Monday, January 30, 2012

Una libélula para cada muerto (A Dragonfly for Each Corpse) (1973)

If the title didn't influence you, Una libélula para cada muerto (A Dragonfly for Each Corpse) (1973), then Paul Naschy, who wrote and stars in the film, was doing something wrong. Naschy writes, "I also appeared in a giallo style thriller called Una libélula para cada muerto (1973), with Erika Blanc. It was shot mainly on location in Milan by León Klimovsky and I think it turned out to be a fairly decent detective story. I enjoyed playing the exuberant Italian police inspector Paolo Scaporella." (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy, translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 121) These scant words are about all Naschy has to say about this production in his autobiography, and this is a shame. Despite the fact that I've had a real Naschy itch lately (rimshot), Una libélula para cada muerto (A Dragonfly for Each Corpse) is a real showcase for Erika Blanc.
Una libélula para cada muerto begins with a young man going to a clandestine location to purchase some narcotics. He proceeds to his home and enjoys his narcotics. An uninvited guest enters his home (while the camera obscures his identity) wearing black gloves. He kills the young man and places a replica dragonfly near his corpse. Inspector Paolo Scaporella (Naschy) is assigned the case by his superior. More murders continue and more corpses show up with the signature dragonfly near his/her corpse. Is the killer part of the “underworld,” preying upon the drug addicts and prostitutes? Is the killer a kinky sadist who enjoys killing “deviant” people, because the killer is a deviant also? Or is the killer from high society, someone from Scarporella and his girlfriend’s, Silvana (Blanc) circle of friends? Cue dramatic music.

Three of the most obvious superficial qualities of a giallo film are 1) black gloves, 2) overt sexuality (read, female nudity), and 3) the killer must suffer from a psychological affliction resulting from a childhood trauma. Typically, this childhood trauma involves the killer witnessing the murder of someone in a sexual situation. Armed with this knowledge, anyone can make a film which could be termed “a giallo.” It seems Naschy, when he penned the script for Una libélula para cada muerto, knew the motifs and labored to work them in to his script. Too much labor in making this film a giallo ends up making this film too contrived and too rigid in my opinion. However, there is much to love in Una libélula para cada muerto for prospective viewers.

The sequence which introduces Blanc’s character to viewer is precious. Naschy is in the kitchen and cooking pasta, chomping on his cigar and mean-mugging for the camera. Gorgeous Blanc strolls into the kitchen and chides Naschy’s character for his poor cooking habits. The two actors have an immediate chemistry, and the inclusion of this domestic scene in the film goes a long way towards establishing an intimacy between Scarporella and his girlfriend, Silvana. Scarporella shares all the details about the “dragonfly” case with Silvana and seeks her input. I initially thought with Naschy and Blanc’s first few scenes together that Una libélula para cada muerto would have the two as an investigative team who would solve the murders together. Given their chemistry together and Erika Blanc’s amazing charisma, I thought Una libélula para cada muerto had the potential to be one of Paul Naschy’s finest moments in cinema. While Blanc’s Silvana is integral to solving the mystery, Naschy wrote the script in a wholly perfunctory manner and Una libélula para cada muerto plays out like a perfunctory giallo. Blanc’s character stays at home while Naschy’s inspector character hits the streets.

Naschy went out of his way to establish a credible “underworld” to host a class of victims for his killer. In the English dub of the print that I viewed, the first victim is referred to as a “professional drug addict.” Really, a professional? So is there an amateur class which one must work up through? In another murder sequence, the killer enters the apartment of some young people who are passed out about the floor and furniture. A nude female is passed out on the floor with her arm draped upon a nude young man while another young man in his briefs sleeps in a sofa chair. Clearly, with this adept character positioning, these characters have engaged in promiscuous sex with multiple partners while indulging with mind-altering substances. These sequences are too paint-by-numbers for me and there is too many of them to make Una libélula para cada muerto not worth revisiting.

Klimovsky includes some striking compositions. For example, in one a burlesque dancer rests in a coffin while eating a green apple. Without a context, this composition makes no sense (and is interesting) but with a context, this scene becomes as perfunctory as the rest of the film. All of the scenes with Erika Blanc are amazing. Completely radiant. One of my favorite sequences occurs after Scaporella and Silvana learn that one of their friends has been murdered. Blanc sits in bed, completely nude, staring at photos (which she believes are relevant to the mystery). Scaporella comes in saddened by his friend’s death and the poor state of his investigation but becomes aroused at the sight of his girlfriend. In a bout of physical intimacy, these two can take comfort in each other. It’s an endearing sequence. As I’ve said, the two have a strong chemistry, and it should have been capitalized upon in the film.

Finally, Una libélula para cada muerto is the second film of my recent memory where Naschy is bathed by a beautiful woman. I’m totally jealous. It is very good, sometimes, to be both the screenwriter and the leading actor.
Una libélula para cada muerto is for Paul Naschy completists and Erika Blanc enthusiasts.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

El gran amor del conde Drácula (Count Dracula's Great Love) (1972)

