Film Reviews

Style Over Substance Abuse… SUSPIRIA (2018) & CRYSTAL EYES Reviewed

Nadia (or possibly Nidia) about to become fashionably late in the wonderful Crystal Eyes.

Supiria (Italy / USA, 2018). Directed by Luca Guadagnino.

To say I haven’t exactly been in a rush to catch Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria would be a significant understatement. It never seemed remotely like a good idea. Dario Argento’s 1977 original is a unique marriage of his seriously neurotic psyche and formidable technical skill set, the remaking (rebooting, re-imagining, whatever) of which makes about as much sense as somebody having another bash at, say, Eraserhead. It did nothing to allay my misapprehensions when I learned that the film was going to star Tilda Swinton (an actress who regularly missteps from the “worthy of attention” to “desperately seeking attention” category) and that the insufferable Thom Yorke, rather than Claudio Simonetti, would be scoring (Radiohead? Why not just have somebody shit in your ear?) Then the new Suspiria arrived, clocking in at a daunting two-and-a-half-hours plus (really, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to do with my time…) Friends who did brave it and whose opinions I value had nothing good to say about it. Well, I’ve finally grasped the nettle and can confidently (if not exactly happily) report that, against all expectations, I found it Suspiria, 2018 style to be… not unbearably awful.

Much critical discussion of Pasta Paura, certainly the work of its principal practitioners, has centred on the old “style over content” chestnut. Does style crowd content out of these films or subtly enhance and amplify it? Guadagnino seems to have his own definite ideas in this regard, dialling down the style (in cahoots with DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, production designer Inbal Weinberg and art directors Merlin Ortner / Monica Sallustio he’s come up with a very good looking picture, whose good looks sadly pale into insignificance compared with the all out aesthetic assault of Argento’s original) while cramming in extraneous content. So Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion (sic) is the victim of a religiously repressive Mennonite upbringing (Suzy’s Mom considers her “my sin… that’s what I smear on the world”… BTW, Greta Bohacek as the young Susie bears a pleasing resemblance to Nicoletta Elmi); instead of being bisected by falling masonry, Pat Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets regrettably wrapped up with the Red Army Fraction (yes, that’s the correct rendering of their name) but also gets to deliver the best line in the film (“They’ll follow me out and eat my cunt on a plate!”); and the witches who staff the Markos Dance Academy seem to have exerted an influence over Hitler and co. So far, so… well, I’m still watching, aren’t I?

Guadagnino gets a bit more milage out of the whole terpsichorean thing. Those witches seem to feed off the energies unleashed by dancing (which can also be turned against their enemies) rather than just eating the dancers, as in the original. The routines here are modern, interpretive stuff, as opposed to the classical ballet in Argento’s film (which, combined with some judicious editing, makes easier for Johnson to pass herself off as a dancer). The 42nd Street references (and I’m referring to Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 musical now) are more overtly stated than before and the mousey teacher’s abrupt suicide reminded me of the pianist’s in Pasolini’s Salo.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria doesn’t drag anything like as much as I’d feared it would and Tilda Swinton’s Kind Hearts And Coronets” turn is significantly less irritating than it could have been. Incidental pleasures include a tiny role for Jessica Harper (the original Suzy Banyon) and a somewhat larger one for the marvellous (and far too little seen, these days) Renée Soutendijk from Spetters, constantly snarking away over some malign gag that only she gets. It’s also quite amusing from a 2020 perspective to see these holistic health freaks chain smoking away like bastards.

In conclusion, Suspiria 2018 is nowhere near as appalling as I’d expected, which isn’t to say that I’m likely to ever watch it again…. two-and-a-half hours of my time is more than enough. I sincerely hope we’ll be spared a four hour “Amazon Original” take on Inferno. No need to worry about a Mother Of Tears rehash because as Darrell Buxton has already pointed out, that’s covered in the mystifying, messy and decidedly overripe final thirty minutes of Guadagnino’s film. The whole experience would have been much more satisfying if they’d changed the title / character names and generally cut back on the allusions to Argento’s masterpiece, riffing on Suspiria 1977 in the same way that Midsommar riffs on The Wicker Man. Courting direct comparisons with what is probably The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made was never going to work out to this film’s advantage. On the other hand…

Crystal Eyes / “Mirada De Cristal” (Argentina, 2017). Directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano.

During a catwalk show designed to let the world know what a tortured existence supermodels lead (“… trapped in a shop window with no escape”), the obnoxious, coke addled Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) manages to monumentally piss off everybody (going so far as to scar her make up artist for life, with scalding coffee) before accidentally incinerating herself. Most of the tears shed for her are blatantly crocodilian, but an unspecified admirer, somebody who spends their time obsessively watching a VHS compilation of Alexis’ greatest media moments, is also watching out for her legacy. The formidable Lucia Uccello (Silvia Montanari), publisher of the fashion bible Atilla, decides to stage a tribute event on the first anniversary of Alexis’ death, pitting a posse of bitchy models into competition with each other to fill the Jimmy Choos of the former colleague they so despised. In protest or as some misguided tribute of their own, Alexis’ brother and boyfriend decide to steal some of her dresses before they can be used in the show, only for the latter to have his throat cut by a murderous mannequin. He won’t be the last, as the extravagantly disguised killer steadily works his or her way through everybody who was present on that fateful night. Will the tribute show be haunted by this Phantom of the catwalk? Well, what do you think…

Just about any frozen frame from writer / directors Endelman and Montejano’s Crystal Eyes would probably invoke the spirit of Argento’s Suspiria more effectively than is managed during 152 minutes of Guadagnino’s “reimagining”. Clearly conceived without any substantial aspirations whatsoever, this Argentinian effort is an unabashed open love letter to the Italian horror and thriller traditions, a sentiment that will be enthusiastically seconded by legions of admirers around the world. I really can’t abide those Cattet / Forzani desperate Arthouse wannabes, nor those bigger budgeted productions which take the same lazy tack of grafting prime Morricone or Trovajoli cuts onto their “Original Soundtracks” in an attempt to cop some facile giallo cachet, but Crystal Eyes is a different matter altogether, a seriously devotional exercise.

Endelman and Montejano are clearly enthusiastic consumers of all things Yellow and gleefully plunder their favourites for scenes to restage. Carlo Vanzina’s 1985 effort Nothing Underneath (the very title of which riffed on the ol’ “style / substance” chestnut), its sort of sequel Too Beautiful To Die (directed by Dario Piana in 1988) and their end of cycle ilk are heavily referenced, but the directors don’t hesitate to delve right back into the archives of couture slaughter, revisiting Mario Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964) for the murder of one of Lucia’ sexy lesbian “nieces” (it was either Nadia or Nidia but I’m buggered if I can tell one from the other). The film’s climax will bring back welcome memories of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright (1987), too, while Pablo Fuu’s score strikes exactly the right notes for late ‘80s giallo.

Endelman and Montejano were also responsible for the film’s production design and have done a remarkable job recreating the decor of (the original) Suspiria (Lucia’s office comes complete with a dagger plumaged phoenix statue) on the cheap. Cinematographers Cecilia Casas and Vanina Gottardi alternate between the Luciano Tovoli look on Argento’s classic and what Romano Albani wrought on his follow up, Inferno. Outrageous matte shots of city scapes contribute further knowing nods to the influence of Bava and as for that drawer full of Hitchcock artifacts…

Stylistic exercises as sterile as those aforementionend Cattet / Forzani efforts are hardly the most captivating cinematic experiences. Crystal Eyes, in sharp contrast, effectively corrals its cornucopia of stylish genre allusions into a teeming subtext that will tax the brains of those sufficiently versed in the wilder highways and byways of Pasta Paura. It won’t be too hard, for instance, for any horror fan raised on “video nasties” to spot the significance of Lucio the blind lift attendant (Andrés Borghi) and his cataracts, nor to look, er, beyond that and get the reference to a fractured pipe in the basement (send for Joe the plumber!) but how many viewers took Lucio’s blindness as a cue to extrapolate the killer’s identity from what happened in Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly of The Tarantula (1971)? I certainly did… and as it happened I was completely wrong, though Endelman and Montejano have a ball leading us up and down such garden paths throughout their picture.

Essentially as camp as a row of tents, this Fray Bentos thriller is played sufficiently straight faced to pass for a convincing latter day spaghetti slasher… which is, if I can stretch a banal geographical point (and for a film as enjoyable as this, why wouldn’t I?) exactly what it is.

The original and still the best…
Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Return Of The Mac… Federico Zampaglione’s TULPA Reviewed.

