Monday, July 27, 2015

Massacre (Massacro) (1989)

Massacre (Massacro) (1989) was written and directed by Andrea Bianchi, under the banner of “Lucio Fulci presents.”  It is a film that oscillates between nasty and sleazy (which Bianchi has proven over his career quite adept at delivering) and wholly pedestrian, talky, and boring.  From the first frame of Massacre, its low budget is omnipresent.
Massacre begins with a daylight driving shot of a man sporting a hoodie, mirrored sunglasses, mustache, and gloves.  He eyes a beautiful prostitute and stops the car to accost her.  Soon he pulls a knife, and with the cheapest special effects and editing, he chops the hand and head from the woman.  Cut to a film set located near a resort hotel where Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone) is the star of a horror film entitled, “Dirty Blood.”  The director, Frank (Maurice Poli), is determined to make as realistic as possible a horror film for modern audiences.  To exact this plan he has hired a genuine medium, Irene Ulrich (Anna Maria Placido) to host a séance with the cast and crew.  Experiencing a séance, Frank believes, will simulate the atmosphere and mood of his film for the benefit of his colleagues.  The séance does not go well: while attempting to channel a familiar spirit, Madame Ulrich struggles to fend off an evil spirit attempting to invade her body and those in the immediate area of the séance.  Not long after, Lisa (Silvia Conti), the producer’s wife is found murdered near the crew’s hotel.  Walter (Gino Concari), a police consultant to the production and paramour of leading lady, Jennifer, investigates the case.  Bodies start piling up…
I popped Massacre into the DVD player with intention of watching a movie where I could shut my brain off.  I must have shut my brain off too early, because I thought that I was going to watch The Murder Secret (Non Aver paura della zia Marta) (1988), another “Lucio Fulci presents” film.  When the opening sequence appeared, I immediately recognized the film, remembered that I thought the film was shitty, but was too lazy to get off the couch to change discs.  The main problem with Massacre is that it is woefully cheap and low budget (and not in a good way).  Often, when a low budget is a problem for the film, an enthusiastic film crew overreaches with their material abilities.  Often the enthusiasm of the performers, crew, and the energy driving the script overcomes such budget limitations.  Massacre feels like a cheap production that kept its costs as low as possible to reap the most financial benefits from an audience curious to see a film that “Lucio Fulci presents.”  Andrea Bianchi is an interesting director.  For example, my favorite Exorcist rip-off is Malabimba (1979):  almost a total exercise in sleaze focusing solely on the sensational elements of William Peter Blatty’s story.  Bianchi pens the script of Massacre, centered upon a film crew, located in a singular location, whose personalities are conflicting at even the most base level.  The murder mystery is haphazard (and very mechanical):  Bianchi is going to pull a little bit at a supernatural angle and a grounded, police-procedural angle as well.  An adept screenwriter could pull off such a stunt, but that feat was not accomplished today.
No character is central, and Massacre floats between conversations.  For example, Walter, the police officer, is chastised by his commissioner, played by Paul Muller (the best actor in Massacre in a small role), for having no leads in a murder investigation where four murders have occurred.  Walter blows him off, but Muller has merit:  I would be pissed, too, as a member of the general public where a killer was loose and the lead officer in the investigation was fucking the beautiful leading actress, working as a consultant for a film production, and having double whiskies while waiting for séances to finish.  Later Walter blames Muller for pulling officers off of surveillance as the cause for a recent death!  In an early scene, beautiful Lisa, the producer’s wife, gives a steamy striptease to the writer of “Dirty Blood.”  The producer, Robert (Pier Maria Cecchini), interrupts her.  He calls Lisa a slut and a whore, smacks her, and reminds her that he found her “in the gutter.”  Seemingly as penance, Robert demands that she set up a threesome with Mira, the production assistant.  (I’m not bullshitting.)  Is Bianchi proffering this scene to show a voluptuous lady performing a striptease, show a man hit and degrade a woman, or show Robert to be an asshole (and having a violent temper as a motive for a killer)?  I’m guessing number two.  When Bianchi is not being sensational or offensive, Massacre is filled with boring pedestrian scenes of characters engaging in conversation a little above filler.
Producers Luigi Nannerini and Antonini Lucidi asked Lucio Fulci to endorse a series of films that they were releasing of which Massacre was one.* The duo had produced Fulci’s Touch of Death and Sodoma’s Ghost (both 1988).* Later, scenes from Massacre would be included in Fulci’s Nightmare Concert (1990).* It is more than likely most people would know Massacre from clips from Fulci’s later film; and any legacy this film has comes from there.  The only sin that Bianchi committed with Massacre was being boring.  There were plenty of other sins he could have indulged.

