Italian horror films of the 70’s and 80’s are possibly my favorite thing ever. I can sit through some of the most wretched, poorly dubbed trash for 90-minute chunks of time with an undeterred smile on my face. Occasionally, I do stumble upon a film or two that genuinely tests my patience (we’ll touch on one such film in a bit). However, for the most part, the Italians hold the key to my heart. You might be wondering what any of this has to do with The Evil Dead. After all, Sam Raimi’s 1981 genre-redefining masterwork was a fully independent American production. True. We must take a look at the film’s various foreign releases for a clue as to where all of this is headed.
The Evil Dead was retitled various different times by overzealous foreign distributors looking to turn a quick profit. There was Diabólico (“Devilish”) as it was titled in Uruguay, Tanz der Teufel (“Dance of the Devil”) in Germany, Kauhun riivaamat (“Horror Obsessed”) in Finland, and even Brazil’s title, Uma Noite Alucinante: A Morte do Demônio (“An Unexpected Night – The Death of the Devil”). The Italians took a far simpler tact with their release, The Evil Dead was simply known as La Casa, or “The House”. Rami’s film, of course, proved to be quite the success and Evil Dead 2 (released as La Casa 2 in Italy) was an even bigger moneymaker.
It wasn’t long before director/producer J D’Amato (Beyond the Darkness, Anthropophagus) and his production company, Filmirage, decided they weren’t keen to wait for Raimi to release a third in the series. They would simply make their own. The first unofficial Evil Dead sequel was known as Ghosthouse here in the states and La Casa 3 in its home country. From there, Italy released two more official La Casa films and simply repackaged two other titles with the “La Casa” moniker. Let’s take a look at the films in the series and see how they stack up to the adventures of Sir Ashley Williams.
AKA: La Casa 3, Evil Dead 3
Directed by Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox, Nightmare Beach), Ghosthouse shares very little in common with Sam Rami’s films. The plot concerns a group of friends who are lured to an abandoned house by what sounds like a murder in progress over their transistor radio. That’s right, the hero of the piece is a Ham radio enthusiast. It’s as cheesy as it sounds, but there are some genuinely creepy moments and wacko practical effects. The connections to ED are tenuous at best. There is a creepy and probably demonic recording and inanimate objects have a tendency to spring to lie. A blood gorged light bulb is a particular highlight.
There’s also a seriously freaky clown puppet that gives Poltergeist a run for its money. This is also not the last time that particular film will be brought up on this list. Keep you ears tuned for the bonkers “clown music” that accompanies the doll. It’s been forged in my brain ever since. If Joe D’Amato was going to continue producing these films, Ghosthouse isn’t a bad place to start for laying the groundwork. Unfortunately, everything that works here was tossed out the window for the next film in the series…
AKA: La Casa 4, Evil Dead 4, Witchcraft, Evil Encounters
Starring B-movie staples, David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair (ultimately acting out more possession schtick, calling back her more famous effort), Witchery was a slog to get through. I’d honestly wanted to check this out for quite some time and saw the opportunity recently to make it the focus of an upcoming podcast I’ve been working on. Needless to say, this film directed by Fabrizio Laurenti (The Crawlers aka Troll 3…yes, there’s a Troll 3, sort of) is a barely there riff on the type of flick Lucio Fulci made his bread and butter. A group of yuppies travel to secluded island to inspect a vacant hotel property and begin getting picked off one by one by the ghost of an ancient witch. I’m not sure why the witch is intent on killing them, but it has something to do with three doors to hell: The doors of Greed, Lust, and Ire. Overall, there are some wacky effects and some extremely “Xanax’d” performances. If you still wish to check this out, might I recommend the Scream Factory double bill that comes with the far superior, Ghosthouse? (They’re both also streaming on Shudder.)
Beyond Darkness (1990)
AKA: La Casa 5, Evil Dead 5, House 5, Horror House
The last original film to be made as part of the La Casa/Evil Dead series was directed by Claudio Fragasso. That’s right, for some of you that name might ring a bell. Fragasso is the director of the infamous “Best Worst Movie”, Troll 2. Beyond Darkness even stars that annoying little kid (and future Best Worst Movie director) who pisses on all the green slimed food to save his family, Michael Stephenson. Thankfully, despite its dubious pedigree, this is actually a fairly effective haunted house film. The plot is almost entirely a rip off of Poltergeist with seemingly no aspiration to ape Evil Dead outside of the namesake.
A priest movies his family into a spooky home. Their innocent young daughter, Carol (yep), gets abducted by specters that lure her from within a hole in the wall. Pretty soon all hell breaks loose. I know you’re thinking, why would you want to waste your time with such a poor ripoff of a far greater film? Well, Beyond Darkness features some legitimately creepy imagery. To keep costs down, most of the ghosts are represented as creepers whose faces are concealed by long black funerary shrouds, and the fog machine budget alone probably cost more than the craft service. Their repeated ambush scenes on various members of the family are an eerie delight, and all of the over the top acting in between is icing on the B-movie cake. (Also available on a Scream Factory double bill with the George Eastman gore-fest, Metamorphosis and on Shudder).
BONUS: ‘House II’ (1986) and ‘The Last Horror Show’ (1989)
As you might have noticed, one of Beyond Darkness’s AKAs was House 5. This is where things get really confusing. The sequel to Sean Cunningham’s schlocky haunted house horror film, House, was re-released in Italy. Due to the success of the La Casa series, producers figured why not just slap a “The” and a “6” (La Casa 6) on it and release it as yet another unrelated sequel.
A couple of years later came an original film that ultimately shares the same plot as Wes Craven’s Shocker. This film, starring Lance Henriksen, features a sadistic serial killer named “Meat Cleaver Max” being brought to justice and fried in the electric chair. Only problem is, his soul continues killing long after his body has been charred to a crisp. Filmed under the title The Horror Show and released as House III for no other reason than Cunningham produced it, the film made its way to the shores of Italy in 1990. Surprise! It was released under the title La Casa 7. (Both films are available on Blue from Arrow UK in the House Complete Collection.)
As you see, the Italian film industry in the 80’s had no problem repackaging and repurposing titles to suit whatever they felt might bring in the most box office dollars. Don’t get me started on the Demons series! Have you seen any of these films yet? Do you have another favorite cash-grab horror title switcheroo?