Tulpa aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire (Italy, 2012). Directed by Federico Zampaglione.

The whole giallo stabbing match kicked off (by common assent) in 1963, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much; peaked quantitatively in the first years of the ’70s; qualitatively in 1975 (with Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso); and tailed off after 1987, when Argento chalked up his last top notch picture (Opera) and Michele Soavi made his astonishingly assured directorial debut, Stagefright. Like Irving Wallace in the latter, the genre itself has been pronounced deceased many times but that ol’ death nerve has a habit of twitching back into life, just when you thought it was safe to take another slug of J&B. The results have been decidedly mixed, though once in a yellow moon something as marvellously entertaining as Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano’s Crystal Eyes (2017) turns up… and yes, we’ll be reviewing that one shortly.

Given director Federico Zampaglione’s previous (and for all I know, ongoing parallel) incarnation as an Italian rock star, one might reasonably have feared that his Tulpa (aka Tulpa: Demon Of Desire, 2012) would emerge as some kind of glorified, feature length pop promo. What bodes well for the picture is that he conceived its story in collaboration with spaghetti screen-writing veteran Dardano Sacchetti, who’s penned more A-grade gialli than anybody else (with the probable exception of Ernesto Gastaldi).

Tulpa stars Greta Scacchi lookalike Claudia Gerini (Zampaglione’s partner when they made the film) as Lisa Boeri, a high finance woman whose boss Mr Roccaforte (Michele Placido) is a big cheese in the money markets (see what I did there?) Lisa works hard and plays hard, unwinding from the pressures of bitchy boardroom battles by visiting an Eyes Wide Shut styled upmarket swingers’ club, where she has lashings of fun and is encouraged by Kiran, the cadaverous moloko plus-dispensing bar tender / Tibetan Buddhist adept, to free, surrender to and generally indulge her Tulpa. Apparently if I’d paid more attention to Twin Peaks I’d have got the reference but (evidently unlike Signor Zampaglione), I tuned out of that show very early in its run. The Tulpa, we learn, is a concept borrowed from esoteric Tibetan Buddhism and apparently refers to a physical being, generated from sexual energy, which if allowed too much autonomy, can impact on the material world with demonic intensity.

Are Lisa’s bonking exploits responsible, then, for the black hatted and leather macintoshed spectre slicing its way through her co-swingers and boardroom rivals (not to mention throwing hot chip fat in their faces, putting them on barbed wire carousel rides and interring them in coffins with hungry rats)? Needless to say, there’s no shortage of twists and turns along the way though as in many classic gialli, the killer’s identity is eminently guessable. Which is not to say that Tulpa is a classic giallo, exactly… but you know you’ve wasted many 90 minute chunks of your precious time on plenty worse.

During my interview with Dardano Sacchetti he complained that Zampagline had stressed Tulpa’s soft core aspects over the giallo elements of his story. Regular readers of this blog might well agree. Zampaglione directs competently enough and has clearly familiarised himself with the Argento canon (I would hazard a guess that he was particularly taken with Opera) but never comes close to the visual creativity of prime time Argento or the other terror titans with whom Sacchetti notably collaborated, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. Together with his brother Francesco, the director also scored his film, waxing Carpenteresque during stalking scenes and approximating Claudio Simonetti’s cacophonic Suspiria crescendo during the climactic revelations. FZ opted for his actors to deliver their lines in English which obviously made some kind of commercial sense, though this decision ultimately backfires on the movie, with stilted deliveries often distracting attention from the on screen action (it’s a problem that dubbing doesn’t always solve, witness Argento’s Tenebrae, 1982).

“Who the fuck are you, to say that?”

If there is any message lurking behind Tulpa’s veneer of recycled style, it’s that sexual repression, rather than sexual expression, creates demons. Amen to that.

Bond girl sex bomb Maria Gracia Cucinotta apparently produced Tulpa. So, er, grazie, Maria…

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“The Whole World Will Admire Us!” Kung Fu From The Closet In Paul Grau’s Amazing MAD FOXES.

vlcsnap-2015-12-14-12h10m56s181.jpg

“Mad Foxes” aka Los Violadores (Spain / Switzerland, 1981). Directed by “Paul Gray” (Paul Grau).

“Shut up, you shitty skunk or I’ll tear your tongue out!”

The roll of dishonour which constituted the “Section 3 video nasties” (i.e. liable for confiscation but not prosecution) was every bit as randomly thrown together as the list that the DPP compiled of their fully fledged “nasty” cousins, a real grab bag of the cinematic good, bad and what the actual fuck?!? Prominent among the latter was Paul Gray / Grau’s Mad Foxes. Although VCL’s VHS edition was significantly cut (notably missing a Nazi biker choking on his own severed genitals and another enjoying a bowel movement until somebody throws a hand grenade down the pan), in the UK the early ’80 were the best of times, the worst of times to release a tape with the legend: ” Warning: This is an extremely violent film which could seriously disturb you” emblazoned across its pack.

MV5BMGUyZjU0OWUtNDNmYS00ODA3LWExZDQtMjhjM2U4Y2FjNjdhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_.jpgThemtharhillsplunger.jpg

Rewinding 50 years, does anybody (apart from Darrell Buxton, obviously) remember the Laurel & Hardy shorts Them Thar Hills and (its sequel) Tit For Tat? Those are the ones in which Stan & Olly take turns with Charlie Hall to perpetrate ever more surreal and outrageous acts of violence upon each other. Nobody tries to de-escalate the situation or even evade their turn on the receiving end, content that they’ll soon be able to retaliate with a real doozy. It’s like watching public information films explaining the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. I consider it not entirely impossible (though admittedly unlikely) that Gray / Grau regarded Mad Foxes as an unofficial entry in the same series. If he did, no doubt he directed it under the working title Shit For Tat.

vlcsnap-2017-08-17-19h44m28s808.jpg

The action kicks off with Hal Walters (“Robert O’Neal” = José Gras) out cruising in his Corvette Stingray with his best girl Babsy (“Sally Sullivan” = Andrea Albani) by his side, until they get into a little traffic light altercation with the lamest motorcycle gang since Homer Simpson formed a chapter of Hell’s Satans. Seriously, these guys ride around on trials bikes (the budget obviously wouldn’t stretch to Harleys) and one of them actually sits in his mate’s sidecar! Nor can they seemingly conclude a run without at least one of them falling off their vehicles. Plastered as they with swastikas, these guys’ political leanings are no big secret and their sexual orientation is scarcely less easy to discern… lots of lumbering around naked, with taut buttocks clenching and soft knobs dangling. If it’s any consolation for this flaccid disappointment, Hans R. Walthard (who produced Mad Foxes with Eurotrash legend Erwin C. Dietrich) is anglicised into “Woodhard” on that video sleeve. I guess there could be a hard core edit of Mad Foxes somewhere but if it exists, I really don’t want to see it.

MadFoxes.jpg

Word up, gay Nazi dude!

Hal runs one of these bully boys off the road, with fatal consequences. Obviously not wanting to let this disagreeable interlude ruin the romantic evening they had in prospect, Hal and Babsy adjourn to a swinging hot spot, where a jitterbugging competition is in full, anachronistic flow. Do these guys know how to party or what? Unfortunately, as they leave, the waiting bikers beat up on Hal and rape Babsy.

Hal rings his mate Linus at a martial arts club, the ambience of which seem scarcely more heterosexual than that prevailing in the motorcycle gang, its bare chested members (including the mandatory Bruce Lee lookalike) going through their sweaty paces in a broom cupboard sized gym. Good job this joint was closed (under the alarming circumstances described below) before social distancing became de rigeur. “Babsy was raped the other day and I went you to do me a little favour”, Hal tells Linus. “We’ve gotta give those pigs a good whipping…” agrees the latter: “You know our methods!”

91cMBw0sEVL._RI_.jpg

The bikers are cremating their pal Jimmy, with attendant manly drinking games, at a local amphitheatre (where else?) when Linus and co turn up. “Let’s teach these skunks a good lesson” he implores his students, but what ensues is one of the limpest dust ups in action cinema history. Nobody’s winning any Oscars for the fight choreography here. “Stunts” are attributed to one Ronnie Lee, though Mad Foxes seems to be his first and final film credit. Things climax  in memorable style though, with the Nazi biker honcho’s aforementioned castration and enforced genital auto-ingestion, a move straight out of the sho’nuff Shaolin handbook.