(*) Thrower, Stephen.  Beyond Terror:  The Films of Lucio Fulci.  FAB Press.  Surrey, England, U.K.:  1999. P. 243

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blackaria (2010)

Blackaria (2010), directed by the duo of Francois Gallard and Christophe Robin, is not so much an homage to gialli of Dario Argento but rather like a sandbox film, wherein the directors pull imagery and techniques from Argento’s filmography to create their own film.  Blackaria is not a true giallo, as it does not follow its traditional structure.
Sexy Angela (Clara Vallet) lives in an apartment building next to equally sexy and mysterious Anna Maria (Anna Naigeon).  Angela borders upon obsession with Anna Maria as she tells her psychiatrist:  she is having dreams about Anna Maria and they are highly sexual, usually ending with Anna Maria being murdered before her eyes.  In a standout sequence, Angela enters the elevator and behind the mirror within she witnesses scantily-clad Anna Maria.  As Angela begins kissing and caressing what would be her own image she is kissing and caressing the image of Anna Maria.  (The eroticism early in the film is very reminiscent of Jess Franco’s dreamy, poetic eroticism.)  In the mirror, Angela sees a masked figure donning a dark hat and raincoat with straight razor in hand appear behind Anna Maria.  With brutal slashes, Anna Maria dies bloodily.  Angela awakens from this dream and visits Anna Maria’s flat.  She finds her dead upon the bed, and in a fit of shock, Angela knocks a crystal ball off of a table.  It comes crashing down upon the floor, and Angela’s arm becomes full of cuts.  She removes her robe and picks up the pieces of glass.  Angela exits the apartment and tells nothing to the police when they arrive to investigate the next day.  Angela tells her psychiatrist that this glass is special, and when one peers through it, he/she can see the future.  She gets eyeglasses made from the broken pieces, and when she wears them, she sees herself as the next victim of the killer.
At this point in Blackaria, if it were a traditional giallo (save the magical eyeglasses), then Angela or someone close to her would become the amateur sleuth, hastily making an investigation before becoming a victim.  However, Blackaria makes a radical shift in narrative focus by revealing its killer, the Lady in Red (Aurélie Godefroy), and following her character (and subsequent carnage) for almost the entirety of the remaining film.  It is a bold move by the directors and the choice is very engaging and compelling.  In my favorite Lady in Red sequence, she stands alone in an alleyway, brandishing a knife, when two drunk young ladies stop to accost her.  She brutally slashes one with her knife and broken bottle.  The other runs away, and the Lady in Red picks up a long chain.  Wielding it like a whip, she trips the young woman and strikes her to death.  (The scene is very evocative of an early scene in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981).)  The film ends when the police confront the Lady in Red, and the police investigator wraps up the plot to the last, would-be victim.  An epilogue of sorts then occurs, ending Blackaria with poetic justice.
It was fun watching Blackaria and being bombarded with imagery from Dario Argento’s filmography:  the soft pastel lighting of Inferno (1980); the red high heels from Tenebrae (1982); the doll imagery from Profondo Rosso (1975); and the technicolor lighting scheme from both Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (to name just a few).  The murder scenes of Blackaria are truly operatic and ornate, much like the sequences from original gialli.  Often Dario Argento’s cinema is referred to by fans and critics alike as “dream-like,” and it would appear the makers of Blackaria took that sentiment as their ultimate goal.  At seventy or so minutes, Blackaria cuts the fat from a mechanical narrative and delivers a film based almost solely on its visuals.  Blackaria is very much recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I frati rossi (The Red Monks) (1988)

