Film Reviews

The Greatest Show On Earth, Part 2: Drastic Plastic… CIRCUS OF HORRORS Reviewed

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Circus Of Horrors (1960). Directed by Sidney HayersProduced by Samuel Z. Arkoff, Leslie Parkyn, Norman Prigen and Julian Wintle. Written by George Baxt. Cinematography by Douglas SlocombeEdited by Reginald Mills and Sidney Hayers (uncredited). Art direction by Jack Shampan. Musiby Muir Mathieson and Franz Reizenstein. Makeup Artist: Trevor Crole-Rees. Stunts by Peter Diamond (uncredited). Starring: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Donald Pleasence, Jane Hylton, Kenneth Griffith, Conrad Phillips, Jack Gwillim, Vanda Hudson, Yvonne Romain, Colette Wilde.

If the plot of Arthur Crabtree’s Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959) seems a tad fanciful to you (and let’s face it, the thing is bloody unhinged), it comes across like one of those gritty kitchen sink-dramas that were being churned out round about this time when you compare it with Anglo-Amalgamated’s next Horror offering, Sydney Hayers gloriously deranged Circus Of Horrors (1960). The terminally unlikely scenario of this one was dreamed up by writer George Baxt, who contributed uncredited dialogue to the script of Hammer’s Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) and collaborated with Milton Subotsky in writing City Of The Dead / Horror Hotel (also 1960) which was effectively the first Amicus (though officially Vulcan) production. He was back at Hammer for John Gilling’s shadow Of The Cat (1961). I962’s Burn, Witch, Burn aka Night Of The Eagle, also directed by Hayers) was an uncharacteristically restrained exercise in psychological horror on the parts of both writer and director. Baxt was back doing uncredited dialogue duties for Hammer (and indulging his obvious big-top fetish) in Robert Young’s Vampire Circus (1972.) The final feature he scripted (in collaboration with its director, Jim O’Connolly) was Tower Of Evil aka Horror Of Snape Island (1972.) The point of this little digression is to establish Baxt’s credentials as a churner out of quality trash, a happy knack which reached its undoubted high water mark in Circus Of Horrors…

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… which kicks off in “England, 1947”, where two stiff upper lipped-dudes are driving like twats out of hell to the assistance of society lady Evelyn Morley (Colette Wilde), speculating whether she’s been talked into going under the knife of controversial plastic surgeon Dr Rossiter, despite being warned by other doctors that the proposed procedure is “hopeless… even dangerous!” They get their answer when they roll up at the Morley place to find her smashing the joint up, laughing hysterically and sporting a face like a well-smacked baboon’s arse.

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Apparently, back in the 1940s, it was Scotland Yard rather than the General Medical Council who dealt with surgical malpractice. Dodging one of their roadblocks, on-the-lam Doctor Rossiter (Anton Diffring) drives a blazing dinky car down a hillside and is badly burned while escaping from it. His devoted assistants Angela (who’s madly in love with him) and her brother Martin (fuck knows what his motivation is) operate to heal his scars and simultaneously disguise his identity (though actually the only discernible difference in his appearance, pre and post-car crash, is that he’s shaved his beard off).

Adopting the guise of Dr Schuler, Diffring tells his sidekicks (played by Jane Hulton and Kenneth Griffith, respectively) that they can lie low in France until all this silly bit of bother has blown over. Tooling around en francais, they happen upon a young girl by a rural roadside, whose face was scarred by a left-over bomb from WWII. When they ask Nicole to be directed to her papa, she points out the circus on the other side of the road… good job too, they nearly missed that! “Schuler” restores Nicole’s pretty face. “I am beautiful… I am beautiful… I am beautiful…” she repeats, over and over again, while skipping among the assorted clowns, freaks and strong men, to the point where you’re rather hoping that one of them will grab the little brat and give her a good slapping. Meanwhile her dad (Donald Pleasance) is signing the failing circus over to Schuler, who promptly gets him drunk and stands by, without any attempt to intervene, while he is mauled to death by an extra in a flea-bitten furry suit… er, I mean, by one of his performing bears.

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Censured by Angela and Martin for his callousness, Schuler advises them that they will turn the circus into the greatest attraction on Earth by populating it with desperate criminals whose appearance he has changed to allow them to evade justice. They’ll be variously coached to ride horses through flaming hoops, train lions and elephants, fly through the air on flying trapezes and so on… and they’ll be deterred from breaking ranks by the “before and after” dossiers that they know Schuler has compiled on them. What could possibly go wrong? Well, when the deterrent effect of those dossiers proves somewhat less than compelling, an ever-increasing number of would-be grasses encounter unfortunate accidents during their performances. It doesn’t exactly help that Schuler is an insatiable fanny hound and that the beauties he creates with his surgical skills are promoted and demoted on the bill according to where they currently rank among the notches on his bed-post. Professional and sexual jealousies further stoke the tension and increase the number of malcontents for whom spectacular demises must be devised. Adding significantly to the sinister ambience, each one is accompanied by Garry Mills crooning “Look For A Star”, a gloopy hook line in search of a song that’s uncomfortably reminiscent of Joe Meek at his most murderously mongy.

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Now, absolutely none of this makes a lick of sense. If Rossiter / Schuler is such an ace cosmetic surgeon, how did he botch the Morley girl’s op so spectacularly as to necessitate such a drastic career change? What were the odds on him finding a facially damaged young girl whose father needed help turning his circus around? How does the endless succession of grisly deaths among his employees square with Rossiter / Schuler’s avowed attempt to keep a low profile? Where did he pick up the skill set with which to train circus performers and the business acumen that enables him, over the course of a decade,  to turn the lamest show on Earth into – as he promised – “the greatest attraction in Europe” (we see him chiding the ring master over the timing of the clown’s entrance: “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times!”)? By now, his little operation has also become known as “the jinxed circus” (“riding to glory on a trail blood”) due to the amount of its performers who’ve publicly pegged it (all chalked down to misadventure by the credulous authorities). As a suspicious police detective observes when the show hits Blighty, this ghoulish aspect has promoted ticket sales among the more jaded elements of the thrill seeking public. The roar of the grease paint, the smell of the crowd, eh?

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“Death takes a lot of defying around here”, quips Inspector Arthur Ames (Conrad Phillips), posing as “Arthur Desmond, freelance crime reporter” and romancing Nicole, now grown up in the comely shape of Yvonne Monlaur. Meanwhile the bitch-off between Elisa the stiletto-wielding prostitute turned high-wire queen (Joan Colins-lookalike Erika Remburg) and horse back acrobat Maga (Vanda Hudson) is reaching critical mass. Magda’s leaving the circus and Schuler to marry a besotted old rich dude…. how foolish of her to agree to working a final shift in the knife throwing act. Ditto Elisa (who’s already survived the introduction of a snake into her bathroom) and her flying noose routine, which inevitably concludes with her becoming  the 12th “accidental death” in this circus. “Quick, get a doctor… and send in the clowns!” barks Schuler. It’s just like David Cameron said… namby-pamby “Health & Safety culture” is a millstone around the neck of thrusting young entrepreneurs! Meanwhile exhumations of previous circus employees / victims have established that they’d all undergone plastic surgery and the police are (very slowly) putting two and two together (“Plastic surgery is the key!” “But what lock does it fit?”) Just to up the ante, the cops invite Evelyn Morley and her smacked baboon’s arse of a face to the circus’s big London opening…

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Getting careless, Schuler is mauled by a man in a gorilla suit. He authorises Martin and Angela to operate on his face but unwisely taunts the latter about his engagement to his latest protegé Melina (Yvonne Romain) before going under the anaesthetic. There’s a fantastic ultra close up of Angela mugging furiously to convey her delight when Schuler rips his bandages off to reveal a face like a festering walrus scrotum. His long serving, long-suffering sidekicks have clearly had enough… they also stint on the daily PCP rations so that the lions end up mauling Melina while she’s attempting to “tame” them! As the man in the gorilla suit chases Schuler into the path of Evelyn Morley’s limo, there’s another great mugging close up as the former society beauty (who recognised Schuler as Rossiter by dint of the snot green scarab ring he unwisely wore in both guises) runs over the doc, whose consequent injuries are beyond the remit of plastic or any other kind of surgery. Bastard had it coming…

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It was smart indeed for Billy Smart’s Circus to participate in the promotion of a film which perpetuates the myths that a) circuses are entertaining and b) clowns are funny, though I don’t imagine it ended up recruiting a lot of staff for them, given the estimate it offers of an average circus performer’s life expectancy!