"For this Gothic tale," writes Paul Naschy, "I transformed the terrifying Transylvanian Count into a Romantic vampire who destroys himself for the love of a beautiful woman." (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy [hereinafter, MW], translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 111) Naschy writes that El gran amor del conde Drácula (Count Dracula's Great Love) (1972) is "[a] claustrophobic film where, for the first time in the history of cinema, Dracula actually falls in love. His love, which is greater than even his will to survive, ends in his self-destruction. This is the central idea of the film." (from "Filmography," by Paul Naschy, Videooze, No. 6/7, edited by Bob Sargent, Alexandria, VA, Fall 1994, p. 27; hereinafter, VO)
El gran amor del conde Drácula is an unofficial Waledmar Daninsky film. Naschy, who penned the script with director Javier Aguirre and Alberto S. Insúa, transforms his most successful character into the Count. One of the aspects which Naschy found so appealing about the werewolf character (very obvious in La noche de Walpurgis) is the inherent tragedy of his monster's condition: one character with two consciousnesses: one, a normal man attempting to live a normal life, and two, a ravenous and ferocious creature who appears involuntarily, bent upon killing the innocent. While Naschy's characterization is a little clunky in its transition, I have to admit, Naschy successfully makes Dracula a dual character...and a tragic one, as well.
Four ladies are on a coach accompanying Imre Polvi (Víctor Alcázar). The group travels through the Borgo Pass where, as Imre notes to the ladies, Count Dracula, the notorious vampire, was successfully subdued by Dr. Van Helsing. He notes also that there is an abandoned sanatorium, located on a nearby hill. It was recently purchased by Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy). As soon as Imre completes the film's exposition, the coach loses a wheel. Imre and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo) go and look for help. Senta (Rosanna Yanni), Karen (Haydée Politoff), and Elke (Mirta Miller) remain with coach and witness the coachman's death--a horse kick crushes his skull! Imre and the ladies have no other choice but to head to the sanatorium and hope Dr. Marlow is there. He is. SPOILERS ahead.
Naschy doesn't appear as Count Dracula until almost the third act. It's quite obvious when he makes the transformation--he dons the stereotypical Dracula outfit, complete with the slick-backed hair. Naschy writes, "It has been said that my physique wasn't suited to the role of Dracula. But I think what worked against me was merely the stereotypical image of Dracula, because according to legend wasn't Dracula able to convert himself into whatever he wished?" (VO, p. 27) It doesn't appear, however, Naschy did much to fight that stereotype. Nonetheless, for the first two thirds of El gran amor del conde Drácula, Naschy is Dr. Marlow, hospitable host to his guests and hero to the ladies. How is he the hero? Imre and most of the ladies are stalked by a delivery driver, now a vampire, who was attacked by Dracula in the film's opening minutes. He's roaming around the castle and making attacks at night. Naschy as Marlow successfully subdues him on more than one occasion (and saves a female character), eventually he stakes the man. I'm fairly absent-minded when I watch movies, but it is hard to forget who turned this man into a vampire.
Another interesting sequence occurs after Elke is turned into a vampire. In one of the signature slo-mo sequences, Elke floats down the hall and encounters the delivery man-cum-vampire in the catacombs. Elke attacks the man and quickly gives up and runs away. The inclusion of this sequence, besides looking really cool, is to establish the newly-turned vampires as feral creatures, lacking reason. The vampires attack anyone (or anything) that moves. This is important exposition for Naschy's character for when he turns into Count Dracula. Like the werewolf, the viewer needs to know that Dracula is a monster, capable of committing horrible acts upon innocent victims. By the way, the ridiculous English-language voice over hammers this point home. C'est la vie.

Dr. Marlow fully becomes Count Dracula when he finds a virgin who, by her own free will, expresses her love for Dracula and gives her blood to Dracula's daughter, the Countess. Of course, one of the ladies fits the bill and does fall in love with Dr. Marlow. I love this complex ritual, but it's wholly not needed for the plot. It's only needed for Naschy's character. When Dr. Marlow decides to have sex with one of the ladies, the English-language narration reminds the viewer that Dracula needs a virgin to complete the ritual. Brilliant. I don't know why I needed to know this information during this specific scene, but thank you for letting me know.
Besides Naschy being cleverly deceptive with his characterization, El gran amor del conde Drácula is quite the entertaining exploitation film with quite a few flourishes. The third act really lets its vampires go. In one scene, an elderly farmer gets his leg caught in a hunter’s trap. He begs for help only to have Naschy’s Dracula emerge from the shadows to overtake him. (It’s doubly funny, because Dr. Marlow is “an avid hunter” who spends most of the daytime, setting his traps.) The imagery of the female vampires is very sensual. Aguirre exhibits quite a bit of relish with his camera. They look stunning in slow-motion, almost floating towards the frame.

“I look back on the film with melancholy,” writes Naschy. (MW, p. 112) Several accidents and “mishaps” happened on the set of El gran amor del conde Drácula, as well as Naschy not getting along with his leading lady, Haydée Politoff (MW, p. 111) Despite his memories towards the production, Naschy writes that, “El gran amor del conde Drácula is a little gem.” (VO, p.27) I get tremendous joy out of all of Paul Naschy’s cinema, but I especially admire El gran amor del conde Drácula. Instead of making an imitation of one of the more successful Hammer films or simply filming again Bram Stoker’s novel, Naschy wrote and performed in a Dracula film which adapted to him. It’s obvious but it’s important to note: El gran amor del conde Drácula is remembered today as a Paul Naschy film, not simply another vampire film. It’s a perfect introduction to Paul Naschy or as a celebration of the man’s work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

La noche de Walpurgis (The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman) (1970)

"Despite my reservations," writes Paul Naschy, "La noche de Walpurgis was a worldwide box-office sensation and went on to become a movie legend and a genuine social phenomenon...This modest production marked the high point of Spanish horror fantasy and revitalized the genre throughout the world." (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy [hereinafter, MW], translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 107) As for this Naschy classic, La noche de Walpurgis (The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman) (1970), it would appear that we have the Germans to thank. Naschy writes:

"After the success of La marca del hombre lobo, the Germans decided to do another werewolf picture. They contacted Alberto Platar, the producer who had purchased Los monstruos del terror, for the purpose of doing another co-production. Platar had the idea of using another actor to play the Wolf Man. When he proposed this to the Germans they wouldn't hear of it...if Paul Naschy wasn't playing the role of the Wolf Man, they weren't making the film. Naturally, Platar had to change his mind and I was the protagonist." (from "Filmography," by Paul Naschy, Videooze, No. 6/7, edited by Bob Sargent, Alexandria, VA, Fall 1994, p. 24; hereinafter, VO)

Two young women, Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and Genevieve (Barbara Capell) are traveling through the French countryside. They are searching for the tomb of the Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard) in order to complete their scholastic essay. They become lost and encounter Mr. Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy) who invites the two ladies into his secluded home. Daninsky agrees to help the young ladies find their tomb, as Daninsky is looking for the crypt, also. The tomb houses a silver cross, which is, according to legend, piercing the heart of the Countess, keeping her vampiric soul at rest. Daninsky believes the silver cross can effectively end the werewolf’s curse, if plunged into the werewolf’s heart by someone who loves him on a full moon...

