Thursday, September 10, 2015

MORITURIS: LEGIONS OF THE DEAD (2011)

MORITURIS: LEGIONS OF THE DEAD (2011)

Label: Synapse Films 

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 86 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles:
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Raffaele Picchio
Cast: Valentina D'Andrea, Andrea De Bruyn, Desiree Giorgetti, Francesco Malcom


This Italian throwback begins with a head scratcher of an opening, a sepia tone 8mm film documenting a day in the country of a family from what appears to be the early '70s. The scene is framed in a way that seems to scream found-footage, but it soon becomes apparent that no one is actually filming this, stranger still is that one of the adults seems to be trying to coerce his young niece into something sexual... then they are killed by someone only glimpsed very briefly by the viewer before the found-footage camerawork lingers over each of the corpses, but who the fuck is supposed to be filming it?

Flash forward a few decades and we have three young Italian men in a car, joined by two young Romanian women they've picked-up at the local disco, they're all crammed into a car on their way to a rave rumored to be happening deep in the forest. En route they kid around and joke about each other's tastes in music and flirt a bit, the usual sort of stuff. Arriving at the rumored location it seems they might not have had the right coordinates, there's no music and no gathering of ravers to indicate otherwise, but they are right next to some ancient ruins. The young men assure the women they're probably in the right spot, just a little early, and decide they should start up a bonfire and polish off a bottle of vodka until the music starts. They're having fun, flirting with each other, joking around and then things take a preposterous turn as the men turn violent and rapey, a turn that happens on a dime, what started as a nice gathering of youth turns into a super sleazy variation of The Last House on the Left. The extended rape scene are brutal but maybe not on the level of I Spit on Your Grave, but it is repugnant just the same, I don't really want to get into scoring rape scenes for authenticity in movies, that would just be weird. 

At the same time there's parallel story line playing out concurrently back in Rome with the trio's friend who is also entertaining a woman at his home, in brief clips we see what he has been up too, and trust me, it is more of the same. That scenario borrow a rather infamous bit from the Bret Easton Ellis novel 'American Psycho', a misogynist scenario involving a bound woman, a hungry rat and a short length of plastic tubing, if you've read the book you will know where I am going with that.

Nothing that's happened thus far would have indicated this is the direction things were headed, it happened too fast and with no foreshadowing or fleeting moments menace, and that took me straight out of the film. The women are brutalized by the sadistic trio of men, beaten and sexually assaulted repeatedly, that is until a legion of ancient undead gladiators arrive and unleash their own brand of brutal Hell upon all five. The violence against the women by the men is cruel and misogynist in nature, the violence unleashed by the gladiators against all five is just brutal, aided by some very nice gore effects from Italian special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti (Demons, Demons 2) who brings and old school artistry to the scenes of gore inflicted by the ancient warriors. 

The highlight of the film for me were the undead gladiators, the hulking figures cloaked in bronze-age battle armor and carrying ancient weapons, every one of these scenes were a mighty awesome sight to behold. I don't think this is something we've seen a lot of in horror movies before hand, it certainly was new to me, and brought to mind Lucio Fulci's sword and sorcery epic Conquest, but in a contemporary setting, I really enjoyed that aspect of it. 

Once the ancient  destroyers arrive on scene things picks up considerably, but they are kept hidden away in the shadows, when they are seen they are presented in a very atmospheric and intimidating sort of way, and maybe that's why I found them so effective. When they do mead out some punishment it is severe, faces are pulped, heads roll, some are torn from the neck, they're staked, Crucified and impaled, on just a pure-gore appreciation scale Stivaletti is doing fine work here and I would love to see him doing more practical effects work these days, as horror fans we are missing out. 

The young cast are very good, these are decent actors but the subject matter is straight-up vile and the depths of the depravity is not earned in my opinion, this is just being ugly for the sake of making an ugly and brutal movie. You feel for the young women as the awful things are happening to them, not because you care for them or have come to know and love their characters, no, you just feel for them because what's happening is awful and you wouldn't wish it on anyone, and for a film that had some really decent gore, production value and a somewhat unique ancient evil it feels like they took the easy way around and shorted the movie a bit.

The disc from Synapse Films looks damn good, this is a low-budget movie but it has good production value and a decent cinematographer who knows a thing or two about how to light a film, which adds a lot to visuals of the movie. we have a choice of  Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround with optional English subtitles, the Italian audio is clear and crisp, the surround sound is maybe not the most robust sounding but we do get some decent use of the surrounds. 

Extras are limited to a theatrical trailer and a sleeve of reversible artwork, pretty slim pickings by Synapse standards, not even a commentary, and considering this movie is banned in Italy I think there might be some interesting insights into the making of the film and how it was received in his home country. 

Special Features
- Newly Translated Removable English Subtitles
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD
- Reversible Cover Art


I don't hate the movie, I enjoyed it, but I certainly think this was a missed opportunity to explore the characters a tiny bit more, things needn't have escalated so damn quickly, one minute everything is copacetic the next everything is wrong and awful. Which is a shame, the undead gladiators were a nice touch, something new, and I didn't even care that their not explained, it's as simple as these awful guys took these sweet young girls out to a remote location to assault them, unfortunately for them they chose a spot right near an ancient ruin and somehow awoke an ancient evil, I am happy with that, it reminded me a bit of the Blind Dead movies in that respect. If you don't mind some old fashioned Italian misogyny the ancient evil and graphic gore are pretty decent, and there's some quality atmosphere about it, but this could have been more, it didn't have to be a shocker just for the sake of being so. 2.5/5

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