Posts Tagged With: Second Sight

Sucking The Juice Out Of A Clockwork Orange… Coralie Fargeat’s REVENGE Reviewed.

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BD. Region B. Second Sight. 18.

“If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil.” A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

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When is a rape / revenge flick not a rape / revenge flick? When you remove the “rape” part of the transaction from the film’s title? Director Coralie Fargeat says she had something more like Rambo than Last House On The Left in mind when she conceived Revenge and the film is undoubtedly, unashamedly slick, looking like nothing so much as a near two hour glossy TV commercial. Is such a presentation of this subject matter more or less reprehensible (if either are) than the traditional, fly-on-the-wall rawness of Wes Craven’s “video nasty” and its many imitators? That’s just one of the tricky questions posed by Revenge. Fargeat has cracked open a right old can of worms here, stuffed a bomb inside and hurled it into a minefield where critics (especially those with the temerity to have been born with “male privilege”) can only tip-toe with trepidation. Wish me luck…

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Richard (Kevin Janssens), some kind of big deal hotshot in business or politics (what’s the diff?) and a crashing macho boor, has planned a hunting mini-break at his designer desert getaway but before his equally tedious hunting buddies turn up, he helicopters in his trophy mistress Jen (that’s not Jennifer Hills, is it?), for another kind of foraging around in the bush. Played by (deep breath) Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Jen is presented to us as a walking wank doll in Lolita shades, Claire’s Accessories earrings, flimsy top and cut-off shorts. She sucks vacantly on a lollipop for which, as soon as they’ve landed, she substitutes Richards’s gobstopper. In the unlikely event that they’ll come up short with ways to amuse themselves, the chopper pilot thoughtfully gifts them a packet of peyote before flying out.

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Madonna and Whore?

When Kevin’s hunting buddies Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) turn up early they enjoy the show too and as the party heats up, Jen treats Stan to an upfront and very personal private dance. Next day, while Kevin’s away attending to some macho business or other, Stan propositions Jen and on being turned down, casually rapes her. Dimitri turns up the motor racing on TV so Jen’s cries of pain and protest won’t disturb his holiday. When Richard returns, he’s not best pleased. He offers to make it up to Jen by pulling a few strings to further her career prospects (it’s vaguely hinted that she’s some kind of modelling / acting wannabe) but she insists on legal redress. Contemplating the damage that this would do to his career and marriage (we only hear Richard’s wife on the phone, so this actress literally phones her role in… a piece of cake for Barbara Gateau), he coolly pushes Jen off a cliff  and the boys leave her impaled on a gnarly tree to go and do their day’s hunting. They’ll clean up the inconvenient mess later. Which turns out to be a major miscalculation…

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While they’re out slaughtering animals, Jennifer frees herself from that tree (and the ants that were trying to eat her) by setting fire to it with a cigarette lighter then crawls into a cave to pull the branch out of her midriff, against the pain of which she numbs herself by munching down on that mescaline… hm, not sure about this, but just in case you missed the spiritual symbolism of Jen’s crucifixion and resurrection, things take a turn for the Carlos Castaneda here as she acquires an eagle spirit guide, which ties in nicely with the avian tattoo she gets on her belly after cauterising her wound with an unravelled Mexican beer can that she held in the fire. On the downside she suffers a nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare that significantly ups the ante on a comparable sequence in An American Werewolf In London (1981). Whatever, these spirit guides sure don’t fuck about because Jen is rapidly transformed from (critically injured) bubble headed Barbie to avenging Amazon, mysteriously less blonde and more versed than was previously the case in firearms and survivalist techniques. Stan and Dimitri each track her down, only for the Miraculous metaphor of the hunter being captured by the game to be manifested as brutal reality.

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After they’ve had their just desserts served up out in the desert, all that remains is the final showdown between Jen and Richard (who ludicrously attempts to charm her into forgiveness). After that’s been satisfactorily concluded Jen, standing tall like the warrior she now is as she awaits the incoming helicopter, turns and fixes us with newly wise eyes. You can almost hear Fargeat shouting: “Look! I’m usurping The Male Gaze, here! Get it?” “Fancy raping me now, huh?”, Jen seems to be asking. Privileged as I am, I seem to find myself replying: “I had no desire to rape you in the first place”.

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Fargeat claims during the supplementary materials on this limited edition set that she had difficulties raising finance for Revenge, with the implication that the French industry which has bequeathed us the confrontational likes of Baise-Moi (2000), Irreversible (2002) Haute Tension aka Switchbade Romance (2003), Inside and Frontiers (both 2007), Martyrs (2008) and most recently Raw (2016) found Revenge just too hot a pomme de terre to handle. I suspect such difficulties had more to do with the relative expense and risk of staging such a gorgeous looking, hi-tech piece as this (and before I get into my philosophical and ethical differences with Ms Fargeat, let’s give the debutant feature director fulsome credit for that) relative to e.g. Baise-Moi, which looks like it could have been shot on somebody’s phone.

