Saturday, October 31, 2009

Alberto De Martino's Miami Golem (1985)

A glass jar filled with fluid. Half empty or half full? Fluid displaced? With what? A golem, born from the DNA found in the bacteria of a meteorite fallen to Earth. The glass jar is in Miami, FL in an underground, super-secret lab. The fate of the world is at risk. David Warbeck has his gun and is out to save us in Alberto De Martino's Miami Golem (1985).
David Warbeck is Craig Milford, a television reporter, whose latest assignment is interviewing Dr. Schweiger, who has culled the DNA from a bacterium found within a space meteorite. Schweiger believes the DNA is extra-terrestrial in origin, and his hypothesis is that the DNA contains the original strains for humankind. Craig could give a crap. He has to stay late and with clunky, special filming equipment shoot footage of the DNA under the microscope. Craig's equipment malfunctions, and a surge of electricity goes through the alien DNA. Wailing ghostly heads appear when this happens, and Craig captures their images with his video camera. Meanwhile, sinister and nefarious Anderson (John Ireland) is in the Everglades, listening to a UFO enthusiast tell him about a powerful alien life form about to awaken on Earth. Anderson has his henchman shoot the kook, only then to send him to the lab to obtain the DNA. Anderson's henchman ices everyone with a beaker in his hand and grabs Dr. Schweiger's booty. Anderson has world domination in mind, and his secret team of scientists have introduced the DNA to a fleshy embryo, now growing at a rapid rate (with telekinetic powers). The good guys, a.k.a. the extra-terrestrials, recruit Craig to save the world and stop the evil. Craig sighs.
Because he's played this role before, David Warbeck could also sigh. Always the consummate professional however, Warbeck delivers another charismatic performance to add to his impressive list of credits which have made him an Italian genre cinema legend. New Zealand-born Warbeck worked in Italian films in the 70s (for example, in a similar role in Tonino Ricci's Panic (1976)), but it was his work in the 80s where he really blossomed. His appearance in the explosive actioner, The Last Hunter (1980) would not only help kick off the Italian action movie trend in the 80s but also began a creative collaboration with its director, Antonio Margheriti, which would span five works (with my favorites being the Indiana Jones-inspired The Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982) and Ark of the Sun God (1983)). Warbeck made two fantastic films with Lucio Fulci: The Black Cat (1981) and The Beyond (1981). Subsequent to Miami Golem, Warbeck would re-team with De Martino for the mystery, Formula for a Murder (1987). Warbeck would end the eighties with a very entertaining oddity, Giuliano Carnimeo's Ratman (1988), but Miami Golem is arguably Warbeck's most fun and most odd film of the 80s.
Warbeck has never been an imposing figure physically, and there is no evidence to believe that his character Craig Milford would be a force to be reckoned with. After Anderson has the DNA he sends his henchman to kill Craig as a preventive measure. Craig gets a phone call from his editor which sends him to an abandoned field. A helicopter appears out of nowhere with a machine-gun toting bad guy on its side. Craig, in true local t.v. reporter fashion, pulls a handgun from his glove compartment and takes cover in the sole foliage of the open field. Even more jarring a slow-moving yellow school bus appears out of nowhere, not filled with children but just housing a couple of regular dudes. Warbeck's Craig pleads for the bus to stop but with the machine gun fire, the bus ain't stopping. Luckily the bus is only moving at about five miles an hour, and the Emergency Exit door on the back is absent. Craig climbs the bus and with a marksman shot takes out the helicopter. "Did you just shoot a helicopter from a moving bus with a handgun?" asks one of the guys on the bus. Warbeck gives a fittingly incredulous smile.
Those mysterious floating heads caught by Craig on video lead Joanna Fitzgerald (Laura Trotter) into his arms. Joanna poses as a translator and offers to decipher the wails and moans on the video. Etruscan? Atlantean? Pre-Colombian? From another dimension? The two become allies against the evil. Trotter and Warbeck have an immediate chemistry, and their romance is light and cute. Several of the best action sequences take place in the Everglades, and Trotter and Warbeck appear in a well-filmed air-boat sequence. The best action, however, is reserved for the final act, as Joanna attempts with telepathy to keep the evil embryo in the glass jar in check by remote mind control while Warbeck's Craig packs some heat to go to the lab for a final confrontation. Never in my life have I witnessed a confrontation such as man versus embryo in a large glass jar. Brilliant and sublime.
Alberto De Martino is an underrated Italian genre director. With a career spanning many films in different genres, some of my favorites are The Counsellor (1973), The Antichrist (1974), Rain of Fire (1977), and perhaps his best film, the giallo/crime hybrid, Blazing Magnums (1976). By the time the 80s rolled around and in the latter part of his career, De Martino had honed his craft and could probably shoot a low-budget sci-fi actioner with his eyes closed. Miami Golem is super-slick looking: the action sequences are tops, the creature fx (by Sergio Stivaletti) are cheesy yet effective, and the visual effects look professional despite its budget. Of course, the story and the dialogue are wonderfully ludicrous and laughable, but all credit goes to the participants, especially Warbeck. Most actors, perhaps, would contemplate the state of their careers after having said some of the lines within Miami Golem, but not Warbeck: his enthusiasm is infectious, his boyish good looks carry his charisma, and his acting is always professional. Miami Golem is a fine example of 80s Italian genre cinema and would make a great double bill with Nello Rosati's Top Line (1988). See it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mario Imperoli's Snapshot of a Crime (1975)

