3 stars  

directed by: Vittorio Rambaldi
starring: Patrick Lowe, Cheryl Arutt, Sarah Buxton, Mitch Watson, Bo Svenson, Doug Sloan, Luis Valderrama, John Baldwin, Turk Harley, Jennifer Hingel

choice dialogue:

“They throw interesting bashes. If you´re into group sex.”

- the new girl is warned off the campus creeps.

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell]

Pre-dating 28 DAYS LATER (2002) by 14 years, PRIMAL RAGE also features a ´rage virus´ released after an infected baboon escapes from a lab. However, being a late 80s Italian co-production filmed in Florida it isn´t zombies that attack – but mulleted college-aged students driven slasher nutzoid. And, anyway, Danny Boyle´s film doesn´t feature a fat frat boy dressed as a giant baby getting scalped by a frothing, rabid sorority girl.

  "Professor, one look at all my pretty clothes and she passed out cold and started frothing at the mouth and killing fat frat boys dressed as giant babies..."

Sam (Patrick Lowe – Rob Lowe´s much less seen brother) and Duffy (Mitch Watson) are reporters for the local student rag. Admirably, Duffy wants to dish the dirt on animal experiments taking place on campus “So, did you get the goods on that monkey abuser?”, he asks. When Sam says not yet, Duffy shoots back: “You know Rivera Geraldo would have been up his ass with a flashlight!” Taking matters into his own hands, Duffy breaks into the lab and accidentally lets the baboon go – and gets scratched in the process. The unfortunate monkey gets run over by a campus cop car – “It attacked like a mad dog!”, says the po-faced flatfoot.

Dr Ethridge (Bo Svenson sporting perhaps the world´s smallest ponytail), had been experimenting to find a cure for degenerative brain conditions. But almost loses his financial backing when his investor says: “All I saw was one pissed off baboon!”. Ethrirdge reassures him: “It´ll take me a few weeks to prepare a new monkey.”

Although Duffy starts to feel unwell, Sam persuades him to go on a double date with two female students, Lauren (Cheryl Arutt) and Debbie (Sarah Buxton). Beforehand, Debbie tells her new roommate how pretty her clothes are – before explaining her late start at college: “Oh, I had an abortion. I hope that doesn´t gross you out too much.” But Duffy becomes increasingly erratic and scratches Kimberly as they make out. Soon, the rage virus is spreading across campus like a rather tepid wildfire; culminating in all hell breaking lose at the campus Halloween bash …

  "Hello, I'm here for the DEMONS 3 ... sorry, I meant PRIMAL RAGE audition!"

Typically, of an Italian co-production from this time PRIMAL RAGE throws some curveballs. Not least of which are the trio of bro–rapists, led by Lovejoy (Doug Sloan), who harass female students – saying things such as “Listen you dildos, I´m going to have the last laugh!” They become infected with the virus after trying to gang rape a female student (boasting that they should all “Stick her at once and turn her into a porcupine!”). Also, somewhat giving away its heritage – and its nod to Lamberto Bava´s DEMONS movies – Iron Maiden sound-alike heavy metal kicks in on the soundtrack every time one of the infected attack. In another connection, Italian composer Claudio Simonetti provided the soundtrack for both this and Bava´s film.

The trio of infected killers manage to dress in identical fancy dress: pretty natty skeleton outfits with glowing red eyes like hopped up Skeletors. PRIMAL RAGE has a lot going for it, including an amorous letch of a middle-aged teacher who threatens kung-fu against one of the killer students in a Lover´s Lane. Not to mention a ginger, fright-wigged Toyah-like harpy fronting a band at the college party. And a party-goer dressed as giant faucet who gushes blood when strangled. Plus, a suspenseful stalking sequences in the locker room that ends in a nifty decapitation by axe. The film also has a surprisngly male-centric bodycount.

I´ve already mentioned, Lamberto Bava´s DEMONS (1985) and DEMONS 2 (1986), the films whose box office successes (especially the first film) seem to have been the inspiration for PRIMAL RAGE. Director Vittorio Rambaldi and co-screenwriter, the notorious Italian film-maker Umberto Lenzi, appear to be hedging-their-bets by including plenty of slasher style shenanigans, but also ensure that their infected co-eds slaver black goo and act like the possessed in Bava´s films. However, perhaps where PRIMAL RAGE fails, it lacks the scope of the DEMONS movies. Despite a large cast – and the massive Halloween party that closes the film – only a handful are infected by the rage virus. By the end of the movie the virus has been snuffed out by a college reporter and his girlfriend. Perhaps the World Health Organisation should be looking for more teenagers in tight stone-washed denim to fight pandemics?

