Upon returning to the hotel after the midnight screening of this at the Trieste Science+Ficton Festival, my first instinct was to tweet ‘Morituris, the preppy rapists vs ghost gladiators movie, is pretty much the worst piece of shit ever made in Italy’ (my Twitter handle is @AnnoDracula, by the way). This note is a more considered expression of undiminished loathing.
The film opens with 1970s home movie footage of a family vacationing in the Italian woods somewhere, and a little girl wandering off with a strange, obese uncle – then a mystery sword falls, and the whole family is hacked up. The credits offer illustrations of the Spartacist revolt, accompanied by cool but anachronistic mediaeval music, highlighting a group of five gladiators who went massacre-crazy and were put down by their comrades. Then, we get twenty minutes or so of a gang of young folks – three Italian guys (Andrea De Bruyn, Francesco Malcom, Giuseppe Nitti) and two Romanian girls (Valentina D’Andrea, Desiree Giorgetti) – driving out to a rave in the woods, talking about music, doing drugs, and generally acting like slasher fodder. There is a twist: this isn’t a band of happy campers doomed to come up against monsters, but a trio of rapist thugs intent on beating and violating the two women. The turnaround comes when it seems the most sensitive-acting of the guys is about to get romantic with the girl, only for him to hit her and demand oral relief (shouting ‘succo mi cazzo’ in a manner that got laughs from the audience – though many walked out later). There’s an explicit Last House/I Spit-style gang rape scene, with extreme nastiness – anal probing with scissors is the talking point atrocity as if someone wondered ‘what would outdo that knife scene in Late Night Trains’, though the simple punching and kicking of the girls (which goes on a long time) is more unpleasant. It seems the guys are competing with another, cooler guy (Simone Ripanti), trumping each other’s atrocities (they use card trick symbols in texts) – he’s spending the evening with a manicurist, whom he ties up, drips acid on and shoves a mouse into via a vaginal tube while watching Bloody Pit of Horror (another peplum/horror crossbreed – though I’d hate to think this is a successor to that) on a bigscreen TV.
Throughout this abuse material, there are occasional red-lit PoV shots signifying that the gladiators are lurking – brought back to life by the spilled blood or something. The lumbering, uncharacterised thugs show up and kill everyone, not discriminating between the rapists and the victims, and nail them up on crucifixes by the roadside. This business is poorly-staged (with Sergio Stivaletti effects) and lingered on in a manner which makes Burial Ground seem tasteful and effective. The nihilism of having the gladiators kill everyone, which prompts a brief alliance between the girl who is closest to being a lead and a guy who turns out to be the ‘final rapist’, just hammers home the mean-spirited pointlessness of it all. No, I don’t buy the notion that this is so all-out horrid to make a point about violent spectacle – this just panders in a way that reminds you Italy invented the Colosseum well before the video nasties era. It’s hideous-looking, in a murky shaky-cam look, and the performances are just hectoring – but what really sinks it is its tone, commingling misogynist torture porn with slasher hijinx. Scripted by Gianluigi Perrone, from a story by Raffaele Picchio and Tiziano Martella; directed vy Picchio. 2011.