Luca (Luis La Torre) obsesses over sexy Mirna (Erna Schurer), who abruptly breaks off their affair one day. Luis doesn't leave her alone: he begins showing up unexpectedly wherever she may be. She asks to be left alone, but Luca won't allow it. He has a film that he would like to project for her at his home. Mirna gets to view the film but not the viewer; and with a harsh cut, the two are seen saying good-bye, although Luca wishes to reserve the right to call her, "from time to time." Luca is seen putting scuba tanks in his car and off to the seaside. Gian Carlo, a photographer, is snapping photos of models, Stefania (Lorenza Guerrieri) and Claudia (Monica Strebel). Stefania and Claudia attract the attention of Luca at a local cafe and both are attracted to Luca. Luca and Stefania begin having a relationship while Claudia stays passively and aggressively on the outside. Stefania borrows Gian Carlo's camera one day, and after a swim, Luca and Stefania begin to tussle on the ground, playing a little rough, and then making love. All in front of the camera. Luca goes for a swim. Stefania disappears. Someone else has the photos of the two in Mario Imperoli's Snapshot of a Crime (1975).
Superficially, Snapshot of a Crime reminded me a lot of Antonioni, specifically L'Avventura (1960) and Blowup (1966), two films that have a mystery at its heart but a true sense that the mystery serves the characters and not vice versa. The seaside location was evocative of L'Avventura, while the photography motif was evocative of Blowup. Perhaps fittingly and subjectively, I read Antonioni into this film (who's one of cinema's most influential film makers and quite possibly my favorite), because Snapshot of a Crime is a drama, where the character conflicts are primarily internal and the loose plot unfolds as its characters do, often very interestingly. Added to my sense, Imperoli's cinematography is akin to another Italian master of cinema, Pier Paolo Pasolini, who loves the arbitrary mise-en-scene with disorienting compositions. Pasolini was also a master of the social drama with, for example, Teorema (1968). Imperoli's film in 1975 is also following the height of giallo cinema, of which Snapshot is also evocative, with its frequent emphasis on sexuality. I hope my comparisons aren't unfair but I wanted to give a sense of the mood and style of the film.
Mario Imperoli has a handful of directorial credits and perhaps best known to cult film fans for his sexy flicks with Gloria Guida, Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975). Snapshot is a focused, intense, and serious drama. The viewer not only watches the drama unfold but also examines the characters, for this examination is, often in brief glimpses, where she/he will learn true motivations and true clues to the mystery. Luca is an arrogant and good-looking young man, one who seems to love the chase and the courting of a woman more than the woman whose heart he holds. This is the initial emotion of the beginning, as Luca and Mirna are shown squabbling, Mirna teasing and Luca agitated, while Imperoli juxtaposes the scene with a sequence of the two making love (presumably just before the two squabble). Luca can't have Mirna leaving him and he has to take power in the relationship, somehow. Stefania falls for Luca quite hard, yet Luca never ceases chasing after Claudia. Often when Stefania and Luca are together, Luca asks to meet Claudia somewhere, or Claudia shows up where the two are. After Stefania's disappearance, Luca and Claudia begin a relationship, but it's not a comfortable one for Claudia. Of all the characters, Claudia seems the most diligent about learning Stefania's whereabouts, as if she couldn't have a relationship with Luca without Stefania present.
Needless to say, I found Snapshot to be intriguing. The sex and the sexuality isn't graphic but very much necessary and often very sexy. For anyone who finds the bedroom scene sexy with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) will understand: Small moments and Henry James-type movements and a vulnerability that only comes with lovers. The sexuality is the link which directly links the characters and indirectly drives the mystery. Imperoli has some beautiful compositions: some subjective, like looking into Erna Schurer or Monica Strebel's eyes, and some objective, as when Luca stares at the small of Claudia's back while he lays in bed. The dark side of Luca's sexual obsession is shown as well, and those scenes, like when Stefania and Luca tussle on the seaside, are disorienting and haunting.
The only reason that I can speculate as to the obscurity of Snapshot of a Crime is its lack of genre elements and lack of grandeur, as shown by Antonioni or Pasolini's cinema. Snapshot is by far not a giallo but has a mystery and characters just as intriguing as any giallo. The film has virtually no violence. Imperoli's subsequent and popular film, Blue Jeans, might have even erased the memory of Snapshot during its current time. Doubtful also, Imperoli was ever spoken in the same breath as Antonioni or Pasolini, unless they shared the same cinema bill. Just speculation on my part. However, as someone who often views gialli and is often inspired to have a regular viewing of Antonioni or Pasolini, I enjoyed Snapshop of a Crime. I often try to find cinema that I've heard nothing about to find something unexpected and unique. I succeeded this time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jose Maria Elorrieta's Feast of the Devil (1971)

Whether the cinema brought on the sleaze or the sleaze brought on the cinema Hans A. did not know. Gothic horror cinema, with its first images brought in 1910, alongside other modern technological advances by Thomas Edison, of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, continuing with 1931 and Bela Lugosi in Bram Stoker's Dracula, directed by Tod Browning, up to Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula in 1958, with villain Christopher Lee and hero Peter Cushing, as Dracula and Van Helsing, respectively, became a cinema that Hans knew well to a preternatural and intolerable degree: dreary, moldy, unhallowed gabled castles, high above a hill top, surrounded by darkness, while within, amongst the sinister scurrying of rats in wormy partitions, bats huddled on rotting rafters, and spiders of inordinate size weaved webs which hid even darker, danker catacombs within, were monsters. Born of superstitious folklore, such as shape-shifting men into ferocious animals, corpses reanimated from freshly-dug graves, and centuried noblemen, existing on the life blood of others, these elder monsters eventually gave way to newer ones. The Deep Ones could never be destroyed. For the present they would rest; but some day, if they remembered, they would rise again.
In the haunted cinema of Spain, which had borne its King's Men, Jesus Franco Manera and Jacinto Molina Alvarez, this cinema harbored Jose Maria Elorrieta, whose cinema Hans had witnessed firsthand with Curse of the Vampyr (1972) and could not explain its bodaciously curvy ladies, often starkly nude, and odd angles of atmospheric sinister scenes smeared on the gray celluloid with some red, sticky fluid. Not under lock and key in his film library, as filmed and released in the year before Elorrieta unleashed Curse, was Feast of the Devil, with its lurid tale populated by actors and actresses of its day with the evocation that the Old One would appear again on Candlemas, May Eve, or Walpurgis night. Would this be killing time at a cheap cinema show, seeing the inane performances over and over again without paying any attention to it? or would Feast of the Devil be a fancying of every contour of blasphemous overflowing unknown and inhuman evil with sleaze, now unleashed, unstoppable?
No, not really. Feast of the Devil is a tepid affair. Gorgeous Krista Nell is Hilda Salas who arrives at a train station to reunite with her sister, Maria (Veronica Lujan), who, previously missing after a thirty-day vacation, reappears looking disheveled and traumatized. At the hospital, Hilda meets young doctor, Carlos (Ennio Girolami), who's immediately taken with Hilda. Maria disappears at the hospital under circumstances as mysterious as her original disappearance, and Hilda goes to the seaside town where Maria vacationed, hoping to find answers. Inspector Gonzales (Julio Pena) promises to help: he tells Hilda of some of the local culture and its denizens, specifically of Dr. Tills Nescu (Espartaco Santoni), a wealthy physician and philanthropist and playboy, who lives in an old castle, atop a hill. Hilda begins to investigate by showing Maria's picture around. A DJ at a local disco (oh, yeah, baby) says he last saw Maria with Dr. Nescu. Hilda calls bingo, but the doctor's beautiful assistant, Andrea (Teresa Gimpera) has already tipped Dr. Nescu off. On his yacht, Hilda swims to meet the good doctor and Andrea for bikini cocktails. Dr. Nescu has a date for tonight but would Hilda meet him tomorrow for dinner? Yes, she will.
Santoni's Nescu looks like Sgt. Pepper, and his beautiful first date gets taken back to his castle where she's dispatched. Guessing from its English-language title, Nescu is making sacrifices to the Devil in exchange for worldly powers. During a swinging disco sequence, a truly awful band begins to play. Nescu and his colleagues are having a discussion about the paranormal. In a demonstration of his hypnosis powers, Nescu uses his mind to collapse the throat of the singer. What a favor. Bigger powers are at work, however, as there are intimations that Nescu's wealth, success, and love life are all tied into his Satanic work. Hilda, initially forthright in the search for her sister's captor and (possibly) murderer, gives into Nescu's charms. Poor Carlos doesn't stand a chance with Hilda. Andrea is becoming more and more agitated with Nescu's behavior: is she jealous of Hilda or fears that Nescu's doings are becoming way too dangerous?
No matter. Feast is conservative cinema done dully. The would be lover's web of Nescu, Hilda, Andrea, and Carlos is woefully unexplored. Nescu and Hilda is a slow courting, and when Hilda meets Nescu, she for all purposes, abandons her investigation. Hilda does nothing but change her clothes or sunbathes. Carlos does nothing but huffs and puffs. Andrea huffs and puffs. Nescu looks like Sgt. Pepper: different day, same outfit, different color, new medallion. All of this inane action could be spiced up and made interesting, but Elorrieta stalls. Even the real Gothic good stuff in the castle is reserved for the final act and delivered dryly. Bored himself, perhaps that is why Elorrieta threw the Gates wide open for Curse of the Vampyr with nothing held back. Nonetheless, Feast of the Devil is 70s European Cult Cinema and has its distinctive vibe but nothing else.
[Throat clearing. Back in character.] The passage through the vague abysses could have been frightful, for the Walpurgis-rhythm was vibrating, and at last Hans could have heard that hitherto-veiled cosmic pulsing which he so mortally dreaded. And relished. Just before he made the plunge the violet light went out and left him in utter blackness. Shub-Niggurath! Nothing, now, to be seen here from the depths.