Schlocky as they undoubtedly are, both Horrors Of The Black Museum and Circus Of Horrors tell us a lot about British society on the cusp of the ’50s and ’60s. The shadow of WWII still looms large and there’s clear dissatisfaction with austerity but misgivings about the consumerism that might replace it. Where would it all end if the rabble’s tastes are relentlessly indulged? Spend a couple of hours watching ITV (not exactly a plastic surgery-free zone) for the chilling answer… Perhaps the most apposite auguries of this brave new world are the medical atrocities of Mengele et al, which seem to have somehow “inspired” the surgical practices of Rossiter / Schuler (ironic that the gay actor Diffring, who fled persecution in Hitler’s Germany, was so often called upon to play characters who, explicitly or otherwise, amounted to “nasty Nazis”). Perhaps the dread apprehension of what Hitchcock and others had filmed in the death camps in some way influenced Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the film that completed Anglo-Amalgamated’s so-called “Sadean trilogy” in the following year.

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“Camp? Moi?”

And never forget…

 

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Do Movie Executives Dream Of Electrifying Film Franchises? (*) BLADE RUNNER 2049 Reviewed

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Directed by Denis VilleneuveProduced by Ridley Scott, Bud Yorkin, et al. Written by Hampton Fancher, Michael Green and Philip K. Dick (i.e. based on his novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) Cinematography by Roger DeakinsEdited by Joe Walker. Production Design by Dennis Gassner. Art direction by Paul Inglis, et al. Visual FX by… how long have you got? Musiby Benjamin Wallfisch and Hanz Zimmer. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos.

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“Welcome my son, welcome to the machine / What did you dream? / It’s alright, we told you what to dream” Pink Floyd, 1975.

Have you ever seen a miracle? I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I’ve seen Mrs Freudstein, first thing in the morning, minus any slap… and just very occasionally, I’ve sat down and watched a sequel to a great movie that was worth making and worth watching…

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) had to struggle through development hell, studio interference (all well documented elsewhere… I would point the interested reader in the direction of Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir tome) and (how many?) variant edits, not to mention box office indifference, to emerge over a period of decades as one of the undisputed Top 5 (easy) greatest Sci-Fi films of all time. Apprehensions about a sequel were understandable but the news that Scott would be executive producing settled a few nerves. Subsequent teaser material that actually looked rather good, followed by the approbation of friends whose opinions I had every reason to trust, ultimately convinced me that I was going to have to go and check out Blade Runner 2049…

The sequel doesn’t, as might have been expected, dip into the huge tranches of material from Philip Dick’s source novel that never made it to the screen first time out, though the opening scene (in which Gosling’s Blade Runner, a Nexus 8 model factory set to obey its human creators, retires a replicant hiding out on a remote farm) is virtually identical to one that kicked off an early draft screenplay of Scott’s original. Thereafter Blade Runner 2049 spins a consistently engrossing (despite its whopping two-and-three-quarter hours running time) yarn by the simple expedient of inverting the action of its predecessor.

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In the original, Ford’s Rick Deckard was on the trail of a bunch of “skin jobs” and an unwitting voyage of self-discovery, with shattering implications for his own perception of who and what he was. This time Gosling’s “skinner” K (or should we call him “Joe”?) is searching for Deckard and the game-changing baby he is said to have conceived with the late Nexus 6 Rachael. He too seems to be on the verge of a radical shift in self understanding but not quite in the way that the viewer is being led to believe (well, it’s not an easy thing to meet your maker…) The way this film undercuts our expectations in this regard reminds me of what the late William Hjortsberg did in Falling Angel (here at THOF we prefer to cite the sublime occult noir novel rather than the mess Alan Parker made of it in his 1987 screen adaptation, Angel Heart), for which Ridley Scott, of course, penned a foreword (in thanks for Hjortsberg’s scripting efforts on his Legend, 1985).

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It’s obvious from the off that Villeneuve and his massive crew (the credits sequence deserves a credit sequence of its own!) were intent on capturing the look and the spirit of the original, their mission supported by a Vangelisalike OST and cast returnees Ford, Edward James Olmos (as the pensioned off, reminiscing Gaff) and Sean Young as a rotoscoped Rachael. The visual splendours of Blade Runner 2049 would be more capably chronicled by another Rachael of my acquaintance (how about it, @hypnoticcrescendos?) and even if its dialogue does lacks that bit of noir snap, Villeneuve adheres to the canon closely enough to satisfy the first film’s most ardent devotees and, by implication, the most demanding Dick heads…

Philip K. Dick always maintained that his voluminous pulp outpourings boiled down to a search for the answer to two questions, namely: “What does it mean to be real?” and “What does it mean to be human?” Put ’em together and the implied question is: “What does it take to live a good… or an authentic… life?” Villeneuve and co have done a man’s job of framing this question (if not necessarily coming up with anything like a definitive answer to it) although of course as men they remain obdurately fascinated and baffled by women, the old familiar Madonna / whore dichotomy represented here by, on one hand, the martyred matriarch Rachael, Ana de Armas’s ministering cyber sprite Joi (hope home entertainment systems catch up with Fancher and Green’s imaginings in my life time… the possibilities depicted here certainly trump an evening in with my 5.1 surround set-up) plus, let’s say, a.n.other… and on the other hand, Sylvia Hoeks’ cold-blooded killer bitch Luv. It seems like a matter of mere days since I complimented Double Date‘s Kelly Wenham on wrestling the “sexiest fight scene” laurel from Joanna Cassidy’s 1982 pasting of Harrison Ford, but Hoeks reclaims it for the Blade Runner franchise with several eye-watering scraps in this one. Whew, between her and  Famke Janssen in  GoldenEye (1995)…. what is it about violent Dutch women that so strangely stirs my soul? (**)

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Joi… ministering cyber-sprite?

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… and the commercial reality.

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The genius pulp Art of Virgil Finlay. Inspiration?

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Sylvia Hoeks as “Luv”. Infatuation.

Ford contributes an interesting take on where the Deckard character would be after all he’s gone through in the last thirty years. As for the new corporate villain, Niander Wallace… well, he’s played by Jared Leto and I’m factory set to say nothing bad about anybody who looks so much like Jennifer Connelly (though admittedly BR2049’s stylists have gone out of their way to mask the likeness). I’d like to have seen some sort of resolution / retribution for his character but I guess we’ll have to wait for that (and word on the looming replicant insurrection) until a third instalment. Unfortunately, rather than tailgating its predecessor’s long incubated stellar status, Villeneuve’s film seems to have emulated its achievement of tanking at the box office, which means that we probably won’t see another sequel until at least 2052… by which point Harrison Ford and indeed I will be definitively “retired”. Hm, time to start thinking seriously about that android replacement I’ve been pondering… “More Freudstein than Freudstein” is our motto here at The HOF.

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Tim Anderson’s fabulous pulp paperback vision of Blade Runner…

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… and the “real” thing.

(*) Sure they do.

(**) Sorry if things took a slightly lubricious turn for a minute, there. I’m only human, you know…

… pending the results of my recent Voight-Kampff resit I am, anyway!

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SUSPIRIA At Mayhem 2017. It’s In 4K… On A Big Screen… And It’s A F**king Giallo, Alright?!?

