Saturday, February 27, 2010

Herman Yau's Nighmares in Precinct 7 (2001)

Jing (Andy Hui) is a good-looking, young, and arrogant cop. As he is being toasted at a party for one of his recent successes, he gives a false speech about how grateful he is for the help of his team and his superiors. With voice-over narration, Jing reveals that he really thinks everyone around him is an idiot and only wants to stay close to him to reap the benefits of his successes. He has little time for his cute girlfriend or for his mother and could care less about impressing any of the top brass. The following day Jing and his crew of three are performing a stakeout of a group of violent criminals. One of his crew Jap (Simon Lui, also co-writer) tells Jing that the criminals are about to exit and that they should wait for backup before advancing upon them. Jing dispenses with the backup and orders his crew to take the criminals down. Two of the officers are killed, Jap is injured, and Jing takes a bullet into the back of his skull inducing a coma.
Two years later and pretty nurse Miss Oscar (Loletta Lee) is attending to bed-ridden Jing whose eyes finally open. In the interim of his sleep, Jing learns that his mother has died, his girlfriend has moved on with her life, and that he has a new ability: a sixth sense, the ability to see ghosts around him and interact with them. Jing kindles a friendship with ghost Kit (Tat-Ming Cheung) who teaches him about the supernatural world. Jing's first assignment upon return to the police force is to arrest a serial rapist and killer who targets young nurses. Pretty Miss Oscar, who has fallen in love with her patient, Jing, according to Kit, has a shortened life line; and Jing thinks that she is the next victim...
Despite its English-language title that suggests a singular location with perhaps some spooky, paranormal events going on, Herman Yau's Nightmares in Precinct 7 (2001) is, by all appearances, a star vehicle for its leading man Andy Hui. Hui's character, Jing, is the focus, and Hui gets the opportunity with Yau and Lui's screenplay to work the dramatic range. Hui plays a hero who learns a little humility along the way and the value of help from others. Nightmares has action, comedy, drama, romance, mystery, and just a smidgen of horror. Very broad in its approach, Yau's film is unfortunately very average.
Lee's Miss Oscar is super cute and super sweet and watching her have a blossoming, shy romance with Hui's Jing was endearing at times. However, as Hui's character grows during the film, Lee's character doesn't change focus and grow at all, a true wasted opportunity. Miss Oscar is such a likable character and the potential to engage the viewer's interest could have been heightened, as it's almost telegraphed that she is the killer's next victim. Instead, Lee's character pops up in the final two-thirds of the film, as needed, for either a romantic scene with Hui or, in one of the rare scenes where Hui is absent from the screen, a target for the killer. The mystery behind the identity of the killer is fairly mediocre: the rapist/killer has eluded the police for two years (while Jing was sleeping), and soon after Hui takes over the case, he makes an associational link with the killer's patterns which seems quite obvious and that the police would have to be fairly careless not to notice. Hui's scenes with Cheung's Kit are somewhat humorous, yet Hui can't really pull off any comedy. In fact, Jing's supernatural ability is essential to the storyline but it feels like a gimmick that could be done without. The only aspect of the film which truly stands out are Yau's action scenes, which I'm convinced that Yau could direct while sleeping. During the opening action sequence and in a chase scene involving the always welcomed Suet Lam, Yau delivers his kinetic and exciting camera work and some nifty touches, as when the criminals discover the police's identity during the stakeout. Too little action, however, to recommend the film for these scenes. As for horror, the viewer can blink and miss all of those.
Finally, the ending was going for the exact opposite of comedy yet it had me laughing quite hard for its ridiculousness. An extremely average Herman Yau film, Nightmares in Precinct 7 is only for his extremely die hard fans.

Sogo Ishii's Labyrinth of Dreams (Yume no ginga) (1997)

Film maker Sogo Ishii is a true aesthete yet does not take visual storytelling literally. His films are stories told with images and they are often quite stunning. Perhaps, the most powerful aspects of his cinema come from subtle flourishes which undercut, compete, or overshadow the images on screen. His punk rock flicks, however, like Crazy Thunder Road (1980), Burst City (1982), or Electric Dragon 80000 V (2001), for example, cannot be described in this manner, but his Labyrinth of Dreams (Yume no ginga) (1997) very much can be. Shot in black and white in a rural, quiet setting, little dialogue is spoken, where the emotion lies in the compositions and charged within its characters.