With Babsy avenged and apparently recovering in hospital, Hal is soon off shagging somebody else and the matter seems successfully concluded… but violence begats violence and the remaining bikers (announced by the disco music that heralds their every appearance) visit the kung fu clubhouse to establish conclusively that martial arts, of whatever sexual persuasion, are no match for machine guns and hand grenades.

Having gotten the gay kung fu dudes into another fine mess, Hal decides he’d better take a cooler and heads off to his parents’ country pile in the Stingray. En route he picks up promiscuous hitch hiker Lily and invites her to stay with him and the folks for the weekend, advising her that mom “fell from a horse and now she’s paralytic”. Dad’s a bit of a stock market whizz and “they never lock their doors”, which is convenient for the bikers when they, inevitably, arrive. Needless to say, before they do, Hal fits in another bonking session. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this moment” he tells Lily, a weird thing to say to a hitch hiker he only met a few hours ago, but we’ll let it pass. Plenty stranger things than that happen in this film…

madfoxes_4.jpg

… and continue to do so as the bikers kill the gardener with his own shears, unconvincingly disembowel the hilariously badly dubbed (in broad cockney) maid and shoot everybody else up. “We’re the kings of the universe… the whole world will admire us!” is their verdict on their bloody handiwork. Well, perhaps not, though the scene in which Hal’s crippled mother gets blown out of her wheelchair is undeniably, unforgivably funny. Returning to discover this scene of carnage, Hal is understandably keen to find where the bikers are hiding out. Luckily he gets into a casual conversation with a bloke from the local garage, who can tell him precisely that. But is he sure they’re talking about the same guys? “Yeah, they have helmets and dirty hair”. Hal’s revenge includes hand grenade enemas and a session with a Nazi dominatrix before that dickless wonder from the amphitheatre atrocity pops up again for a truly explosive finale.

It took four people (Grau, Walthard, Melvin Quiñones and Jaime Jesús Balcázar) to write this thing, which is surprising enough. What’s really surprising, though, is that not one of them appear to have compared notes with the other three  on what, exactly, they were writing. Mad Foxes is so relentlessly random, it’s kind of the trash film equivalent to Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, the lyrics of which comprise elusive allusions to songs that The Zim envisaged he would never live to complete in the wake of the Cuba missile crisis. What was Paul Grau envisaging when he directed Mad Foxes? If it was a long and illustrious directing career, he will have been disappointed. He did manage one more directing credit two years later, with a more typical outing from the Erwin Dietrich stable, a film whose title translates (loosely) as Six Sexy Swedish Girls Up A Mountain and which sounds as self-consciously straight as Mad Foxes is coyly gay. Those sexy Swedish girls might well have been up a mountain, but the film under review here will always remain Paul Grau’s career pinnacle (and no, I’ve got no idea whether he was related to the late Manchester Morgue mainman Jorge Grau or not).

vlcsnap-2017-08-17-19h44m07s459.jpgC80ZNnaXYAQueZh.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fade To Grau… Exclusive Preview Of The High Rising Documentary CATALONIA’S CULT FILM KING

bf3546d73a6dcb47d8b173192b116e09 copy

Jorge Grau: Catalonia’s Cult Film King (UK, 2020). Directed by Naomi Holwill.

Just as our ecosystem approaches tipping point, with social and intergenerational conflict taking an increasingly violent turn, a plague begins to ravish this green and pleasant land… sure, I could feasibly have found inspiration for these words by tuning into any of this morning’s news bulletins (or just looking out of my window) but in fact I was thinking back to late 1973 / early ’74 when Jorge Grau unleashed stumbling cannibalistic cadavers across Manchester morgue and its environs (actually England’s Lake and Peak Districts) for one of the key films in the history of Zombie Cinema… nay, in the history of Horror Cinema, period.

63913c2bd825c9652e27bd73e00c0451

The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (by whichever of its many titles you recognise it) has always been a massive favourite here at The House Of Freudstein. Some of my earliest published pieces sang its praises and I’ve returned to it journalistically many times over the last three decades or so, also making the pilgrimage to its locations on more than one occasion. Pity I never got to interview its director (well, read on…) Others have paid tribute in print (special mention here for Nigel Burrell’s Midnight Media monograph) and on disc (David Gregory’s Back To The Morgue location tour being particularly impressive) but there’s never been a feature length documentary assembling all its available living principals (*)… until now, that is.

LDMMSTEEL

Naomi Holwill’s film will appear as an extra on Synapse’s upcoming  3 disc blu-ray set (artwork above), and clips from their 4k restoration, interspersed with the interviews here, bode very well for that release. Even viewed on Vimeo, there’s an unprecedented (to these eyes) level of detail, e.g. the flies buzzing around Guthrie’s head as he tucks into the unfortunate P.C. Craig’s heart, completely DNRd out of some earlier releases.

letsleepingcorpseslie

Back to those interviews (some of which were conducted by Eugenio Ercolani)… pundits Mike Hostench, Russ Hunter, John Martin, Kim Newman, Rachael Nisbet and others illuminate Manchester Morgue from various angles (maybe next time HRP can whip up a new CGI shirt for Martin?) but the real meat of the business comprises the conversations with make up supremo Giannetto De Rossi; Giuliano Sorgini, composer of (possibly) the first stereo soundtrack for a Horror film (a bloody great one at that); and of course Jorge Grau himself…

img527

As the last interview he ever gave, this is effectively the director’s testament. You’ll have heard some of these anecdotes and reflections before, while of them will be new to you. I was particularly tickled to hear that Grau didn’t like the original title of his much retitled opus… even if here, he can’t remember what it was! Maybe it was the proverbial Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Here’s another proverb: you snooze, you lose… Grau’s next scheduled interview was with yours truly, only for me to be informed that he had fallen seriously ill and then that he was gone.

maxresdefault

R.I.P. to one of the greats. You don’t make films this good by studying box office receipts, listening to focus groups or following some dodgy Dogme manifesto… Grau felt this one personally, remembering how his mother had terrified him as a child by telling him that the dead dragged sleeping bad boys away by their feet. He even based the wheezing sound of the zombies on his own father’s death rattle! Ultimately, he tells us, he came to regard The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue as “a love film”, expressing the hope that George and Edna might be reunited in some kind of twilight zone romance… and if anybody out there was looking for a hint of the germ of a sequel, of whatever legitimacy, there’s your starter for ten!

6a00d83451cbb069e20133edf09540970b-pi

(*) … with the sole exception of Cristina “Edna” Galbo, who has proved impervious to all my own efforts to contact her.

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

You Betti? You Bet! A SPECIAL COP IN ACTION Reviewed.

 

c9b84ae9a4ba37ffc6e5282636efb9944d0209a1.jpg

A Special Cop In Action aka Italia A Mano Armata  (Italy, 1976). Directed by “Franco Martino” (= Marino Girolami).

Even by the generally bleak standards of Italy’s “Years Of Lead”, Turin is having a particularly bad day when this one kicks off. It’s not enough that bank robbers get away scot free after killing a security guard, but adding insult to injury, a schoolbus load of kids is taken hostage by a bunch of low-lives that fashion forgot. “It’s as though the criminal classes are trying to set a new record!” But hey, do you honestly think for one minute that Inspector Betti (Maurizio Merli) is going to let this kind of shit go unchallenged? “I’m bad tempered all right…” admits the meanest maverick moustache in the Italian police force: “… with a certain type of criminal, I lose my self control!”

s3-600x270.jpg

Nobody does “righteously pissed off” like Maurizio Merli… just watch how his bobbing adam’s apple belies his steely, inscrutable eyes as Luisa ( the lovely Mirella D’Angelo in only her second screen appearance) agonises over her kidnapped kid brother. Having attempted to reassure the schoolkids’ nearest and dearest, Betti dons a Saturday Night Fever type white suit, gathers his men and follows the kidnapping case to Milan, teaming up with old colleague Arpino (Raymond Pellegrin), who’s looking forward to his imminent retirement so that he can spend more time fishing, playing with his grandkids, etc (immediately shortening his odds on making it to the end of the picture).

italia_a_mano_armata_film.jpg

The kids are hidden in a disused mill but lead kidnapper Mancuso (Sergio Fiorentini) has a strange idea of laying low, i.e. going out and attempting to rape a passing cyclist. When she points the cops in his direction they manage to rescue the kids… most of them, anyway. Luisa’s kid brother does not survive the ordeal so she has a bit of a hissy fit at Betti then agrees to go out with him. As she would. They spend a bit of quality time together and Betti tells her that he hates criminals because one of them killed his dad, also a cop. Yeah, that would do it…

1a40bebd559c30a9b1bfefaa56011e96.jpg

As the investigation of the bank robbery plods on, things get a bit episodic. There are a few fair-to-average car chases (“I think you should take up motor racing…” “I get enough kicks as it is!”) and Betti demonstrates his disregard for the rule book by slapping some crims around. Eventually undercover agent Fabbri (Massimo Vanni) clues Betti in that the current crime wave is attributable to Albertelli (John Saxon), a mobster upon whom no charge can be made to stick but who still resides, in Bettie’s articulate formulation, “at the top of my shit list”. For his trouble, Fabbri’s night out disco dancing is rudely interrupted when he gets lashed to the bumper of a car and driven around till he’s dead.