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Suspiria, 1977. Directed by Dario ArgentoProduced by Claudio Argento and Salvatore Argento. Story by Daria NicoldiScreenplay by Dario Argento and Daria NicolodiCinematography by Luciano TovoliEdited by Franco Fraticelli. Production Design by Giuseppe Bassan. Musiby Goblin. SFX by Germano Natali. Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett.

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… you wait forty years for a 4k restoration of Suspiria then two turn up at the same time! Over in The States, Synapse’s Don May has been struggling manfully with his for something like a tenth of that period but CultFilms have stealthily beaten him to the punch with their European release of TLE’s take on the most visually beautiful of all Horror Films. Before either of them had aired in public there was much internet discussion and comparing of screen grabs with the intention of establishing which version would prove most successful in correcting the technical errors (too fiendishly complicated to go into here) that have marred previous releases. May’s strongest hand all along has been that Luciano Tovoli, the film’s cinematographer, has supervised his Suspiria… then again the CultFilms / TLE rendering was overseen by Dario Argento himself, who’s presumably entitled to a view on how the film should look and sound.

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Ultimately we’ll all have to pay our money / take our choice and as long as each version is only viewable in its own territory, one of the first things we Europeans (semi-detached and otherwise) will have to go on is this October and November’s Cultfilms UK mini-tour.  After its premiere at the BFI during the London Film Festival on 06/10/17, the TLE Suspiria rolled into Nottingham on the 14th October for a centrepiece Saturday late night screening at the Broadway Cinema’s peerless Mayhem Film Fest (full Festival report now active on this Blog).

Kudos to Festival co-curators Chris Cooke (who had previously told me that presenting such a restoration was a personal dream come true) and Steve Sheil, who introduced “Argento’s masterpiece” by asking how many audience members had never seen the film before. As it happened, a significant proportion of the audience admitted to being “Suspiria virgins”…

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… and what a way to lose their cherries! If the Synapse version is going to look any better than this, we’ve surely got to be talking infinitesimal degrees of cinematic lusciousness. Miraculously, considering the extent of the repairs that were reportedly needed, not a hair nor a scratch now sullies the candy coloured phantasmagoria of Argento’s vision. As for those much called-for corrections to the film’s pallet… suffice to say, you’ll feel an overpowering urge to lean into the screen and lick the marzipan walls of the Tanz Akademie, hopefully grabbing a kiss from Jessica Harper before returning to your seat and getting beaten up by the ushers.

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Soundwise, the film (not least Goblin’s celebrated score) is every bit as loud and frantic as you knew it was going to be… if a little flat. Was there something up with The Broadway’s speakers? Nope, various films of varying quality (none better than Suspiria) made effective use of the venue’s surround sound speakers throughout the Festival. Is it just that Suspiria was conceived, reasonably enough, without reference to the state of audio technology 40 year’s hence? Was there a problem with the relevant elements? With the sonic aspect of this restoration? With my ears? Will the Synapse jobby sound a little punchier? Watch (or should I say listen to?) this space…

Don’t get me wrong… it doesn’t sound crappy, it’s just not quite the outright audio assault for which Suspiria is famed. No matter, I didn’t begrudge one iota of the expense required to get me home after leaving this particular late, late show with those virgins’ applause ringing in my ears. They now knew what they’d been missing and I was reminded, after years of video / DVD / BD over-familiarity, that Suspiria is quite possibly The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made. I don’t imagine too many visitors of this Blog are going to give me to much of an argument on that one.

Now for the contentious bit…

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What constitutes a giallo?  Various definitions have been offered. From the get-go we’ll dismiss the philistine broad stroke one that encompasses virtually any Italian exploitation picture. We’re talking here about those thrillers, descended in equal parts from the yellow (“giallo”) covered paper backs published by Mondadori and co, German krimis and Hitchcock, whose rule book was developed by Mario Bava during the ’60s and upgraded by Argento throughout the following decade.

So if we were to have a, er, stab, at definition, it would look something like this. A  killer is at large (usually in an urban Italian setting) and the viewer is challenged to work out his / her identity. His / her motivation can be madness, sexual sadism, an inheritance… it scarcely matters (and the motives revealed, even in some of the genre’s classier entries, are frequently risible nonsense) because the style and severity with which the crimes are perpetrated and filmed are more important than who is killing whom and why. Subjective shots from the killer’s point of view will keep you guessing, anyway, as flashy visuals continue to be prioritised over narrative coherence. The cops generally take a powder in these films, leaving the sleuthing to some obsessive amateur who, more often than not, has half-glimpsed an all important clue but is struggling to make sense of it. Just in case this recipe isn’t already sufficiently un-PC, among the bloodily dispatched victims we will typically find a disproportionate compliment of attractive young women.

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You don’t have to honour every one of these rules to qualify as a giallo. Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987) throws the whodunnit element right out of the window (we’re aware of the killer’s identity even before he inaugurates the movie’s sequence of killings) yet is frequently cited as one of the genre’s last great entries. Some gialli do admit cops, e.g.  Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done To Your Daughters (tellingly also known as The Police Require Assistance, 1974), Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975) and Alberto De Martino’s Strange Shadows In An Empty Room / Blazing Magnum (1976). Some of the grubbier gialli substitute smut for style (most notoriously in Mario Landi’s unpalatable Giallo In Venice, 1979) and setting their events outside of the Italian urban milieu has not discounted Lucio Fulci’s Lizard In A Womans Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972), Umberto Lenzi’s totally barmy Eyeball (1975) or just about all of Sergio Martino’s powerful entries in the genre… so why should its Bavarian setting disqualify Suspiria, a film which in every other way adheres to the genre’s golden rules?!?

So it’s not contentious at all, actually… It’s a no-brainer. It makes no difference that the question “Who’s the killer?” is answered with a shrieked “Witch!” I always get slagged off for arguing this and no doubt will be again, but if it looks like a giallo, struts like a giallo and cuts its way through its victims like a giallo, then it’s probably a giallo… and Suspiria is a giallo. Yes, it’s a turbo charged giallo with heavy Horror overtones, supernatural schtick and cinematic style to burn. But hey, let’s try not to hold that against it, eh?

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A Sliver Of SALÒ… Lucio Fulci’s THE GHOSTS OF SODOM Reviewed

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“Jinkies!”

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The Gosts Of Sodom (“I Fantasmi Di Sodoma”), 1988. Directed by Lucio FulciProduced by Antonio Lucidi & Luigi Nannerini. Story by Lucio FulciScreenplay by Lucio Fulci Carlo Alberto Alfieri. Cinematography by Vincenzo TessiciniEdited by Vincenz Tomassi. Musiby Carlo Maria Cordio. SFX by Gino Vagniluca. Starring: Claudio Aliott, Maria Concetta Salieri, Robert Egon, Jessica Moore, Teresa Razzaudi, Sebastian Harrison, Al Cliver (uncredited), Zora Kerova (uncredited), Joseph Alan Johnson (uncredited).

Lamberto Bava was the best of influences… Lamberto Bava was the worst of influences… although his 1985 effort Demons (arguably the Last Great Italian Horror Film) confirmed him as his father’s son, Bava Jr’s Graveyard Disturbance (made just three years later) set the template for a string of anaemic, TV friendly efforts (more Hanna Barbera than Mario Bava) in which gormless yuppie youths confronted lame-assed spooky adversaries in anodyne adventures whose video releases had audiences around the world reaching for the fast forward button while struggling to stay awake.

The Ghosts Of Sodom (which Fulci directed in 1988, virtually simultaneously with the marginally superior Touch Of Death) pinches Demons’ central conceit of cursed celluloid only to put it in the service of “Scooby Doo Vs Third Reich” silliness, resulting in a listless boreathon that makes the likes of Sergio Garrone’s SS Experiment Camp (1976) and Luigi Batzella’s Beast In Heat (1977) look like Marcel Ophüls’ The Sorrow And The Pity (1969).

