anything else. And there’s some terrible dialogue. But it has a stronger and better sustained atmosphere than Fulci’s films usually managed around this time, there are a few well staged and interesting scenes, and cinematographer Silvano Tessicini manages some nice use of colour here and there even if he can’t disguise the measly budget.
It was part of a series entitled I maestri del thriller that was aimed directly at television and home video release. Cinematographer Silvano Tessicini was the person responsible for getting Fulci involved. Fulci had just returned from the Philippines after shooting Zombi 3 and was very ill, so Tessicini initially suggested to Fulci that he just act as a supervisor, but when he recovered Fulci asked to write and direct two of the features in the series; Touch of Death and Sodoma’s Ghost which was based on a script written by Fulci and Carlo Alberto Alfieri several years before, and which the original director had backed out of. Filming around Rome and Vides Studios lasted just four weeks. Actor Sebastian Harrison claims that, when he received the script, he never got passed the first half. When he got on set, he realised that only he and Robert Egon could speak English so he was able to improvise all his lines for the first half of the film with nobody paying much attention. Fulci argued with the producers on set who were unhappy with him continually being behind schedule, while actress Teresa Razzaudi also rowed with Fulci because she refused to do nude scenes, leading to usage of a body double. Eventually Fulci walked off the set and Mario Bianchi finished the film, though to what degree is debated – Bianchi claimed that he shot nearly half the film, but others say that he was only on set for three days and therefore couldn’t have shot that much material. Footage from this film, along with several others, turned up in Fulci’s Nightmare Concert, most notably its orgy scene, which is the scene that Fulci’s movie director character is shooting when he starts to lose it.
Deliberately chaotic camerawork is used to show said opening orgy scene, the viewer feeling like he or she is wandering about the place and passing by the very soft core gropings, though the camera does pull back at one point in a rather grand moment so we can see everyone. One of the Nazis is four-time Fulci film star Al Cliver, seen snorting some cocaine, then pouring wine over a naked whore and licking it off her. The strange waltz you hear becomes a much faster, dance-like piece and one prostitute is made to dance harder and harder as Fulci tries to bring the sequence to a hysterical finish. He doesn’t quite manage it, but at least he’s trying. The Nazis then begin to view the film – a film that by the way seems to have magically developed itself – that Willy has made of their doings, but a bomb puts an end to it all. For some reason it was decided to cut in black and white footage [into this colour film] of planes taking off and flying, and bombs dropping – the effect is just funny. Why Lucio, Why? Just when your film’s beginning to look quite good, you do something like this? Cut to our teens, and they’re called Mark, Paul, John, Anne, Celine and Maria, but – well – Celine and Anne are in a lesbian relationship, and the other girl Maria is played by Jessica Moore from a teen guilty pleasure of mine Eleven Days Eleven Nights – but I’m having trouble remembering the guys. There’s very little attempt to give these folk characterisation, in fact the majority of lines in the film could have been spoken by any one of them. Anyway, a supposed short cut [and by the way it looks like they’re navigating country trails on a road map] results in the group finding themselves at the same villa, though it doesn’t look very bombed at all.
They break in through the back door, though soon after that John finds the key to the front door underneath the door mat. The camera briefly focuses on an unnoticed Nazi helmet right by the door which magically disappears, but our ‘teens’ [none of the performers look anywhere near young enough] do notice that the place is fully furnished with food on the table and erotic photographs on the walls, so why not stay the night? After all, “even kitsch can be exciting, don’t you agree?” says Celine in a good example of the sort of lines out protagonists are lumbered with. While some of the interiors look too makeshift to convince as the insides of an old country villa, the set design isn’t bad and there’s a feeling of sleaze and decadence. It’s not as strong as it could be, but it’s there, and now we come to the best scene in the film, both frightening and erotic, which kind of reminded me of some of the bitd in Mario Bava’s brilliant The Whip And The Body. The camera pans from the sleeping Anne into total darkness, out of which eventually looms Willy, coming out of the room’s mirror. He sweet-talks her, slaps her on the mouth several times, then kisses her, the blood from the violence enveloping both of their mouths. But when she wakes up in the morning there’s no blood and it was all a dream, and the film never gets quite as good again, though for a while the idea of a place which the protagonists can’t leave makes one a little anxious. Routes lead back to the house, the car won’t start, the phone line is cut despite the sinister response when they rang the local police station, the window shutters won’t open, etc. The claustrophobia and the evil presence begin to cause panic and the members of the group to become at odds with each other, as well as sometimes exploiting their sexual desires.
None of this builds up enough of a head of steam and then, just when it looks like things are really going to kick off with all the ghosts massing to attack, we suddenly get a particularly weak usage of the ‘it was all a dream’ cliche that often comes across as little more than a lazy get out clause from having to explain stuff or finish things properly. I wonder if they ran out of money and Fulci had to curtail things in this way. Up to then though, the succession of rather random happenings isn’t too bad. After all, some of Fulci’s greatest movies can almost be described as a succession of rather random happenings. The difference is that, back in the Beyond days, Fulci was a terrific filmmaker with a sure grasp of cinema. By 1988, he wasn’t so much, though I still think that parts of Sodoma’s Ghost get much closer to recapturing the old magic than Demonia. While Italian TV of the time was clearly more relaxed in terms of what was allowed to be shown, some moments do seem to cut away at a point where you’d have expected to see more, such as a prostitute ghost beginning to decay during sex, though it’s a moment that, guys, may still put you off from putting your hands on a lady’s tits for some time. It’s mostly stuff that you’ve seen before and probably better, including much business involving mirrors which can show innermost desires and/or reveal true selves, but Fulci seems to be reasonably invested.
The way that the death of one character is handled kind of sums things up. He does one of the most pathetic-looking rolls down some steps that you’ll ever see, surely Fulci could have seen how bad it was and ordered another take despite the low budget? But then, as he dies, we unusually but effectively get some shots from his point of view, us seeing the faces of his friends looming over him because we have a very quick fade-out, like something being switched off. I always like it when a filmmaker makes an effort to get the viewer to ‘feel’ a death, and Fulci, a man who had several bouts of life-threatening illnesses in his later years, sometimes did this. Here he also stages what looks like a partial precursor to that slowly decaying body in Voices From Beyond, though it’s more surreal here, with green goo spreading over the body and the stomach opening up to reveal loads of what looks like spaghetti in some type of green sauce. The ghost aspect hasn’t been properly thought through. For example, at certain times these spooks are able to read minds, but it’s rather selective. And then that stupid conclusion just boringly suggests that these ghosts haunt the dreams of anyone who nears their abode but in the morning everyone will be okay anyway. Yawn. Still, Tessicini clearly photographs with as much flair as he can manage with the limited time and resources. Having some nighttime scenes tinged with blue is very common now but wasn’t in 1988, and there’s some nice use of red at times. Carlo Maria Cordio’s music score is typical cheapie ‘80s synth stuff, okay but with nothing memorable. Some good moments and ideas don’t really save Sodoma’s Ghost from being yet another weak late Fulci effort where the director had rather lost his touch, but I do think that there are signs here and there that he was honestly trying to do his best with the extremely limited resources he had at his disposal.