  "I'm sure to get lucky in this outfit tonight!"

The film is something of a family affair. It provided Vittorio Rambaldi´s directorial debut credit. He is the son of famous Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi (aided here by his brother Alex), who provides the grisly faux-vivisection scenes for the film. For obvious reasons, I´m not a fan of using real animals in films. Thankfully, this is kept to a minimum in PRIMAL RAGE. Although, admittedly, the film´s anti-vivisection message seems rather half-hearted and appears to be more a means-to-an-end. Rambaldi had, of course, provided much more expansive monkey fx in the ambitious remake of KING KONG (1976) – and PRIMAL RAGE was his last special effects credit. In truth, these special effects are limited to just a couple of scenes – although there are often-effectively gooey gore gags littered throughout the film.

Sarah Buxton is slightly less wooden than she was in NIGHTMARE BEACH (which was in all likelihood filmed before or after PRIMAL RAGE). Although her transition from sensitive sorority girl to rabid sorority girl is best shown by her hair - which goes from poker straight to giant frizzy perm. Patrick Lowe, as Sam, certainly is perky as the intrepid reporter. Lowe had appeared in the previous year´s SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II (1987). He has some cute onscreen chemistry with Cheryl Arutt (Lauren). Arutt’s screen acting career fizzled out in the early 1990s, but she retrained as a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist and still regularly appears as a talking head on TV. Mitch Watson, as Sam´s fellow college paper reporter Frank, appeared in the next year´s slasher RUSH WEEK (1989) – and has since carved out a successful career in small screen animation. Bo Svenson is certainly no stranger to cult movie fans and had a memorably nasty turn in the slasher NIGHTMARE MAKER (1981). Jack McDermott has a small role as the Police Chief – and eagle-eyed viewers might recognise him as Elizabeth Berridge´s father in Tobe Hooper´s Florida-lensed THE FUNHOUSE (1981). Luis Valderrama and John Baldwin also appeared in NIGHTMARE BEACH. As did the, horny Kung Fu threatening Professor Jenkins (Turk Harley) and the ill-fated co-ed Kimberly (Jennifer Hingel). In fact, PRIMAL RAGE shares so many cast and crew with NIGHTMARE BEACH that it is all but certain that they were filmed back-to-back.

  PRIMAL RAGE provides some interesting villains and novel kills.

PRIMAL RAGE was shot between January and March 1988 in and around Florida International University’s North Miami and Tamiami campuses – with many students cast as extras. The film was a co-production with Overseas Filmgroup, who were behind similar Euro flavoured US-lensed genre films such as Ruggero Deodato’s BODYCOUNT (1986), José Ramón Larraz’s EDGE OF THE AXE (also 1988) Dario Argento’s TRAUMA (1993) and, of course, NIGHTMARE BEACH.

PRIMAL RAGE rarely pauses for a beat. It´s daft-as-a-brush but is a consistently fun ride if you´re a fan of this type of schizophrenic late 80s Italian/US mashups. It certainly appeared to have a healthy enough budget for its type but is surprisingly obscure – at time of writing it doesn´t even have its own Wikipedia page. It got a cinema release in Italy in late 1988 – to predictably lousy reviews – but went straight-to-video in the US in 1990. Perhaps not a slasher movie in the truest sense, it has enough in common with the subgenre here – including brief monkey POV.

[Thank you to the lovely Amanda Reyes for her help with additional research. Check out her excellent website Made for TV Mayhem.]

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BODYCOUNT 13   bodycount!   female: 2 / male: 11

      1) Male has head repeatedly bashed against wall
      2) Female strangled
      3) Male has face mauled
      4) Male shot in stomach
      5) Male scalped
      6) Male strangled
      7) Male has throat ripped out
      8) Male strangled bloodily
      9) Male has rod forced through head
    10) Male squashed
    11) Female found mutilated
    12) Male decapitated with axe
    13) Male thrown tohis death from balcony