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  Panico Hang the DJ!  Hang the DJ!  Hang the DJ!
Year: 1982
Director: Tonino Ricci
Stars: David Warbeck, Janet Agren, Roberto Ricci, José Ruiz Lifante, Miguel Herrera, Eugenio Benito, José Maria Labernie, Illaria Maria Bianchi, Fabian Conde, Franco Ressel, Ramon Lillo, Carlos Larranga, José Legal, Freddy Unger
Genre: Horror, Trash, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Following an accident at a germ warfare research laboratory in a small English town, brilliant scientist Professor Adams mysteriously disappears. Troubled lab technician Jane (Janet Agren) voices concern when a young couple, getting hot and heavy in the back seat of their car, are mauled by a shambling, shaggy haired, melted faced monster. This murderous mutant terrorizes the town, but the British government are more intent on initiating a cover-up than protecting their citizens. Assigned to the case is special agent Captain Kirk (David Warbeck). Nope, not William Shatner, although he is a fellow Canadian, for reasons none too clear. Weren’t any British agents available?

Anyway, Kirk joins a police taskforce headed by Sergeant O’Brien (José Ruiz Lifante) who growls: “I want this killer in jail before those London head shrinkers start excusing him”, with a resolve worthy of Gene Hunt. Together they deduce not only is monster evading capture by sneaking around the underground sewer systems, but that it is likely a mutated Professor Adams. While Jane aims to develop an antidote to cure her mentor, Kirk exhibits no sympathy: “Adams stinks like this sewer. I want to see him dead.” Okay, so not a fan, then. What neither suspects is shadowy political powerbrokers Sir Charles (Carlos Larranga) and Colonel Rudridge (José Maria Labernie) are initiating the dreaded “Plan Q”, which involves quarantining then bombing the town with nerve gas to exterminate the entire population.

Presumably they chose this drastic action, not just to cover-up their crimes but because the bacteriological beastie is contagious in some way, although nobody really clarifies this. There is some blather about germs, but much of the movie involves sex-happy suburbanites being picked off by the mutant, who might as well be Michael Myers meets The Incredible Melting Man (1977). None of the survivors clawed by the monster exhibit any communicable diseases. Known as Panico in Spain, Bakterion in Italy, and Panic throughout English speaking territories, this Italian-Spanish co-production would benefit from choice excerpts from The Smiths single of the same name, although that was reserved for the Italian made Demons 2 (1986). If it’s panic you’re after, you get your money’s worth: panicked crowds, shrieking women, sweaty public officials. If on the other hand, it’s competent filmmaking you are after, well that’s another matter.

The man behind this schlock opus was Tonino Ricci, commonly considered the worst Italian trash hack of them all. Not without good reason considering he has Encounters in the Deep (1978), Rush (1983) and the unforgettable Robin Hood, Arrows, Beans and Karate (1973) on his resume. But then he also made the proto-Bugsy Malone children’s spaghetti western, Kid - Terror of the West (1973), which is a genuine dingbat masterpiece. Born in 1927, Ricci kept plugging away well into the Nineties. Would that Maria Bava lasted as long.

Unable to convince Italian filmgoers anything horrific could ever occur in their sun-drenched, Euro-horror directors had a long tradition of using gloomy old England as a backdrop for sundry supernatural goings on. Just as Lucio Fulci managed in The Black Cat (1981), Ricci delivers a Euro-eccentric vision of the UK: mismatched stock shots of Piccadilly Circus and the Houses of Parliament; a vast machine labelled “BBC Television Studios Central Generator”; a police car that is actually a spray painted Ford Cortina; and a government that casually orders the military to gun down British citizens. Well, it was the Thatcherite Eighties…

Grey, depressing, early Eighties England seeps the film in an aptly gloomy atmosphere, although Giovanni Bergamini’s impenetrably murky photography often leaves it hard to discern what is going on. As David Warbeck often observed in interviews, the film features one memorable scene where the monster bursts through a cinema screen, besides another suspenseful sequence with a lone Catholic priest (Eugenito Benito) vainly shielding some children from the monster. By and large though, Ricci’s inept editing fumbles the shocks. Genre stalwarts Warbeck and Janet Agren emote earnestly in their stock B-movie roles as tough-talking hero and glamorous lady scientist, but the largely Spanish supporting cast dubbed with plummy English accents bring no credibility to the script’s reams of pseudo-scientific gobbledegook. Remarkably, Warbeck and Agren battled sewer mutants together once again in Ratman (1987) which is even worse and lacks Panico’s priceless closing caption: “What you have seen might really happen… perhaps it already has!” Yikes!!

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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