Before the “New French Extremity” put Paris on the gorehounds’ maps there was Maleficia, writer/director Antoine Pellissier’s (Folies Meurtrieres) gore-soaked, shot-on-video epic of a noble family beset by Satanists, zombies and vampires that falls somewhere between the works of Lucio Fulci and Olaf Ittenbach.
It’s 1860 and the Karlsons have inherited a castle in Transylvania. On their trip there the carriage comes to a halt, the horse refuses to go any further. The coachman goes to a nearby church for help only to find a Satanic ritual in progress. Amidst the crucifixions, throat cuttings and eye gougings the dead rise and chase the travellers through the forest.
The survivors reach the castle, but so do the evil monks. As if having the walking dead outside and the monks inside wasn’t bad enough, they find vampire coffins in the basement
With its everything but the kitchen sink plot Maleficia certainly sounds like it could be an enjoyably silly gorefest along the lines of Bad Taste. But at an hour and forty-two minutes, it’s a slow-paced film that takes itself entirely too seriously.
We know not to expect much in the way of a plot from extreme gore films, and Maleficia is certainly no exception. Nothing is explained, we don’t know who the Satanists are or why they’re raising the dead. Neither are the vampires explained, or do all European castles come with a few undead ancestors hanging around?
Mostly what we get is people being chased around the woods and then the castle by extremely slow-moving zombies or slightly quicker monks. Pellissier’s dead walk even slower than Romero’s and they’re a lot less threatening in appearance. The vampires move at a normal pace but have fangs that look like leftovers from a store’s Halloween aisle so they’re not overly scary either.
There is plenty of gore ranging from eyes being put out with a hot steel rod to torso ripping zombie feasts. And for the most part, the effects are convincing. Unfortunately, like almost everything else in Maleficia there’s no real flair to them. They’re just there, well-executed but filmed with no style or eye for composing a shot.
In an interview around the time of Maleficia’s release, Pellissier cites Romero and Peter Jackson as his favourite directors. I think though that if he was honest he would have said Andrea Bianchi. Why Bianchi? Because, apart from the vampires, Maleficia resembles his Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror to an incredible degree. An isolated location, much running around in the woods, a shocking mother/son scene and lots of gore. And that film didn’t impress me either. But it does have a large following, many of whom I think will enjoy this as well.