Tomiko (Rena Komine) is a bus conductor whose friend, Tsuyako (Tomoka Kurotani) was engaged to be married to Nikata (Tadanobu Asano). Tsuyako died before her marriage. In letters to Tomiko, she confesses fear of Nikata, as if she believes her fiance wants to murder her. Nikata is a bus driver, and recently there was a collision involving a bus and a passing train with deaths resulting from within the bus. Double suicide? reads the newspaper. A bus conductor and driver is a symbiotic relationship: the driver focuses solely upon driving his passengers to safety while the conductor collects tickets, announces stops, and most importantly at train crossings guides the bus safely across the tracks, warning the driver of approaching trains. Tsuyako was a bus conductor, and the driver was Nikata. Now Nikata is the new driver and Tomiko is the conductor upon his route.The image, the first image of Asano as Nikata, comes from the eyes of Tomiko as she spies him sleeping on the train tracks apparently unaware of an oncoming train. Tomiko screams, silently as Ishii dispenses with her audio, and stirs Nikata who coolly wakes up to walk off the tracks. Tomiko's eyes are often the focus as Ishii gives her frequent close-ups in Labyrinth, and she speaks loudly with just her looks. Komine's Tomiko stands upright and focused behind the driver's seat on the bus while doing her duty, looking always forward and always slightly behind Nikata who's driving. When the two interact, they are nearly silent and slow interactions with either on the sides of table. Despite any gentleness from the two characters, these scenes are always confrontational. Tomiko falls in love with Nikata and she becomes obsessed with the same obsession as Tsuyako: what is hidden within Nikata and who is he? Tomiko doesn't completely trust Nikata and does not completely trust herself to give herself completely to him. Emotions are most powerfully expressed through letters in Yume no ginga. When a letter is received by a character, it is read aloud to the viewer through voice-over. There's a real intimacy to the words, and it's almost as if Ishii is breaking an unspoken rule, as the culture that is depicted is very quiet and reserved. The substance of the letters are hopes and fears and dreams and doubts. A second letter will follow a first, asking its reader to almost ignore what is written in the first. The timing of the arrival of a letter, especially to Tomiko, is always fortuitous or destined. As Tomiko begins her own correspondence with her friend Chieko (Kotomi Kyono), circularity begins, as if Tomiko is about to walk in the same footsteps as Tsuyako. Ishii penned his script from the novel by Kyuusaku Yumeno, and amazingly, he's able to transform an almost exclusively literary trope to film. Having letters read aloud and watching people read letters is the antithesis of the visual medium, yet Ishii is able to place these scenes seamlessly within Labyrinth. The dramatic conflict comes with his compositions but the emotions are charged with these words.Labyrinth of Dreams feels exactly as its title suggests. There are would-be innocuous scenes of daily routine upon the bus with Nikata and Tomiko. The scenes while driving are funneled for the viewer as if he/she is only able to see what the driver has in front of him. Ishii shows little of that. Tunnels and train crossings are amazingly powerful when they appear and they are shown coldly and symmetrically. Likewise, the shots of the actors are very meticulously composed: where someone is standing or how someone is moving is very important. Then there are some scenes where Ishii lets go into subjectivity. This imagery must come from dreams.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ti West's Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009), the sequel to Eli Roth's best film, Cabin Fever (2002), takes place soon after events in the original. There are no spoilers within of Cabin Fever 2 but there are, unavoidably, spoilers for the original movie.
