Friday, July 31, 2015

Seidan: Botandoro (Hellish Love) (1972)

Seidan: Botandoro (Hellish Love) (1972) is a pinku eiga, directed by Chusei Sone, and based upon a familiar tale.
Beautiful, yet sickly, Otsuyu (Setsuko Ogawa) and her handmaid, Omine (Hidemi Hara), are walking home in the rain.  Otsuyu stops to take a rest under a small shelter, and a handsome samurai named Shinzaburo (Hajime Tanimoto) gives the pair an umbrella to shield their walk home.  Otsuyu and Shinzaburo are smitten with each other, and Omine aids her mistress to bring the two together.  Otsuyu is the daughter of a wealthy but widowed samurai, and the head of the household, Oyone (Yoshie Kitsuda), is plotting to kill her master and his daughter in order to share his wealth with her lover.  Omine eventually brings the two lovers together, and they consummate their love.  Oyone takes the opportunity to tattle upon her mistress which forces the young couple’s confrontation with an enraged father.  Incensed that the meager samurai (he makes umbrellas for a living) has seduced his daughter under the roof of his home, he pulls his sword and strikes down his daughter.  Shinzaburo removes himself to his home, heartbroken, while Oyone is successful in killing both Omine and her master.  On August 13 [a Japanese holiday, Obon, where the living commemorate their dead ancestors], Otsuyu appears at Shinzaburo’s door for Shinzaburo to keep his promise: to consummate his eternal love for Otsuyu.
Thomas and Yuko Mihara Weisser write in Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films, “Although a period film, director Sone’s fairytale stylings provided the movie a visionary charm which appealed to the college crowd.  Students embraced it as a cutting-edge movie, turning this venture into Nikkatsu’s first youth-oriented pinku eiga hit.  At the same time, Chusei Sone’s camerawork was hailed for its creativity by numerous tough critics.  The film won many industry awards and became a bonafide hit.”  (*) 
Indeed there is a true juvenile spirit to Hellish Love.   Ogawa and Tanimoto, who play the two lovers, are young and attractive and their courting reflects this:  when Omine is able to get Shinzaburo to visit, she is unable to get Otsuyu to leave her room:  Otsuyu covers herself with her blanket, afraid that the handsome samurai will not like her.  Likewise, brooding Shinzaburo sits alone in his workshop, afraid to go and visit the young beauty, because how can the daughter of a wealthy samurai ever be interested in a meager and lowly one?  Of course, adults are the ones who really fuck things up for the youngsters:  they are the plotters and schemers, like Oyone; the killers, like Otsuyu’s father; or meddlers, like the couple of dimwits who live next door to Shinzaburo.  The ending of Hellish Love would be a tragedy:  however, almost all of the adults in the film die from nefarious means; and in ironic fashion, the ending for the young couple actually elevates them above the rest.
Chusei Sone’s camerawork is stellar.  In Otsuyu and Shinzaburo’s fateful love scene, Sone composes the couple behind a dressing screen.  With a close-up, his camera focuses on the curled toes of Otsuyu in an ecstatic moment and pans quickly across the dressing screen to capture the look of pleasure in her face.  Sone’s eroticism is built primarily through tension: a glance or a naked shoulder captured takes upon a lot of weight.  [Indeed, when Otsuyu completely removes her kimono in her love scene with Shinzaburo, the two bodies are completely obscured by optical blurring.  Little nudity was shown possibly due to censorship.]  Most of the sets are austere.  The characters and their fetishes stand out:  Otsuyu’s combs and sashes and Shinzaburo’s sword and umbrellas.  The settings feel organic which makes Hellish Love focus more upon its characters, which in turn make the film much more intimate. 
Despite the fact that Hellish Love is a pinku eiga film, it hardly seems an exploitation film.  It is only an exploitation film, because it has more than one love scene and has nudity.  However, Sone’s eroticism, I believe, elevates Hellish Love above the exploitation elk and creates compelling cinema.  Hellish Love is no longer provocative today:  in fact, I would go so far to say that it is shy eroticism.  Sone’s direction and the performances by the actors give Hellish Love from me a high recommendation.
*  Vital Books, Inc.  Asian Cult Cinema Publications.  Miami, Florida.  1998: p.133.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Luna di sangue (Escape from Death) (1989)