Towards the end of WWII, a bunch of SS men hole up in a villa and (stop me if you’ve seen something like this before) stave off contemplation of the inevitable by acting out a series of depraved sexual tableaux. Unfortunately the paucity of Fulci’s imagination in this department means that the most depraved thing we witness is Al Cliver shouting at a girl to dance too fast… oh and some bozo trying to pot a snooker ball between a compliant Fraulein’s legs. Before everybody expires from ennui, a stock footage allied bombing raid puts them out of their misery. But the nasty Nazis had the presence of mind to film their tame orgy for posterity…

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… and four decades or so later, a campervanload of groovy guys and bitchin’ babes (including Jessica Moore / Lucian Ottaviani from Joe D’Amato’s Eleven Days, Eleven Nights brace) rocks up at the (distinctly unbombed looking) villa to deplete the wine cellar and make out, their libidos inflamed by the photo albums of vintage Nazi porn they discover (“Get a load of these knockers!”) Unwisely, they also crank up the film of that long (and justifiably) forgotten orgy, at which point the villa fills up with Nazi spectres. The flower of Aryan manhood (identified in the credits as “Willy The Nazi” and played by Robert Egon) engages in vanilla S&M shenanigans with the lucky girls.

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One of the boys is brow beaten by Nazis into playing Russian roulette for the favours of a sexy female ghost (the uncredited Zora Kerova), only for her breasts to turn to ashes in his hands… doncha just hate it when that happens? Another falls downstairs and dies, his body rapidly degenerating into a pool of pulsating pus…

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Mercifully, the Nazi bongo movie reaches the point at which the villa was bombed and the yups find themselves outside, unscathed and remarkably philosophical about the ordeal which they have just undergone…

“That was some adventure!”
“Let’s get the hell out of here!”
“I’m way ahead of you!”

The resurgent Nazi threat is over, for now… but they would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids! Just to confuse them further, their dismembered antics would be recycled in another film-within-a-film outing, Fulci’s hysterical A Cat In The Brain aka Nightmare Concert (1990).

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Plenty of quality Italian films have examined, in literal or allegorical style, the country’s war-time complicity with Nazism… Antonio Bido’s Watch Me When I kill (1977), Pupi Avati’s The House With Laughing Windows (1976) and any amount of Pier Paolo Pasolini pictures spring to mind. This is certainly not one of them. Fulci’s attempt to reframe Pasolini for the Panino crowd comes up several scooby snacks short of a satisfying picnic, although towards the end you really do start to feel like it’s been going on for 120 days. Looking back on LF’s career nadir hasn’t turned me into a pillar of salt, but I’m struggling to think of anything else I could possibly say in its favour.

Incidentally, Fulci made much of his anti-Nazi credentials (not least when I spoke to him) but anyone who’s watched his interview on the Grindhouse DVD of A Cat In The Brain will have heard him make a pretty reprehensible throwaway crack about The Holocaust… a sorrow and indeed, a pity.

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Toast Of Douglas… MINDHORN Reviewed

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Barratt gets the David Hess role in the upcoming House On The Edge Of The Park reboot…

Directed by Sean Foley
Produced by Jack Arbuthnott, et al
Written by Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Edited by Mark Everson
Cinematography by David Luther
Music by Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes
Special FX by Niall Trask
Starring Julian Barrett, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Harriet Walter, Russell Tovey, Nicholas Farrell, David Schofield, Richard McCabe, Jessica Barden, Steve Coogan, Simon Callow, Sir Kenneth Branagh

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29/04/17 … another great night at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema. Kudos to Mayhem honchos Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil for procuring a Mindhorn preview and Q&A with its stars / creators Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh “jazz maverick”) and Simon Farnaby (known, chez Freudstein, as “that guy from Horrible Histories”). Thanks for the ticket, Chris.

I’d been looking forward to this one for a while. Inestimable anti-social media friend @CosiPerversa warned me that Bunny And The Bull from the same(ish) team was pretty rank stuff (and I’ve never had any cause to doubt his judgement) but the premise of this one was irresistible…

Julian Barrat is Richard Thorncroft who was Mindhorn, a much-loved ’80s TV detective who used his bionic lie-detecting eye (don’t ask!), not to mention his mastery of Brazilian martial art Capoeira and his lady killing charm, to get to the bottom of various crimes on the Isle Of Man every week. Thorncroft was habitually beastly to his stunt double Clive Parnevik (Farnaby) and – his ego swollen by a Hollywood offer that never came to anything – he rubbished his screen side-kick Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan) and the IOM itself during a particularly drunken appearance on Wogan, with predictably disastrous career consequences. A quarter of a Century later, “the fame has faded and the waistline has expanded” (welcome to my world, pal!) He’s lost his hair as well (at least I’m hanging on to mine) and he’s been reduced to advertising man corsets and orthopaedic socks (though John Nettles has just bumped him off of that gig.) Just to exacerbate Thorncroft’s discomfort, Mindhorn was replaced with a spin-off series showcasing the exploits of Windjammer, the character played by Eastman, who’s now doing very nicely indeed for himself.

Opportunity knocks (probably for the final time) on our boy’s door when a murder occurs on the Isle Of Man and the unbalanced Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who identifies himself as “The Kestrel”, warns that there’ll be more unless he gets to speak to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. Hopeful of reviving both his career and his relationship with former co-star Patricia Deville (the lovely Essie Davis, below), Thorncroft gets on the first ferry out of Liverpool and proceeds to make a total arse of himself with the local cops (flinty faced David Schofield and the bemused Andrea Riseborough.)  Along the way he has humiliating run ins with Eastman and the perennially buff Parnevik, who is now shacked up with Patricia. Ironic that the bionic eyed dick couldn’t see any of this coming…

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Every bit as deluded as his nut-job fan (who at least has the excuse of a learning disability), Thorncroft embarks on a redemptive journey (I’m only sticking that “character journey” shit in there to wind up Mrs F, whose current least favourite metaphor it happens to be) and we actually start rooting for the dopey no-hoper as the penny drops that several key characters are not quite what they seem. Along the way, of course, the cruel ironies and comic complications multiply exponentially…

Barratt and Farnaby allegedly spent ten years working on the script of Mindhorn and it wasn’t a waste of a decade. On top of a firm, fun premise (into which elements of Toast Of London, The Six Million Dollar Man, Bergerac, Shoestring and others have been shoe-horned) the gags are scattered thick and fast. It ain’t exactly Spinal Tap or Airplane, but if you were beginning to think that the words “British”, “screen” and “comedy” were mutually excluded from appearing in the same sentence, Mindhorn will certainly disabuse you of that notion… it’s everything that Coogan’s recent output has aspired, in vain, to be. Barratt and Farnaby’s central roles aren’t too much of a stretch from anything you’ve seen them in previously but the rest of the cast (which also includes Harriet Walter as Thorncroft’s two-faced agent, Richard McCabe as his dissolute publicist and bit-parting Ken Branagh and Simon Callow) are uniformly excellent. The Mindhorn memorabilia and “clips” from the TV show are a particular treat. I hope they manage some of the mooted spin-offs… at least a Mindhorn TV episode as an extra on the DVD release? We’ll, er, see…

Hats off to rookie feature director Sean Foley. Christ knows why they thought he could pull it off, but he did. One quibble… I’m too much of a technical ignoramus to work out if the film was in some way misprojected, but the cinematography of David Luther (an ASC award nominee!) made parts of it look like it was shot on VHS… and I’m not talking about the retro stuff that’s supposed to look like it’s on VHS!

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Barratt and Farnaby’s Q&A (ably moderated by Sheil) was every bit as amusing as you’d expect, though a little different from most of those I’ve attended, which have overwhelmingly featured horror / exploitation film makers. When faced with a question that’s been, frankly, a bit dumb, those guys always seemed to be tying themselves in knots, in defiance of audience giggles, to dignify it with a straight answer. Barratt and Farnaby, as comedians, took the alternative course of amplifying the dumbness of certain questions and milking them for maximum comic effect. It has to be said that some of the questioners were asking for it but I still felt vaguely uncomfortable. Then again, Freud argued that humour was intimately connected with the discharge of uncomfortable emotions… and you know Sigmund Freud wouldn’t shit you about something like that.