The Good: Joshua Malkin's screenplay from a story by Randy Pearlstein and the film's credited director, Ti West, seeks to continue the original's quirky humor and gross-out gore scenes and place the hijinx in a high-school setting. The narrative of Cabin Fever 2 also sets out from the original to have Cabin Fever 2 a stronger, stand-alone film: only two characters from the original appear, one whom is very much welcomed while the other is almost unrecognizable, and the horror theme of the "contaminated water" tenuously links the two films. Beyond that the film really begins with a blood-stained bus full of students on the way to school while a water truck follows behind. The water was obtained at the same source as in the original, and in a fun animated sequence behind the credits, it is shown how quickly the water is moving in and around town. Cabin Fever 2 moves in closer with its main character, John (Noah Segan) who harbors a serious secret love for Cassie (Alexi Wasser) who just broke up with her arrogant, bully boyfriend, Marc (Marc Senter). It's the morning of the prom, and John and his best friend, Alex (Rusty Kelley) do not have dates...yet. The dialogue is well-written, and the characters are well-drawn. All the scenes within the first half of the film are energetic and fun with likable characters with each actor giving an enthusiastic performance. There is a real attempt by the participants to evoke a classic sense of teen comedy from older films. John, Alex, and Cassie are likable characters, and it is easy to watch them. John, especially, is a refreshing character, as he seems to wear his heart on his sleeve. Even the gross bits induce a chuckle, especially a sequence involving Alex in a restroom. The Bad: Eventually in Cabin Fever 2 the gore scenes take over the film. Throughout the whole film, it doesn't feel as if any of the film participants are making any genuine attempts at scares. Those fun characters from the first half slip into victim mode, making the first half seem like just a vehicle to get the viewer to a gross-out finale, rather than creating likable characters. After the first half of the film, some of the violent scenes get really brutal and seem out of place for a film that has such an overall air of light fun. Cabin Fever 2 ends more than once, by the way.
The Ugly: Cabin Fever 2 suffers from a serious schism: little motifs and bits from lots of types of films thrown together in a non-organic way. The film's credited director, Ti West, reveals in an interview here and from a news report here (which corroborates what is related here) that he apparently butt heads with the producers (the IMDb lists sixteen people holding a producer credit on the film) over which direction to take the film. The end result is a film that is undeniably fun at times yet wholly unsatisfying.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ti West's Trigger Man (2007)

Ti West directed, edited, shot, co-produced and wrote Trigger Man (2007) after another production didn't work out. He approached Larry Fessenden, who produced his debut feature-length film, The Roost (2005), with another idea, which West describes as an "experimental horror movie" without any horror conventions like "jump scares." Trigger Man, also, would be a film where the viewer would never see the killers' point of view. West's script was based on a location, one "right behind the house where he grew up" in Delaware. The film was shot in seven days in sequential order with an eighteen-page script with an "inexpensive HD camera that Larry Fessenden owned" with no improvisation from its main three actors who were not professionals. Its story is about three young male friends who reunite in New York City and take a trip out into the woods for hunting. While there, they encounter what looks like an abandoned factory where a sniper has holed up with his sight upon them.
West takes risks with his cinema, as his filmography shows, and often his risk-taking alienates most viewers. Trigger Man flows from the Dogme school of filmmaking and is, more or less, faithful to its manifesto: natural light, organic shooting, primarily handheld, minimal plot and character exposition, and minimal music. Combined with the Dogme influence is West's conscious attempt to make an "experimental" horror film: no foreshadowing, no dramatic music to heighten tension (no attempts, period, to create artificial tension) and no atmospheric flourishes to create foreboding. West's primary artistic tools to create a successful horror film are his compositions, the intimacy that he creates with his viewer with the action, and the sound design by Graham Reznick.West's compositions are excellent. The opening title sequence of Trigger Man with a static shot of a New York skyline at dawn with Reznick's disorienting sound design accompanying the on-screen title appearance gives the film a feel like something out of American cinema in the 1970s. Likewise the initial shots of the interior city streets of New York are shot through a windshield of a moving car, giving the film a gritter feel like a crime flick or Midnight Cowboy. When the three characters unite at the beginning of the film, initially the shooting style already makes the viewer feel as if he/she is in New York and knows these characters. The handheld shooting style with only natural light gives an intimacy to the proceedings like a documentary or a home movie. When the action moves to the Delaware woods, it is a jarring juxtaposition from modern man-made structures to lush greenery. As the predominant color is green, West plays with the shooting of the focus