I've culled the language from this review from Howard Phillips Lovecraft from primarily his tale, Dreams in the Witch-House but also from The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror. Some of the language is directly quoted from Lovecraft while others I have corrupted. His literature is some of the most imaginative that the English language has ever seen and is perfect for this Halloween season.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Angelo Pannacciò's Cries and Shadows (1975)

This post is part of the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon, hosted by Kevin Olson at his excellent film blog, Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies. Click the image on the right to learn more about it and click here to see some of the other excellent blogger submissions.

At the Vatican among the crowd in audience for a Papal Address on the true existence of the Devil, the camera harshly cuts to a young man bound to a bed, heckling the Pope's speech. With another harsh cut, a voluptuous nude woman lays atop an altar, adorned in black cloth, with a bunch a folks around her in black cloaks. The woman atop the altar is going to be "the host" for the Devil "who will bring about the apocalypse." The priest presiding over the black mass says some mumbo jumbo so the other participants can begin what they showed up for: an orgy. With a final harsh cut, a young nun is seen entering a nice home, where doctors are attending to a wounded person. Elena (Patriza Gori), the young nun, asks "What happened?" Your brother, Peter (Jean-Claude Verne), bound to the bed upstairs, attacked the poor person. Elena looks upon Peter in his room. Peter's wickedly possessed and spews "Untie Me!" when Elena enters. So begins Angelo Pannaccio's Cries and Shadows (1975).
In the wake of the cinematic ka-ching of William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), there were other film makers eager to reap some of its profits, primarily from Italy. Friedkin's well-received film worked on many levels: it is an engrossing character-driven drama, highlighted by intellectual themes such as the spiritual versus the secular and religion versus science; and The Exorcist had enough scares and provocative, transgressive sequences to satisfy the most rabid horror fan. The majority of the Italian films that I've seen made in its wake take two approaches: the more serious ones, which emphasize the intellectual themes from The Exorcist, such as Alberto de Martino's The Antichrist (1974) and Ovidio G. Assontis's Beyond the Door (1974; an Italian/American co-production), and the ones which emphasize the scares and the provocative scenes (read sleaze), such as Andrea Bianchi's Malabimba (1979) and Mario Bianchi's Satan's Baby Doll (1982). (I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorites, from Germany, Walter Boos's The Devil's Female (1974), shot in the style of his myriad Schoolgirl Report films but with a ridiculous litany of Satanic hijinx.) Angelo Pannaccio's Cries and Shadows is more akin to the original Exorcist and strikes a balance of drama and scares and sleaze.
After Elena hears the physician's diagnosis, "hysteria," and recommended treatment, "mental institution," she refuses to commit Peter. Elena goes to church the next morning and enters the confessional and begins to tell Peter's tale. Cries and Shadows cuts to flashbacks. Peter's problems began when he and some friends visited a local river, and as Peter was snapping shots with his camera, he spied a nude woman beckoning him from across the way. The woman was the same one atop the black-cloaked altar, and she didn't appear in any of the developed photos. Peter returns to the river scene where the woman was standing and finds a medallion in the river, depicting an upside-down cross and an unknown inscription. Since finding it, freaky stuff has been happening: he follows a mysterious woman to accompanying wails through the alleyways of his town and shoots a bottle of champagne in his girlfriend's face at her birthday party. Peter feels the pangs of pain in his chest and throws the medallion to the floor in his bedroom. Where the medallion falls, the woman appears to Peter, with her legs open, and she beckons "You've been looking for me, haven't you? Come into me." Peter jumps the lady and slits her throat with a nearby knife. Peter didn't kill anybody in his bedroom, but his girlfriend dies from a slit throat, while dancing on the disco floor.
Cries and Shadows truly benefits from its authentic location, an Italian town, high up on the side of a mountain. Peter's chase of the woman and the wails through the alleyway are haunting, as are the images of the church, which seems to loom over the town and hillside, as Elena ascends the stairs for confession. The film makers obviously knew the power of their location, so they integrated it into the possession plot line, which is what sets Cries and Shadows apart from the other Exorcist "inspired" films. Whereas little Regan was vulnerable from her emotional state (her career-driven mother and her neglecting father) and playing with Captain Howdy on the ouija board, Peter's hometown is the source for the evil. Revealed later in Cries and Shadows, in 1723, a heretic priest made the beast with two backs with a local woman who had given herself to the Devil as his "host." The black mass and orgy sequences (which litter the film in quite a few flashbacks) come from this ancient incident. The Inquisition rolls into to town to stop the evil but obviously fails. Also, in the other possession flicks, including The Exorcist, the possession victim becomes the host for the demonic spirit. However, in Cries and Shadows, Peter is just a conduit. The evil seems present anywhere Peter's been, primarily his bedroom. The devilish woman driving the action is often seen as the attacker, and often butt naked, as when she attacks poor Elena or Peter's mother (who doesn't survive the attack).
As the area is tied to the evil, the savior must come to the town to save it. The exorcist arrives for his ritual on Peter as the actor Richard Conte in his final film role. Conte is a wonderful, old school Italian-American actor after his role as Don Emilio Barzini in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) went abroad and lent his talent to many an excellent Italian crime flick, such as Tonino Ricci's The Big Family (1973), Duccio Tessari's Tony Arzenta (1973), and Fernando di Leo's The Boss (1973), for example. Often Conte dubbed himself in English, and his New York accent and his mannerisms often gave the cinema a real credibility. As he disembarks a boat to enter the little Italian town, dressed exactly like Max Von Sydow in the original (also to a tune which sounds a lot like James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," but I digress), his voice-over narration begins, and it's hostile speech. Satan has put a challenge before this exorcist in a battle of good versus evil. It's a good thing that Conte didn't do his own English dubbing here, because I immediately would have thought that Conte was coming to pop a cap in Peter's possessed ass. Conte's role is limited to the final fifteen (or so) minutes of Cries and Shadows in an unfortunately perfunctory exorcism scene.
The acting, save Conte, ain't that great but each tries his/her best. The scares are mostly effective with excellent use of the location. Pannaccio doesn't use music in most of the woman's attack scenes, so each is quietly creepy, as if an attacker is sneaking into your bedroom. Peter's initial scene, with the tossed medallion is freaky: to see her appear on the floor is well-executed. When Cries and Shadows is bad, I laughed. The champagne to Peter's girlfriend's face shouldn't have made me laugh, but it did (quite a bit). The actual exorcism or expected possession-type scenes aren't really there: Cries and Shadows is more like Jean Brismee's superior The Devil's Nightmare (1971), where a demonic figure gets devilish and frisky when necessary. The orgy scenes are appropriately sleazy, accompanied by organ music. Overall, Cries and Shadows is obscure Italian horror done cheap and will satisfy the rabid fan of Italian genre cinema for ninety minutes.