Merli-cattura.jpg

Everybody’s talking about Albertelli but Saxon spends a minimal amount of time actually on screen, no doubt saving the production a fistful of Lire. When he does turn up though, he’s wearing an impressive pair of swinging loon pants. He contrives to frame Merli for an extrajudicial killing and our man is soon banged up in a slammer full of dodgy geezers just itching to settle some old scores against him. Needless to say, anyone foolish enough to try anything gets their criminal ass conclusively kicked. Then the judges arbitrarily agree to quash Betti’s sentence and the action relocates again to Genoa for the climactic confrontation. Albertelli gets his, Betti gets Luisa but a Get Cartereque shock ending ensures that this is the final entry in the Inspector Betti trilogy (begun by Girolami’s Violent Rome, 1975 and continued in Umberto Lenzi’s Violent Naples, 1976)… Merli would  be back as identikit irascible Inspectors Tanzi, Murri et al. In some markets those guys were rechristened “Belli” to cash in on the popularity of Betti’s “shoot first, worry about the ethics of it later” credo. Really, there was no belli end to the bloody things…

tumblr_lryb3kZABv1qhai07o1_400.gif

Marino Girolami (best known for directing Zombi Holocaust and being Enzo Castellari’s Dad) kicked in a  few contributions to the Poliziotteschi genre (as to so many others). In the same year as this one he made Rome: The Other Side Of Violence , produced with the involvement of 20th Century Fox. He’s not in the same league as Lenzi, Massi, Damiano or indeed his own son when it comes to this stuff but A Special Cop In Action is mid-cycle, run-of-the-mill, reasonably entertaining Crime Slime that will occupy an hour and a half of your Covid quarantine pleasantly enough and with Franco Micalizzi composing /  Alexander Blonksteiner conducting the OST, you know your ears are going to be in for a treat while you check out Merli’s handsome mug running the gamut of emotional expressions from angry A to brusque B.

MV5BNWEzMDM1NzAtNjM2OS00NjdjLWE3YjctZDFkYzZiZjFjZWQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTYxNjkxOQ@@._V1_.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Dog Eat Dog… Social Mobility / Social Cleansing In PARASITE & BACURAU.

20190823232627178457a.jpg

Parasite  (South Korea, 2019) Directed by Bong Joon Ho.

Bacurau (Brazil / France, 2019) Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho.

Spoiler Alert. Be alert for spoilers. You’re welcome.

I imagine many of our readers will have seen (and probably loved) Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite… and it’s not often that I get to say that, with any degree of confidence, about an Academy Award winning film. If you did, then allow me to recommend, for your serious consideration, Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau (2019), which handles the same theme of struggling to get by on the sharp end of globalising neo-liberalism in a similarly devastating but contrastingly balls-to-the-wall style and which I recently caught due to the good offices of those splendid folks at Nottingham’s ever-wonderful Mayhem Festival.

1-V5MaAy7bRdoQbxDz2ZFAPA.jpeg

Bong’s brilliant social satire jarringly juxtaposes two cliché takes on life in South Korea… the dispossessed dog eaters and the shiny happy people from the K-Pop videos (a third, that of staring down the barrel of nuclear annihilation, is briefly alluded to in the unlikely event that the viewer starts feeling too comfortable). Cracking performances from all concerned (what a missed opportunity, not to have nominated any of the cast for their own Oscars) and Bong’s assured direction and (with Jin Won Han) skilful screen-writing gloss over a couple of glaring plot improbabilities in the service of a beautiful narrative edifice which keeps us guessing as it shifts seamlessly back and forth between social comment, comedy, suspense, high farce, pathos, romance, eroticism and all-out Horror. Parasite also takes its time introducing us to and stoking our sympathy for the characters, ensuring that it really registers with us when the shit finally does hit that fan. Asian filmmakers have always seemed to grasp this principle more readily than their Anglo counterparts (I’m still recovering from what happened to that palpably nice guy in Takashi Miike’s Audition, 1999…)

MV5BYjc1N2M1YjMtYzBiNi00NGFiLThkN2QtY2EwZGU5MDRkODAzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkzODUwNzk@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpg

Likewise, Bacurau takes its own sweet time familiaring us with the the odd conventions and even odder characters of its eponymous, isolated Brazilian village community. Initially disorientated, we come to feel at home with these incorrigible salts of the Earth, determinedly individualistic but inextricably bound by custom and community. Slimy mayoral candidate Tony Jr (Thardelly Lima) can’t buy their votes with his shoddy largesse or intimidate them by messing with their water supply… so what’s a corrupt politician to do? Simps. He deploys sophisticated satellite technolgy to wipe Bacurau off the face of the map before selling it and its inhabitants to insane white hunters who move in to do the job for real.

IMG_5026.JPG

In contrast to the constant genre switch-hitting of Parasite, this is a prolonged, intense riff on Richard Connell’s oft-filmed yarn Hounds Of Zaroff / The Most Dangerous Game, factoring in a splash of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) when Pacote (Thomas Aquino) reconnects with and seeks the protection of his exiled gang banger mates, led by the fearsome Lunga (played by Silvero Pereira as a man on a dual mission to humble the aggressors and single-handedly drag the mullet back into fashion).

ECwlhr3XYAAJEfR.jpgkev0uU1yvtkqHmVM-PASPY9-KVJarJ0FMuf8FUbkCWoTzmxp0qbn80F4IHWdKrpJGN9NgXeJwSQxo4YCvUop-tXHRR3PVjsRX6IS66zr9nV21W-1GmG2LKU14Iq8Awr_Zg.jpg

You can bet your bottom sheet of bog roll that Pasolini (the prophet of this whole consumer fascist groove thang), were he still alive, would want to have been cast in this epic of unalienated, authentic folk culture vs elitist savagery (he was great in Carlo Lizzani’s Kill And Pray, 1967). As it stands, the film benefits greatly from the charismatic contributions of Sonia Braga (on the side of the angels) and as Michael, leader of the killers, Udo Kier (now on the cusp of his eighth decade appearing in out there movies and still giving great face).

012753_1312x738_637172307547838457.jpg

The hunters profess varying motivations… there’s the American prison guard who thinks he’s stamping out criminality, the white supremacist couple who think they’re defusing a demographic time-bomb, then there are unabashed thrill killers, like the guy who admits that he’s only come for the body count and Julia (Julia Marie Peterson) who just wants to shoot anything that moves (and looks insanely sexy while doing so).

maxresdefault.jpg

Michael’s motivation is harder to figure and he’s ultimately buried beneath the weight of his own contradictions, not to mention the healing soil of Bacurau. By definition, it is suggested, the Sadean operating principle of “sworn to fun, loyal to none” cannot prevail against the inderdependant human values of community, though Michael sounds a stark warning just before he is interred forever in his bunker… “This is only the beginning!”

J0sqESKpTp4qOp6Y27sIc-qSPBvcF94TuCXnh30nkw-ME6shz2szJkEE97xm3g5AF1MHEuZkqk8FO7PPOFvScdDqxErGk0TlF71nPX3lWWVYeHanMRUAu-KebMD97Xi6k3dBVxYKAE_ATPTNI7TugkfJ.jpg

The gap between the two philosophies is so pronounced that the drone the hunters use to locate their victims and keep score (reducing the common people to disposable cyber sprites in some perverse video game) might as well be a flying saucer – which is exactly what it looks like – and in this particular clash of cultures, it’s not too hard for the viewer to pick sides. Michael and co are so outright atrocious that we have no qualms whatsoever cheering the villagers on as they righteously extract their brutal communal justice (Lunga’s line: “Did I go too far?” brought the house down when I saw the film). Time to check our own levels of bloodlust. Maybe if you dig deep enough, we’re not that far removed from Michael and co…

Bacurau-13-1-1600x900-c-default.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Leave a comment

The Turkish Delight Of Mrs Wardh… THIRSTY FOR LOVE, SEX AND MURDER Reviewed.

seksvecinayet1.jpg

Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder (“Aska Susayanlar: Seks Ve Cinayet”) (Turkey, 1972) Directed by Mehmet Aslan.