La noche de Walpurgis is an effective and beautiful fantastic film. Its screenplay, penned by Naschy (under his real name Jacinto Molina) and Hans Munkel, is a fairy tale. There’s innocence, tragedy, love, violence, death, hope, coincidence, and the supernatural, for example. Fantastic cinema is wholly unique; and if fantastic cinema didn’t die with Paul Naschy, then it most certainly did with the death of Jean Rollin.

One of the wonderful aspects of fantastic cinema is the use of slow motion, often creating ethereal and dream-like sequences. Naschy writes, “The film had the characteristic ups and downs of León Klimovsky, but I believe that the positive elements stood out above the errors or flaws it might have had. One of those positive elements is the way in which it treated the world of the vampires; I think the movement of vampires in slow motion is quite successful.” (VO, p. 24) Klimovsky is successfully able to channel the vibe that the vampires exist out-of-time. It’s as if they are real yet not real. In addition, they provide an excellent foil to Naschy’s quick and intense wolf man attacks. When the characters of the English-language title meet, Klimovsky mixes the two styles so well that it appears seamless.

La noche has the most simple of narratives. It’s a story where the strength comes from the images. Exposition, especially when it comes with dialogue, is especially laborious and cumbersome. The narrative of La noche obviously meant something to Naschy, as he penned the script, but I believe it meant little to any of the other participants. In an interesting yet odd touch, the performer who receives the best treatment with Klimovsky’s camera is an actress in a supporting role, Barbara Capell as Genevieve.


Despite Gaby Fuchs as Elvira becoming Naschy’s love interest in the film and Patty Shepard’s performance as the main antagonist, Capell receives the juiciest close-ups and dominates most frames. Unsurprisingly, Genevieve is attacked and becomes a vampire by the Countess. Surprisingly, it is Genevieve who gets to make two vampire seductions solo; and when Genevieve attacks with the Countess, it is Genevieve who takes central notice, as Shepard’s character wears a black veil which covers her face for the overwhelming majority of her performance.


Naschy notes that Patty Shepard, as the Countess, “in the beginning didn’t want to do the film (VO, p. 24)” and later “regretted having accepted the role (MW, p.107).” If I had to speculate as to why, I can understand Ms. Shepard’s regret. As noted, her character has little dialogue and shows almost no emotion. In addition, her face is almost completely obscured by a black veil for almost the entirety of La noche. Patty Shepard is undeniably a gorgeous woman and a talented actress (see El Monte de las brujas (1972) as clear evidence of this statement). As a visual motif, the look of the Countess is sometimes effective, but overall, not utilizing Shepard in her role is a missed opportunity.

La noche de Walpurgis is primal and is essential fantastic cinema. This film is one of my favorites starring Paul Naschy. The BCI Eclipse DVD is a must-have.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang (1966)

I've been hunting for this film for years, despite not having an affinity for the spy genre. In my opinion, this is a genre dominated by a character whose initials are three numbers and who introduces himself by his last name, then his first name, and then his last name, again. I'm a huge fan of super-sexy double agents and super-cool spy gadgets, but in all truthfulness, it's hard for me to get excited about this cinema. Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang (1966) has been recently released on DVD by essential DVD label, Wild East, in a double feature with Alive or Preferably Dead (Vivi o, preferibilmente, morti) (1969). Both star Giuliano Gemma and both are directed by Duccio Tessari. Kiss Kiss, in particular, reunites many of the participants from two Euro-Western masterpieces, A Pistol for Ringo (Una pistola per Ringo) (1965) and The Return of Ringo (Il ritorno di Ringo) (1965): director Duccio Tessari, actors Giuliano Gemma, Nieves Navarro, and Lorella De Luca, for example, producers Luciano Ercoli and Alberto Pugliese, and writer Fernando di Leo (who pens Kiss Kiss with Tessari and Bruno Corbucci). These participants are also why I've always wanted to see Kiss Kiss. Wild East has made it possible. Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang, finally, isn't just a spy's a spoof.
Kirk Warren (Gemma) is in prison about to be executed at the gallows when he receives a last second reprieve by a British colonel with the Secret Service. The Secret Service wants Warren to steal a secret formula from a vault in Switzerland before the nefarious Mr. X gets his hands on it. Once Warren gets his hands on the formula, he attempts to sell the formula to Mr. X for a large sum while humorous events accompany the would-be transaction. The Secret Service, of course, isn’t happy about this, either.
I think deep down I wanted Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang to be more like the Ringo films in a spy setting. I knew that screenwriters di Leo and Corbucci could pen a smart aleck character like Ringo, Nico Giraldi, or Johnny Yuma, for example, who always has the upper-hand on the big guys, despite being poorly resourced and underestimated. To some extent, Gemma's Kirk Warren is a character of this mold but unfortunately, Gemma's character seriously yields to the spy plot--such as a meticulous plan to enter into the Swiss vault and its execution to the myriad double crosses at appointed meetings that result in action sequences. The comedy, above all, dominates and above all, it is very hit and miss. When I take a step back and think about it, I'm almost certain Gemma and Tessari wanted a break from Western cinema. In addition, I don't think that Ercoli and Tessari minded having Navarro and De Luca, respectively, on the set. Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang is light entertainment and seemingly intended to be so.

