Following the collapse of the cannibals and barbarian film genres in the early 1980s, director Umberto Lenzi took a brief detour before finishing off the decade with a bounty of no less than six cheap and cheesy horror movies. A detour right into the heart of war-torn Yugoslavia!
Was Umberto documenting the ethnic cleansing that wracked the region following the fall of the Soviet empire? Was he leading a campaign of underemployed Italian exploitation movie directors to provide aid and comfort to displaced refugees by holding charity screenings of Nightmare City and Eaten Alive?
Are you nuts? Who cares about that war? I’m talking about a real war! World War II! The one where a handful of Johnny Yanks could take on the entire German army and carry out impossible suicide missions on an almost weekly basis!
For two almost inexplicable and incomprehensible movies, Lenzi skillessly mined the idea that you could hire one or two dudes only slightly familiar to fans of obscure Italian trash cinema, dump them in the woods and mountains of Yugoslavia, enlist some villagers to dress up in Nazi uniforms with the promise of an extra helping of gruel and let loose with the explosives all in the vaguest hope that somehow it could all be taped together in an editing room somewhere in Rome and sold to unsuspecting foreign film distributors. And just like the crazy scheme where Captain Rosen captured an enemy scientist working on fissionable material by taking over the local whorehouse, it worked!
Bridge To Hell was the first effort and its plot-driven story of deserters stealing some nuns’s treasure and blowing up bridges was enough to hoodwink Cannon Films into picking up the picture for its prestigious straight-to-video “Michael Dudikoff Presents Action Adventure Theater” line of VHS tapes.
Wartime though with its nonexistent story and reliance on scenes of soldiers chasing each other through the woods and repetitive sequences where people are busted out, captured, and busted out again was apparently a tougher sell.
Sure, we all know that star Peter Hooten is a lot more awesome than Bridge To Hell‘s skinny Andy J. Forest, but for some reason, of Peter’s last four movies (Wartime, Brothers in Blood, Just A Damned Soldier, and Night Killer) only Brothers in Blood ever saw a U.S. home video release (as Savage Attack). He must have pissed somebody off because Just A Damned Soldier even had Mark Gregory in it!
All the Forest fan boys are only punishing themselves though by neglecting Hooten’s Purple Heart-worthy efforts in Wartime. Using every trick in the war movie book, and by every trick, I mean he goes into deep cover by putting on disguises, Captain Rosen outwits the evil SS officer on his trail at every turn!
He and his crew knock out some Nazi train engineers and pull off the classic World War II train hijacking scene. Rosen also dresses up like an orthodox priest complete with big bushy beard to gain entry into the Nazi HQ.
That was surely quite galling for Rosen’s SS nemesis Major Dietrich, but even worse was when Rosen commandeered the whorehouse and forced the whores to get rid of the crappy German music they were playing and put on some Benny Goodman! Up yours, Fritz! (It didn’t sound anything like Benny Goodman of course, but you can’t expect Lenzi to find a Benny Goodman LP in Croatia, right?)
The point of all this DJ-ing and playing dress up is all part of Captain Rosen’s effort to secure Professor Amundsen. He’s a Swedish scientist working on a big nasty weapon for the Nazis. Initially, he doesn’t seem to get that the Nazis are the bad guys, which frankly should have obvious since Major Dietrich was played by a pissy Werner Pocheth.
Pocheth appeared in a variety of Italian flicks including Days Of Hell and Striker, but is probably best remembered for his drag queen mercenary role in Brothers in Blood. There’s none of that mincing about here though as he snarls, fumes, and smacks a female associate of Rosen’s in the back of head a couple of times after she is captured with the Professor.
The Professor finally begins to think that the Nazis are dirty old skunks and that maybe, just maybe, war is actually sort of bad after seeing a pile of villagers the Nazis killed.
And if you think the soul searching is confined to the Professor, then you just don’t know the kind of mental hurting a war can put on a fella! Even a fella as American tough as Captain Rosen! There’s a scene where he and his buddy are talking and Captain Rosen is kind of down, but his buddy gives him a pep talk about how he’s been to Missouri and the girls there have great legs! This is just the sort of inspirational message about freedom (and great stems!) that Rosen needs and before you know it, it’s back to detonating the remote Yugoslav countryside!
Wartime may be hobbled by its boring story and the Nazis here aren’t particularly proficient at much of anything – they can’t secure or keep the professor hidden from a couple of soldiers and they can’t put a dent in the ragtag bunch of mountain guerillas with columns of tanks, massive air power, and control of the local villages – but like in any really great war, a lot of junk blows up. (Just try not smiling with satisfaction when Captain Rosen carjacks a fuel truck at an airfield!)
Lenzi also knows what to do when Rosen takes over the train, too. Guys are on top of it fighting, shooting, and falling off. Then the engine gets unhooked and is sent screaming back into the rest of the train causing an explosion the locals probably felt all the way until 1995! We even get the classic train battle moment where a guy gets whacked by a low hanging tunnel!
It’s mindless, easy to digest action like this that makes the horrors of war quite tolerable, as well as the horror of…Wartime!
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