of the foreground and the background in the action. Something innocuous will be in focus in the foreground while the three hunters, with their bright orange hunting vests, move fuzzily in the background. The dramatic action of Trigger Man will be the most divisive aspect of the film for viewers. There is no audience character and there are no attempts to elicit sympathy. The viewer is kept out of the action as an observer. Not only does the documentary-like, Dogme shooting style emphasis this, but also West's script and direction. West attempts to bring his viewer close to the action but not within the characters. Sean (Sean Reid) tells his city buddies, Reggie (Reggie Cunningham) and Ray (Ray Sullivan), that hunting takes patience. Likewise, the viewer is going to have to patient with West's pacing: the viewer is another (yet silent) guest in this hunting party and has to wait, like the hunters, for some action. The quiet moments and the deliberate pacing no doubt emphasize the subsequent intense scenes; and as the film unfolds, Trigger Man becomes quite intense and often quite violent.Trigger Man is set over the course of one hunting day, and occasionally a title card will appear in documentarian fashion revealing the time. It has a stripped-down narrative and accompanying shooting style. West says that sound design is very important in a horror film. Likewise, his use of Graham Reznick's sound design is perhaps his most elaborate. West creates a delicate balance: in attempting to keep the viewer slightly off-balance, West uses odd, unnatural audio cues throughout the film to create a disorienting effect. The audio, at times, doesn't seem to belong in any film and when used, its effective. It has a quality of adding an alien feeling to natural scenery or creating an unnatural feeling in a modern setting, like the factory or the city.Ti West is one of the most interesting young film makers currently working for the sole fact that his cinema is completely against the grain. No doubt, I certainly admire artists who are risk-taking, progressive, and playful like West. West's "experimental horror film" is certainly worth seeing for the curious, and as to whether its a successful experiment, it's up to the viewer. All objective facts about the production within are from a cast and crew Q and A from the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2007 included as a supplement on the Kino DVD of Trigger Man and also from West and Reznick's audio commentary also included upon the disc.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ted Demme's Blow (2001)

Ted Demme's Blow (2001) is a film about George Jung (Johnny Depp), a true-to-life, real flesh-and-blood person who was a major figure in the American drug smuggling cocaine ring in the 1980s. Demme tells his tale in traditional American fashion, one which our culture very much loves--the rise and fall of the American Dream. Film depictions of criminals in this fashion are particularly popular and attractive such as Brian de Palma's Scarface (1983) and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990); and Blow shows a strong influence from both. Blow, however, takes a traditional formula and goes in an nontraditional direction. Whether Demme made a conscious choice to attempt to render a faithful history of George Jung's life or to take a traditional and tried-and-true American film formula, use it as a loose framework, play with it, and ultimately subvert it (or both) is unknown to me. However the result is that Demme's last film is perhaps one of the last decade's most underrated and under-appreciated films.
George Jung is an interesting character who seemingly doesn't fit the archetype of the man in pursuit of the American Dream: ambition and perseverance through hard work are not two of his shining attributes. As a criminal, Jung doesn't even fit the traditional mold either--he's not violent and ruthless, charming or charismatic, or particularly sharp, methodical, or scheming. Although his father, portrayed by Ray Liotta, tells him that "he would be great at anything," the truth is really what Jung tells Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis) during his first meeting: "You need a man with balls." Jung dives into life headlong and living life very much in the present (later revealed very much to his detriment) with consequences being damned. Eventually Jung's impulsive living resulted in his capture and imprisonment but it had a much deeper spiritual effect upon Jung. This latter effect is where Demme shines with Blow, and Depp deserves some serious praise for his portrayal of Jung.
One of Depp's best sequences, and also one of the best within Blow, is when Jung attempts to simply arrive into America via plane from Colombia with several kilos of cocaine in two suitcases. His goal is to make it through customs with his contraband successfully. If his contraband is discovered by authorities, then he's going to jail for a potentially long time. Jung has no further plan to make his goal successful: he's just going to take the chance. After Depp's Jung takes his two suitcases from the airport carousel, in voice-over narration Jung talks about thinking happy thoughts, like a party or having sex, and projecting his mind into those thoughts (in a lot of ways like slipping slightly out of reality temporarily). Demme focuses on Depp's face as he walks to the customs' station in a well-crafted move: Depp is singularly able to render this notion just with the changing look on his face in a very subtle fashion. Jung almost gets caught twice by the customs' officer but coolly gets through.