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At the risk of repeating myself, Revenge is an incredible looking film (props to DP Robrecht Heyvaert and production designer Amin Rharda, too), its lush imagery punchily edited by the director and her collaborators. Robin Coudert (Rob) kicks in a killer, Carpenteresque score and the cast are uniformly committed to their roles. This is an adrenalised thrill ride and a hugely enjoyable one, but Faregeat’s aspirations for it to amount to any more than that, to be some sort of profound statement, are sabotaged by her own script, which is both eminently predictable and philosophically questionable. Revenge is comparable to Rambo (Deliverance also springs to mind), but no less to those grittier rape / revenge dramas by the likes of Wes Craven and Meir Zarhi and perhaps more pointedly, to any amount of Most Dangerous Game / Hounds Of Zaroff adaptations (yay, even unto Jess Franco’s The Perverse Countess, 1974) in terms of its alleged intellectual sophistication.

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At the heart of Revenge is Fargeat’s Big Idea (though it’s hardly a new one, having become a long running trope in drippy Liberal circles), an idea to which Lutz, as she  reveals during their bonus joint interview, initially objected. The actress questioned why her character felt the need to pour herself all over Stan… and didn’t this undercut the validity of her sacred revenge quest? No, argued the director… the whole point is that a woman has the right to be as sexually provocative as she wants in any circumstances and never suffer any adverse consequences from it. Well, in a fallen world your rights rarely coincide with what life doles out to you and as well as Lutz, I’m sure Jen’s Mom would have advised her, before she took a ride on repulsive Richard’s chopper, that it wasn’t the greatest idea to sexually stimulate a bunch of high testosterone / low IQ scumwads in a remote location… while holding their class A drugs, to boot. And no doubt Jen’s Mom would have derived scant consolation for what happened from some right on nitwit telling her that it shouldn’t have happened. Neither Lutz nor Jen’s notional Mom could reasonably be dismissed as patronising, paternalistic mansplainers, though doubtless I will be.

So. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

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Special features include the aforementioned chat with Fargeat and Lutz, also interviews with Guillaume Bouchede, Cinematographer Heyvaert and OST guy “Rob”. There’s an audio commentary with Kat Ellinger (it would probably save me a lot of ink or pixels or whatever when reviewing these things to point out the discs that don’t feature Kat’s thoughts). The limited edition boasts a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Adam Stothard, new poster art and a soft cover book with original writing by Mary Beth McAndrews and Elena Lazic.

And now, the House Of Freudstein guide on how to subvert The Male Gaze in two easy steps…

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The Case Of The Bloody Irises… THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES Reviewed.

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BD. Second Sight (appropriately enough). Region B. PG.

There are certain films, youthful viewings of which leave you indelibly marked for life. In my personal experience these have tended to be films with crushing climaxes. There was Psycho… Peeping Tom… Onibaba… and Roger Corman’s The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963) fits no less (un)comfortably into that slot (or should I say socket?) The most unforgettable evening I ever spent with this film (I’m not convinced it was even the first time I saw it) was during a visit I paid to my sister in Durham in the mid ’70s. I attended the Miners’ Gala, took in a couple of rousing addresses from Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner, then downed a couple of pints and what turned out to be a dodgy pie. Later that evening the queasy physicality (and even more disturbing metaphysicality) of Corman’s film, screened on the BBC, was exacerbated by a vigorous vomiting session. Nearly half a Century later I’ve forgiven Corman enough to welcome this stonking UK BD debut of arguably his finest cinematic hour and a half… I’d still like to have a word with whoever baked that bloody pie, though!

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“If you could have one super power…” has been the opening gambit in many aimless and often alcohol oiled conversations between adolescents of all ages. Well, my own preference is easily deducible (time travel, so I could have that word with the pie man) but for many an over-excitable young fellow, the traditional answer has been “X-ray vision!”  Take a cold shower then viddy well, little brother and you might have cause to reconsider…

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Dr James Xavier (Ray Milland) is an idealistic research scientist, frustrated (aren’t they always?) by the limitations of human understanding. He’s working on a solution that, when applied to the eye, will allow it pierce superficial surfaces and perceive what’s going on beneath. The potential benefits for e.g. surgical procedure are easy enough to see, but Xavier’s friend Dr Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone, below) warns him that certain things are best left to the Gods. Xavier’s hubristic response (“I’m closing in on the Gods!”) illustrates just how close he is to the thin line separating idealistic scientists from mad scientists.

