Return from Death is a 1991 horror movie directed by Aristide Massaccesi, aka Joe D’Amato, during the stage of his career where he was shifting from making successful softcore and exploitation films to even more successful hardcore movies. At around the same time he also made Deep Blood (90) and Contamination .7 (93), and it’s always surprising just how many films his production company, Fimlirage, were actually involved with. It’s easy to forget that Italian genre filmmaking was still going strong into the nineties, as most of the films produced during the time are little seen, barely remembered and quite frankly godarned awful.
Georgia Danson (Conzia Monreale) lives in a small American town, where she runs a video store, experiences unnerving hallucinations in which her son is decapitated and displays not-particularly-useful telekinetic skills. After experiencing difficulties with the locals, she only manages to avoid being assaulted by a trio of lary youths when her handyman, Ric (Donal O’Brien) intervenes. The local police appear less than concerned, dissuading her from making any kind of official report in case it causes harm to the tourist trade. Inevitably enough, the goons make a return visit, and this time they’re more successful: Ric is beaten unconscious and suffers post-traumatic amnesia as a result; Georgia is raped, smashed over the head with an ashtray and left in a coma.
One of the goons, though, is the son of a local bigwig, Hoffner (Maurice Poli), and as a result poor Ric is framed for the crime, as well as being charged for the assault of the idiots who are truly responsible. In order to make sure he doesn’t talk, Hoffner arranges from him to be killed, hung by his own bedsheets in a police cell so it looks as though it was suicide. But, thanks to some incomprehensible experimental techniques being used to try and revive her from her coma, Georgia is able to use her parapsychic powers to bring him back to life and have revenge on all the people who’ve done them harm.
Considering just how rubbish most Italian horror films of the time were, Return from Death isn’t at all bad. It has a lot of the faults that were common from the time – familiar script, TV production values, variable performances – but it does manage to generate a moderate amount of tension and it’s certainly no worse than some of the cinematic shite that was floating around at the time. The story is slight and largely borrowed from Patrick, Carrie and I Spit on Your Grave, but at least it takes the time to build up the situation and, although this does mean that the first half is rather slow, things go enjoyably mental for the last half hour or so as Donal O’Brien staggers around crushing people’s heads, uprooting telegraph poles and generally causing chaos.
Before becoming a journeyman director, Massaccesi had been a decent cinematographer, and one of the strongest aspects of the film is its photography. Much Italian cinema of the time had an awfully flat look, and for large stretches this is no different, but then there are sequences – especially once the exposition is out of the way – where it becomes quite visually interesting. Massaccesi throws in lots of steadicam shots and uses interesting lighting, especially for scenes set in the hospital, which could best be described as cut-price Argento.
Similarly, it also benefits from having at least a couple of charismatic performers. The supporting cast are, almost to a man, dreadful, but Donal O’Brien is imposing as Ric – the film was sold as Frankenstein 2000 in some territories because he has a large autopsy scar and much of his head is held together with staples. Cinzia Monreale was a popular Italian starlet, and she’s not bad, although much of her performance consists of her lying comatose in a bed, so it shouldn’t have been a stretch. And then busy French actor Maurice Poli has fun in a cameo, despite being dubbed with one of the most peculiar voices imaginable, a mixture of Chinese, South African and god knows what. Talking of which, the English audio version of this is just dreadful; I’ve seen some pretty dismal dubbing jobs over the years, but this wins my vote for being the very worst. People speak in a weird, staccato fashion, voices never change tone and some of the accents are ludicrous.
So, it has its positives, but that still doesn’t mean that Frankenstein 2000 is distinguishable from much of the video store filler product that was being made at the time. It’s simply not as much fun as the equivalent films from a decade earlier, possibly because it doesn’t feel particularly… Italian. I don’t know where this was filmed – or where it’s set, for that matter – but it’s obviously trying to be as American as possible, and as a result it lacks character.