It is only apparent by the final act within Blow for the viewer to see with whom Jung had the most important relationships in his life and where the real dramatic conflict resides. During the first act during Jung's youth with his "rise" as focus, his relationships are with his close friends Tuna (Ethan Suplee) and Dulli (Max Perlich), his friend and business contact, Derek (Paul Reubens as an eccentric character in a standout performance), and a brief, intense and loving relationship with Barbara (Franka Potente). All of Jung's relationships with these characters are given in glimpses with some even disappearing after the first act, but this is Jung's life or either a reflection of how he lives it: very much in the present. His relationship with his parents, portrayed by Ray Liotta and Rachel Griffiths, are also shown with glimpses (early scenes with younger depictions of Liotta and Griffiths strain credulity as each looks like a sibling of Depp instead of a parent. However, as the two characters get older their characters become more credible, through make-up and very good performances by both, especially Liotta). Any real depth with Jung's relationship with his later wife, Mirtha (Penelope Cruz) is absent. (Their scenes feel like carbon copies of Tony and Elvira in Scarface or Henry and Karen in Goodfellas. Even some of Demme's set-ups and compositions mimic or emphasize this comparison.) Jung's most important relationship in his life comes much, much later in Blow and its depiction is where Demme sets his film apart from its traditional predecessors and shines. This relationship has a real intimacy in its depiction, despite the absence of any intimacy in its substance. The desire for a loving intimacy becomes Jung's strongest and what he always wanted.
At the completion of Blow, the viewer can only then reflect upon its action and see the result of Demme's craft with his narrative. Depp's portrayal seemingly begins as the man in pursuit of the American Dream yet what his character always wanted was something much older and much more human. Depp's scenes with his father, shown in glimpses throughout Blow, after all are seen together, paint the history of this character far better than any true historical account. With little dialogue and two stellar performances by Depp and Liotta, Demme slowly builds his real story with real emotion. At the film's conclusion, Blow can truly be appreciated for how often brilliant it is. Like Goodfellas or Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997), for example, Blow goes for real accuracy in its depiction of its historical time with authentic-looking costumes, cars, and especially pop music of the period. As the film starts to unfold, Blow feels as if it is going to continue in that tradition in another rendition of which perhaps audiences and critics were becoming tired. Depp and Demme set this film apart and make Blow truly memorable. This was Ted Demme's last film, and what he would have made possibly could have put him into the elite. As Blow stands, however, it is very much worth seeing as it shows an immense amount of creative talent, a loving eye to both overt and subtle detail, and above all, real human emotion.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mario Gariazzo's The Bloody Hands of the Law (La mano spietata della legge) (1973)

I used to not be tolerant towards those who were intolerant and violent, says Commissario Gianni de Carmine (Philippe Leroy) to his breathtakingly beautiful lady, Linda (Silvia Monti). Now, he continues, I've become more violent and intolerant than anyone. The Commissario feels powerless on his current case: he believes that he is unable to make any progress because of newly-enacted criminal procedural laws: in other words, de Carmine is unable to beat upon his suspects to induce a confession or a promising lead, because nearly all criminals know that if he remains silent, then he will definitely walk. The Commissario feels justified with his violent methods: the criminals aren't adhering to any procedural rules and are terrorizing and killing innocent citizens. Leroy's de Carmine is correct: he is powerless on his current case. However and most importantly, the Commissario powerfully misunderstands the dynamics of his current situation and is equally powerfully misguided as to how to solve it. A familiar theme within polizieschi cinema plays out in a very polarized way in Mario Gariazzo's The Bloody Hands of the Law (Le mano spietata della legge) (1973).