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TMWTXRE was made in the midst of Corman’s Poe period and in the same year as he directed The Haunted Palace, often cited as a Poe adaptation but actually based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. There’s definitely something Lovecraftian about the scene in which Jimbo tries to impress his sexy colleague Dr Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis, above) by administering his solution to the eyes of a lab monkey, which becomes terrified – fixated on something – before dropping dead. “What did it see?” agonises Dr Di (a question answered with overly literal banality, albeit to riotously entertaining effect, in Stuart Gordon’s 1986 Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond).

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Undeterred, Dr Xavier throws caution (not to mention scientific methodology) to the wind, soaking his eyes in the stuff. The fringe benefits soon become obvious, as Diane takes him to a hep drinks party and he gets to see more of the groovy twisters and swingers than he’d probably bargained for. Elsewhere, he saves a little girl’s life by hijacking her operation but the surgeon he supplanted huffily pulls rank and gets him suspended.

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Dr Brant tries to reason with the increasingly agitated Xavier, then to sedate him, only to be accidentally (and hilariously) defenestrated. On the lam, our hero is drawn into sideshow hucksterism (where he really pisses of Corman staple player Dick Miller) then a phoney healing racket by Carney barker Crane (Don Rickles). When Diane tracks him down he quits and accompanies her to Las Vegas, with the intention of making money on the slots and tables (why did it take him so long to think of this?) He’s so successful that the casino management challenge him, ripping off his dark glasses to reveal eyes now resembling puss-encrusted piss holes.

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Again Xavier bolts, crashing his car fortuitously close to a bible-bashing revivalist tent show. He tells the redneck preacher that he can see God… more significantly, God is looking back at him and Xavier is withering under the Divine gaze. Advised by the pastor to pluck out the eyes that offend him, our man obliges and his cautionary tale ends on a freeze frame of his screaming face and gory, empty eye sockets…

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“Loads of laughs and fun at parties!”

… or does it? It was in his genre survey Danse Macabre (1981) that Stephen King floated the notion that this film originally ended with Milland screaming: “I can still see!?!”, a line subsequently excised on the grounds that it was just too damn horrible. Various contributors to the extras on this impressive set have differing takes on whether that ever actually happened and not even Corman’s own accounts of this are consistent. The film’s “real” title (it’s rendered as simply “X” on the credits here) remains similarly elusive.

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Other bonus materials include a prologue that has always been an integral part of the picture in my previous viewings of it. This cut starts instead with a long static shot of an eyeball, which seems to puzzle even Corman on his informative commentary track. Elsewhere on that he relates how he first conceived this one as a story about the periods of recreational drug use by a jazz musician and concedes that in many ways it’s a dry run for his The Trip (1967). Although Corman first experimented with LSD while researching the latter, I would contend that TMWTXRE is in many ways a truer “acid movie” than its more literal minded successor. Corman closes his commentary with the arch observation “Classical Greek drama on the cheap!” as Ray Milland extracts his aching orbs. Great stuff. You also have the option of an alternative talk track from Tim Lucas, who’s characteristically on top of his brief (e.g. refuting the received wisdom that this is Don Rickles’ feature debut).

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Still not seen enough? There’s a featurette with the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger (somebody else who seems to have seen everything) in which she connects the film to traditions of American Gothic and Romanticism… Joe Dante delivers his appraisal… a trailer and even a commentary on the trailer from Mick Garris. The limited edition boasts a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys, reversible poster with new and original artwork and a soft cover book (which I haven’t set eyes on) with new writing by Allan Bryce and Jon Towlson). Oh, and of course there’s a new interview with Corman, who turned 94 about a month ago and still insists that he he wants to remake The Man With The X-Ray Eyes to take advantage of today’s improved FX technologies (personally I find the whole “Spectrama” thing a cherishable cheesey chuckle) and more relaxed attitudes towards onscreen nudity. But really, why bother? The original is a certified cracker with a splendid central performance from Milland (who never plays down to the material and later cited TMWTXRE as his strongest screen outing alongside the one that won him the Oscar for The Lost Weekend in 1945)… and why haven’t I mentioned Les Baxter’s emotive “eerie” score already? This is a pulp cinema treatment of profound themes…. what more could you possibly aspire to?  If The Man With The X-Ray Eyes teaches us anything, it’s that hubris isn’t the greatest idea…

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At Least It’s Not Telly Bloody Savalas… WHEN A STRANGER CALLS Reviewed

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BD. Second Sight. Region Free. 12.

