Erotic Nights of
the Living Dead
Italy / 1980
Directed by Joe D'Amato
George Eastman
Laura Gemser
Mark Shannon
Color / 112 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Shriek Show
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Review by
B. Lindsey
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
Aristide Massaccesi (1936—1999), aka "Joe D'Amato", was a talented Italian cinematographer (What Have They Done To Solange?) and director (Beyond the Darkness) who spent the latter half of his career making porno flicks. Going from an assistant camera operator for Mario Bava to the helmer of Tarzhard and The Anal Perversions of Lolita might seem a precipitous slide, but he apparently made a good living directing such hardcore sex romps. Massaccesi was just as prolific in the somewhat more mainstream exploitation field, directing low budget Italian horror, science fiction, and fantasy films under a variety of aliases. Inevitably, the two genres he's most known for — horror and porn — were melded together in 1980's Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, starring his favorite leading lady, the exotic Laura Gemser (Emanuelle in America).
    To be charitable, Erotic Nights isn't really indicative of Massaccesi's talents. Actually it's quite putrid. Neither horror fans nor porn-dogs will find satisfaction. Cross a bad zombie film with a bad porno film and what do you get? A horrendously bad zombie-porno film, that's what. It doesn't work as either one.
    A bizarre opening at a mental hospital starts things on a promising note, at least in terms of cheese potential. The film then quickly segues into the main story, which for the first hour chiefly concerns the sexcapades of two horny Americans in the Tropics. (The Caribbean? Central or South America? The movie never says just where.) John Wilson (Mark Shannon), a smarmy, egotistical architect with a Magnum P.I. mustache, is on a business trip to purchase a small island on behalf of his partners, an investment group keen to build a tourist resort there. With the deal complete he intends to go to the island and survey it. To get there he hires fellow countryman Larry O'Hara (The New Barbarians' George Eastman), a hulking, slovenly charter boat captain. Before setting sail, though, Wilson hires a couple of local prostitutes for a hotel room mιnage a trois while Larry shags the wife of a wealthy fishing enthusiast and is given a private performance by a nightclub stripper. (Who, I must warn, masturbates with a champagne bottle, popping the cork with her vaginal muscles. For real.) Wilson asks the two hookers if they'd like to accompany him on the boat trip. They're agreeable provided they get paid, but when he tells them the destination is Cat Island they flee the scene in fright. ("Here's your money! Here's your MONEY! Wait a minute, you dumb whores! You forgot your money!")
    Next day Wilson shows up at Larry's boat with a new girlfriend named Fiona (Dirce Funari) in tow, a hot-to-trot European golddigger he picked up at the hotel. Wilson learns from Larry that the locals consider Cat Island to be cursed. No one ever dares go there, even though it's supposedly uninhabited. The captain isn't bothered by native superstitions, however. As their excursion begins, Wilson warns Larry to keep his hands off Fiona (who'd obviously be receptive to such a move) and concentrate on nautical matters.
    The trio arrive at the island, which at first seems to be deserted like they were told. Amid the palm trees they come upon an old graveyard which Larry explains is all that's left of the village that once exited here, before its population was wiped out by natural disasters long ago. As Wilson begins his survey and Fiona teases Larry with her topless sunbathing, it's discovered that they don't exactly have the place to themselves. True to the name, Cat Island does indeed have a cat
— a black one (of course) that slinks around the cemetery, its hissing and growling badly out of sync with the soundtrack. A strange-acting old native man (with a very big knot on his head) then appears, muttering cryptic warnings to leave or suffer the consequences. The man's alluring, sarong-wrapped granddaughter (Gemser), who has a habit of mysteriously popping up out of nowhere and then disappearing like a wraith, reinforces these admonitions but also seduces the newcomers with promises of carnal delights. Finally the visitors get creeped out enough to decide to leave, but their boat's motor inexplicably won't start — and something is stirring in that old jungle cemetery. Maybe there's a bit of truth to those local superstitions after all...
    Despite the potential of the scenario, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead isn't very erotic at all and its horror component comes up short. I don't know which is more boring: the zombie or porn stuff. The explicit sex only involves Shannon and the two whores in the hotel suite (mostly oral, with a very demure 'money shot', set to music that could almost be a parody of bad '70s porn scores) plus the sleazy bottle trick by Eastman's stripper friend. Neither Gemser or Funari get involved in the truly hardcore stuff, though they're happy to get naked at the drop of a hat and share a softcore lesbian scene. Laughably, Eastman always has sex with his pants on. (Is that be because he actually wrote this mess, under the nom de plume Tom Salina?) The horror elements are simply much too sparse in the first hour — not to mention illogical given the plot — while the gore is cheap-looking and almost totally ineffective. (One zombie appears to bleed chocolate milk.) As for the titular monsters, these spindly, bandy-legged zombies dressed in head scarves and rags aren't scary or particularly creepy, and are so slow they make George Romero's shuffling, lethargic ghouls seem like Speedy Gonzales in comparison.
    Some of the terribly dubbed dialog provides unintended mirth
— the voice actor dubbing Shannon's character sounds like an elderly man in his 70s, for instance — but these occasional chuckles in no way compensate for the other 98% of this nearly two-hour waste of film stock. The undraped Gemser and Funari are easy on the eyes, sure, but after the earlier X-rated three-way we keep expecting them to get nasty, which they don't.
    Tragically, even the hardcore stuff sucks. It comes completely out of left field, has nothing to do with the story, and even worse, gets kind of icky. The infamous bottle scene is just plain vulgar. And I'm sorry, but a good porn scene does not feature prominent display of a guy's nut sack with huge warts on it, dead center in the foreground and impossible to ignore no matter how hard you try. Mark Shannon's gonads are easily the most horrifying aspect of the film. I am SERIOUS, y'all!
    I sure hope those two hookers got a bonus.

Shriek Show has issued Erotic Nights of the Living Dead in two versions, the "explicit" edition described above — which uses the onscreen title Sexy Nights Of The Living Dead — and the non-pornographic "General Release" cut (shorn of 24 minutes of hardcore footage). The explicit version is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced; the transfer is relatively free of print damage but colors looks somewhat muted and washed-out in spots. The mono audio track is unfortunately quite thin and flat sounding, with dialog slightly muffled, though intelligible, throughout.
    Bonus features: the X-rated theatrical trailer (under the Sexy Nights title), a sizable image gallery of movie stills/Laura Gemser cheesecake shots, and a selection of 'alternate' footage that appears to consist of 'night' scenes from the film lensed without the use of a day-for-night filter. You also get trailers for other Shriek Show releases. A pointless Easter egg, located on the main menu screen, reveals the French opening credits. (Just a static shot of the island cemetery with superimposed French language titles.)