Kebab shop counterfeits of the likes of Spiderman, The Exorcist and Star Trek (“Mr Spak” indeed!) have earned the Turkish film industry mucho kitsch culture collateral and its interaction with its Italian counterpart (fascinatingly documented in Pete Tombs’ indispensable Mondo Macabro tome) has born delirious fruit. I’d always accepted Antonio Margheriti’s Yor – Hunter From The Future (1983) as the bench mark of this particular craziness until, that is, the recent buzz on antisocial media which alerted me to the existence of … (brace yourselves)… a Turkish remake of Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). No, really!

71qUVDbGLuL._RI_.jpg

Apparently Martino’s film did get a Turkish release (premiering on 23/11/71 as “Yılan Ruhlu Kadın), obviously doing sufficiently blockbusting business on The Bosphorus to convince somebody that a quickie copycat was in order the following year… and it’s a very close copy, or at least a serious stab at one. Certain scenes play out shot-for-shot in comparison to Martino’s original and the principals have clearly been cast with half an eye on how much they resemble its stars. It has to be said that Ivan Rassimov was singularly ill served in this regard, his Turkish equivalent looking more like Lee Van Cleef in the aftermath of a particularly heavy night on the tiles. Meral Zeran (below) is handed the thankless task of replacing Edwige Fenech and the script of this one dispenses with the endless shower scenes that adorned TSVOMW, along with much expositional material.

Meral Zeren.jpg

Various running times have been claimed for Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder but each of its two appearances on Youtube clock in just short of forty minutes. I don’t know if any footage has been excised (there’s a Sunset Beach-style voice over at one point which might be there to cover such excisions, but my Turkish is rather rusty so who knows?) or whether Turkish cinema goers in the ’70s were content to consume films of such brevity (maybe as a support to the main feature?) One of the versions on Youtube “boasts” a grab-bag soundtrack of themes from miscellaneous gialli, some of them original and some (notably a weedy attempt at invoking Nora Orlandi’s unforgettable “sacramental masochism” theme from TSVOMW) which could have been concocted by the people who used to put together those “Hot Hits” albums for Woolworths. Perhaps the soundtrack copyrights, at least, were contested because the other version I found substituted intolerable synthesiser farting for all of this.

thirsty-for-love-sex-and-murder-turkish-dvd-cover.jpg

Director Aslan generally makes a creditable job of aping Martino’s shots and copping the giallo’s visual style but does hit the occasional bum note, e.g. the really odd bit in which Zeran is distracted by headlights in a car park, which seems to go on for about four hours. It doesn’t exactly hurt that everybody’s decked out in groovy early ’70s threads and there’s a totally wild party scene in which everybody’s dancing fit to bust a blood vessel and the camera keeps sneaking up the girls’ mini- skirts in the TOTP-patented fashion. The denouement departs somewhat from the original template, incorporating a shoot out / punch up with added acrobatics and Zeran pitching in with a pitchfork. That’s the way to do it, Sergio…

Aşka-Susayanlar1972_1136654978_n.jpg

In conclusion, I’d just like to express my disappointment that Turkish exploitation maven Kunt Tulgar had absolutely nothing to do with this picture. Just think of the humorous mileage I could have extracted from that name. I mean, come on… “Tulgar” rhymes with “Vulgar”!

*******************************************************

NOW… a chance for you to put your film buffery to the test, avids. Can you correctly identify which of the following images comes from The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh and which from Thirsty For Love, Sex And Murder? Send your answers, written on a ten pound note, to That Freudstein House, Oak Mansion, Dunwich, New England, blah, blah, blah to stand a chance of winning absolutely  sweet FA. Are we good to you or what?

the-strange-vice-of-mrs-wardh.jpegturkishhorror.jpgSHAM030-PG01.jpgvlcsnap-2012-05-19-14h08m53s122.jpgSHAM030-PG04.jpgThirstyForLove1-1-520x400.jpg

george-hilton-edwige-fenech-wardh.jpg

(Bit of a Clue in this one…)

aska-susayanlar-seks-ve-cinayet-jawa-typ-354_QLdXr2K-crop-c0-5__0-5-700x394-70.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Close Encounters Of The Lethal Kind… BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON Reviewed.

giphy.gif

“We never set out to make a bad film…” Al Adamson, 1929-1995.

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson (USA, 2019). Directed by David Gregory.

The Severin gang have been making film documentaries since Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth in 2000 and will have clocked up well over 200 of them by the end of their second decade. You’d think they’d be getting good at it by now… and you’d be right. Widely acknowledged as the finest Sev offering yet, this feature length effort has also been touted as the Al Adamson documentary for people that don’t like Al Adamson movies”. Which only begs the question: “What kind of humourless git wouldn’t like an Al Adamson movie?!?”

DvsF+1.jpg

“What other director worked with Colonel Sanders, Charles Manson, bikers… and porn people?” asks Michael “Psychotronic” Weldon in the course of this loving tribute to the late, great Al. He neglected to mention Al’s DPs Vilmos Zsigmond (who took the Oscar for Close Encounters in 1977), László Kovács (who never lifted one but shot Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Ghostbusters) and Gary Graver (below, right, with Al and Angelo Rossitto) who at one point was working simultaneously for Adamson and Orson Welles and allegedly later handled the second unit work on Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981).

ADAMSON_ROSSITO_GRAVER.jpg

“You could be sure there were gonna be midgets, lots of breasts, blood and gore, all sorts of fun people and strange things going on”, attests actor / stuntman Gary Kent and if that hasn’t piqued your interest, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. The sheer craziness of Adamson’s films, which include ersatz Spaghetti Westerns, faux Filipino Horrors, bogus Blacksploitation epics, brawling bikers, maniacal monster mash-ups, sexy stewardesses and UFO exposés (all delivered in accordance with Al’s keynote philosophy: “We’re not aiming for academy awards when we shoot pictures, we’re aiming to entertain the audience”), was only matched and ultimately eclipsed by the bizzare facts of the director’s life (and desperately sad death), all told here via archive interviews with the man himself, police footage, film clips, some seriously slick, smart ass graphics and the testimonials of his surviving closest collaborators, family members, friends and fans.

BLOOD-_-FLESH-key-art-web-724x1024.jpg

Al’s father Victor was a for real Antipodean cowboy who made an Ozzie Western (Stockman Joe) in 1910 before emigrating to the States and continuing to ply his trade as actor, director and producer under his favoured “Denver Dixon” alias. He turned down an approach from Universal to pursue a true auteurist path, even handling the distribution of his own pictures. It is said that Al Adamson was conceived during the shooting of one such, The Old Oregon Trail.  Al didn’t want to be a cowboy. Or a director. He wanted to be a song and dance man. When his two left feet put paid to that, “Denver” financed and directed Al’s first starring vehicle Halfway To Hell, only for Adamson Jr to kick him of the picture and complete it himself. It would seem that these two had a bit of a Brian / Murray Wilson relationship going on.

Half Way.jpg

After Halfway To Hell registered zero interest at the box office, Al was was running a night club in the San Fernando valley and managing singer Tacey Robbins, one of the many muses who motivated most of his career moves. Encouraged by Sam Sherman, ultimately his partner in Independent-International Pictures (“They were like the dream team of tits and terror movie” offers one associate), Al gave it another shot with heist saga Echoes Of Terror. When that one tanked too, Al recut it with go-go dancing footage to come up with Psycho A Go-Go which, in its turn, tanked. Another bunch of radical reshoots ensued and – as Blood Of Ghastly Horror  – the picture enjoyed a modicum of success in 1967.