One thing that did become apparent, because Farnaby told us, was that Parnevik’s accent was supposed to be Dutch. Later in the session he attempted a Leeds accent that was similarly wide of the mark. Admittedly his Geordie is spot on (and was mercilessly deployed to take the piss out of Ridley Scott), then again he is a native of County Durham. Ah well, nobody’s perfect. The Q&A was enlivened by the presence of one Isle Of Man refugee (who conceded that all the flak it gets in the film falls under the category of fair comment) and an actual capoeira practitioner who (rather generously) complimented Barratt on his rendition of this esoteric Brazilian martial arts / dance crossover discipline. Oh, and there were plenty of cake-based cracks concerning Noel Fielding’s latest career move, too.

Never forget… you can’t handcuff the wind.

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The late Keith Moon leads The Who in spooky ’70s anticipation of Mindhorn’s capoeira moves…

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Nice Places To Visit But You Wouldn’t Want To Live There… HIGH RISE and KONG: SKULL ISLAND Reviewed

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From the days before The Guardian embraced Neoliberalism, Austerity… and all that cal.

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Hairy palms… the first sign of insanity… or was it wanking?

The House Of Freudstein is a wonderful but sometimes strange and frightening place. There is no rule book. There was one, but it’s currently being used to prop up the short leg on The Doc’s operating table, so you’ll have to have it out with him if you want to read it. In the absence of the rule book, the standard operating procedure that’s evolved around here is to write about low-budget horror, schlock and sleaze. Yet here I find myself, on Good Friday 2017, about to pen reviews of two Tom Hiddleston films… strange and frightening indeed.

1 ) Get Off Of My Cloud… HIGH RISE Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. STUDIOCANAL. 15

It’s become a cliché of lazy film critique (one on which I’ve frequently fallen back myself) to describe the works of Poe and Lovecraft as “unfilmable.” Plenty of film makers have had a go and some have done rather well, invariably by injecting new plot elements into the tenebrous sketches of EAP and HPL. The ’60s / ’70s countercultural holy trinity of Ballard, Burroughs and Dick have fared demonstrably worse at the hands of screen adaptors… well, PKD’s done OK, with major plot additions making not one but two lucrative Total Recalls (Kate Beckinsale’s in one of them… more on this attractive guitar-sucking actress later) out of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and a cocktail of additions and surgical extractions transforming Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep into the all-conquering (apart from at the box office) Blade Runner. As for Ballard and Burroughs, two words are sufficient to convey what fucked-up film fodder their fiction can become… and those words are “Cronenberg” and “David”, though not necessarily in that order.

There are friends and peers who roll their eyes and wiggle their fingers around their temples whenever I have the temerity to question anything Cronenbergian, but guys… when DC’s Naked Lunch was released, in 1991, I had already spent the best part of two decades enthralled and repelled by the Burroughs novel and its immediate “sequels.” With their deployment of “cut up” and “fold in” techniques, these incendiary works were designed to advance the novel’s narrative techniques to the level of cinema so arguably the very act of adapting them to the screen was a salutary lesson in defeating the object of the exercise… but if there was any way to translate work of such challenging complexity to the visual medium, the spectacle of Roy Scheider ripping a Mission Impossible mask off to reveal that he is (da da!) Doctor Benway sure wasn’t it.  As for “Sexual ambivalence? I thought you said sexual ambulance”?… give me a fucking break! I concede that Cronenberg had the humility to dub this mess “Naked Lunch” rather than The Naked Lunch but then again, this is a film that has rather a lot to be humble about. Nor was I significantly more impressed by Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash (1966), despite my innate predisposition to favour anything so despised by the Dailys Mail and Express. Once could even argue that Cronenberg’s feature debut Shivers (1975) was the closest he (or anyone) ever came to the literary spirit of Ballard and, by dint weird of weird synchronicity, High Rise was originally published in the same year. Must have been something in the air, or possibly the air conditioning… whatever, each provided a prescient taste of unpleasant things to come. The very next year Harold Wilson resigned under never-quite-explained circumstances and Callaghan and Healey (not, as is commonly misremembered, Thatcher) signed the UK up to the great neo-liberal experiment that is still sucking most of us dry today.

Fortunately there’s no longer any need to make that argument (the one I mentioned towards the end of the previous paragraph, bozo! Pay fucking attention, alright?) as Ben Wheately (A Field In England, Sightseers, Free Fire, et al) has directed High Rise (2015.) If Danny Boyle was the ideal man to stage the London Olympics’ opening ceremony (or was it the closing ceremony? Couldn’t bring myself to watch any of that stuff) then Wheatley’s the guy to orchestrate TV coverage of The Apocalypse. And while we’re all waiting for that…

Tom Hiddleston, who looks a bit like that kid out of Home Alone on steroids, plays Robert Laing (I was waiting in vain for characters named Janov and Szasz.) By day he teaches physiology in a hospital. Slicing into the scalp of some dead dude to peel his face off and reveal the skull beneath is as good as any a precis of the dionysian / dystopian dehumanisation that is to follow… more importantly, the fact that it causes one of Laing’s wise cracking students to faint is a gratifying (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) nod to the greatest TV program of all time…

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… Quincy M.E.

When he gets back to his swishy apartment in the eponymous High Rise, Laing’s just looking to be alone, but gets inexorably drawn into the complexly nuanced social nexus of his ultra-class conscious co-High Rise dwellers. Shit like this happens. I know, I’ve experienced it during the regrettable periods when I’ve been obliged to take day jobs. Thankfully, none of those degenerated into the “eating dogs and throwing people off roofs” scenario depicted here. Nor, rather regrettably, did they evolve into the kind of sordid sex orgies that seem to break out in High Rise at the first suggestion that the lifts aren’t working properly or the supermarket is out of sugar puffs.

As the High Rise goes to hell in a hand cart beneath him, its designer Anthony Lord (Jeremy Irons) squats atop it in the swishest apartment of them all (complete with rooftop recreation of an ancien regime garden), rather like Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Tyrell Corporation pyramid in Blade Runner. Rather like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Wilder (Luke Evans) wants some face-to-face time with the man at the top… he wants more swimming pool privileges for his kids, fucker! James Purefoy (as Pangbourne) portrays the kind of psychotic smoothie he’s been specialising in since his Mark Anthony in that splattery mini-series Rome… he’s getting very good at it, too. If they ever decide to remake The Professionals, I’m hoping he gets the call for Bodie. I’ve always had problems telling the Siennas Miller and Guillory apart. Wheatley casts both of them here (I think they’re having a lesbian affair or something) to clear up… or possibly intensify any such confusion.

So often in the past I’ve expressed myself bewildered, exasperated and / or infuriated by the decisions of the BBFC but on this occasion I’m coming at it from an unaccustomed angle. I’m genuinely surprised that our pals at Soho Square deem the litany of atrocities trotted out in High Rise worthy of a ’15’ certificate. I remember an earnest young man who wrote a book in which he railed against the hypocrisy of the “video nasties” witch hunt, who would no doubt roll his eyes and wiggle his finger around his temple at my concern over the prospect of my daughter being exposed to Wheatley’s film. It’s a moot point anyway, as High Rise ticks precisely none of the boxes that might have tempted her to watch it… it’s not Japanese, it’s not animated and there are precisely no sensitive gay characters discussing their emotional problems in it.

Cast interviews in the bonus material give you the chance to decide which of the participants are playing ninnies and which of them are actually just ninnies. Hiddlestone sounds quite intelligent and thoughtful until asked what his dream, Anthony Lord designed apartment would look like and specifies that there would have to be a gym in it… bloody ninny! Sienna Miller, who seems to have made a career (at least if the things I’ve seen her in are anything to go by) playing underfed crumpet has never actually appealed to me but in these interviews she not only sounds a lot more intelligent than you’d give her credit for, but also looks absolutely incandescent… better than she does in the actual feature. It’s as though she’s taken the high rise elevator out of pleasant-looking Elizabeth Hurley mid-table mediocrity into the upper echelons where the grateful carpets are trod by the Kate Beckinsales of this world.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a capet. Yesterday.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a carpet. Sucking on a guitar. The day before yesterday.