The Exorcist subgenre is a true blessing, and one of my favorites. Cries and Shadows ain't the greatest, but the genre has spewed out a lot worse.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fernando di Leo's Loaded Guns (1975)

Nora Green (Ursula Andress) is an English flight attendant who, upon landing in Naples, is asked by an unknown gentleman to deliver a letter for one-hundred dollars. Nora accepts and arrives at an amusement park where she delivers the letter to Silvera (Woody Strode). The contents of the letter are a veiled threat by someone named "The American" who intends to kill Silvera, a local crime boss. Silvera demands to know who gave Nora the letter, and his henchmen give her a nasty pummelling. She's eventually freed by Silvera's men, who begin tailing her to discover the whereabouts of "The American," but Nora collapses on the park grounds from the beating. Young acrobat, Manuel (Marc Porel), scoops up Nora in his arms and takes her to rest at his home. Manuel is curious as to why she was at the amusement park: he takes her to see the police, where she meets Commissario Calogero (Lino Banfi), the bumbling police captain, and beautiful, eccentric Rosy (Isabella Biagini), the possible mistress of rival crime boss Don Calo (Aldo Giuffre). All appearances lead to Nora stumbling into a volatile situation, in between the two biggest crime syndicates in Naples, the police, and "The American," so she decides to play with them...just a little bit.
By 1975, when Loaded Guns was released, Fernando di Leo had already directed several well-respected and "serious" crime pictures: Milano calibro 9 (1972), Manhunt (1972), The Boss (1973), and Shoot First, Die Later (1974). At the risk of alienating the audience which he had built with those films, Di Leo decided to put "serious" films aside and make a more playful and comedic picture, one that he had co-written with Enzo Dell'Acqua over a decade before (when the two were working in Westerns). Di Leo envisioned Loaded Guns as a film like Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) with a female protagonist who works over and in-between two rival crime families. This female protagonist would act in traditional "masculine" fashion by being sexually uninhibited, arrogant, and forthright while still keeping her traditional "feminine" traits. Di Leo wanted Swiss actress Ursula Andress for the role right from the beginning as his lead. Di Leo's producer, Armando Novelli, was hesitant for Di Leo to helm such a production, as were some of Di Leo's other collaborators, since Di Leo had built such a strong audience for his "serious" pictures. Nevertheless, Loaded Guns was completed and released, and probably more innovative and incendiary at the time of it's release, but it is nonetheless, a truly Di Leo film: playful and socially-critical, sometimes violent, frequently sexual, and of course, always irreverent.
Andress has always possessed a powerful sexuality on screen, and Di Leo does not hinder her in Loaded Guns. Her character, Nora Green, is the key to understanding Di Leo's style within the film. The film introduces some truly ridiculous and slapstick humor, suitable for any light comedy, but virtually unknown within Di Leo's cinema. Luis Bacalov, who frequently scores Di Leo's films, provides a Ragtime-ish score for the film, and it's a perfect accompaniment to the humor. The humor is broad but what is key is that it is almost all provided by the men: often buffoonish or seriously ironic, as the men are revealed as not self-assured and confident, but clueless and manipulated. The slapstick humor truly seems out of place but when the viewer sees the humor in relation Andress's character, it makes sense. For example, the very funny Lino Banfi plays two roles, and they are two examples of how Andress's character is able to operate successfully: Commissario Calogero, who cannot keep his inept police cohorts in line nor get Andress to stand still for a moment and cooperate, and a taxi driver, whose cab Andress frequently and fortuitously hops into. Andress's Green has both wrapped around her finger: the police aren't smart enough to keep up with her, and she can flash her legs and smile at the cab driver, having him melt on command, if she desires. The most subversive humor comes with the gangsters: both crime organizations (Silvera's and Don Calo's), including the police, have henchmen following her all over Naples, but she's not fazed. She instantly recognizes each and tells them where she's going and then gives each a wet kiss on the lips before exiting. Her romantic interest, Porel's Manuel thinks he has scooped up a damsel in distress at the amusement park but gets a true epiphany later, after she gives him good shagging, at gunpoint. It's funny to watch Nora cower in the corner while Manuel (who reveals himself also an ex-boxer) pummels Don Calo's men in a brawl: Manuel's not protecting Nora: she is letting him do all the dirty work. Most of the fights in the film, including a prolonged battle at the end, are full of ridiculous sight gags and gimmicks. Why? Because as Nora shows, and what Di Leo is trying to convey, is that men are controlling idiots, who often need a dose of humility by those we attempt to control.
Di Leo loves to leave the camera on Andress, and while the film is not graphically sexual, Loaded Guns ranges from risque to steamy. It's hilarious to watch Nora sashay out of Manuel's flat and into the elevator completely nude, where she asks the husband of an elderly couple to tie the back of her dress; or in a scene when Tano (Jimmy il Femomeno), the tramp-ish clown who works at Silvera's amusement park, encounters Andress in the bathtub, he immediately drops his pants and tells her his jacket "is not a problem." Nora doesn't bat an eye but suggests a little music before busting him over the head, only to call the bellboys to remove the "clog" in the bathtub. When Andress is sitting on a park bench or in a phone booth, she'll flash her legs from the cut in her skirt: her legs, e.g. her sexuality, are her loaded guns, and she can get what she wants with them. No doubt, this depiction of female sexuality probably rubbed the majority of the male audience the wrong way; and I think that is what Di Leo was going for.
Di Leo is a fierce opponent to conformity. Societal rules for gender roles or any societal rule that is oppressive and determinative, Di Leo shuns. Di Leo is a fierce advocate for freedom. In 1975 also, Di Leo directed and released Kidnap Syndicate, a serious film with overt themes of social criticism (even heavy-handed), unlike the playful Loaded Guns. In 1976, Di Leo would deliver Nick the Sting, which is very similar in tone and comedy to Loaded Guns, also set in the underworld, and Mr. Scarface, a film which I hold as a masterpiece, where Di Leo is able to synthesize his playful and comedic tone with his brooding and serious tone. The end result of Mr. Scarface is true court-jester cinema: biting satire combined with intense genre elements. In 1977, Di Leo would return to "serious" crime cinema with Blood and Diamonds, before helming his most controversial and irreverent film, To Be Twenty, a masterpiece and the culmination of all the themes with which he was working in the 1970s. In some ways, these themes and this style has always been present within Di Leo's cinema, perhaps just muted in most films, but Loaded Guns is the first film, in my opinion, where Di Leo loosens the seriousness and formalities and opens up. As with all of Di Leo's cinema, I enjoy Loaded Guns very much and I have no qualms in saying that I believe Di Leo is one of the best directors of the 1970s, period.
All objective facts about the production history of Loaded Guns are taken from the behind-the-scenes documentary, included on the Italian Raro release of Loaded Guns. Raro has released almost all of Di Leo's canon on dvd, and they are essential purchases for serious film buffs. See it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Osamu Fukutani's The Suicide Manual (2003)