BOGH.jpgtumblr_m3zgijUdEa1r4ro7yo1_400.jpg

The convoluted evolution of this picture holds many clues to the Adamson method, e.g. the casting of women with which he was romantically involved or with whom he was at least infatuated (Regina Carrol, above right, his greatest muse and first wife enters the Adamsonian universe at this time)… the constant recutting and / or remarketing of films that audiences had (at least partly) seen before… and the participation of such Hollywood has beens (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr, J. Carrol Naish, Broderick Crawford… he even briefly resuscitated the career of the remaining Ritz Brothers) and misfits (Russ Tamblyn, interviewed herein) which owed at least as much to Al’s cheapness as any nostalgia for or loyalty to the stars of some notional cinematic Golden Age. His boast that “we put more on the screen per amount of money spent than any body else did” was vindicated via such stunts as giving Colonel Sanders a walk on part and prominent product placement in the 1970 biker flick Hell’s Bloody Devils, in return for which the cast and crew ate KFC for every meal during its shoot (maybe Al transferred his catering budget to the OST department, as this one was scored by Nelson Riddle, no less!) It would be the extension of this cheap attitude towards his domestic help that would prove to be Adamson’s undoing…

Blood-and-Flesh-Banner.jpg

After a run of immortal classics including Blood Of Dracula’s Castle, Satan’s Sadists and Five Bloody Graves (all 1969), Horror Of The Blood Monsters (1970), Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (“Zandor Vorkov” aka Roger Engel, above with Al, who took a brief sabbatical from stockbroking to become the silver screen’s most panned Count Dracula, has his say here), Brain Of Blood and The Female Bunch (all 1971), Angels’ Wild Women (1972), The Naughty Stewardesses (1974) and Black Samurai (1976) , to name but a few, Al’s career prospects (in common with those of his indie auteur contemporaries) were seriously compromised when the major studios started muscling in on traditional drive in / grind house turf (Spielberg’s Jaws, 1975, being an obvious milestone in this regard). Carnival Magic (1981) was an ill advised crack at family entertainment but the biggest blow to Adamson was the death of his wife Regina towards the end of 1992. He turned his attention to various other business ventures, travelling the globe and accumulating property until two things revived his love of film-making, namely a relationship with (and subsequent marriage to) aspiring actress Stevee Ashlock and the flowering of an interest in UFOs and associated conspiracy theories.

MV5BNmVlYjE1YWYtNDA0MS00YzQ5LTgyYzItMjZiYmM1NTI0NDIwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwODg2MDY@._V1_SY999_CR0,0,706,999_AL_.jpg

Ashlock (interviewed here and proving to be quite the kooky character) talks about meetings with extra terrestrials, but Al’s fortunes were about to take a depressingly Earthbound turn. Discovering that contractor Fred Fulford was stealing from him while renovating his ranch retreat in Indio, California, Al decided (against Stevee’s advice) to let him work off the debt. Alerted by the director’s subsequent disappearance and the suspicions of his housekeeper Lupe Garcia, police excavated the foundations of a disused jacuzzi room and discovered human remains. Fulford was subsequently convicted of the murder of Al Adamson, though Ashlock and Sherman hint at some “Men In Black” type motivation for the director’s murder. Sherman wonders if Fulford could have been dumb enough to commit such an obviously discoverable crime but as one of the cops who worked the case tells David Gregory: “If  people who  commit crimes were smart, we’d have a hard time catching them” and the very real possibility exists that Fulford was just a very untalented Mr Ripley type.

910hG2FJPyL._SL1500_ copy.jpgIt’s the switch into true crime reportage during its final third that lifts BAF: TRLAGDOFAA a notch or two above even the standard level of Sev excellence. I’m wondering if some sympathetic director (Tim Burton springs to mind, for obvious reasons) might feel inspired by it to mount an Al Adamson biopic. Before that, one imagines we’ll see a bunch of the films celebrated here coming out on the Severin label. Ready when you are, boys.

70800301_10158801281509115_4258486294759342080_n.jpgR-6962385-1430498380-8855.jpeg.jpgdracula-vs-frankenstein-from-left-everett.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Very Essence Of MAYHEM… 2019 Festival Report.

cropped-528932-copy.jpg

Oh sweet mystery of Mayhem… how does the grooviest Horror Film Fest in Heaven, Hell or Hockley manage to outdo itself, year after year? Never formulaic, it must nevertheless be compiled with some sort of formula in mind. So what’s the secret? Well, I’m just back from four mind boggling, bum numbing (less so now that plush new seats – not to mention a state of the art 7.1 sound system – have been installed in Theatre 1 of Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema) days of Mayhem 2019 (10-13th October) and I was taking notes. Pay attention now, ‘coz here’s what I’ve managed to divine about the method in Mayhem’s madness…

Bullets-of-justice.jpg

Some Horror Film Festivals are just more equal than others…

1) The “lure ’em in and settle ’em down with a Horror Comedy” film. Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman’s Extra Ordinary (2019) stars likeable stand up Maeve Higgins as Rose Dooley, a driving instructor in a sleepy Irish town, living in denial of her “talents” since the death of her father, who became a minor celebrity by popularising the paranormal. The werewolf she’s called on to investigate turns out to be a fox and although Rose gets to exorcise the odd wheely bin, she wants nothing more than to lead an ordinary life… all of which goes right out the window when one hit wonder Christian Winter (a hysterically foppy Will Forte) attempts to revive his flagging pop career by ritually sacrificing virgin schoolgirl Sarah Martin (Emma Coleman) and her widowed father Martin (Barry Ward) seeks Rose’s assistance. Romance blossoms, but the intermittently intruding shade of Martin’s jealous wife (herself apparently channeling Lily Savage) considerably complicates an already complicated situation. When Winter summons a demon to claim it’s virginal prize, there are awkward revelations about just who is and isn’t virgo intacto… with hilarious consequences (no really, it’s a hoot!)

EGiVqteXUAEY9Mf.jpg

Co-director Mike Ahern introduced the film, subsequently discussed it with Chris Cooke and fielded audience questions, explaining how some genuinely impressive effects sequences (for such a low budget effort) were achieved and insisting more than once that the character of Christian Winter was absolutely NOT based on Chris de Burgh, OK? He and Loughman are currently writing stuff for Aardman Animations and hoping to develop Rose Dooley’s extra ordinary adventures into a TV spin off. Fingers crossed for that… or knock on wood… whatever superstition takes your fancy.

daniel-isn-t-real-154367.jpeg

2) The “is it all in the disturbed protagonist’s mind or is there really a monster?” film. Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) invokes the perennial Horror Film concern (think Dead Of Night, 1945… Psycho, 1960) about how to integrate (and usually the failure to integrate) undesirable / antisocial personality traits. Young Luke attributes his childhood attempt to poison his schizophrenic mother to an imaginary friend named Daniel, whom he locked up on a dollhouse after that regrettable little incident. The post pubertal and clueless in love Luke (Miles Robbins) releases Daniel (now played by Patrick Schwarzenegger) to act as his wingman but after initial successes as a lady killer he starts looking and acting increasingly like… well, a lady killer! Is Luke succumbing to hereditary mental illness or are his “demons” the manifestation of an actual demon? Mortimer plays his cards craftily until the denouement, when things get a bit too “David Lynch” (with “good” Luke confronting a nightmarish figure from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights) for my liking. No prizes for guessing Patrick Schwarzenegger’s parentage (I’m still trying to work out if he gave a good performance or whether playing a sneering son-of-a-bitch just comes naturally to such a Hollywood Prince) but Miles Robbins is Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon’s son… how cool must it be to have Susan Sarandon as your Mum?

MV5BN2VjZmUyMzgtNGJlZi00ZjQwLWJlZjgtYTA5M2IyYmUxZjA3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_.jpg

3) The disinterred Eurohorror Classic. What better way to kick start a rainy Friday afternoon in Nottingham than with Konstantin Ershov & Georgi Kropachyov’s 1967 adaptation of the Russian witchy classic Viy? Mario Bava’s seminal Black Sunday / Mask Of The Demon (1960) was, of course,  nominally an adaptation of the same Gogol story but really an opportunity for Bava to indulge his exquisite monochrome visual sense and explore the disturbing dichotomy of beautiful and evil potentials in the incredible face of Barbara Steele. Viy retains the satirical bent of its literary inspiration. Its ethnic sense of humour and pacing take a bit of getting used to but neither its colour palette nor the visual effects work during its pandemoniacal climax would have disgraced Bava himself. Watch out for this one on Severin Blu-ray.

