Saturday, 4 October 2008

Bakterion / Panic / I Vivi invidieranno i morti

The most memorable thing about Bakterion / Panic is surely the name of David Warbeck's special agent: Captain Kirk.

Otherwise it's pretty much your standard MIC experiment goes wrong leading to a monster running amok 50s sci-fi stuff, brought up to its 1970s date by the distinctly cynical treatment given the selfsame authorities, who are concerned more for covering their own backs over the location of a bacteriological warfare lab in the middle of a city than the welfare of its citizens.

The putative location is Newtown, England, resulting in some awkward non-integration of stock footage of iconic London buses and location shooting with clearly Spanish locations and extras elsewhere and the concomitant displacement / generalisation of any political point compared to the more specifically grounded likes of The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass II and The Crazies.

Admittedly, however, any such point is also decidedly secondary insofar as we're still very much in the realm of individualising conflict, with Kirk the representative of a more benevolent face of authority who takes up the cause of the people of Newport and saves them from themselves, the monster and the excesses of his masters, all whilst finding time to establish the classic heterosexual romantic outcome with Janet Agren's research scientist in that don't-worry-she's-also-a-woman-as-well manner.

The monster

Those scenes which don't feature the good and bad guys emphasise the scientist turned monster stalking and slaying, each being announced by the introduction of two or three stock types who we know are there solely for the purpose of being slaughtered.

There is one exception. This is the priest who saves his choirboys at the cost of his own life, who get an establishing scene before they are attacked – a scene which one suspects must have played differently to Catholic Spanish and Italian audiences than an Anglican one.

Having said all this, it's also worth noting that if the IMDB can be believed the film wasn't released in Italy and Spain until late December 1982 and March 1983 respectively. The possibility of political factors playing a part here are, however, countered by the likelihood that the film sat on the shelf because of its overall poor quality. If so, its belated release might then be speculatively attributed to some combination of the relative prominence of Nightmare City – whose end "the nightmare becomes reality" coda is recalled by the "this could already have happened" one here – Zombie Creeping Flesh and other monster-cum-disaster movies in the early 1980s along with the higher profiles enjoyed by its stars at this time.

With the direction throughout characterised by a perfunctory quality – the one sign of imagination seems more accidental than anything else, as the monster's attack on a crowded cinema sees everything go black in a reductio ad absurdum of the old don't show the monster trope – Panic is a film which strongly suggests the success of the only other Ricci film I can remember seeing, the 1971 giallo Cross Current, was down more to Flavio Mogherini's production design and its impressive ensemble cast.

Don't have nightmares, do sleep well...

With no Mogherini on board, more weight is placed on the performers here. Warbeck and Agren are game, but don't quite seem as comfortable in their roles – or the co-production way of working – as they would given a few more years experience. Franco Ressel, something of a regular in Ricci's films, again proves to the manner born as the sleazy scientist in charge of the biological warfare programme, while Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue's Jose Lifante is very welcome as the Newtown police sergeant out of his depth – even if his presence also reminds one of another, far superior, English set, Italian-Spanish made science gone bad horror movie of the period.


Anonymous said...

I believe a lot of the (usually rather poor) "political content" in these movies has less to do with imitating successful movies (Romero etc.) and more with concern about likely censorship in various European countries - as far as I know, quite a few countries (Germany, Scandinavia, etc.) used to be far more lenient if a movie had a message and wasn't just violent for the sake of being violent. Since they also used to have a "benefit of the doubt" policy, even the most inept attempt at making a statement might therefore have made quite a difference when it came to getting a relase / avoiding censorship.
Of course this only illustrates the underlying problem of such censorship attempts (judging underlying ideas as perceived by the censor rather than what's on screen and thus creating wholly subjective guidelines), but that's another topic.

K H Brown said...

Undoubtedly - I often think that the link between exploitation and art cinemas is still underexplored, though that is definitely changing. How often did art cinemas use exploitative material to enhance their box office / wider audience appeal and how often did exploitation films exploit politics to add that extra degree of relevance / defence of seriousness?