Kiss Kiss has a lot of big set-pieces in international locations like London, Switzerland, and Rome, for example, but the best moments of the film feature Gemma with the actresses. In a ridiculously human touch, after his reprieve, Warren makes his way to the home of Hilary Shakespeare (Nieves Navarro). Spending quite a few months in prison has made him randy. Navarro giggles a little bit at his reprieve but is more than willing to go to bed with him. Before getting into bed with Shakespeare, Warren tosses his hat at the rack across the room. He completely misses the rack and the hat falls to the floor. Super-cool spy could probably make the shot, but Gemma's character doesn't care: he just wants to get laid. Likewise, when Gemma's Warren attempts to negotiate with Mr. X, he meets Lorella De Luca. She's a cute and bubbly wannabe spy who takes almost every moment to catch Gemma off his feet to shower him with kisses.
Most of the action sequences involve some serious slapstick comedy. For me, I will admit, I have to been in the mood to watch this type of comedy. It gets tired after a few minutes. There is only one super-cool spy gadget and it's a gun that shoots a gas which incapacitates its victim by inducing a laughing fit. If it sounds weird, it's because it is. Gemma uses the weapon, once, and it's not that important. Tessari's compositions are really playful and contribute to the film's loose vibe. Had there been something just a little compelling within Kiss Kiss, then maybe it would be more successful.
Kiss Kiss... Bang Bang is one of those real cult films that would have completely disappeared had Wild East not released it on DVD. It's an important film for serious students of the genre for the participants and, of course, for the seriously curious. For all others, the two classic Ringo films are more than adequate substitutes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Drive (2011)

Drive (2011) is the best arthouse exploitation film that I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s hard for me not to like a film about a socially-inept, mentally-ill stunt car driver who falls in love with his timid, sweet single-mother neighbor. The first act of the film boasts some of the sweetest romance in recent cinema history, and amazingly, Drive also boasts some of the most sadistic and over-the-top violence, rivaling only Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo (2008) in its bloodlust. The performances are uniformly excellent; the script by Hossein Amini is charged and judicious in its dialogue; and finally, director Nicolas Winding Refn delivers some truly sumptuous audio and visuals.

The driver, played by Ryan Gosling, works legitimately in show business as a stunt car driver and as a garage mechanic for his down-on-his-luck buddy, Shannon (Bryan Cranston). The driver works evenings as a wheelman for robberies. Gosling’s driver is a loner and through a series of fortuitous, small events, his pretty neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan) steals his heart. Irene has a young son; and right before it appears that Gosling’s driver and Irene are about to be together and happy, Irene’s husband is released from prison. Meanwhile, Shannon gets a loan from mobster, Bernie (Albert Brooks) and his associate, Nino (Ron Perlman), to purchase a stock car for racing. Shannon sees immediate success with Gosling’s character as his driver. Less than a week out of prison, Irene’s husband gets effed up by some mobsters. Directly in the face of common sense but in the name of love, the driver agrees to help Irene’s husband, so Irene and her son can have a stable life, with a small, pawn shop robbery.

I’ve watched Drive twice, now, and am damn impressed with two subtle scenes. Both of theses scenes are impressive displays of doubletalk and charged emotion. This is a compliment to both Amini’s script and the actors’ performances. The first scene is Gosling's first meeting with Irene’s husband, played by Oscar Isaac. With Mulligan’s Irene watching the two men, Refn plays out the classic scene of the two males, vying for the title of alpha male. In less adept creative hands and with less adept performers, this scene would come off as stagy and melodramatic. Since there is little dialogue, the three actors have to carry the emotion and they carry it very well. The second scene involves Albert Brooks and Gosling. While Gosling gives a wonderful performance, Brooks displays his veteran ability and wonderful talent throughout Drive. I love Albert Brooks’s films. He plays some of the funniest and sweetest men in films like Defending Your Life (1991) and Mother (1996), for example. In his early scenes in Drive, Brooks appears like a lovable, sweet guy. His character makes a dramatic turn in Drive. During a second viewing of Drive, I noticed that those initially sweet scenes with Brooks are actually imbued with a venomous intensity. In a particularly well-done scene, he appears to be encouraging Gosling’s character, but during a second viewing, it is evident that he is really trying to scare the shit out of him. A masterful scene.

Refn’s cinema has its own look. His criminals, as in his masterful Pusher trilogy, don’t look like magazine models or recording artists. They don’t dress in the latest trends. For example, what’s up with the Smokey-and-the-Bandit jacket with the Golden Scorpion? What about the thirty-year-old Puma track suit? Drive is filled with these little shabby yet meticulous details. In the best scene of the film, Gosling with hammer in hand interrupts a gangster in the dressing room of a group of strippers. Visually, it’s brilliant: wall-to-wall mirrors while voluptuous dancers sit coolly, watching Gosling threaten the thug. It’s so gleefully exploitative: sex and violence, married together blissfully. Look closely and one of the strippers has a cup of red rope licorice sitting at her dressing stand. It’s a small little visual cue that these ladies have lives outside of this scene. Like this scene and most of Drive, Refn is able to make surreal and audacious people and scenes completely believable and intimate.