Osamu Fukutani's dangerously-titled The Suicide Manual (2003) begins with a on-screen disclaimer, reading the film is not intended to promote suicide but to warn against it. The disclaimer feels as if a safeguard against legal liability, as if cinematically moving into real-life tragic territory with a commercial genre film. Within the Japanese film a familiar trope is used: a video medium, here a DVD, which is disseminated by a guru named Rikki (Yuko Nakamura) who sends the disc to anyone who asks for it and posts on her suicide message board. The images on the disc are truly a manual: a method of suicide is introduced with a title card, then Rikki appears to give a short speech on the method's effectiveness, especially the pain inflicted by such a method. As Suicide Manual progresses, the methods revealed to the film's viewer within the disc become less familiar and more hideous and surreal.
Yu (Kenji Mizuhashi) is tired. He works at a very small television production company, where his boss, Keita (Hideo Sakaki) gives him a new assignment. Recently, there has been a suicide within an apartment where some local high-school girls sealed themselves in a room and died from carbon-monoxide poisoning. Yu thinks the subject is too crass and exploitative for a television documentary, but Keita says that no one wants to see a sensitive treatment. Reluctantly along with his assistant Rie (Chisato Morishita), the two go and interview the locals and investigate the suicide scene. A high school student Nanami (Ayaka Maeda) shows at the scene while Yu and Rie are investigating. The young woman reveals to the duo that she was present at the suicide scene the night it happened; however, she was unable to go through with the pact and left. Nanami shows Yu a DVD and told her where she got it: Rikki, through her suicide message board. Yu asks to borrow the disc, and Nanami agrees.
The Suicide Manual is an odd film. It's a film like, say, David Cronenberg's Crash (1996) or Joel Schumacher's 8MM (1999) with superficial similarities structurally to both but really shares both film's depiction of fringe characters within a subculture that has an ethos totally unique to them. This type of cinema is often difficult for viewers: their characters and motivations are hard to relate to, and the viewer is often (perhaps intentionally) kept on the outside. While the subject matter of The Suicide Manual is as extreme as Crash or 8MM, its protagonist, Yu, is accessible. During his initial meeting with Nanami at the crime scene, Yu doesn't ask Nanami about why she would want to kill herself nor does he attempt to dissuade her from taking any future actions. The sense of fatigue which Yu projects at the beginning is really a mask for his own discontent and sadness. His investigation of the mysterious DVD leads him into an investigation about his own spiritual makeup. The sad seeds of suicide were already present within him, maybe deep down, and his exposure to Rikki's message on the disc perhaps allows those seeds to blossom.
The Suicide Manual plays primarily as a investigative mystery, as Yu tracks the source of the DVD, the identity of Rikki, and other surrounding facts. Fukutani drops another familiar trope within Japanese cinema into the mix: a supernatural element. Yu and Rie visit a medium who explains to the two that the souls of the dead who commit suicide will often possess the living in order to induce the unwilling into suicide. As the film plays out, Yu's reality begins changing as he gets more exposure within Rikki's subculture. As the methods of suicide on the disc are revealed, throughout the film, each becomes less familiar and more esoteric and cruel. Yu's life and what he perceives begins changing. The events are simply weird. Yu eventually posts on Rikki's board under a false name in order to infiltrate a suicide group. Yu's successful and the group meets at a restaurant. With drinks in front everyone at the table, one suggests poison and impulsively suggests drinking it right now in the restaurant. Yu and Rie leave as one begins to die. Two maudlin young women with their heads down in sadness reveal themselves in a perky smiling mood at Yu's car, right after. They would like a ride from Yu, who's leery at the two's violent mood change but agrees. They have an interesting confrontation a little later. The final third of the film is odd and unreal, as the investigative mystery has been either been solved or Yu's finds it by then irrelevant.
Fukutani's film is low-budget and shot-on-video. It has few locations but they are all authentic. It's a quiet film composed of static shots and little use of music. The production office location where Yu works for all I know could be Fukutani's actual production office to save money. The use of multiple genres tropes is interesting: investigative mystery, supernatural elements, and reality-based horror. Fukutani's treatment of these tropes comes from within the character Yu, and Fukutani uses his spiritual dilemma to alter the tone of the film as Yu deteriorates (?) or awakens (?). The viewer has to speculate from where this source the alteration in Yu's spiritual makeup is coming. Some quite horrific bits are included. It seems to me very doubtful that anyone could view this film as a promotion for suicide. In fact, the use of a documentary film maker as its lead character opens a sufficiently meta element to The Suicide Manual to keep it from being completely commercial and exploitative. In any case, the film is still very affecting. The Suicide Manual is a rightfully obscure film that the curious has to actively seek in order to see it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell (2009)