 

Who shot these bonus interviews? Maybe Miller should put him / her on a permanent retainer. I’d definitely do so, were I not a penniless blogger.

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Just about the only mishap that doesn’t befall the residents of The High Rise (or at least, the only one it would be tasteful to make wise cracks about) is to encounter a giant gorilla climbing to the top of it. Hiddleston dons a vest and cargo pants to cross off this particular entry on his bucket list in…

2) Too Much Monkey Business… KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) Reviewed

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Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Produced by Alex Garcia, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull, et al.
Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connelly

Edited by Richard Parent.

Cinematography by Larry Fong.
Music by Henry Jackman.
Special FX by Chris Brenczewski and shedloads of others…

Starring: Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C, Reilly, John Goodman, Houston Brooks.

You wouldn’t want to live in Mansfield and it’s not even a particularly nice place to visit, nevertheless that’s where our Meerkat Movie vouchers have brought the Freudstein family on an expedition to check out Kong: Skull Island. The Odeon has dispensed with its ticket office since we were last here, you’ve got to print out your tickets on some infernal self-service device. Presumably this was intended to cut down the staff wage bill but there still seem to be countless callow youths standing around awkwardly in their cute uniforms, resolutely refusing eye contact in case – heaven forefend – they might be called upon to help you with something.

During the endless trailer reel we suffer Jason Statham running the gamut of emotion from A to B in a trailer for The Fast And The Fatuous Part 38 or whatever it is. “That looks shit!”, opines Freudette to her Mum… Christ on a fucking bike, wherever does she pick up language like that?

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Rather like our previous foray into mainstream cinema, Doctor Strange, which I reviewed elsewhere on this site (not that any of you fuckers bothered to read it!), Kong: Skull Island has had so much money chucked at it, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be entertaining, albeit in a stupid ass, knuckle-headed kind of way. There’s a prologue, during which we witness a Japanese and an American airman, who’ve just shot each other out of the sky in a WWII dogfight, about to conclude their death match when they’re interrupted by you-know-who raising his ugly, hairy head. Cut to the early 70s, where Tricky Dicky has just announced “peace with honour” in Vietnam and Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) feels that he and his grunts have been sold out. They don’t need much convincing to sign up to a geological study on Skull Island, under the direction of Professor Bill Randa (John Goodman), whose motivations aren’t exactly as stated. Nobody seems suspicious about a geological survey on a permanently storm surrounded rock (glorifying in the name of Skull Island) that requires a heavy-duty military attachment… not hunky James Conrad (Hiddleston, who would have done better to stay in the chic opium den where they found him), nor busty war reporter Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), whose along for the ride as Kong candy because Fay Wray is no longer available. Joseph Conrad is no longer available either, but because he penned Heart Of Darkness, from which this film, Apocalypse Now and many others have pinched so much, they thought they’d name a character after him. Kind of. Alongside the uncredited input of original Kong writers Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper, you’ll easily spot elements of Moby Dick, Lord Of The Flies and Treasure Island just for starters. I did and I wasn’t really paying attention.

Anyway, Packard’s chopper squad fearlessly navigate their way through those perpetual storms but before you can whistle Ride Of The Valkyrie, the hundred foot ape turns up and starts swatting them out of the sky like Dinky toys. Conrad, who’s a pretty touchy-feely guy for the kind of black ops specialist he’s vaguely suggested to be, argues that KK was only defending his territory but Packard has conceived a mortal grudge against that monkey, unconvinced by the argument that his removal will lead to the island being overrun by H.R. Giger rejects from the centre of the Earth. In other words, Kong’s a big ugly monster bastard but he’s our big ugly monster bastard. The allegory of recent US foreign policy isn’t too difficult to discern and there are a few throwaway gags at Trump’s expense, but we’re mostly here to gawp at big beasties fighting each other rather than critique current geopolitical trends and it has to be said that the CGI creations are impressive, if lacking the charm of Harryhausen and O’Brien’s stop motion masterworks. I would have preferred to see KK slugging it out with some authentic looking dinosaurs than those Gigeresque jobbies, but what do I know?

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The soundtrack is nicely peppered with 70s rock classics and the Ben Gunn character gets to go home and enjoy the ballgame with a beer and a hotdog, not to mention his miraculously well-preserved wife. Conrad’s viewpoint vindicated, Kong is left lording it over Skull Island and multiple sequels are already in the works.

Sorry to get all prissy about ratings again, but Mrs F felt rather forcefully (and I’m inclined to agree with her) that this was pretty violent stuff for “12A.” Thankfully, Freudette doesn’t seem to have incurred any significant mental scars on account of it. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my Mum taking me to see One Million Years B.C. when it came out in 1966 and now I’ve taken our kid to see a monster movie, it feels like the circle of life is being completed. Or something. At the time I was more enthused by the dinosaurs than the spectacle of  Raquel Welch in her fur bikini…

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… I dig the dinosaurs in that movie to this day, though my priorities did shift somewhat with the onset of puberty. What about Freudette… did she find the Hiddleston hot? (Dunno if I’ve mentioned this already, but I find him a bit of a ninny) Only, she tells me, in so far as she could imagine him in a passionate clinch with Benedict Cumberbatch. Apparently there’s a whole wing of the internet that’s obsessed with the possibility of such a romantic coupling. Perhaps that makes more sense to you than it does to me. Parenthood, like life at The House Of Freudstein, is a wonderful, sometimes strange and frightening thing.

The main feeling I was left with after consuming Kong: Skull Island was a desire to root out some of those batshit crazy Japanese Kong movies and review them on this site. So I’ll be doing precisely that, shortly.

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The Art Of Falling Apart… FREE FIRE Reviewed

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Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Produced by Andrew Starke, et al.
Written & Edited by Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley.

Cinematography by Laurie Rose.
Music by Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury.
Starring: Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Cillan Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharito Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats.

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There’s a buzz about Ben Wheatley and no mistake. Theatre 1 of Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema on the evening of 07.03.17 was sold out for their preview screening of / Q&A session for his latest effort Free Fire (many thanks, as ever, to Mayhem’s Chris Cooke for saving me a ticket… and to Ollie Morris for actually finding me a seat!) Hell, more people attended this than last September’s Broadway screening of Doctor Butcher M.D. There’s no accounting for tastes, I guess…

… only kidding. Among the countless British directors who have been touted in recent decades as the next big thing /  great white hope / second coming, very few – IMHO – have actually merited such excessive investment of high hopes… off the top of my head (and no doubt I’ll offend some by not mentioning them and piss myself off for forgetting others), Nick Broomfield and Michael Winterbottom have rarely disappointed. Though it’s still early days, Wheatley has been justifying the hype via relentless pursuit of his (and his muse Amy Jump’s) favoured theme, a truly Shakespearian one, namely the bad things that happen when things break down … things as diverse as the self-control of banal, frustrated people (Sightseers), the Utopian dreams of urban planners (High Rise) and the Stuart dynasty (A Field In England).

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This Billericay Dickie having already dabbled in the UK gangster genre (to significantly more intelligent effect than is generally the case) with Down Terrace and Kill List, Free Fire is a step across the pond and hopefully up the ladder, in which the expected entropic  narrative is boiled down to the contents (human and ordnance) of a derelict Boston factory in 1978. It’s not quite the uninterrupted “90 minute shoot out” you might have primed to expect. The first half hour sets up the quirky dramatis personae in a twitchy drug deal and how it all goes tits up, starting with the revelation that a foot soldier on one side recently glassed the cousin of a guy in the other camp because she wouldn’t give him a blow job. After that charming spark has ignited the tinder box, you do get pretty much the climax of Taxi Driver (and just look whose name pops up among the list of executive producers) stretched over the remaining hour of the picture and played for queasy laughs, none of the characters allowing themselves to be distracted from the serious business of aiming profane wise cracks at each other by the fact that new chunks are being blown out of them at regular intervals. Nice to know that when things are falling apart, the last thing people lose (after several gallons of their blood) is their sense of humour. It’s as though Laurel And Hardy’s Them Thar Hills had been directed by Quentin Tarantino… or Tarantino’s own early efforts had been directed by somebody with a grasp of the Aristotelian unities.