Drive is the best film of 2011. There’s so much more to talk about but a viewing will do it better justice. See it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

L'etrusco uccide ancora (The Dead Are Alive) (1972)

Alex Cord is Jason, an archaeologist who has uncovered an Etruscan burial ground which has been undisturbed for a couple thousand years. Jason is having an affair with Myra (Samantha Eggar) who is currently living with Nikos (John Marley), an elderly and world-famous orchestra conductor. Nikos has son named Igor (Carlo De Mejo). There are other characters who populate the narrative of L'etrusco uccide ancora (The Dead Are Alive) (1972) but these are the main characters. Since L'etrusco uccide ancora is a giallo/mystery, the collateral characters are red herrings and the like. By the end of the first act, a young couple has been murdered in the Etruscan tomb, and their corpses have been placed to mimic an Etruscan sacrificial rite.
The first act of L'etrusco uccide ancora is strong. There is no clunky exposition and the pacing is swift. The first act is effectively concluded with the young couple’s murder. The second act, however, is the complete undoing of the film: here comes the melodrama; here comes the stereotypes; and here comes mechanical narrative. Virtually every character is a stereotype. Jason appears an alcoholic womanizer; Myra is an emotional young trophy bride; and Nikos is a controlling older man, eager dominate most in front of him. Most of the character interaction is cringe worthy. For example, when Nikos catches Myra leaving their mansion to rendezvous with Jason, Nikos chides her and admits to her that he knows where she is going and with whom she is meeting. Nikos doesn’t stop Myra from leaving. Instead, he pulls her close to him and gives her a forceful and strong kiss. In the subsequent scene, equally mind-boggling, Myra and Jason meet. The dialogue is precious in its stupidity: Jason’s seduction involves asking Myra if an Etruscan tomb turns her on. Way to go, Jason. As for the narrative, there is way too much labor expended to establish red herrings and then too much labor to exclude those red herrings. At the end of the film, there are only three real clues, and little of the narrative focuses upon them. This is a shame but this is also expected.
The third act has inspired moments, but it’s very conventional. The police discover who the killer is; the police are wrong; the real killer is still loose; and the remaining character(s) confront the killer. Familiar stuff, all around.
Armando Crispino is a unique Italian director. He is perhaps best known for his excellent film Macchie solari (Autopsy) (1975). In that film, Crispino showed an adept eye with the subjective shot. Color, film speed, light, and composition, for example, are all effectively manipulated and contrived by Crispino, creating some brilliant disorienting sequences. Some of that ability is present in L'etrusco uccide ancora. For example, the murder of the young couple at the Etruscan tomb is unique (and come to think of it, really only Lucio Fulci rivals Crispino, here). The killer, of course, is never shown. The audio and the editing of the murders are seemingly out of sync. The murder appears like a bloody montage of screams and literal cuts. There is also an effective shot of the two corpses, placed upon two altars. One of the essential clues to the mystery is an orchestral composition that plays whenever the killer is about to strike. It’s a rousing and intense composition. (I wonder if it is the work of Riz Ortolani who scored the film. Ortolani’s film score is brilliant.) Despite the mechanical nature of the narrative, this orchestration is always effectively used. In addition to his use of audio, Crispino dominates his visuals, especially his use of shadows. There is little to praise in L'etrusco uccide ancora but of what little there is, it deserves very high praise.
L'etrusco uccide ancora was intended to be an enigmatic, magical and evocative film,” says Crispino. “If I’d had my way, I’d have taken the film even further into fantastic dimensions, but, unfortunately, I was prevented. The idea came to me, one day, during a casual visit to the Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri, where, as I was walking around among the tombs, I began to have the strangest feelings--it was almost as though I could feel tangible ‘presences’ hovering about me.” (from Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, FL, 1996, p.39) I wish that Crispino had his way, also. The Etruscan imagery and setting in L'etrusco uccide ancora is woefully underused. The film ends up becoming a conservative and mechanical thriller/mystery/giallo. For die-hard fans of the genre, only. Code Red released this film on DVD about a year and a half ago, and it seems as if it is already out of print. Screenshots are taken from my old DVDr of an original VHS release of L'etrusco uccide ancora.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Naschy. Paul Naschy.

I had a Naschy itch this weekend, so I watched a bunch of his flicks. Here are some quickie reviews.
Tomb of the Werewolf (2004)

Woe to the Temple of Waldemar Daninsky.
If modern cinema truly is product, however, then I cannot fault Paul Naschy and the ignominious ending for his legendary character in the direct-to-video opus, Tomb of the Werewolf (2004). Why not, right? A low-budget horror film with a healthy amount of softcore sex, helmed by one of the cinema’s pioneers, Fred Olen Ray. In addition, cult icon, Michelle Bauer appears as Elizabeth Bathory with a bevy of young attractive people in the cast to provide a little skin or a body count. For all practical purposes, Naschy’s inclusion seems a marketing ploy--drawing in his small yet very strong base of fans (of whom I am a proud member). Yes, I am very cynical and yes, I was hoping for a more romantic end to Naschy’s Daninsky character. However, I did have a smirk on my face throughout most of the film, so I’m not nearly as uptight as I should be, in order to be a proper critic.

Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) has a wife, Eleanor (Stephanie Bentley), who is dying of the plague. Daninsky wants to save his wife. Elizabeth Bathory (Michelle Bauer) is in league with Satan and as compensation for doing evil shit for him, she is granted eternal youth after she bathes in the blood of young women. Bathory is also the broker for a deal between Satan and Daninsky--Daninsky’s wife may be saved but Daninsky will be cursed as a werewolf. Almost as soon as Daninsky is cursed and turns into the werewolf, he slays his wife as his first victim. This is a problem.
Cut to 2004 and Richard Daninsky (Jay Richardson) has inherited his ancestor’s estate, once belonging to the nobleman Waldemar Daninsky. Richard is a little bit of a shady character. He hires a television crew who makes paranormal investigations to document a medium (also played by Bentley) at his estate. This medium will help him find some hidden treasure. Bauer’s Bathory is the servant at the estate, and of course, she looks exactly the same.
O.K. Naschy appears in this one briefly and in addition, I do not believe he utters a single line. In fact, I highly doubt that it is the elder Naschy under the werewolf makeup, jumping out of bushes onto unsuspecting couples. This, however, is not a major issue. The highlight of Tomb of the Werewolf is its array of attractive women all of whom I enjoyed watching very much. The downside of Tomb of the Werewolf is everything else. The film did afford me a wonderful daydream, however. There is a bar sequence early in the film where Richardson’s Daninsky completes the contract with the paranormal television crew. It appears as if the actors in the scene have quite the buzz going on while performing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to drink alcohol at work and get paid while drinking? That would be cool.

