Written by: Tiziano Martella, Gianluigi Perrone, and Raffaele Picchio
Directed by: Raffaele Picchio
Starring: Valentina D'Andrea, Andrea De Bruyn, and Désirée Giorgetti
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Legions of the Dead
Many American genre directors are currently preoccupied with recapturing bygone eras (particularly the 80s slasher cycle), and, if Morituris is any indication, it’s a trend that doesn’t adhere to geographical boundaries. Arriving straight from Italy (where it was banned, which should immediately cause your ears to perk up), Morituris similarly has its eyes trained on the past, something that isn’t altogether terrible in theory considering the Eurohorror tradition is a rich one that deserves to be mined (or exploited) just as much as its American counterpart. Director Raffaele Picchio isn’t only concerned with his native land’s history, though, as he looks towards a seminal American work that informed and inspired several knock-offs in The Last House on the Left. Somewhere along the way, he also begins to wonder aloud what Wes Craven’s grimy classic may have looked like with zombies.
Again: not the worst of ideas. I could think of less inspired mash-ups than an attempt to have Last House careen right into Tombs of the Blind Dead. I don’t have to think of the worst possible way to do so, however, as Picchio has beaten me to the punch with this dull, pointless slog. Calling it “joyless” is obvious considering the source material it’s riffing on, but this is a brutally misanthropic piece of work from wire-to-wire. Vintage camcorder footage captures an idyllic family outing that goes horribly awry when a creepy uncle (whistling Peter Lorre’s tune from M, natch) lures away the young daughter with sick intentions. Thankfully, we’re spared of that particular nastiness when some unseen force leaves them both eviscerated.
Not much else is spared, however, as the scene skips ahead to a pack of Italian bros preying upon a couple of tourists with the promise of a killer rave. When the group arrives in an empty field, the girls are suspicious but are talked into staying in the literal sense—there’s an incessant amount of chatter in Morituris, as the guys gab endlessly about themselves and their former conquests. One of their buddies is stuck back home with his own lady, yet that doesn’t stop him from having a lengthy, faux-philosophical conversation about the nature of evil that essentially underlines, italicizes, and highlights the film’s shallow talking points. Perhaps in an attempt to prove that all of this can somehow be even more insufferable, things take a predictably dark turn when all of the men reveal themselves as sociopathic rapists and murderers.
Picchio then subjects the audience to an interminable sequence that leaves little to the imagination. Like its predecessor, Morituris is unflinching in its depiction of sexual assault, but the degree to which it hovers on it becomes more unsettling and abhorrent with every second. Some might argue that it must be this way to have any sort of impact and would rightly point to the likes of Last House and I Spit on Your Grave as evidence. Obviously, there’s a place for the blunt force trauma approach, and one can only hope any filmmaker who wields it does so with a purpose. Picchio does not. Every frame of the sequence is a gross miscalculation, from the forced fellatio to the introduction of scissors to the proceedings.
By the time the ringleader prepares to shove a tube down a bound and gagged prostitute’s vagina and drop a rat inside, it’s easy to see this for the juvenile provocation that it is. Attempting to comment on the banality of evil is tough to take seriously when a director is simultaneously barely stifling his own self-satisfied giggles. “Look at this horrific shit,” Morituris boasts without any point or actual intelligence, as it unleashes another atrocity under the shroud of an under-lit, pitch-black darkness that reeks of incompetence that has viewers straining their eyes just to see. They’d be better off not even making the effort.
Lurking in the background (mostly via cryptic POV footage) are the undead legions haunting the land. The opening credits sequence—which is actually an artfully done animated bit—lays the scene for a backstory involving a quartet of rapist gladiators who were eventually put to death. Their tombs—complete with foreboding inscriptions that these oblivious goons naturally laugh off—still remain and hold the promise that they will eventually rise and dispatch the awful psychopaths, a scenario that unfortunately puts you into the position of hoping a set of ancient rapists will eviscerate their modern-day counterparts. The only logical thing to do is hope a meteor somehow crushes both, thus mercifully ending the experience that is Morituris.
Not only does this not happen, but Picchio trades in one form of graphic violence for another when he helms a crudely crafted gore effects reel. While the gags themselves are solid practical displays, they’re realized with very little actual filmmaking—it’s more like someone is leading you through a gross-out attraction with no showmanship. Here’s a severed limb, there’s a decapitated head. Finding the thrill in it is impossible considering how unrelentingly grim and off-putting the film is until this point. Sure, it somehow feels correct to see these guys receive their gory comeuppance, but how can you rightly revel in it when the film has bludgeoned your brain and eye sockets with pure, unfiltered misogyny?
It never relents on this front, as the undead gladiators make no effort to distinguish between predator and prey. Everyone—including the poor women who have already endured enough—is up on the chopping block. Amidst the chaos, one striking image emerges when the zombies hoist one of the female victims upon a cross and drive a spear into her side. It’s an unwitting acknowledgment that such treatment has often been a woman’s cross to bear practically since the genre’s inception. So many of its films (especially the most notorious ones) have hinged on terrorizing women to one degree or another, but the best ones find some way to justify it. Morturis is just a misogynistic rape-revenge movie that denies women a chance at actual revenge. Far from a self-aware riff on the theme, it’s an empty retread that simply perpetuates a disturbing cycle, all the while wearing its “banned” status like a badge of honor. In these case, it feels more like a “My F Student Can Beat Up Your Honor Student” bumper sticker.
Morituris is currently on Blu-ray courtesy of Synapse Films.
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