The-Mute-e1560875008221_758_427_81_s.jpg

4) “It’s not exactly Horror, but it’s pretty intense stuff, all the same”. The programme lingered East of the ol’ Iron Curtain for the UK Premiere of Polish director Bartosz Konopka’s Sword Of God (2019, formerly known as The Mute). Christian missionaries Willibrord (Krzysztof Pieczynski) and his unnamed companion (Karol Bernacki) arrive on a small island to convert its pagan population before the arrival of their liege lord and his all-conquering army. Willibrord sets about his mission with personal bravery but inflexibility that ultimately crosses the border into fanaticism. The other guy goes native and becomes a saintly martyr figure, then the king arrives and (SPOLER ALERT!) kills everybody anyway! It’s a powerful portrayal of religious hypocrisy, man’s inhumanity to man and the betrayal of idealism. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that the issue of historical intolerance still casts a long shadow over Poland…

Girl-on-the-Third-Floor.jpg

5) The Haunted House flick. Girl On The Third Floor (2019) plays out as though the ghost of Brooke Shields’ character in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) is causing problems on the set of Tim Allen’s old sit com Home Improvement. Travis Stevens is clearly attempting to make some kind of statement about toxic masculinity but like the unquiet spirits in the house / former bordello that CM Punk (you heard me) is renovating, there’s an effective, affecting film struggling to get out of this one but never quite making it and in lieu of any dramatic resolution, matters are concluded with a tiresome torrent of gimmicky special effects. It didn’t exactly help that Mr Punk and his silly tattoos really irritated me. This kind of stuff must be the reason why I keep accumulating rejection slips from Les Cahiers Du Cinéma…

401e883514db8a860f83bb0147c798eb.jpg

6) “The Friday Night Psychedelic Apocalypse, preferably featuring Nic Cage going batshit crazy”… SpectreVision (also the company behind Daniel Isn’t Real) stole the show last time round with Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy so another film from them offering the opportunity to watch Nic Cage go barking mad in pulsating purple obviously made Color Out Of Space (2019) one of the most eagerly anticipated items in this year’s lineup. It’s other main selling point, of course, was the return of Richard Stanley, directing his first completed feature in 27(!) years. Stanley’s loose (aren’t they always?) adaptation of the hoary H.P. Lovecraft yarn examines the effect on an ordinary family of a meteorite hit that releases alien entities keen to make Earth over in the image of their home planet. Well, when I say “ordinary family”, I mean llama-farming Daddy Gardner (Cage), his stockbroker wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), his sexy daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) who spends much of her time getting witchy in the woods, stoner older son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and youngest sibling Jack (Julian Hilliard), a Milky Bar Kid type whose main plot purpose is to work on the maternal feelings of female audience members before they’re hit with the seriously bad shit that befalls him. I found the film overlong and questionably paced. The reality warp and Cage’s personal psychotic embolism (surely no spoiler, there) kick in too early and there’s nothing for the narrative to do after that than accumulate ever more rococo refinements of weirdness. COOS ultimately emerges as rather less than the sum of its parts, though many of those parts (e.g. Lavinia’s climactic trippy rhapsody) are very impressive indeed. I’m glad I saw it and hey, if you crave Andean mammal satisfaction, this one is packed with enough alpaca action to put your ass in traction (we thought it would be a good idea to ask the guy who wrote the voice overs for all those Dolemite trailers to contribute a guest sentence to this posting… obviously we were wrong!)

POOL-THE_Poster_BIFFF2019.jpg

7) The Creature Feature. Ping Lumpraploeng’s The Pool (2019… another Mayhem UK Premiere) is nicely shot and scored, with great visual FX, its mechanical suspense unfolds with admirable efficiency and all the actors do a good job but 99% of the work on this one obviously went into writing it. Having hit on a boldly minimalist premise (Theeradej Wongpuapan and his girlfriend Ratnamon Ratchiratham are trapped for seven days in an empty deep sided swimming pool with a pregnant, pissed-off crocodile), Lumpraploeng then adorned it with a succession of fiendish embellishments such that every time you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse for the protagonists, they promptly do. Endlessly involving and inventive (I’ll leave it to you to discover how a Dulux dog’s suicide fits into the mix), The Pool could be taken as a metaphor for the unremitting toughness of life in Thailand and it was nice to see the characters taking time out between crocodile attacks to debate the ethics of abortion. One of the investors in this one was Pizza Hut and you don’t have to wait long for the expected product placement, though the delivery dude arrives too late to render any significant assistance. Perhaps they should have told him to make it snappy…

she-never-died-trailer.png

8) The “the protagonist is a monster but the guys she’s fighting are even worse!” film… Audrey Cummings Canadian effort She Never Died (2019) is apparently some sort of sequel to Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died, a Henry Rollins Vehicle from 2015. I haven’t see that one but you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that protagonist Lacey (Olunike Adeliyi) is some kind of dewinged angel / demon figure, cursed with immortality and an insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood. Luckily she tends to dine on humanity’s worst elements. In this film that’s a seriously dodgy brother / sister team running a leisure empire whose business model is equal parts Hostel (2005) and Videodrome (1983), so you get to cheer Lacey on through all the splattery kill scenes and still believe yourself to be on the side of the angels. Or demons.

7e5397_cddda7a01a7149508ea288b16d28f213~mv2.jpg

9) The “is it all in the disturbed protagonist’s mind or is there really a monster?” film… slight return. The first real surprise package of this year’s festival, Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella’s Something Else (2019, previously known as After Midnight) was this year’s equivalent of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead from the previous Fest, a slowburn of a movie patiently received by an audience whose patience reaped rich rewards. Gardner stars as Hank, holed up in a one horse town wondering why his girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) left him (well, she’s fed up living in a one horse town, mate), drinking beer with his goony friend Wade (an endearing performance from Henry Zebrowski) and becoming increasingly convinced that some kind of malevolent nocturnal presence is lurking around , looking to effect entrance. This is Thirtysomething for soulful rednecks, with a little something else thrown in… effectively a film in the service of a looming punchline, en route to which the viewer is similarly well served and entertained.

media.jpg

10) The Short Film Showcase Interlude (the beating heart of the festival, as Chris and Steve characterise it) proved, as ever, to be a pretty mixed bag of fare, much of it receiving its UK / European / World Premiere. Sheil’s own Unmade, in which a  scorned woman deploys black arts to take the ultimate revenge on her dead ex was among the better entries. Victor Català’s A Little Taste (Spain) turned out to be a nicely twisted (if not exactly unpredictable) vignette, sharing its woodland setting with Sekander Sharifi’s neatly executed little gag Limbus (Germany) and the multi-director French animation Wild Love, which plays out as a Disney Pixar effort gone bad. Canadian Calvin Lee Reeder’s The Procedure 2 proceeded, for all of its 3 minutes, along the frankly flatulent lines laid out in its predecessor, a big crowd pleaser here three years ago. “Brown comedy”, indeed… and  Kate McCoid’s It’s Not Custard (UK) did for acne what Reeder seems determined to do for farts.

maxresdefault.jpg

11) The Kick Ass Oriental Actioner (and another UK Premiere). In Lee Won-tae’s South Korean effort The Gangster, The Kop, The Devil (2019), ruthless crime lord Dong-Seok Ma (from Train To Busan, 2016) is so amazed that a serial killer known as ‘K’ (Kim Sungkyu) has had the temerity to try and off him that he teams up with reluctant cop Jung Tae-seok (Kim Moo Yul) to catch the guy. Predictable buddy bonding and violent spectacle ensue. I’ve seen better in this genre but y’know, Ringo Lam is no longer with us and John Woo is otherwise occupied so what you gonna do? Sylvester Stallone is credited as one of the producers and is apparently going to remake this one, Hollywood style. Hm….

03-1024x621.jpg

12) The “What The Fuck?!?” film…  indeed, introduced by Steve Sheil as “the what-the-fuckiest-what-the-fuck film ever”, Valeri Milev’s Bullets Of Justice (2019) emerged from nowhere (well, from Russia / Kazakhstan / Argentina, actually) to become one of this festivals’s most gob-smacking talking points. In a post-Apocalyptic scenario, the last remnants of humanity wage a life-and-death struggle with man-eating mutant pigs. An endless succession of ultraviolent action scenes? Check. Bizarre, self-consciously mannered directorial flourishes? Present and correct. Some of the most perfectly formed backsides ever captured on film? Affirmative. A cameo appearance by Cristiano Ronaldo? Yep. An ending which suggests that either a) macho post-Apocalyptic guerrillas harbour secret gay fantasies, or b) gay fashion models on acid fantasise about post-Apocalyptic guerrilla wars? You get that, too. Like the man said… what the fuck?!?

MV5BNjJhODlhOGQtN2NjMy00ZjFhLTg1NjAtN2YzZGZjMzQ3NDNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDcyMjQ4MzU@._V1_.jpg

13) The Suspenseful Tale Of Urban Paranoia. Yet another UK Premiere, Kwon Lee’s Door Lock (2018) pits its serial killer (South Korea must be crawling with them) against vulnerable office worker Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-jin) rather than a brutal crime baron. The flesh creeping extent of his night crawling activities are revealed to us but she only has the vaguest, increasingly worrying sense that something weird is going on. The police don’t take her complaints seriously and Lee relentlessly turns the suspenseful screws en route to a nail-biting finale. Seasoned viewers of these things (in fact most viewers) will have little trouble sorting the red herrings from the real murderous McCoy but this one is still worthier of a Hollywood remake (if, indeed, that would be doing it any favours) than The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.