School Killer (2001)

School Killer is a post-Scream, Spanish horror film where Naschy is the killer of the film’s title.

Six young adults, three males and three females, arrive at an abandoned school during a spooky evening to spend a weekend. They are led by Ramón (Carlos Fuentes) whose father has recently died. Ramón’s father left Ramón his diary, detailing a fateful evening he spent in the abandoned school with five friends in 1973. This diary was the impetus for Ramón bringing his friends to the location during the present time.
School Killer is talky, and being a film of the post-Scream era, a lot of the dialogue is meta. Although the characters explicitly reference films like Scream 3 and The Blair Witch Project in their dialogue, I do not believe the film makers wanted to make an American-style film in a Spanish setting with Spanish actors. Is School Killer successful? Is it derivative of its American predecessors? In my opinion, yes to the latter question and “kind of” to the former question. There are creative sequences, indeed, but there are also myriad problems: School Killer is too talky, poorly paced, and has a very unsatisfying ending.

The best scene of School Killer, unsurprisingly, involves Naschy. Its setting: the toilet. Naschy plays a psychopathic killer and he confronts a young woman in a toilet stall in an unsuspecting manner. Naschy delivers ridiculous dialogue in a straight-faced, intense manner. One can easily see in the elder Naschy the same energy and charisma that drove his previous roles. This scene, alone, is worth multiple viewings.

Latidos de pánico (Panic Beats) (1983)

Panic Beats is a gem. It was written and directed by Naschy who also stars. “Latidos de pánico,” writes Naschy, “is a revisitation of the claustrophobic, phantasmagorical world of the most characteristic Naschy works. (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy, translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2000: p.168.)

Paul (Paul Naschy) is a descendant of Alaric de Marnac, a medieval knight who murdered his unfaithful wife in cold blood. Paul is married to an ill woman, Geneviève (Julia Saly) and in order to help her recuperate, Paul moves his frail wife to the country into the ancestral home of the ruthless knight. A faithful maidservant, Maville (Lola Gaos), and her wayward niece, Julie (Pat Ondiviela), are in attendance at the home and will care for Paul's ailing wife. Soon after arrival, however, Geneviève begins having sinister visions, especially of Alaric de Marnac, and her health condition plummets.
Naschy returns Alaric de Marnac from El espanto surge de la tumba (Horror Rises from the Tomb) (1973) to cause havoc in Panic Beats. “Its the return of Alaric de Marnac,” writes Naschy, “this time in a plot of sex and violence set in a large house which appears to be lost in time, and in which the more modern parts are mixed with the most terrible of medieval traditions.” (“Filmography by Paul Naschy,” Videooze, Fall 1994, No. 6/7, ed. Bob Sargent, Alexandria, VA, 1994, p.39) As Naschy describes, Panic Beats is clearly a film of the fantastic but also a morality tale. The following paragraph has SPOILERS:

The best scene in Panic Beats has Naschy in the bathtub. He is smoking a cigar while bathing. Poor Geneviève is dead. Paul and young Julie have concocted a plan to kill Geneviève and were successful. The dialogue between Paul and Julie is precious: Paul openly acknowledges to Julie that both are wicked people and both should be grateful that they love each other. I love the sentiment: wicked people deserve to love each other or wicked people deserve love, too. Pat Ondiviela nearly steals this film.

Mondo Macabro released Panic Beats on DVD. Image Entertainment released School Killer on DVD. Tomb of the Werewolf is also available on DVD.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

(Blue Jean Monster) Jeuk ngau jai foo dik Jung Kwai (1991)