More than anything, Free Fire reminded me of the hip “heroic bloodshed” epics that I used to watch at The Broadway a quarter of a Century ago, though there’s precious little heroism in it… everyone’s in it for themselves and it’s revealed, at the death, that the fix was in even before the goonish underlings started butting heads. Somebody had the whole thing stitched up all along and they would have gotten away with it but for those pesky… but for a timely reminder that although we have, for the last hour-and-a-half, been engrossed in a microcosm of man’s venality and buffoonery, there’s a world outside intent on reimposing order… however transiently.

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During Wheatley’s Q&A session, moderated by Mayhem’s other main man, Steve Sheil and enlivened by the prospect of a free T-shirt for anyone who asked a question, the director deployed a dry and deadpan wit. It was difficult to tell if he was kidding or not when he claimed to have enlisted the help of his producer’s son to plan out the film’s set on Minecraft. He frequently had the audience in stitches, which moved somebody at the back to start shushing people, which was a bit weird. I don’t know why they were in such a vibe-busting mood… maybe someone they knew had recently been glassed? Wheatley revealed that the film he’d watched most before shooting Free Fire was Evil Dead 2 and when he finally disposes of Sam Riley’s infuriating and hitherto indestructible-seeming character, he certainly honours that central zombie movie tenet… you’ve gotta get ’em in the head!

Much of the onstage discussion (at least before I had to leave to catch a bus) was about the technicalities of discharging guns on rifle ranges and sets, but one statement of personal philosophy did slip out, about the re-emergence through Wheatley’s films of the theme that “smart people get dragged down by the stupidity of the crowd.” Will his upcoming films get dragged down to the LCD level of Hollywood product? The director revealed that his next two will be “a science fiction film… and something else.”

Watch this space.

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Lovelock Lies Limp… Edwige Fenech in THE VIRGIN WIFE

valentina-movie-poster-1978-1020205099.jpgTHE VIRGIN WIFE / “LA MOGLIE VERGINE” aka VALENTINA – THE VIRGIN WIFE, YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE HEART and AT LAST, AT LAST (1975)

Directed by “Franco Martinelli” (Marino Girolami).
Produced by Edmondo Amati.
Written by Marino Girolami & Carlo Veo.
Cinematography by Fausto Zuccoli.
Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Starring: Edwige Fenech, Ray Lovelock, Renzo Montagnani, Carrol Baker, Gabriella Giorgelli.

“What’s eating you” Ray Lovelock asks Edwige Fenech at one point in this picture. Not him, apparently. C’mon Ray, get down and get down to it… today is La Fenech’s birthday! (It’s rather a special occasion for everybody here at The House Of Freudstein, too… our 100th posting in this, our first year of blogging!)

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If Lovelock’s career reached its zenith in Jorge Grau’s sublime Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974), its nadir can surely be fixed in this fitful, unfunny effort by Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad and director of Zombi Holocaust.) The Virgin Wife is a variation on Ray Boulting’s The Family Way (1966) done as Sexy-Comedy all’Italiana and comes as an overdue opportunity to probe the link between Italian machismo and mama-worship, in which we’re supposed to believe that ol’ Ray (as “Giovanni”) can’t bring himself to consummate his marriage with the truly   (“Valentina”), despite the encouragement of lecherous old Uncle Fred (Renzo Montagnani, he of the ever-popular catch-phrase “Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”) Priapismic Fred likens his own unbridled manhood to “an Olympic torch burning a hole in my breeches”, simultaneously complaining that “My nephew’s got a limp sardine in his pants!”

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“Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

Bottles of schnapps, red hot chillies in the minestrone, “bull’s hormones” and the contagious eroticism of cousin Gianfranco (Michele Gammino, an astonishing Peter Sutcliffe lookalike) and his nymphomaniac French girlfriend Brigitte (Florence Barnes), much addicted as she is to nibbling sensually on bananas, the ministrations of Maria the naughty maid… even Fenech’s restaging of Sophia Loren’s strip for poor old Marcello Mastroianni in Ieri, Oggi E Domani… all of these attempted remedies, and more, fail to get lovelorn Lovelock’s limp dick rising to the occasion (don’t forget, all of this took place in the days before Viagra.)

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Nature abhorring a vacuum, Fenech is soon on the receiving end of Sapphic overtures from Brigitte (“Your skin is fantasteek… eet must drarve your ‘usband warld! Your breasts are magnifique… lark a marble statue!”) as well as warding off the unwanted overtures of a smarmy family lawyer who’s trying to get into her briefs.  At one point Fenech is driven to take herself in hand, fantasising about Lovelock in a Superman costume… a virile horse also features in this dream sequence, so it’s probably just as well that Girolami rather than Joe D’Amato directed the picture!

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Any scant sympathy one might have felt for Lovelock’s plight, even after the realisation that it’s him croaking the godawful theme-song to this film (one section of the lyrics sounds horribly like: “Teek-tock, the time goes on / Teek-tock, my love has gone / Teek-tock, my goat goes on without you here”) flies right out of the window when the root of this Oedipus wreck’s trouble is revealed as a fixation on his mother-in-law, played by the matronly Carroll Baker. Distraught, Fenech runs off during a downpour and is discovered and deflowered by a member of a nudist colony (“They’re Americans – they like to do that sort of thing!”) Lovelock and Baker, searching for her, are themselves obliged to take shelter in a derelict building, where they make out  while Lovelock weeps and wails: “I want my Mama”, setting a new low for unwholesome Mommy love that would stand for several years, until Peter Bark and Marianga Girodano’s gob-smacking shenanigans in Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (1981.)

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The unhappy family come to an awkward modus vivendi in an unexpectedly downbeat ending for such a frothy piece (something Hollywood took years to work up the courage to do – remember the fuss that was made over War Of The Roses?) Otherwise, this is typical and typically broad Italian comedy, complete with its groan-inducing compliment of double-entendres. Unfortunately Fenech’s oft noted comedic talents are severely compromised, in the British VPD video release, by the clumsy translation and disastrous dubbing of her waspish asides.

Trivia note – when the family doctor “tests” Giovanni for homosexuality, he does it by showing him pictures of a (then) little-known body-builder… yep, it’s Arnold Schwarzennegger!

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“Stop me if you’ve heard this before… oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy!”

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Mystic Pizza…DOCTOR STRANGE Reviewed

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Doctor Strange. 2016. USA. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt. Production Design by Charles Wood.  Art direction by Ray Chan. Costume Design by Alexandra Byrne. Special and Visual FX by… how long have you got? DP: Ben Davis. Edited by Sabrina Plisco, Wyatt Smith. Music by Michael Giacchino. Written by Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill… after the Steve Ditko comic character. Produced by Kevin Feige, etc. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

I haven’t gone to the cinema regularly for yonks… decades, in fact. Antiseptic “wheel ’em in, kick ’em out” multiplexes, uninspiring franchise fodder, seat kickers and sweet bag rustlers, exorbitant ticket prices and the fact that I’ve got all my favourite films on a shelf and a fuck off telly / sound system on which to experience them right here in the HOF… all of these factors have contributed to my poor cinema attendance record since the last Lucio Fulci double bill played out at the old Odeon on London Road in Liverpool (now yuppie apartments, I’m told.)