I absolutely loathe the phrase, "It isn't personal: it's business," which is often corporate code for: "please understand that I'm screwing you over, because money is involved. Money occupies a separate sphere from my morality, so forgive me." Sam Raimi's return to horror after his highly-successful trio of Spider-Man films plays jokingly on the phrase, as Alison Lohman's Christine Brown learns in Drag Me to Hell (2009).
Christine is a bank officer who is competing with colleague, Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee) for the coveted position of Assistant Bank Manager. This position involves greater responsibility (and some prestige and more money) but also involves, as Christine's boss (David Paymer) says, "making the tough decisions." An elderly and ill woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), sits at Christine's desk, tapping her grotesque and brittle fingernails. Mrs. Ganush tells her tale: her recent medical problems, as she coughs phlegm into her handkerchief, have put a strain on her finances and she is not able to make her mortgage payments. She needs an extension. As Mrs. Ganush removes her ghastly dentures to make room to loot Christine's desktop candy display, Christine consults her boss who tells her: "Your call." With a quick glance at her competition and the empty desk of the new Assistant Bank Manager, Christine is turning this woman's request down. Mrs. Ganush is not above begging and she takes to her knees. "Security," yells Christine, and the woman stands, now proud and resentful that Christine shamed her. Paymer's boss praises Christine's behavior, and as Christine leaves the parking garage that evening, Mrs. Ganush is waiting in the backseat of her car...
Sam Raimi, today, is one of the elite Hollywood directors after a successful trilogy of big-budget summer blockbusters, Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007). His roots, however, lay in low-budget horror, and his early trilogy, Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1989), and Army of Darkness (1992), is very much loved by horror fans worldwide. Raimi can conjure scares: there are enough in the original Evil Dead for the whole series. Raimi, also, can really bring the laughs, as Evil Dead 2 can testify. His sense of humor is tightly-woven with his horror, and Rami's blend of horror and hijinx is truly unique to him. Drag Me to Hell is a return to his roots, and Raimi succeeds.
Mrs. Ganush's backseat confrontation with Christine is truly horrific, as the two beat on each other in a small space, but I'll be damned (bad pun intended) if it isn't hilarious as well. It's absolutely ridiculous to watch Christine beat Mrs. Ganush with a stapler and even catching a lucky shot stapling her right eye shut. The prolonged scene of car combat ends with Mrs. Ganush casting a curse upon Christine. The curse involves three days of torture and ends with the titular trip to the underworld, and over the course of the three days, Christine tries to end the curse. One of the best scenes (and is torture to anyone who has been in the situation) is when Christine first meets her boyfriend's parents (with her boyfriend played by Justin Long as Clay Dalton). Clay is a sweet guy, and he really loves Christine. Clay's parents are affluent folks in a fancy mansion who only want the best person for their son. Rami jokes on this scenario: making Christine's dinner scene like an interview for a position, as she begins freaking out to the demonic visions coming out of the kitchen (and the cake that she baked as gift for his parents). Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), a local fortune-teller who has been helping Christine end the curse, hooks Christine up with Ms. Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza), a medium who previously witnessed the same curse firsthand but was unable to stop it. Ms. San Dena has been waiting forty years for the opportunity to confront the evil again, and she'll do it...for ten thousand dollars.
The humor of Drag Me to Hell is rich, as Rami's playing on the joke about the "almighty dollar." Raimi still loves the Three Stooges jokes: an anvil tied to a rope is fortuitously dropped on a foe in the flick. I was laughing almost the entire runtime of Drag Me to Hell. A lot of the horror scenes are jump scares with a lot gross-out scenes, which mostly involves fluids coming out of or going into people's mouths. The script by Sam and Ivan Raimi is smart, and the story is paced well (chronicling Christine's cursed three days). The humor and scares are fantastic, and Lohman is terrific as Christine. Rao and Barraza are also standout with their eccentric characters. Save a predictable plot device towards the end, which anyone could see coming, there are few flaws within Drag Me to Hell. Raimi's unique humor and blend of horror carries the day.

I love it when veteran film makers loosen up and have fun again with cinema, as Raimi certainly is with Drag Me to Hell. It's a helluva lot of fun, and one certainly worth checking out. See it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rino Di Silvestro's Werewolf Woman (1976)

Pulsating rhythmic beats, a ring of fire, and within, a nude Annik Borel gyrates and dances under the full moon. After giving the camera (and the viewer) an eyeful of her birthday suit, her character becomes a blonde werewolf. She moves into the countryside, where a group of folks are carrying pitchforks and torches (the universal symbol for lynch mob). Borel's wolf catches and kills one of the mob, but the mob subdues her and ties her to a stake for a death by fire. Cut to modern times, where Daniella (Borel again) wakes from a nightmare. Her father, Count Nesari (Tino Carraro) consults her physician (Elio Zamuto) and tells the good doctor this: Daniella, now a grown woman, was raped by a maniac when she was fifteen. This trauma has had a severe and understandable psychological effect upon Daniella. Recently, the Count told Daniella of her ancestor to whom she bears a striking resemblance. This ancestor was believed to be a lycanthrope and was killed because of that belief. Zamuto's doctor makes the connection: Daniella's inability to interact socially because of her adolescent trauma combined with the effect of the legendary ancestral tale will produce unique behavior during a full moon. Oh really? Like what? Well....Elena (Dagmar Lassander), Daniella's sister arrives home from America with her handsome new husband on an evening with a full moon. Daniella after spying the brightly-lit moon retires for the evening. Daniella awakens to peep in on her sister and her husband making love. Daniella flows down the stairs in her see-through nightgown and exits the villa. Elena's husband hears a noise on the grounds and investigates. He discovers Daniella outside and she attempts to seduce him. A little reluctant at first, he gives into Daniella's charms until she rips his throat out. His corpse gets tossed into a ravine by Daniella, while she earns a month-long trip to the local asylum....
With a title like Rino di Silvestro's Werewolf Woman (1976) the viewer might expect a sexy lady lycanthrope popping out of bushes and around corners on unsuspecting victims. Not quite. Save the werewolf suits for Naschy's Waldemar and forget the slightly misleading title. Werewolf Woman is more akin to a possession tale, a la William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973) than a story about shape-shifting. Italian genre film makers were masters of ripping...err...paying homage to successful commercial films. Two of my favorite sub-genres are all films made in the bloody wake of Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) and those coming in the vomitous wave of The Exorcist. Some of the best Italian possession flicks are Franco Lo Cascio & Angelo Pannaccio's Cries and Shadows (1975), Andrea Bianchi's Malabimba (1979), and Mario Bianchi's Satan's Baby Doll (1982). The Italians cut down on the spiritual and psychological elements of Friedkin's original and upped the exploitative elements within: a litany of bedside profanity, copious amounts of nudity, seriously bloody violence, and an overall sense of perversity. Di Silvestro delivers on all counts.Borel's Daniella attempts to hide her affliction by moving around the country, and Werewolf Woman becomes a series of sexual escapades cum violence. The occasional scene with Daniella's father, Elena, the good doctor, or a police officer pops up, but they're just transitional links between the sex and violence. Daniella is often a voyeur and a predator: when she spies two lovers, the viewer knows she's going to get her prey. Di Silvestro even takes the time have his deus-ex-machina appear to help Daniella in a tight fix in the form of a nymphomaniac, who gropes Daniella sickeningly, while Di Silvestro lovingly captures the scene with his camera. A lot of the scenes of Werewolf Woman are perverted and offensive, but Di Silvestro doesn't shy away or hold back: Werewolf Woman is a series of escalating indulgent scenes that the viewer cannot stop watching. There is so much vigor within Werewolf Woman, I was never able to tell who was more excited for the next scene: me, to see how Di Silvestro could top the previous one, or Di Silvestro, who seemingly goes out of his way to compose sequences simultaneously ridiculous, offensive, and over-the-top. God Bless him for it.Rino Di Silvestro, alongside Cesare Canevari and Luigi Batzella, is one of the true madmen of Italian genre cinema. I learned via Twitter at Fangoria Magazine of Di Silvestro's recent death. He will be truly missed. Di Silvestro made few films but each has such a trashy charm: Women in Cell Block 7 (1973); Red Light Girls (1973); Werewolf Woman (1976); Hanna D (1982; coming soon on dvd from Severin films); and The Erotic Dreams of Cleopatra (1985; watch this space here). His cinema never feels cold and commercial but always empassioned: it's as if Di Silvestro was born to make his cinema. So much enthusiasm is present throughout. Often the sex and violence is too much and too offensive, but rarely will anyone see a film maker who tumbles so headlong into to it. Often humorous because of its ridiculousness and its over-the-top scenes, Werewolf Woman is a curious gem from one of Italy's wildest artists. See it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Steve Barkett's The Aftermath (1982)