I frati rossi (The Red Monks) (1988) begins with a present-day sequence where Richard Garlini (Gaetano Russo) is perusing the grounds of his recently-inherited villa.  He spies a striking-looking figure, a woman with a black veil wandering among the trees playing her violin.  After a greeting and brief conversation, Richard enters the villa (which is slightly decrepit).  On the wall to the left of the door is mounted a gold sword with a jeweled handle.  At the top of the stairs, Richard sees a nude woman walking the hall.  Thinking his inheritance might not be so shitty, he gives chase to the woman who is curiously leading him down into the catacombs and dungeon of the villa.  Richard seems oblivious to all but the nude woman.  He confronts her at a dead end whereupon she immediately reveals that she is holding a golden sword and promptly decapitates Richard.
Cut to fifty years previous.  The Red Monks introduces Robert Garlini (Gerardo Amato), the current owner of the villa.  He hears upon his balcony the barking of his dog and heads out upon the grounds to see what has stirred the animal.  The dog has chased pretty young Ramona (Lara Wendel) up a tree, and she only wandered onto the grounds to paint a landscape portrait.  Robert invites Ramona into his home and asks Pricilla (Malisa Longo), the housekeeper, to hem Ramona’s dress.  Robert sees his meeting with Ramona as Providence, and soon after, the two are married.  On their wedding night, Pricilla tells Robert that he has an urgent meeting.  Robert descends into the villa’s catacombs and dungeon and encounters a group of golden-sword wielding, red-robed monks.  They tell Robert that in exchange for his wealth and fortune, he must sacrifice the blood of a virgin and offer her blood as a tribute.  The monks select his newlywed bride.  Robert bitches and moans a little bit but concedes.  In their bedroom, Robert is unable to consummate their marriage, and Ramona becomes despondent in her stay at the villa.  She becomes curious and starts to investigate the history of her surroundings.
The Red Monks is never totally engaging, but that is not to say, it does not have its charms.  Despite being a horror film, The Red Monks lacks both atmosphere and scares.  The dynamics are present to create a psychosexual horror film or a psychosexual drama, a la Joe D’Amato; but it does not dare to go there.  The film really only hints at its potential.  The two lead actresses, Wendel and Longo, are the main attraction, and their presence elevates this film slightly out of its obscurity.  At times, I even forgot The Red Monks was a horror film.  In one of the only murder sequences, Lucille (Mary Maxwell), the very stereotypical French maid who has become Ramona’s confidant, spies a figure lurking about the grounds.  It is clearly one of the red monks.  Lucille wanders around the trees and is decapitated by the monk.  After Robert and Romana have a spat, they decide to have a picnic on a sunny day on the grounds.  Romana opens the picnic basket and out pours Lucille’s head.  This scene is representative of the scare level of The Red Monks.  In one of the film’s best sequences, Ramona blows off Robert at bedtime for his lack of understanding and for being so unaffectionate towards her.  Robert visits Pricilla in her chambers and demands that she stop being jealous towards Ramona.  Pricilla reveals that she was given to Robert and that her affection should be enough for him.  Robert starts fucking Pricilla, and Ramona sees them through a crack in the doorway.  She grimaces at the sight, and Ramona is obviously hurt; but glances and grimaces are about all these characters give each other.  A confrontation is rarely in sight.
The highlights of The Red Monks are the genuine Italian locations, period costumes, and props, all from the 1940s.  They are all simply beautiful.  The performances by Wendel and Longo are very good, and each is quite sensuous in her role.  The script by director Gianni Martucci, Pino Buricchi, and Luciana Anna Spacca is poor:  no real tension is created by the story or with the characters.  Martucci’s direction is average.  I frati rossi is notable for having Lucio Fulci as one of the producers.  Fulci has stated that his involvement in the film is as thus:  “The producers begged me to help promote the film.  I don’t even know the director.” (*)  Isn’t that something?

* “The Lucio Fulci Interview.”  Conducted by Loris Curci & Antonio Tentori.  European Trash Cinema.  Vol. 2.  No. 4.  Ed. Craig Ledbetter.  Kingwood, TX.  1991: p. 7.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Santo en el hotel de la muerte (1963) versus Santo en el museo de cera (1963)

I wrote this post in July of 2010 during a weekend when I was particularly ill.  I never published it.  However, I thought I would now.  It is terrible.  Enjoy.