When the little Freudette started toddling around and seeking screen entertainment, Mrs F and I briefly ventured back into our local picture palaces to treat her to the likes of Wallace And Grommit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Curious George (“Curious Gudge” as she insisted on having it) and any amount of Disney / Pixar offerings. Now she has put such childish things behind her, the adolescent hormones are raging and it’s that guy from Sherlock who’s stoking the flames… yep, me daughter’s a total Cumberbitch!

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When she broached the subject of going to check him out in the latest Marvel Smasheroo, she wasn’t exactly pushing at a locked door, given my own fond boyhood memories of following the Doc’s astral escapades, as rendered by Jack Kirby and co, in the pages of Dez Skinn reprint comics such as Fantastic and Terrific.

So it was that I donned the cloak of levitation and we wafted over to that jewel in Nottingham’s cinema crown, the Savoy on Derby Road… by the jap’s eye of Agamotto and the thrice-dread dog poop scoop of Dormammu… wahay, we’re going to the pictures again for two 12a hours of “moderate fantasy violence” and “injury detail”!

The Savoy is a wonderful Old School cinema (and approximately 50% cheaper than an evening out at one of the big chains!) which continues to run current biggies and also hosts regular cult screenings by The Loft Movie Theatre. No seat kickers, thank fuck, though the World Sweet Packet Rustling Championship seemed to be taking place in the auditorium. The Freudette proved less impressed by this glimpse into the lost cinema going world of her mum and dad (who, after all, copped off during a screening of the awful Rutger Hauer picture Salute Of The Jugger) than by the prospect of Benedict besporting himself in mystic robes.

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And so to the film itself… Doctor Strange is a diverting big budget bash which won’t engage too many of your brain cells but certainly doesn’t dishonour my childhood memories of Steve Ditko’s creation. As played by Benedict C, he’s a skilled but arrogant surgeon who performs his operations to the sublime, silky funk accompaniment of Earth, Wind And Fire (hardly pikers themselves when it comes to pop culture mysticism.) Full marks for that, but scores of credibility points deducted when he crashes his car after using his mobile phone when driving (as only the scum of the Earth would do.) Seeking to repair his shattered hands, he makes for Tibet and is inducted into The Mystic Arts by The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton in a performance that seemed, for some reason, to set Mrs F’s teeth on edge (and she was in no way mollified when I pointed out that the baldy woman’s complete appellation in real life is apparently: “Katherine Matilda – Tilda – Swinton of Kimmerghame, a British actress, performance artist, model, and fashion muse.”)

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In place of the ectoplasm slinging duels to which I thrilled as a lad, you get loads of the CGI reality-scaping that’s been de rigeur since The Matrix, scads of Marvel in-jokes including the mandatory Stan Lee cameo, undeniably impressive outbreaks of big screen, Dolby-enhanced psychedelia (it’s impossible for me to come down too hard on any film which features The Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive in its soundtrack) and a climactic cosmic shoot out with Dormammu from The Dark Dimension that’s startlingly reminiscent of the conclusion to Lugi Cozzi’s completely bonkers and resolutely low budget The Black Cat / De Profondis (1989.)

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You bet there are going to be sequels and Avengers tie-ins, ad infinitum…

Befuddled by free-flowing hormones, ma fille scored this one 10/10. Despite my lingering suspicion that when it comes to Tibetan mystic proteges, Sharron Macready from The Champions would have kicked this Dr Strange’s ass from one end of the astral plane to another, plus reservations about BC’s variable accent (he’s more believable as a trans-dimensional trouble-shooter than he is as an American), I score it as a rare and reasonably enjoyable trip to the flicks…

… and I’ve honoured my pledge to Mrs F that, to avoid winding up our offspring, I would steadfastly refrain from referring to her screen heart-throb, at any point in this review, as Bendydick Cucumberpatch… oh, hang on… d’oh!

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Peter Hooten in the 1978 pilot for an abortive Doctor Strange TV series… wonder why that didn’t catch on?

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Yodelling In The Canyon Of Death… ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES Reviewed

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Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies. 2016. Austria. Starring Gabriela Marcinkova, Laurie Kalvert, Margarete Tiesel, Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, Karl Fischer, Kari Rakkola. Special effects: Tissi Brandhofer, Nikolay Mayer. SFX Make Up and Creature Design: Chris “Creatures” Kunzman. DP: Xiaosu Han, Andreas Thalhammer. Written by Dominik Hartel, Armin Prediger. Produced by Markus Fischer. Directed by Dominik Hartel.

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Romero was right… the zombies have taken over. I remember spending a lot of time writing about these deadfucks back in the late ‘80s, when they were a… er, niche interest, as a result of which I then “enjoyed” a very modest life style. Here we are, a quarter of a Century later, zombies dominate Hollywood horror product and their TV box sets are required viewing for any self-respecting hipster… but I’ve still got little more than the pot I piss in. You’ve got to laugh or you’d cry…

… good job then, that zom-coms were invented. But who precisely did invent this genre? Peter Jackson? Sam Raimi’s probably got a more compelling claim…  but what about John Landis… and arguably Bruno Mattei might just have initiated the whole cadaverous comedy schtick in 198o with Zombie Creeping Flesh, blissfully unaware that this is what he was actually doing. It was probably with Edgar  Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead (2004) that the zom-com attained critical mass at the box office, spawning the subsequent slew of zombie boy scouts, zombie strippers, zombie nerds, zombie ravers, et al… it’s an overcrowded market place and one that I’ve tried to avoid, though Mrs F did persuade me to watch Jordan Rubin’s Zombeavers (2014) which admittedly cracked a smile or two on the finely chiseled Freudstein features. Generally speaking, I tend towards the view that zombies = horror and that comedy should left to the specialists… like Owen Smith! Having said that, Alan Byron of Screenbound Entertainment Group (formerly Odeon) has graciously allowed us a sneak preview of their November DVD / Blu-ray release Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies…

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Feckless Ski boarding ace Steve (Calvert) blows a corporate event by boarding into the Tyrol, butt naked, to meet what turns out to be a nine year  old fan, terminating his sponsorship deal and seriously pissing off his long suffering girlfriend Branka (Marcinkova.) Surely things can only get better for Steve… in fact they take a distinct turn for the wurst when the local tourist board, their livelihood threatened by global warming, secretly trial a method of generating man-made snow, the by-products of when, when inhaled, turn anyone stupid enough to inhale them into ravenous zombies whose flesh eating rampage can only be stemmed by playing them music. Why any of this should be so is anybody’s guess but to distract us as the plot stretches credibility to point where it almost schnapps, we are treated to an endless succession of gory sight gags, mostly focussing on ever more inventive ways to insert skis, poles and other sporting parephenalia through bodily orifices… heads and limbs piling up in the snow as Paul Gallister’s pulsating score goes through its Goblin emulating paces… pity that Robocop remake already copped Hocus Pocus!

Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies isn’t exactly the subtlest film you’ve ever seen  (that particular penny will probably drop when you see the film’s title being literally vomited onto the screen) but writers Hartel and Prediger manage to pack in a few post modern cracks along the way, e.g. the guy who rings his zombie-obsessed cousin for advice and is advised that it all depends on which kind of zombie film he’s in. “We’ve gotta go all Chuck Norris on their asses” insists his friend, only to be reprimanded: “Chuck Norris? How old are you, dude?” My funny bone was lightly tickled by the micro-spectacle of the zombie virus travelling through its victims’ circulatory systems to the tune of The Blue Danube Waltz… and of course the film makers also throw in a herd of animatronic undead reindeer.

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The main thrust of the action though is Steve and Branca’s struggle to resurrect their rocky romance (and suppress the resurrected apres-ski revellers) with the aid of feisty innkeeper Rita (Tiesel), who deploys a snow plough during the final confrontation, in which our snow cross’d lovers sharpen the edges of their skis and boards, all the better to decapitate zombies.

Dialogue is generally lame and the actors delivering it are pretty stiff, but what else did you expect? This is a thigh slapping zom-com that takes the piste for an agreeably chucklesome hour-and-a-half. Snow joke…

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