‘Body Count’: The Forgotten Slasher From The Director of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’
At first glance, Ruggero Deodato’s (of Cannibal Holocaust infamy) Body Count looks like nothing more than a derivative iteration of American slasher films of the time—the opening credits even ape Friday the 13th Part III’s synthesized 3D soundtrack. In fact, Deodato wasn’t even originally attached to the project. Italian director Alessandro Capone, also a co-writer, was originally poised to direct. Deodato replaced Capone in the middle of production. Script changes were plentiful and inclement weather in the Abruzzi region in Southern Italy plagued the production. It’s a lot of grief for an allegedly boilerplate slasher. Allegedly, of course, being the operative word. Like Cannibal Holocaust, Body Count is a bloody exercise in bad taste, a slasher oddity that warrants a watch.
Several teens—and I mean several—converge at an old campground in Southern Italy at the behest of hitchhiker Ben Ritchie (Nicola Farron). Benjamin is outrageously objectified when first introduced, and he’s totally okay with it. Every woman on screen loudly (and crudely) stakes claim, spouting off lines like “I saw him first.” Ben leads the errant teens to his parents’ abandoned campground, one closed ala Camp Crystal Lake on account of a double-murder years prior.
Said first-act double-murder is an exploitative, quasi-Giallo delight. Rose (Clelia Fradella) and Tom (Stefano Galantucci) are canoodling. Rose gets ready to leave, at which point Tom asks, “Where are you going?”. “To hire us a cantor,” Rose says. “But I’m Presbyterian,” Tom replies. An absolute delight. Rose is attacked for an extended beat. Tom—who should only be a rock’s skip away—doesn’t seem to notice. He aimlessly wanders through the woods calling out to her. It’s a stylish, gruesome murder, and arguably the only beat in Body Count that makes a lick of sense.
The RV teens arrive at Ben’s homestead, at which point the killer systematically picks them off. The killer throws some from cliffs and beheads others. Deodato even includes a phantom severed leg in the camper van for good measure. The central bathhouse where the teens regularly shower is a particular standout. Notwithstanding, of course, how the deaths often follow the “bathhouse, hear a noise, slaughtered” template. The killer targets them with gusto and speed, and regularly, it appears like new cast members are manifesting out of Abruzzi’s air. It’s hard to keep track of the personalities since they’re all of the horny, hedonistic slasher variety, and as the bodies pile up, it’s hard to imagine there’s anyone left to kill.
Body Count is certainly tactless. The English dub includes a particularly troublesome racial epithet, and the ostensible killer is an “Indian shaman” haunting the ground. While it’s hard to tell how much was a matter of dubbed translation, Body Count is more guileless in its frequent offense than most.
Still, the phrase “Cannibal Holocaust director’s forgotten slasher” is worth something, and in the melodramatic third act, it’s easy to see what distinguishes Body Count from dozens of other dead teen movies from the decade. There’s plenty of sex and nudity, some infidelity, and by the time the finale arrives, no fewer than three characters have committed homicide. It’s impossible to keep track of, but it’s noteworthy in its brazen dereliction of duty. Body Count abounds with death and sex, coherent narrative be damned.
Deodato, too, is considerably more talented than his sordid history gives him credit for. Body Count looks great, and the southern Italy setting elevates its more conventional stalk-and-slash beats. No different than the likes of Next of Kin or The Final Terror, it’s hallucinogenic and absolutely devoid of anything remotely resembling reality. The movie renders slasher convention dreamlike. In any other horror subgenre, it wouldn’t work. But slashers more than most don’t necessarily need grounding or logic. Sometimes, a dreamscape of terror and bloodshed is enough to sustain it.
Body Count certainly isn’t the most noteworthy entry in Deodato’s filmography. Arguably, Body Count wouldn’t even register without him. It might have simply been another throwaway slasher capitalizing on the decade’s trend. All it took was a sharp weapon and a mask, and there are plenty of entries in the storied subgenre that do, well, little with little. Body Count is different. It deserves to be part of any slasher fan’s education.