Brilliant. Phenomenal. Amazing. These are words that describe Steve Barkett's The Aftermath (1982), and perhaps, I'm the only one who is using them. Barkett's film is a true labor of love: he co-wrote the story with Stanley Livingston (Chip from My Three Sons), wrote the screenplay, produced, edited, directed and stars as the film's hero, Newman. Newman, Williams (Jim Danforth), and Mathews (Larry Latham) are astronauts who are about to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere after a year-long space journey but they cannot make contact with anyone on the planet. What's going on down there? Nuclear holocaust and the end of humanity, save a bunch of folks turned into mutants and a retched gang of evil men, led by Cutter (Sid Haig). Cutter and crew like to kill the guys and kidnap the ladies to hold hostage at his camp. Newman and company make an entry a little off the coast of Los Angeles. Only Newman and and Mathews survive. After a fireside battle with a gang of hungry mutants, Newman and Mathews awaken to a city of rubble and ash. At a local station, Newman finds a dead radio controller's final words recorded on tape (voiced by Dick Miller) and learns the final fate of humanity. Newman and Mathews find new digs on the skirts of the city: Mathews wants to stay put and build a new life, while Newman leaves to roam the wasteland, looking for survivors and getting into a few adventures, too.
The Aftermath is dead serious cinema. Beefy Barkett as Newman is a Homeric hero: a scholar, a fighter, a lover, a father, and a savior of surviving humanity. During his trip out into the wasteland, Newman gets caught in a acid rainstorm and takes shelter within a museum. Inside, he encounters The Curator (played by legendary Forrest J. Ackerman) and his ward, Christopher (played by Barkett's real-life son, Christopher Barkett). Ackerman's Curator gives Newman a history lesson on the fate of humanity, through the various stages of civilization, while he also reveals to Newman that he is dying from contamination. Christopher becomes the ward of Newman, and the two roam the wasteland together. Along the way, Newman and Christopher are attacked by the sniping Sarah (Lynne Margulies), who has escaped the evil and groping hands of Cutter. She joins Newman and Christopher in their journey after the trio dispatches some lurking mutants; and the three become a family. Newman quickly beds sexy Sarah, only then to go downstairs in his pajamas to Christopher for a bedtime story and a life lesson. Cutter and company are a dangerous presence, so Newman, Mathews, Sarah, and Christopher plan a daring escape of the hostages in a nighttime raid on the camp...Sid Haig, as Cutter, is the most evil of men. His portrayal is akin in sleaziness only to the Devil himself, and Haig is a good foil to angelic Newman. Bald and bearded Haig is one of the most charismatic actors of exploitation cinema with numerous credits with standouts being Jack Hill's Spider Baby (1968), The Big Doll House (1971), and Coffy (1973; alongside Pam Grier), for example. He has experienced a resurgence in his career after appearances in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) and his brilliant turn as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie's House of a Thousand Corpses (2003), for example. Lynne Marguilies is most notable for being Andy Kaufman's girlfriend. She's not the greatest actress but she gives her all in her performance as Sarah: she's meek and sweet, kind and caring, and tough and tumble. Some of the best scenes are with Steve and Christopher Barkett together: watching Newman place a loaded gun in the hands of young Christopher for target practice is simultaneously humorous and disturbing. The relationship between the two is genuine and real and it totally feels like a caring father-and-son relationship.Steve Barkett, who has other acting credits, has only directed one subsequent film, Empire of the Dark (1990; also with Steve and Christopher Barkett, which has alluded me for years. I will dish out some serious cash for a copy if anyone has a knowledge of its VHS whereabouts). The Aftermath rings true as an exploitation film: some sex, violence, and stunts. The sex is brief and pretty tame but the violence is really bloody. The first scene of Cutter and crew hunting down an unsuspecting group has many a bloody gunshot explosion (including a shotgun blast head explosion). There a is a wonderful hand-to-hand fight scene with Newman and a foe on the rooftop of a high skyscraper that brings its actors a little close to the edge from time to time. There is many a fall and a tumble taken by an actor and none look trained to take such a fall (so I practically winced through all of the amateur stunts). The music and look of the film is right out classic American sentimental cinema: strong emotions with accompanying appropriate music with classic compositions. The Aftermath is ultimately, a film about good versus evil.The Aftermath has practically no budget. A cursory glance at the opening credits reveal the film is truly a family affair with few participants who appear multiple times under different credits. The spaceship models and spaceship set aren't credible and really laughable. The mutant fx are incredibly cheesy. However, there are some very good matte painting backgrounds which create the apocalyptic background and some of the other visual effects are entertaining, such as the red acid rainstorm that Newman encounters. Some visual effects are predictably cheesy, such as the ray gun that Sarah uses during the raid on Cutter's camp. The Aftermath is too ambitious to hide its budget and it doesn't also hide its heart. More than anything else, enthusiasm permeates The Aftermath to make what would be a shitty b-movie into a true cult classic. Short and stocky Barkett as Newman is far from the ideal looking hero and the performances, save Haig, are truly amateur. Newman's voice-over narration is brilliant, and the story and dialogue are something else. I had a complete and total smile on my face during the entire running time of The Aftermath and I've seen it multiple times. A true classic of American B-Cinema, The Aftermath deserves a wider audience to experience its hidden charm.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Herman Yau's The Untold Story III (1999)