The local syndicate, led by Vito Quattroni (Klaus Kinski), picks up an international passenger at the airport and takes him to a hideout. Donning a disguise and infiltrating some high security, the international passenger reveals himself a very slick hitman upon an unsuspecting mark. The hitman's vacation is over in Italy, and as seemingly quickly as the syndicate picked the hitman up, they coolly drop him off at the airport for his flight home. The local police, led by Leroy's de Carmine, catch a break with the airport's security video and identify the perpetrator. They put a picture of the suspect in the newspaper, hoping to catch another break in the case. A young woman working at an information kiosk at the airport saw the perpetrator and can identify the man who picked him up. The police begin to build their case with witnesses and collect evidence, yet the local crime syndicate is able to erase any trace of evidence and dispatch any witnesses before any real information is collected. Gariazzo, who also penned the script for Bloody Hands, presents the police and the criminal organization as mirror images. Both are evolved. Both are state of the art. Both use information as their primary tool. The police are able to use video, criminal identification databases, the media, criminal informants, and the like to help in their investigation. Although the film is set in Italy and focuses on the local crime syndicate, Gariazzo presents his criminal organization as part of a worldwide network with access to myriad funds, hitmen, hideouts, and informants of their own to perpetrate their crimes. This use of information has perhaps presented a stalemate for both sides, with one side inevitably about to break.
The portrayal of the actions by the criminal syndicate are rendered by Gariazzo with a mathematical precision. The opening sequence, presided over by a sinister-looking and brooding Kinski, without words, are efficient: airport pick-up; hideout drop-off; prep; and execution. A later sequence at a disco with Pia Giancaro, as Lilly Antonelli, the roommate of the witness at the airport, is even more meticulous and calculated (and cleverly rendered). The criminals with pinpoint precision attempt to remove Antonelli's keys from her purse while she's with her date, make the hit at the apartment upon her roommate, and put the keys back into her purse with no one the wiser. Kinski's character performs the hit in the apartment, and the killing is as cold as the scheme.
The police, however, are unable to get beyond the first step in their investigation, only to have to start over when a critical witness is murdered. De Carmine believes "meeting force with force" is the solution, the use of violence against the criminals, and he gets the approval of his superiors for this method. His decision to become aggressive is somewhat successful in his investigation, but ultimately, de Carmine decision becomes his tragic and fatal flaw. What de Carmine fails to recognize is that the violence is constant and ever-present. (In a purely exploitative scene, Luciano Rossi, playing to the hilt in a familar role as the depraved, unhinged henchman, attempts to rape one of the witnesses who has been kidnapped by the local crime group. Kinski, again with few words and his trademark piercing, intense looks, kills the witness and ruthlessly takes to Rossi's character with a blowtorch.) De Carmine's character isn't necessarily as he confesses later in the film, intolerant and violent but impatient. In his overwhelming desire to put an end to organized crime, Leroy's de Carmine fails to recognize his own limits and abilities and what he's capable of truly achieving.
Gariazzo's script and direction are worthy of praise with The Bloody Hands of the Law. He's able to keep some fairly provocative and interesting themes constant in the foreground of the film side by side with the typical motifs of the genre, such as shootouts, car chases, and disco scenes. Even if the viewer just wanted to passively watch the action unfold, Bloody Hands doesn't disappoint in this arena. Leroy is quite intense in his role, and his scenes with Silvia Monti were always welcomed, as showing his vulnerability made him a more human character. Klaus Kinski appears in what seems another role performed presumably quickly and for the cash but Kinski always brings to his roles something undefinable. A true presence, any director was fortunate to have him on screen, as he often gave intense performances. He doesn't disappoint Gariazzo, here, and is quite good. Monti and Giancaro are terrific as Linda and Lilly, respectively. Stelvio Cipriani delivers another brilliant score. The Bloody Hands of the Law is definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Renato Polselli's The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973)

The narrative of The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973) is either incidental, non-existent, or totally supplanted by Renato Polselli's rendition of images. Its acting is non-naturalistic and theatrical to accompany its lighting, special effects, and compositions. As to whom this film is designed to appeal is unknown; but it is a certainty that its result is not for mass consumption. It's an arthouse film in feel, not appealing to the intellectual set, like a grindhouse exploitation flick wrapped in gold paper, served on silver sterling, and fed to few.
