Saturday, 6 October 2012

Holocaust 2000 (1977)

Made to cash in on the success of The Omen, Holocaust 2000 mixes a goofy premise, heavyweight actors, and a loud and dissonant Ennio Morricone score to produce a silly but thoroughly entertaining film.

No less a legend than Kirk Douglas plays Robert Caine, a millionaire businessman whose latest bright idea, building a nuclear power plant in an Unnamed Generic Middle Eastern Country, is starting to come unstuck. The plant itself has some odd links to an apocalyptic biblical prophecy, and anybody who points this out and tries to get the project stopped mysteriously dies. The only person who does want it to go ahead is Caine's son Angel, who may have a sinister agenda of his own.

I have no idea how somebody of the status of Kirk Douglas ended up in nonsense like this, but his presence and charisma is a vital part of the film, as he lends gravitas and dignity to some increasingly silly or confusing situations. He is helped by the supporting cast, particularly Simon Ward as his (literally) demonic son, Angel (that may be short for Angelo, but I donít remember that ever being explained), who plays the character as charming and coolly sinister. We also get, Anthony Quayle as the head of the laboratory that is building the power plant, and who, like Douglas, brings an air of sobriety to some really stupid dialogue.

The script by director Alberto De Martino (responsible for the films on two of my favourite MST3Ks, Operation Kid Brother and Puma Man) and Sergio Donati (who had earlier worked on the likes of Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite) is a mess. It has some rather obvious plot twists, such as a mathematical formula that spells the name of Jesus backwards, and the improbable design of the power plant, which helps it tie in to Revelations 12:3. Things start to go bizarre when we get to the scene of Caine going to a mental hospital to confront the madman who murdered his wife, apparently as part of some radical new therapy for the murderer(!). The hospital seems to have gone for the novel approach of abandoning traditional padded cells, in favour of lots of Plexiglas and bright antiseptic white walls, predating Hannibal Lecterís cell in Manhunter by several years. There seem to be no beds either, and the patients shuffle around like zombies, occasionally attacking staff and visitors. Adolfo Celi, best known for playing Largo in Thunderball is cast in the role of the head psychiatrist - if a Bond super-villain is your shrink, you know you are in trouble.

There is also a wonderfully nutty nightmare sequence where Caine (bear in mind that Kirk Douglas was in his 60s when he made this) runs around in the nude, while strange things appear before him, thanks to the magic of back-projection. If that is not enough for the weak of stomach, Holocaust 2000 does not skimp on the gore either. Caine's wife is stabbed in a torrent of blood, and the killer later has his skull caved in by Caine. We also get to see the Prime Minister of the Unnamed Generic Middle Eastern Country get his head cut off by a helicopter blade, just like in Dawn of the Dead (the two films were made around the same time, so the similarity is most likely to be a coincidence).

The only real disappointment for me was the conclusion. After a frenetic burst of scenes, which see Caine bust out of the aforementioned mental hospital, and a mass poisoning at a neo-natal ward, we end with him hiding out in the Unnamed Generic Middle Eastern Country with his new girlfriend and baby daughter, while his son has taken over the company and is pressing ahead with the nuclear plant. While this might have been setting things up for an Omen-style saga, this could also be a practical rather than artistic decision, where the production ran out of time and/or money, before a conclusion could be written or shot. (There is an alternative version of the film with an ending that sees Caine take out his son in a suicide bombing mission, but this was not on the version that I watched.)

Holocaust 2000 is impossible to take seriously, but the star power of the actors, the ludicrous plot and the energetic, lurid tone stops the film from ever getting boring, and is highly recommended for fans of trashy Italian horror cinema.