Two early films featuring El Santo, El Enmascardo de Plata. First is Santo en el hotel de la muerte (1963), directed by Federico Curiel, in which Santo suffers much of the same fate as in Santo contra las mujeres vampiro (1962) in the respect that Santo doesn't drive the narrative and appears sparsely (e.g. to resolve the mystery). Second is perhaps one of the best Santo films ever made, Santo en el museo de cera (1963) in which the multitude's hero faces one of the best villains in Claudio Brook with the most diabolical scheme imaginable. El museo de cera is directed by Alfonso Corona Blake who directed Santo previously in Las mujeres vampiro.

El hotel de la muerte is set in a resort hotel and is a murder mystery, so the plot has way too many characters to provide "red herrings" and twists and turns. Fernando (Fernando Casanova) and Conrado (Beto el Boticario) are police officers assigned by their chief to investigate the apparent murder (and subsequent disappearance of her corpse) of a young woman tourist at the hotel. Fernando's girlfriend, Virginia (Ana Bertha Lepe), a journalist, shows at the hotel, as well, to Fernando's dismay to catch the story. These three carry the story for the majority of the film, and while more female tourists subsequently pop up dead then only to have their corpses disappear, Fernando and Conrado struggle to make headway in their investigation. However, for the seasoned viewer of genre cinema, two notable clues appear (not clues, however, to Fernando and Conrado): an Aztec pyramid from where the hotel has a direct connection and the presence of a retired archaeologist, Professor Corbera (Alfredo Wally Barrón). Virginia logically asks Fernando early in the investigation, "Why don't you just call Santo to help?" Although Fernando is wearing his wristwatch that Santo gave him, serving as a direct line to Santo's headquarters, Fernando wants to solve this case alone. When Fernando takes a blow to the head from a fleeing suspect, Virginia wisely calls Santo from Fernando's watch. Santo has a wrestling match that evening, and then he'll cruise down to the hotel in his convertible in time for the final act.
 Claudio Brook plays Dr. Karol in El museo de cera. Brook brings to his role a Vincent Price air of elegance combined with the charisma of Bela Lugosi. Karol owns a wax museum and creates his own wax sculptures. His most popular creations reside in the basement and are reproductions of hideous historical figures, many of whom are monsters. Susana (Norma Mora), a photographer who Dr. Karol allowed to photograph his creations, goes missing one evening after exiting the museum. Susana's sister Gloria (Roxana Bellini) and her fiance, Ricardo (Rubén Rojo) believe that there is something sinister and mysterious with museum and think Dr. Karol is behind Susana's disappearance. The police think so too, because a few more young women had gone missing in the vicinity of the museum, previously. Dr. Karol thinks this is flimsy evidence (and he's absolutely right), so via his colleague, Professor Gavin (José Luis Jiménez), Karol seeks Santo's help in vindicating his reputation.
Santo is way too powerful a force of nature to be limited to appearances in final acts. While there are a lot of groovy 60s hairdos, provocative swimwear, beautiful women, beatniks, and comedic shenanigans in Santo en el hotel de la muerte, when the multitude's hero is absent from screen, I feel irked. The later Santo cinema, perhaps beginning with Santo en el museo de cera, would show Santo as more than competent in his investigative skills and doling out the ass-whippings furiously on equal footing with his ability to carry the entire film as protagonist. It is almost humorous as El hotel de la muerte hints at this: not only does Virginia hint to Fernando that Santo can help, but Fernando's reluctance to call him is really the knowledge that this is more than true. Santo will investigate the crime and dispatch the enemies in the pursuit of justice. The only thing which would suffer for the common good is Fernando's screen time.
Brook is so compelling as Dr. Karol and the story is so well written in El museo de cera that when Santo is absent, the viewer is still treated to glorious genre cinema (instead of filler until Santo arrives). Brook's museum and his displays are hideous creations; he also has a super-secret lab where he envisions new creations and a huge vat full of wax (fortuitously placed for an ideal use in later combat); he has a bizarre, contrived, and mysterious past; and above all, Brook's Dr. Karol is extremely bold: in a move that would thwart most (except Santo and Columbo), Karol attempts to play victim and surreptitiously stir Santo in his investigation away from his sinister and diabolic plan. Like a fantastic comic book, each subsequent scene in El museo de cera becomes more ludicrous yet intriguing. K. Gordon Murray released El museo de cera in the U.S. as Samson in the Wax Museum, with English dubbing (and a new name for the multitude's hero). It's fun to watch but the original version is preferable.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Killer Wore Gloves (La muerte llama a las 10) (1974)