Isabel (Rita Calderoni) was branded a vampire and a witch by the townspeople hundreds of years ago. As she was tied to the stake and before she was set aflame, a townsperson with a mallet and sharp wooden stake impaled her heart. Her lover (Mickey Hargitay) watches as the townsfolk cheer during the lynching. After she dies, the heartbroken lover pulls her body from the stake with the help of a local (Raul Lovecchio). Cut to modern times at an ancient castle where the same three actors appear in different roles: Calderoni is Laureen, who is marrying Richard (William Darni); Hargitay is her stepfather and he has purchased the castle; and the local from history is a resident of the castle and an occultist. Isabel's corpse was never destroyed and it needs the eyes and hearts of young virgins, so the Devil can plant his seed of immortality within her and bring Isabel back to life...again.
The narrative of The Reincarnation of Isabel possibly does not start until about halfway through the film; and that's okay: the viewers still watching at that point are more than likely not to notice or are not interested in traditional narratives. Polselli, in addition to directing, wrote and edited Reincarnation, is not interested in a rendering a traditional narrative, either. From its kaleidoscopic, psychedelic opening title sequence to its modern score, it is obvious that despite its ancient castle location and backstory set in history, Polselli's Reincarnation is not a traditional Gothic horror film from its inception.
As Isabel needs the "eyes and hearts of young virgins," her corpse also needs some servants to acquire and feed these to her. Some young virgins are also required. Reincarnation has plenty of unrealistic (yet bloody) gore, as wildly-dressed, theatrical Satanists perform rituals in Isabel's name. Polselli shoots his Satanic ritual sequences in pure, unfiltered, and solid-colored light: the colors blue, green, and red flash like a marquee sign on the ritual's participants who are dressed more like superheroes than Satanists. At another point in the film these same Satanists take to the young virgins of whom there are quite a few around the castle and reveal themselves also as vampires, dressed in solid black with Dracula's capes (the legendary Count also appears in Reincarnation, adding another level to this production). When two characters have a normal, rational conversation within Reincarnation, this is the scene that stands out as odd.
Calderoni's Laureen intuitively should be focal in Reincarnation. She's a dead ringer for the dead witch and seemingly her body is going to be the modern home for Isabel. Not quite. During Laureen's engagement party, Polselli takes an innocuous sequence which would have traditionally been used by film makers to introduce characters and backstory and reveal character conflicts and uses the party as an opportunity to confuse the viewer by blending backstory and characters and character conflicts with flashbacks, subjective shots, close-ups on actors' faces (revealing each either has some link to the past, is becoming possessed by something from without, or is just plain sinister-looking and hiding a dark secret). Laureen's party becomes a psychedelic experience without a pill in sight. Muscleman Hargitay as the modern Jack Nelson begins crying at the party. Is he remembering the emotions of long ago when his lover was being killed? Does he remember the ancient incident or just feeling overwhelming emotion? Cute Steffy (Stefania Fassio, whose character is both the catalyst and the vehicle for the film's slapstick humor) sees something unusual at the party, also. She falls down quite a bit of stairs and Polselli reveals her character at the bottom as not genuinely injured with no one really caring.
Beautiful Christa (Christa Barrymore) is the focal character within Reincarnation. Polselli's camera eyes have the strongest affection for her as she becomes both the victim and the killer. Every initial shot of the actress lingers upon her, and as Reincarnation progresses, the camera becomes more intense upon her. For example, when she receives the vampire's kiss, Polselli could care less to reveal that her attacker is a vampire or to show her attacker's face at all: what is essential to Polselli is focusing on the ecstasy in Christa's face and delivering one of Reincarnation's most audacious compositions: a subjective, P.O.V. shot from the attacker at her neck. While presumably his fangs are sunk in her neck through his eyes, Polselli looks down upon Christa's chest whose blouse is now open and the attacker's hand is roaming freely. When Christa takes on her second life as a killer herself, Polselli is all the more excited, as he is able to indulge his desires further. Christa becomes a seductress upon a willing young female; and Polselli is able to render this seduction with as much flesh and theatrics and odd compositions as he can imagine.
The ending of The Reincarnation of Isabel wraps the narrative in a neat, tidy package, so neat and tidy that it would seem Polselli had no problem wrangling it. Wrangling the narrative of Reincarnation for anyone else, however, would be an exercise in futility.