Why-Dont-You-Just-Die-Poster.jpg

Oh, those Russians

14) The Post-Tarantino Hipster Bloodbath. There’s definitely something going on in Russia, genre film wise. Chris Cooke introduced Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die! (2019) as “a Spaghetti Western that takes place in one room” and yeah, he’s pretty much nailed it (Morricone fans will find all sorts of interesting things going on throughout this one’s OST). A boy named Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) visits his girlfriend’s father (tough former copper Andrey, played by Vitaliy Khaev), intending to kill him with a concealed (but not for long) hammer. After a gruelling physical confrontation, Andrey calls in his former cop colleague Yevgenich (Mikhail Gorevoy) to dispose of the intruder. But what’s the secret he’s trying to conceal from Yevgenich? And why was daughter Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) putting Matvey up to murder in the first place? The back stories are separately introduced and intertwined in Tarantino-esque fashion, that is to say in the fashion that Tarantino pinched from Akira Kurosawa. It’s possible to construe the whole thing as an arch comment on post-Soviet Russian mores but a lot of people are going to enjoy WDYJD! purely on the strength of its black comedy and relentlessly brutal imagery.

vivarium__4.17.1.jpg

15) The Brilliantly Bleak Allegory Whose Co-Writer Insists It’s Not An Allegory. In Lorcan Finnegan’s rivetting Vivarium (UK / US 2019), a couple (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) move into a house in the suburbs and bring up a baby, whose demands gradually take over their lives. Mum resents never getting any time to herself, Dad throws himself into his work. The kid (played by Senan Jennings then Eanna Hardwicke) won’t go to bed and spends all his time watching TV. Dad comes to resent the alliance Mum and the kid seem to be forming against him. Dad works himself to death. Mum follows. The kid buries them and blithely gets on with his own pointless life. Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy move?!? It is, of course and one that resonates troublingly thanks to the respective contributions of director Finnegan, production designer Philip Murphy and co-writer Garret Shanley. The latter introduced the film, subsequently chatting with Chris Cooke and fielding audience questions… hey Garret, of course it’s a fucking allegory!

PRESS-QUOTES-CTD2.jpg

16) The “blissfully complacent character obliged to undergo a blackly comic odyssey through unguessed at low life vistas” film. Two years ago it was 68 Kill. This time it’s Ant Timpson’s New Zealand effort Come To Daddy (2019). Former kiwi fanzine editor Timpson produced The Greasy Strangler, which rocked and shocked Mayhem attendees back in 2016 (just the words “hootie tootie disco cutie” still bring me out in a cold sweat). This significantly more “realistic” effort sees Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) attempting to reconnect with the dad who abandoned him in infancy, an intrinsically delicate exercise which turns into something infinitely more challenging for our boy when the big plot twist kicks in and turns his world upside down. I don’t feel like I should say too much more than that but believe me, this one is well worth catching.

mayhem-chris-and-steven-min.jpg

So these are just some of the ingredients that, when combined in exactly the right proportions and sprinkled with secret Mayhem spices, bring Festival ecstasy to The Broadway on an annual basis. Only Chris Cooke, Steve Sheil (above) and Meli Gueneau know the exact recipe. And they’re not saying anything.

mayhem-2019-banner-min.jpg

You probably also wanted to hear about those legendary inter-film quizzes and “mystery poster” giveaways, about the pulse pounding, nerve wracking test of man and mettle that is The Flinterrogation, about the general hobbing and indeed nobbing (OK, we’ll restrict it to the hobbing) with old friends, new friends and cyberfriends suddenly made flesh… all of this will be duly revealed in another, Darker place. Patience, my pretties.

(For the record I skipped the Friday and Saturday night revivals of – respectively – The Hidden and Vampire’s Kiss. We old codgers have got to sleep sometime, you know…)

Categories: Events, Film Reviews | Tags: | Leave a comment

You Need Your Bumps Feeling, Mate… José Ramon Larraz’s DEVIATION Reviewed.

Deviation-Sexuelle.jpg

Deviation (Sweden / UK / Spain, 1971).  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

Oh to be in England, now that Autumn’s there. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… not to mention voyeurism, porno shoots, gerontophilia, drug abuse, black magic, lesbian vampires, murder and human taxidermy, if you happen to be visiting one of the country piles inhabited by Karl Lanchbury (pictured below in one of his more subdued moments) during some of the pictures made by Catalan Horror maven José Ramon Larraz in his English period (1970-74). We’ve already considered Whirlpool (1970), The House That Vanished (1973) and Symptoms (1974) on this blog and now turn our gimlet eye upon Deviation (1971), hitherto the most elusive of these films, recently discovered lurking on Youtube.

MV5BNzQyM2NkYWQtMWI2MS00ZmUyLTk1OTktZGE2ZDMxZmEzMzIwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpg

After a disorientating title sequence (whose action is never really explained) and an opening scene which establishes that Julian (Lanchbury) is an intense young taxidermist (hm, remind you of anyone?) but relatively normal compared to his weirdo sister Rebecca (Whirlpool holdover Sibyla Grey), we find ourselves in the company of odd couple Paul (Malcolm Terris) and Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist… yes, like its predecessor Whirlpool, this is a Scandinavian co-production) who are driving through some dark woods, having an argument about his refusal to leave his wife. Their evening goes from bad to worse when Paul runs over a tripped out Satanist (“He didn’t know how to smoke”, we subsequently learn).

deviation japan poster2.jpg

Seeking refuge at Julian and Rebecca’s tumble down manor (some of whose underground tunnels bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones Marianne Morris and Anulka spend much of their time running up and down in during Larraz’s Vampyres, 1974), they are drugged by their hosts. Having already taken uppers to keep him awake while driving, Paul revives enough to have a poke around the house (discovering a cat obsessed, doom prophecying, Alzheimer’s addled Auntie) and becomes aware that some kind of ceremony is going on. Discovered, he is dragged down into the cellar to be sexually humiliated by Jules and Beccy’s hippy pals, until his obvious arousal so disgusts Rebecca that she stabs him to death.

deviation 1971 poster10.jpg

Olivia doesn’t seem unduly disturbed by Paul’s’ disappearance (readily swallowing the story that he had to get back to his office) and happily submerges herself in the ongoing drug party life style of Jules, Beccy and their far out mates. When Julian shoots her up with heroin she enthuses that anything is preferable to her dreary affair with Paul.

il_fullxfull.1820490980_k9r6.jpg

Rebecca visits a sleazy old Dr Feelgood (former BBC announcer Geoffrey Wincott) to stock up on more dope and after initially seeming to succumb to his superannuated advances (inter generational sex crops up so regularly in these films, it’s fair to speculate that Larraz had a pretty keen personal interest in the subject), stabs him too. Back at the mansion, Olivia discovers Paul’s distinctive mermaid tattoo preserved as a taxidermalogical trophy and finally turns on her hosts / captors… the film’s bungled twist ending falls completely flat, accomplishing the difficult trick of making its opening look like a relative model of coherence and clarity.

Deviation_end04.jpg

The first shot we see in this film is a brief glimpse of a phrenology bust, suggesting that for all those occult trappings, its actual narrative motor is sheer human craziness… deviation from some norm of “mental health”. Rebecca has clearly been sexually traumatised some time in her previous life (Larraz’s attempts to appropriate / approximate elements of Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965, would be more convincingly attained in Symptoms). There’s also a pretty on-the-nose statement about contemporary deviation from traditional moral norms… just as with Vivian Neves’ character in Whirlpool, we’re invited to conclude that Lundquist’s “had it coming”. You can take the director out of fascist era Spain but the converse isn’t, apparently, so easily achieved. Indeed, Deviation looks a lot like a dry run for a film Larraz made in Spain after the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, 1982’s Black Candles (UK quad below).

177.jpg

Deviation is, frankly, a right old mess (and typically of Larraz’s output in this period, the dialogue is clunky as fuck) but I was glad of the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in donkey’s years. Like Whirlpool it boasts a nifty OST from Italian maestro Stelvio Cipriani but the understandably crappy picture quality here makes it difficult to pass comment on the film’s visual merits or otherwise. Perhaps, if possible (one gathers the rights are in dispute) Arrow could continue the good work they began in their “Blood Hunger” Larraz BD box set by giving this one the kind of release it deserves. Fingers crossed.

deviation ost front & back2.jpg

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: