First off, this is a giallo. Contrary to what the U.S. title may lead one to believe, there are no zombies in the flick. The DVD cover and a blurb on the back also hint at flesh eating zombie action. It’s an Italian flick too and they have some good zombie stuff. That being said it isn’t a failing of the movie. The Italian title translates to THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN which is also pregnant with menace.
This is a giallo in the truest of senses. Director Armando Crispino (AUTOPSY) takes a few liberties with the formula insofar that the killer does not wear black gloves, does not use a blade, surprisingly little sexuality, one nude girl blink and you miss her (the luscious Christina von Blanc from BELL FROM HELL and A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD) and hints at being supernatural in nature for a brief period. Other than that it is true to form. The protagonist is an American with a past, beautiful women are targeted, the deaths are fairly grisly, the killer is unseen with most of them seen through the eyes of the killer, and it features an adept, hard-nosed detective working his way through a series of skillfully placed red herrings. The Riz Ortolani score helps build the atmosphere of this moody flick.
I am a fan of gialli and THE DEAD ARE ALIVE is one of the more unique entries in the genre. It is definitely toned down in comparison to Crispino’s AUTOPSY yet is still a good compelling story. Professor Jason Porter (TV veteran Alex Cord-Airwolf, Fantasy Island, Route 66) is a tragic figure. The archaeologist is a struggling alcoholic trying to rekindle his past romance with Myra (THE BROOD’s Samantha Eggar). Myra is now married to the bombastic and combative conductor Nikos Samarkis (John Marley from THE GODFATHER) and she also has a seemingly inappropriate relationship with her stepson Igor (Carlo de Mejo). Others who become embroiled in the mystery include the flamboyant choreographer Stephen (Horst Frank), twisted security guard Otello (Vladen Holec) and supporting beauties Irene (Daniela Surina) and Gisselle (Wendy D’Olive). Enzo Tarascio (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE and TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME) is spot on as he plays the stalwart Inspector Giuranna.
Jason and his team have discovered a tomb dedicated to the Etruscan’s cthonic demon god Tuchulcha. He appears to be a photographer but he is addressed as professor and Stephen calls him a renowned grave robber leading me to believe he is the archaeologist heading up the dig. His antics certainly wouldn’t be tolerated by a higher up so he must be the boss. He photographs the tomb in situ with a remote probe and the team opens the tomb. Soon amorous youths cannot resist the opportunity to ball in an ancient tomb but they are beat to death with a hunk of metal that resembles the probe. Nikos becomes more and more unstable as his production does not seem to go as he wants, Jason drinks himself into oblivion a time or two and fights off the demons of his past while Myra must deal with both of them Nikos for whom she is merely a trophy and her ex, Jason who tried to rape and stab her in a drunken fit. A blackmailing security guard muddles things up further for the struggling Jason as does the reappearance of Nikos’ first wife. As the drama unfolds the bodies continue to pile up as Jason tries to work out if the killer is Tuchulcha, one of his minions, or is it the work of human hands? One thing is for certain, zombies will not appear so I hope you are into this flick for the right reasons.
THE DEAD ARE ALIVE, like many giallo, also serves as a travel guide. Other than some scenes filmed on a soundstage in Belgrade, Serbia (Yugoslavia at the time) the majority of the film is shot on location in Perugia in and around Spoleto (the Duomo Santa Maria dell’Assunta and the Roman Theater feature prominently) and in Lazio in and around Tarquinia. The Duomo can be seen as Jason stalks Stephen through the streets of Spoleto. The Etruscan ruins are not in Spoleto but are the mound and dice tombs from Tarquinia’a Necropolis of Monterozzi, specifically the Tomb of Orcus. The Italian countryside is beautiful and the cities look great. THE DEAD ARE ALIVE’s location of Perugia should look familiar to fans of gialli as it is featured prominently in Sergio Martino’s TORSO.
The Code Red DVD looks fantastic. The picture is high quality, and the English language track does not pop or fade. There is a forced trailer for FAMILY HONOR but there are no features and there isn’t even a menu but don’t let that detract from this classic giallo. THE DEAD ARE ALIVE is a must have for giallo aficionados though it will be difficult to track down. Due to a bit of a kerfuffle the Code Red release is no longer available directly and commands a premium price on the secondary market.