Although it’s clearly a stab at making a classy slasher film (skilfully directed from a thoughtful script, with strong performances by a quality cast), Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls (1979) will probably never live down the taint, in UK viewers’ minds, of debuting over here on a theatrical double bill with Barbara Peeters’ schlock riot Monster (Humanoids From The Deep), itself conceived as an eco-conscious feminist parable but turned into an explicitly violent, tit-infested Horror Of Party Beach variant after the addition of new footage by producer Roger Corman (and yes, a review of that particular trash classic is in the pipeline for 2019, here at the HOF).

Not entirely uninfluenced, one would imagine, by the runaway success of John Carpenter’s Halloween the previous year, Walton and co-writer Steve Feke decided to re-shoot and expand their taut, suspenseful 1977 short The Sitter, with Carol Kane taking over the role that had previously been played by Lucia Stralser. That one and the first 20 minutes of When A Stranger Calls (which recaps it virtually shot for shot) turn on the old urban legend / campfire story about the threatening phone calls that are eventually traced as coming from inside the house! Anyone out there who knows their slasher movie shit (and I’m sure that includes all HOF readers) will have no problem also recognising this as a pinch from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974), perhaps the most under-acknowledged seminal influence (now that Bava, Argento and Martino are routinely granted their due credit) on the whole stalk’n’slash phenom.

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Kane (whose supersweet face would have made her a megastar in the silent era… where she would, no doubt, have spent more time getting lashed to railway lines than being threatened over the phone) plays Jill, the babysitter being bugged by some bozo who keeps asking her why she hasn’t checked the children. Suspense builds relentlessly until the above mentioned revelation, Jill’s scramble to get the hell out of that house and the superbly edited entrance of Charles Durning as the cop John Clifford, prior to the discovery of the dismembered Mandrakis children upstairs.

Once the original material has been played out, we learn that the perpetrator, a certain Curt Dunkley (Tony Beckley), was confined to a booby hatch from which, several years after the grisly event, he’s escaped. No prizes for guessing that, by the end of the picture his path is going to intersect (via a fortuitous bit of scripting) again with Jill and the children she has subsequently borne. In the build up to that Walton follows the obsessed Clifford, who’s quit the cops, gone freelance and accepted a contract from the bereaved, aggrieved Dr Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano) to whack the wacko. Simultaneously, we track the Hogarthian, down-and-out progress of the clearly disturbed Dunkley. Walton takes the brave decision to prevent him as a pathetic, almost sympathetic character, a gambit that pays off thanks to a sterling performance by the respected British stage actor Beckley, splendidly complimenting the performances of Kane, Durning, Ron “Super Fly” O’Neal and Rachel Roberts (who, like Beckley, would die the following year) in this little gem of an ensemble piece.

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There was further evidence of Fred Walton’s directorial skill and intelligence in April Fool’s Day (1986), a late arrival in the stalk’n’slash stakes that managed a witty, Postmodern take on that sub-genre a full decade before Wes Craven’s inferior Scream (whose taunting phone killer will seem strangely familiar to anyone who’s seen When A Stranger Calls). Disappointing, then, that Walton was largely confined to TV Movies thereafter, though his stint in this milieu did lead to the sequel When A Stranger Calls Back (1993).

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Included as an extra on this disc, WASCB resists the temptation to resurrect Curt Dunkley but throws in too many other improbabilities for its own good, e.g. that Jill (now a women’s counsellor, gun advocate and martial arts ace) and Clifford have teamed up to advise and protect imperilled baby sitters (as though this was the crime epidemic of the early ’90s)… specifically here, to advise and protect Julia played by Jill Schoelen (there was a time there when Jill Schoelen seemed to be in every Horror flick that came out… wonder what she’s doing now?) The baby sitter stalker in this one is cleverly written… in fact way too cleverly, Walton granting him what virtually amount to superpowers that wouldn’t disgrace a super villain in a big budget sci-fi adventure pic, though if you’re prepared to suspend your disbelief from a great height, this makes for some effective shock moments. All things considered, this sequel is a bit of a mish-mash, though.

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Simon West’s 2006 remake (not included on this set) unfolds in an improbably hi-tech house that wouldn’t disgrace a super villain, either. Inexplicably more successful than the original, this one’s main points of interest come from the aptly named Camilla Belle (above) as its imperilled ingenue, filling a skimpy vest every bit as perkily as Jessica Biel did in Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When A Stranger Calls – The Musical remains, at the time of writing, a figment of my imagination, but among the other extras here you do get interviews with director Fred Walton, Rutanya “Mrs Mandrakis” Alda and soundtrack composer Dana Kaproff. If you’re sufficiently quick off the blocks, you’ll also get his OST as a bonus CD on the limited edition release, together with a slipcase, reversible poster and collector’s booklet.

‘Scuse me, I’ve got to go and make a phone call…

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