The Killer Wore Gloves (La muerte llama a las 10) (1974) is a slightly above-average Spanish giallo, taking as its chief influence Dario Argento’s “animal trilogy” of films:  L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo (The Bird With the Crystal Plummage) (1970); Il gato a nove code (Cat O’ Nine Tails) (1971); and 4 mosche di velluto grigio (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) (1971). 
The Killer Wore Gloves begins in London at the airport.  Two gentlemen disembark from the same plane, and one follows the other into the toilet.  Each are carrying a black briefcase.  One pulls a straight razor and murders the other in a toilet stall.  Cut to pretty Peggy (Gillian Hills, who incidentally shares a resemblance with Marisa Mell) who is en route to give her latest sketch to Ronald James (Stelio Candelli).  (Presumably James is an art dealer or publisher and Peggy is an artist.  This tidbit was either not fleshed out, or I zoned out during the exposition).  In the street, Peggy believes that she sees her husband, Michael, driving away.  Michael has been mysteriously absent for the last four months, supposedly is in Vietnam (as a journalist).  Peggy gives chase but loses him.  She calls her friend, Jackie (Silvia Solar), and tells her that she saw Michael.  Jackie blows her off, and Roland tells Peggy the same.  Despondent, Peggy goes home to her flat.  She has the intention of renting the upstairs room, since Michael has been gone so long and may not return.  Enter John Kirk Lawford (Bruno Corazzari) who arrives at Peggy’s flat carrying only a briefcase.  Peggy rents the room to the stranger.  That evening, she gets a frantic call from Michael asking to meet her immediately.  She goes to the location only to be fired upon by a mysterious stranger.  She escapes, and at her apartment complex, Lawford lays dead in the street.  The police believe that it was suicide, a jump from Peggy’s terrace.  While the police are engaging in routine questioning of Peggy, enter John Kirk Lawford (Angel del Pozo).  This new Lawford has arrived to rent the flat, and Peggy, despite the suspicious circumstances with the two Lawfords, rents the room to the man…
Juan Bosch directed The Killer Wore Gloves whose work I am only familiar with Exorcismo (1975, starring Paul Naschy).  The English-language title is pedestrian (Google translates the Spanish title as Death Knocks at 10); and it is almost like naming a horror film The Slasher Wore a Hockey Mask.  The title is sort of fitting, however, as the film is a stripped-down, focused film, claustrophobic at times, with Peggy’s character at front and center.  The kill scene in the toilet and a later murder of Shirley (Orchidea de Santis), a lover of Ronald are evocative of Argento’s work.  The toilet murder has the camera fixated upon compositions such as the footsteps of the killer, his black gloves and their meticulous movements, and finally, a close-up upon the straight razor and the flash of the blade before the kill.  Shirley’s death is seen from the killer’s point-of-view, and the camera becomes frenetic when he lunges for the kill.  He uses a curved knife to disembowel her.  Peggy’s upstairs neighbor, Mr. Lewis (Carlos Otero), is an eccentric musician who has a fondness for cats and he gets strangled while playing his bass.  The scene is intercut with flickering lights and shadows and quick cuts of the reaction shot of his cat.  These giallo murder scenes are unoriginal and familiar yet they are particularly well-rendered. 
Dario Argento was not reticent in exploring various subcultures in his earlier trilogy.  He was especially interested in the youth subculture, particularly its artists.  The Killer Wore Gloves hints at these worlds but never goes there.  The primary location of the film is Peggy’s apartment, and save the murder scenes, the resultant feel of the film is static.  Argento gave his cinematic worlds life, whereas Bosch used a more paint-by-numbers formula, saving any panache for his giallo murders.  Perhaps a comparison of gialli against Argento’s work is unfair, as he really has no equal in the genre.  As evocative of his work as The Killer Wore Gloves is, I do believe this comparison has merit.  On the plus side, Marcello Giombini’s score is very good, and the pacing is excellent:  no scene wears out its welcome.  The scenes may be at times monotonous but they are rarely boring.  Pretty Gillian Hills as Peggy gives a good performance which is of especial note as she has to carry almost the entire film.  The supporting cast are adequate in their roles.  The Killer Wore Gloves is not completely strong in any area, but neither is it truly weak in any to its detriment.  An obscurity for the real giallo fan.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rest in Pieces (Descanse en piezas) (1987)