I love Shing Fui On. If I had to speculate, then I would imagine his most famous role to Westerners would be his villainous turn in John Woo's The Killer (1989). His role in Woo's masterpiece may also be representative--Shing Fui On was a seriously credible badass on screen. He oozed intimidation and induced fear. Like many Hong Kong actors, Shing Fui On acted in a lot of films, many times as a villain, but also like many Hong Kong actors, his roles were often diverse. Shing Fui On was an exceptionally funny actor, as well. I sought out (Blue Jean Monster) Jeuk ngau jai foo dik Jung Kwai (1991) on DVD, because 1) it sounded like some wacky shit and 2) if the IMdB is correct, then Blue Jean Monster is the only leading role for Shing Fui On.
Shing Fui On plays cop, Tsu, who is about to be a parent with his expectant wife, Chu (Pauline Wong). Tsu and Chu go and seek blessings from Buddha, and unfortunately, Tsu receives an ominous one. Chu goes to the clinic for a checkup while Tsu goes and investigates a bank robbery. Tsu arrives at the bank and interrupts the bandits (led by popular cinema villain Jun Kunimura who appeared also in Woo's Hard Boiled (1992) and Miike's Ichi the Killer (2001), for example). After confronting the gang at a nearby junkyard, Tsu almost subdues them. Unfortunately, a large amount of scrap metal falls upon Tsu and kills him. The gang escapes and mistakenly leaves a witness, super-cute Gucci (Gloria Yip). A little bit of accidental mumbo jumbo combined with a bolt of lighting, and BAM! Tsu resurrects. Despite having his original consciousness, Tsu operates as a reanimated corpse--his body can last just long enough to catch the bad guys and see his child born into the world.
In 2012, I've seen way too many Hong Kong films and way too many insane ones to boot. Blue Jean Monster has moments of good old-fashioned political incorrectness and seriously bloody violence, so pervasive in Hong Kong cinema before the handover; yet there are few standout sequences or jokes worthy of making the film memorable. The best sequence involves buxom actress, Amy Yip (and for the record, in nearly every film in which I've seen her appear, there is at least one or two jokes regarding the size of Ms. Yip's breasts). Yip attempts to seduce Tsu, but Tsu refuses to have sex with her, because he loves his wife. One of the sicker side-effects that resurrected Tsu suffers from is that from time to time, Tsu's eyes become opaque, and he becomes possessed (and is the monster wearing blue jeans that the English-language title suggests). In order for Tsu to snap back into his original consciousness, he must be shocked--literally with electricity or with a splash of cold water. Well, during his meeting with Ms. Yip, Tsu becomes possessed and in a rage grabs Amy Yip's breasts and gives them a monstrous squeeze. Her breasts expel milk all over his face, and Tsu snaps back into consciousness. This scene is classic Hong Kong cinema political incorrectness, and unfortunately, there are not enough "holy shit"-type scenes, like this, to make Blue Jean Monster memorable.
Blue Jean Monster is surprisingly restrained, even more so considering its director is Ivan Lai, who would go on to helm some truly nasty Category III exploitation flicks, like Chik juk ging wan (The Peeping Tom) (1997). Blue Jean Monster is primarily of interest for fans of Shing Fui On. He's especially endearing in this role as an expectant father, caregiver, and diligent cop. Those familiar with early-90s Hong Kong cinema know this formula and whether of he/she wants to visit this film. I love the cinema and love its participants, so it's worth seeing in my opinion but perhaps it’s not one to go out of the way to see, however.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Incubo sulla città contaminata (Nightmare City) (1980)

Essential European cult cinema. I own the landmark 2002 Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD release of Incubo sulla città contaminata (Nightmare City) (1980) and per my usual viewing habits have left the disc in my player and watched it over and over during successive nights. The Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD release not only made Nightmare City more accessible to viewers but marked it as an important film of its era. While the film’s director, Umberto Lenzi, grants the film much more import during his video interview included as a supplement on the Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD, I found this print statement from the director, dated prior to the DVD release, very revealing. Perhaps it is just me, but I find the following statement kind of sad:

In response to the question, “In between MANGIATI VIVI! and CANNIBAL FEROX, you also made the Romero-esque INCUBO SULLA CITTA CONTAMINATA. How do you look back on it?”, Lenzi responds:

“When I shot it, it didn’t really seem to be mine, but now, seeing it again ten years later I think differently about it. Certainly I don’t much like the special effects and the blood flowing in torrents, but, in the film, the whole thing was achieved with a certain style; even Tullio Kezich spoke well of it in issue No. 799 of Panorama, published on 10/8/1981, and Leonard Maltin did, too, in his Movie Guide 1988, while the American Video Movie 1990 publication gives it two and a half stars, in other words, fairly good.” (Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, FL, 1996, p, 69.)

Nightmare City is the chronicle of a crisis, the end of humanity via radioactive zombies (d’oh!), told through the eyes of three couples. I have no proof of this but I believe the characterization is the contribution of co-screenwriter, Piero Regnoli, who is certainly the most sensitive and underrated screenwriter in Italian genre cinema. Regnoli masterfully writes dysfunctional characters and often imbues a rich complexity to a narrative. On its surface, Nightmare City is an episodic narrative, like a war film, and each episode is a battle in a different location: in an airport, in a television studio, in a hospital, at a gas station, and at an amusement park with a minor skirmish in a church. Finally, make no mistake, Nightmare City is definitely a horror film.

Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) is a journalist assigned to interview Professor Hallenback (whose work is tied into nuclear energy). There is a malfunction at the state’s nuclear power plant and an alert has been issued regarding radioactive contamination. Miller arrives at the airport with his cameraman (Antonio Mayans, aka Robert Foster) to interview Professor Hallenback. A large, unmarked military plane (large enough to carry a squad of troops, hint, hint) makes an emergency landing on the runway. The police and military arrive to investigate. Professor Hallenback emerges from the plane...

What ensues is one of the greatest sequences in European cult cinema. With amazing energy, contaminated men jump out of the airplane and with knives and guns, they dispatch the military!

Stiglitz’s Miller knows this is bad news. He makes an attempt to warn the public but is thwarted by General Murchison (Mel Ferrer, an excellent actor giving an excellent performance). Miller abandons his duty as a journalist and seeks out his wife, Anna (Laura Trotter), a doctor at the local hospital. Meanwhile, Murchison summons his daughter, Jessica (Stefania D'Amario) and (presumably also) her husband, Bob (Pierangelo Civera) into the safety of the military bunker, where Murchison is formulating a counterstrike to combat the strategic movements of the radioactive raiders. Major Warren Holmes (Francisco Rabal) is summoned by Murchison to help on his day off. Holmes, unwittingly and unfortunately, leaves his beautiful artist wife, Sheila (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) all alone at home.