Herman Yau's The Untold Story III (1999) is the third in a series, no doubt cashing in on its infamous original and Category III classic, Yau's The Untold Story (1993). Although the original's director, producer, Danny Lee (who also stars in both as Inspector Lee), and writer (Kam Fai Law) return, there is little linking The Untold Story III to its previous films. The title card of The Untold Story III reveals the film is allegedly based upon an actual event: a murder committed by four young men, who were later convicted in Hong Kong for the crime despite the absence of any physical evidence or witnesses. The only police proof offered into evidence were the young men's confessions.
At the local police station, a young woman (Emily Kwan) enters, where two smiling idiot cops sit behind the counter. She complains that her brother, Ma (Ken Lo) has been missing for four weeks. She returns to the police station three days later after having a nightmare where the ghostly visage of her brother appeared and told her to go looking for Man. The sister reports her nightmare to the police (who think the woman is a little crazy by now). A few days later after consulting her father, Lo Lieh in one of his final performances, the sister believes her brother must have been kidnapped. During her final complaint at the police station, the cops listen to her story. Inspector Lee (Danny Lee) is assigned to the case. After a botched ransom sting, the police visit Ma's home where they discover a ledger, revealing a list of names and money lent and owed. So Ma was a loan shark. The police begin questioning the names in the ledger about the debts. One young man, looking tired and defeated, Man (Sam Lee), admits to owing money to Ma and also admits to killing him with three accomplices, Lui (Alex Lam), Hau (Samuel Leung), and Cheng. The police nab Lui and Hau and begin to piece together their case by collecting evidence; however, there is none to be found...On paper, The Untold Story III reads as a compelling police procedural, including the recreation of the crime leading to the trial. However viewer, that ain't what you're going to get. The film's irreverent director is one of Hong Kong's most creative and interesting working, while its producer, Lee, and writer, Law, bring back the disturbing and bizarre hybrid tone of the horrific and the humorous of the original Untold Story. The end result is The Untold Story III being compellingly watchable and intriguing, if just alone for its imaginative execution. The sequences vary in the extreme in tone: from slapstick comedic to very dark and intense, sometimes very close in proximity. One of the most disturbing aspects of the original Untold Story was the juxtaposition of ridiculous and nonsensical comical scenes (often with Danny Lee) with scenes of dark and sinister violence (with Anthony Wong). Like Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972), the comedic scenes don't balance the film's horrific scenes, creating a more easy-going experience for the viewer; rather, the inclusion of the sometimes very light comedy made The Untold Story even more disturbing with its drastic shift in tone during scenes. The Untold Story III doesn't match its original in terms of violence (it's Category II, like a "hard" R-rating), but there are multiple shifts in tone to accompany its multiplicity of treatments: the scenes go from slapstick comedic, to dramatic, to horrific (both supernatural and real-life), often changing tones within the scenes. The first time the viewer sees the four young men, they are wandering the streets in a daze, almost zombie-like. They are looking for a new apartment or looking to buy paper offerings to burn for Ma. Apparently after the murder, none could sleep or eat. Yau doesn't show many supernatural scenes but just their effects on the alleged perpetrators: the viewer can't tell if its paranoia or guilt or Ma's ghost which is plaguing them. Sleep deprivation and hunger leads the four into psychosis, so as their fear builds they actually start believing in the hallucinations that they start seeing. The four spent the money that they borrowed from Ma on partying, and these scenes are laughably bad and fun. They look like bad pop-music videos or teenage clothes commercials, accompanied by the most vapid imagery in dance clubs and in the street. The even weirder sequences follow in the events of the evening after the murder, as the four go to play Mah-jong or shoot pool ("We needed to relax," says Hau). When one of the four has a perfect hand in Mah-jong, they take it as a bad omen and split. Danny Lee's Inspector Lee was a ladies' man in the original Untold Story, and his scenes often involved him sashaying into the police station with a lady under each arm. In this film, Lee's character is dressed like a Japanese high-school student with a jarring affectation, a Sherlock Holmes-ish pipe. In one scene, during the police confessions, Lee is summoned from a party and he arrives wearing a ship captain's outfit, as if he just disembarked The Love Boat. It's completely nonsensical, and perhaps the humor is an intentional commentary on the crime: it's almost mind-boggling that four could be convicted of a crime absent any direct evidence, let alone proof of the corpse. The police are often depicted as inept and misguided, as in the opening scene with Ma's sister, and even their investigation is far-fetched and ridiculous. For example, the four admit to dismembering the body and dumping it in the trash. The police can only speculate that the body is in a local landfill; and their solution is to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to comb the landfill, perhaps for months, to find the body. Of course, in a unintentionally humorous sequence with Lee, the prosecutor finds this idea, and the whole "case," ludicrous. Danny Lee is perhaps best known to Western Asian cult film fans for his role as the police officer who becomes Yun-fat Chow's reluctant ally in John Woo's The Killer (1989). In the 1990s, Lee produced (and often starred as a police officer) in some truly nasty Category III productions, such as Billy Tang's Dr. Lamb (1992) with Simon Yam, The Untold Story, Parkman Wong's Portrait of a Serial Rapist (1994) and Shoot to Kill (1994). Lee is just as infamous as Yau and Billy Tang in the 90s HK Category III scene as anyone else. His performance in the film is just bizarre: there is no adequate way to describe it, as if Inspector Lee doesn't seem to flow from logic and deduction, but....somewhere else. Sam Lee is a great actor and has appeared in numerous films. He can perform comedy as well as any other young actor and can play intense just as well (see Wilson Yip's Bio-Zombie (1998) and Pou-Soi Cheang's Dog Bite Dog (2006), respectively). Sam Lee is called upon by Yau to perform at both ends of the spectrum here and he succeeds very well. This is one of the last performances by the Shaw Brothers' greatest cinematic villian, the charismatic Lo Lieh, and he shines in his few scenes. Herman Yau, as I've stated on this blog before, makes exciting cinema, period. When Yau is nontraditional, which is often, he is without equal. The scene in The Untold Story III where the four plan and practice the murder of Ma is brilliant. I could watch it over and over. Yau owns low-budget cinema, primarily because of his imagination and his innovative visual style and risk-taking. The Untold Story III is so bizarre and unusual that it feels original and unexpected. When film makers can accomplish this feeling, they have earned a fan, here, for life.