Rest in Pieces (Descanse en piezas) (1987) is a Spanish-American co-production, helmed by unique director, José Ramón Larraz.  This horror film concerns a young couple, Bob and Helen Hewitt (portrayed by Scott Thompson Baker and Lorin Jean Vail, respectively), who inherit the fortune of Helen’s estranged (and recently deceased) aunt Catherine (Academy Award winner, Dorothy Malone).  Upon arrival at Catherine’s estate, the couple realize that Aunt Catherine housed many people on her property, two of whom are a blind expert of music, David Hume (Jack Taylor) and a particularly cranky Gertrude Stein (Patty Shepard).  Bob and Helen think that this group is a bunch of creepy peeps and want to evict them.  The motley crew of guests on Catherine’s estate have other plans, which include slicing and dicing their new neighbors.
Rest in Pieces is weird.  It begins with a photo montage with the credit sequence of Baker and Vail at the Los Angeles airport (presumably Larraz cast these two there).  The title-sequence song feels like something out of a late-80s American comedy along the lines of Revenge of the Nerds II:  Nerds in Paradise (released the same year as Rest in Pieces.  Incidentally, I am a fan of this one.).  When Bob and Helen arrive at Catherine’s estate, it appears a normal row of houses surrounding a cul-de-sac, well familiar in American suburbs.  However, these houses are the curtilage of Catherine’s estate, and there is one in particular, that does not stand out particularly, that has always been abandoned.  The whereabouts of its key are unknown.  During their first evening in their new home, the young couple become hungry, but there is no food in the house.  Later that evening, after Bob has had a nice rogering with Helen, he searches the home and descends far into the basement.  He discovers a hidden room where a rotting stockpile of food is being consumed by rats.  Spooky, right?  Apparently, Hume, Stein, Dr. Anderson (a key character, portrayed by Jeffrey Segal), and the rest of the group do not eat.  However, they do smoke and drink. 
The script of Rest in Pieces is unique: there is a fantastic, supernatural element to its story combined with a heavy emphasis on slasher elements and accompanying gore.  Its execution, however, is rather lackluster.  “…Larraz received backing from a fruit exporter, or ‘Philistine moneymen’ as he refers to his backers,” write Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill in Mondo Macabro. (1) “They wanted a sure return on their investment, so Larraz’s next two horror films, shot under the pseudonym Joseph Braunstein, were gory, direct-to-video Spanish-American co-productions.” (2) The first was Rest in Pieces.  (3) Larraz certainly fulfilled his contractual obligations with this film.  There is a standout scene where the odd group host a concert in the abandoned house.  After completion, the musicians desire to be paid for their performance, but unexpectedly, they get hacked to bits by their audience.  Jack Taylor’s David Hume reveals his cane is for more than walking: it doubles as a spear with a retractable blade!  Lorin Jean Vail displays quite a bit of nudity in the film.  (She is quite beautiful; and I do not want to hurt her feelings but her performance is not very good.)  In an initial scene, Helen takes a bubble bath.  All of the sudden, the fixtures begin moving, and the shower curtain attacks her!  Larraz includes a slo-mo love scene between Bob and Helen, and the final act sees Vail dressed only in her bathrobe and panties.  All the sensational elements are present in Rest in Pieces, but the completed film lacks an artistic spirit driving the images.
José Ramón Larraz creates such a unique atmosphere with his cinema that referring to his cinema as “atmospheric” belies his abilities.  His compositions and his juxtapositions of compositions are without equal.  He can make a three-car garage look ominous.  He can make two female vampires running across a cemetery at dawn poetic.  Larraz can also, finally, for example, imbue scenes with eroticism with ease where most filmmakers would struggle.  Here is an example from Rest in Pieces:  Bob thinks that it is unusual and suspicious that the abandoned house in the area has no key.  So after breakfast, he decides to walk over to the house.  Bob encounters the pretty maid of the estate on a bicycle in the middle of the road.  She gives a weak warning to Bob to not enter the abandoned house and then offers him an open invitation to shag.  After Bob enters the house, he finds an antique bar and picks up a bottle.  He hears a hymn being sung in the parlor room.  Bob enters and finds all of the estate guests in the middle of a meeting.  Bob presents to the group a toupee that he found under a piece of furniture.  This does not belong to any of you, Bob quips, and he demands to know from the group what is going on.  None of the shit in this sequence makes any sense but strung together in Larraz’s series of images, this sequence creates its own unreal logic.  There is a sense of Bob’s impending doom along this short journey, despite the fact that a pretty maid offers to fuck him; the non-descript abandoned house looks ordinary; and the only objects that interest Bob in the house are a bottle of liquor and a toupee.  Little of Larraz’s unique talent is present in Rest of Pieces to the complete detriment of the film.
The VHS cover of Rest in Pieces is well familiar, but a lot of Larraz’s late-80s output never made it onto DVD.  It just sits there in obscurity, like a time capsule of its period.