Nightmare City has quite a bit of bloody violence. In an almost Fulci-esque touch, Lenzi serves up the really sadistic violence towards the women. Almost every naked female breast exposed is one which will be traumatized brutally. This offensive aspect is not uncommon to the genre and is expected. However, horror cinema is not exclusively its violence. A brilliant sequence occurs later in the film when Rabal’s Major Holmes becomes aware of the severity of the crisis. He makes a feeble attempt to call Sheila and warn her of the danger. He commands her to lock her doors but has no idea whether Sheila will be safe. Sheila walks outside to encounter the ridiculous sight of a lawnmower, propelling itself slowly across the lawn. The image of the lawnmower makes no logical sense but that is why the image is so creepy: is everything just out of order?
The episodic structure of the narrative works well towards the pacing. While Dean and Anna engage in quite a bit of ridiculous dialogue regarding a deep-seeded fear towards science and technological progress, most of it can be forgotten. The quiet moments, such as Dean and Anna in a small gas station, are the perfect set-ups for Lenzi’s explosive battle sequences. Stelvio Cipriani’s score for Nightmare City ranks with the best of Fabio Frizzi and Goblin.

What I love about Nightmare City is that it is so ridiculous, so excessive, and so incredibly focused and well-made. Beyond the meticulous and exciting battle sequences, I love the quirky standout sequences. For example, Jessica and Bob ignore General Murchison’s order to come to the bunker. They take a trip in their camper to the countryside. In a single and effective sequence, Bob and Jessica realize the impending crisis and have a fateful encounter with another couple. In another, Sheila, the artist wife of Major Holmes, is making a sculpture. It haunts Warren the first time that he sees it. The second time that he sees it, the sculpture becomes a profound irony, a sequence rendered masterfully by Lenzi in the final act.
Umberto Lenzi is a fantastic film maker. In my opinion, he will always be overshadowed by his cannibal flicks. He made some excellent gialli, especially those with Carroll Baker. In terms of pure entertainment, however, European cult cinema does not get any better than Nightmare City.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Innkeepers (2011)

I like Ti West. A lot. I think that he's one of the most creative American film makers working today. I watched his recent film The Innkeepers (2011) as an on-demand rental via the Zune application on XBOX Live Marketplace. Twice.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the sole workers on shift during the last weekend of business for the Yankee Pedlar Inn. An ex-actress, Lea Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) is a guest in the hotel. The inn appears very old, and like most old American buildings and institutions, this inn houses a ghost story. There once was a young woman named Madeline O'Malley who suffered a poor fate at the inn. Her corpse was hidden in the basement. Luke has created a website to document the paranormal activity at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, and Claire has agreed to help him this weekend, before the inn closes and everything shuts down.

Today, most horror genres are tired. Supernatural horror is especially tired. This is not to say that viewers do not get enough of it: television shows like Ghost Adventures and film series, like Paranormal Activity, are certainly strong evidence that the supernatural genre can generate a vast amount of income from the populace. There is, however, certainly a dearth of creative and innovative supernatural horror cinema. Is The Innkeepers innovative and creative supernatural cinema? Yes and no. Creative, yes, but innovative, no.

The Innkeepers is really buttressed by Sara Paxton's leading role as Claire. To me, she is a classic 'slacker' from the mold of the early to mid-nineties (trust me, as it takes one to know one.) As an incidental side note, I have no idea what year The Innkeepers is set but am fairly certain that it isn't 2011. It is so refreshing to watch someone so young and so not corporate. Claire tells Lea that she works in the hotel and beyond doing that she has no idea what her future holds for her; and she later asks Luke why does everyone have such high expectations? Today, one would intuitively think that she would be full of fear; and she better start networking, filling her CV with internships and the like, if she wants to have a successful career. She's positive and happy, however, with her station in life. Claire is even kind of goofy.

Hence, connecting with Claire is the key to enjoying to The Innkeepers. If you do not find her endearing, then The Innkeepers will be a chore to sit through, as this is pretty much Claire's film from beginning to end. I have never seen Paxton in any other film nor one that I can remember. She's wonderfully sweet as Claire and I found her energy infectious--so much so that if The Innkeepers were a straight comedy, then she would sell it for me. There's quite a bit of humor in The Innkeepers with a lot of it at Claire's expense. Paxton balances both the humor and the horror fairly adeptly.

I watched The Innkeepers twice in an attempt to resolve its ambiguities. Quite a bit of the film is vague: there are a lot of clues in the dialogue and elsewhere but there is little revelation. I'm curious as to whether The Innkeepers actually has an overall, unifying theme and I cannot say with certainty that it does. There are lots of interesting ideas within but no persuasive dominate theme stands out. What follows in the next paragraph are undeniably SPOILERS, so discontinue reading now if you have not seen The Innkeepers. During the following paragraph is also where I reveal how The Innkeepers is not innovative supernatural cinema.

After speaking with my brother, who watched the second viewing with me, we are both certain that The Innkeepers is a derivation of the “dead hate the living” theme.  The dead harbor a grudge towards all that are still living, a la Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on. In the pivotal scene where McGillis’s Lea reveals to Claire that she’s a healer (and a medium), the dialogue supports this. My brother and I believe that the spirits are talking to Lea revealing their plan to kill Claire and that “she,” meaning Lea, cannot help her. Claire, of course, erroneously interprets Lea to mean that Claire cannot help Madeline O'Malley. The only thing that Lea can do is to tell Claire not to go into the basement...of course, Lea doesn’t listen. Twice. Also, Claire’s overwhelmingly positive attitude makes more sense in this regard as a target for vengeful spirits. She’s living life regardless of its future. As interesting as this theme and related ones are, they are ultimately unsatisfying. Ti West makes low-key, slow-burning, and intense films. I think that some film maker in the future is going to have to really kick supernatural cinema in the ass for it to be innovative.

Anyway, I enjoyed The Innkeepers quite a bit and I’m certain that I’ll purchase the eventual Blu-Ray or DVD release. I’d love to hear a Ti West commentary. In any case, I would classify The Innkeepers as light, but it’s still way better than most films of its elk out there.