1.       Tombs, Pete and Cathal Tohill.  Mondo Macabro European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984.  St. Martin’s Griffin Press. New York.  1995: p. 206.

2.       Ibid.

3.       Ibid.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Red Cockroaches (2003)

Red Cockroaches (2003) is a science fiction film that really does not have to be (at the least for me to enjoy it).  While traditional science fiction elements are integral to peripheral parts of the story and while one can read Philip-K.-Dick-ian themes of identity versus technology versus civilization, director Miguel Coyula crafts an unusually innovative and provocative film grounded in familiar characters in a dysfunctional setting.  Red Cockroaches also contains good acting, impressive digital photography, and quite a bit of eroticism.
Adam (Adam Plotch) spies a beautiful stranger (Talia Rubel) on the subway platform.  When the train arrives, she disappears in the crowd.  Soon after, she knocks on Adam’s door and inquires if he is looking for a roommate.  They engage in flirty conversation, but the young woman leaves, deciding not to share the rent.  Adam goes to the cemetery to visit his father’s grave on the tenth anniversary of his death and once again meets the beautiful stranger.  This time Adam embraces and kisses her passionately, but she disappears when the two are interrupted.  Adam later gets a worried call from his mother and he rushes to her home.  Adam’s mother introduces him to the beautiful stranger, named Lily, and Lily is his sister, presumed dead ten years ago who died in an accident with Adam’s father.  Adam is understandably perturbed upon this discovery but allows Lily to move in with him in his apartment. 
The sexual tension in Red Cockroaches drives the first two-thirds of the film, aided well in part by Coyula’s photography.  He has an undeniable talent for crafting sexy innuendo in each frame.  The wonderful underlying current in each scene is that Lily is well aware of Adam’s attraction (which she shares) and takes delight in attempting to arouse him (ultimately, to see if he is brave enough to make a sexual advance towards her).  Coyula adeptly inserts into his compositions subtle sexual imagery and emphasizes the very creative ways that couples flirt with each other.  As the sexual tension rises between the two, they consummate in an extremely humorous setting.  At the same time, the scene is hot.  Subsequent to this lovemaking scene, Coyula follows with an intimate scene where Lily confronts Adam about chilling events from their past.  The final act of Red Cockroaches shows how dysfunctional behavior breeds familiarity and more dysfunctional behavior.  The final act also sees the film turn to very dark material.
Setting Red Cockroaches in a futuristic setting, replete with aerocars, mutated insects (hence the film’s title), and continual acid rain, for example, only enhances the unreal atmosphere of the story.  It is as if one could read the film as being representative of technological advances leading to a greater disassociation between people.  This disassociation, in turn, serves as a catalyst for a regression in our civilization.  Nonetheless, Red Cockroaches looks cool; as if Coyula meticulously digitally painted his film in making his lush visuals.  All the detail, however, stays in the background and works in an almost subliminal way.
Red Cockroaches is a weird, independent film.  It is really arty and provocative but should not alienate those who are open-minded about their cinema.  Red Cockroaches was released on DVD years ago by Heretic Films and is well worth checking out.  A personal favorite.