Luna di sangue (Escape from Death) (1989) is another Italian film in the “Lucio Fulci presents” series, produced by Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini.  Luna was written by Enzo Milioni and Giovanni Simonelli and directed by Milioni.  Its primary attraction are the several notable actresses, such as Zora Kerova, Jessica Moore, Pamela Prati, and Annie Belle.  Please be advised that I viewed the film in the Italian language and am unable to comprehend it.  I figured this was going to be the only way to see Luna, as the Italian DVD is the only source with which I am familiar; and I doubt that this film ever had an English dub.  Therefore, I will sketch out what I can glean from the story, accurate representation or not.
Luna di sangue begins with the same murder that ends the film:  Larry Moffet (Alessandro Freyberger) is gunned down by a black-gloved assailant (whose identity is revealed in the final scene).  The action of the film begins when Ann Moffet (Barbara Blasko) views the corpse of a young man, recently murdered, in the horse stables of her property.  Dazed, she wanders to the front of the house where Mary (Kerova) is talking to Doctor Duvivier (Jacques Sernas).  Ann collapses, and the doctor tends to her.  Ann recovers slowly and becomes perturbed when Larry arrives at the house.  She apparently has no memory of him, despite pictures of herself and him strewn about the house.  Ann becomes distant from everyone.  At the end of the first act, Ann is brushing her teeth and maggots pour out of her toothpaste tube.  She crawls into her bedroom and dons her slippers one of which is filled with worms.  Too spooky.  During a later evening, she opens her bedroom door where she is greeting by a corpse with a bloody face.  Around the estate, other people are being murdered by a black-gloved killer.
As I have stated, the primary attraction of Luna di sangue are its actresses.  I have always thought that Zora Kerova is one of the most talented actresses to appear in Italian genre cinema; and perhaps ironically, she has appeared in some of the nastiest films to come from the genre:  La evase—Storie di sesso e di violenze (Escape from Women’ Prison) (1978), La ragazza del vagone letto (Terror Express) (1979), Anthropophagus (1980), Cannibal Ferox (1981), and finally, for example, Lo squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper) (1982).  Kerova appeared in other Lucidi/Nannerini productions of this period such as Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio (Touch of Death) (1988), Il fantasma di Sodoma (Sodoma’s Ghost) (1988), and Hansel e Gretel (1990) (The first two were directed by Lucio Fulci).  Kerova appears in the talkiest sequences in Luna, and I have no idea what the conversations were about.  She is very beautiful and gives a competent performance, but there is little for her to do here.  Jessica Moore plays Tania, a young mute woman who appears almost feral.  She will crawl on the floor and skitter away when asked to exit the room.  Moore is one of the sexiest actresses of Italian cinema of the 1980s.  She appeared in La monaca del peccato (Convent of Sinners) (1986); Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987); Non aver paura della zia Marta (The Murder Secret) (1988); Top Model (1988); Riflessi di luce (Reflections of Light) (1988); and finally, for example, Il fantasma di Sodoma (Sodoma’s Ghost) (1988).  In almost all of these films, Moore is typically cast in an erotic role, and in Luna, her role is not that different.  Her character, Tania, gets caught up in the murder-mystery plotline and she meets her death in the film’s nastiest gore sequence.  Pamela Prati appears in a couple of short scenes, unfortunately.  Annie Belle plays Brigitte in a small role:  her character is suspicious of Larry and she interjects herself into the mystery.  Her death scene appears on the cover of the Italian DVD.
Luna di sangue has short, nasty gore scenes; no tension; and a lot of conversation scenes.  Based upon the version that I have seen, I would be reticent to view an English version of the film.  I am really tempted to call Luna di sangue uninspired but a more apt description, often overused, is a missed opportunity.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Massacre (Massacro) (1989)

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

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blackaria (2010)

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I frati rossi (The Red Monks) (1988)

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

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

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rest in Pieces (Descanse en piezas) (1987)

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

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

2.       Ibid.

3.       Ibid.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Red Cockroaches (2003)

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Horror Rises from the Tomb (El espanto surge la tumba) (1973)

Horror Rises from the Tomb (El espanto surge la tumba) (1973) is my favorite film from Paul Naschy.  It features a good supporting cast including two of the most beautiful women to ever grace Spanish cinema, Emma Cohen and Helga Liné.  Naschy’s screenplay for Horror Rises is wonderfully episodic and frenetic.  The most oft anecdote about his screenplay, Naschy relates as thus:  “Pérez Giner called me up in a terrible hurry—he urgently needed a horror screenplay, since the creation of a production company [Profilmes] depended on it.  I didn’t have one but I told him I could write one pretty fast.  I had to do it in a day and a half.  With the help of amphetamine tablets I managed it in what is obviously a record time.” (1)  The majority of the film was shot at Naschy’s family estate at Lozoya. (2)
Horror Rises opens with a pastoral scene:  Alaric de Marnac (Naschy) and his lover, Mabille de Lancré (Liné) are being drawn in a carriage by oxen to a large tree in the middle of a desolate field.  De Marnac is decreed a Satanist, a cannibal, a wolfman, etc. and condemned to death.  His head will be removed from his body and both will be buried in separate places.  Mabille is stripped and hung upside down after also being condemned to death.  She curses Andre Roland (Victor Alcázar) and Armand de Marnac (Naschy) before she dies, stating specifically that their descendants will suffer a tremendous punishment.  Cut to Paris during the present.  Hugo de Marnac (Naschy) visits his artist friend, Maurice Roland (Alcázar), and the two hook up with their girlfriends, Silvia (Betsabé Ruiz) and Paula (Cristina Suriani), respectively.  Over cocktails, the four meet with another couple who invite them to a séance.  Hugo thinks that séances are phony, so he decided to challenge the medium by invoking the spirit of his ancestor, Alaric de Marnac.  The medium successfully channels his spirit, and Alaric reveals the resting place of his head and body.  Hugo, still unconvinced, invites Maurice, Silvia, and Paula to his familial estate for a sojourn, whereupon they will attempt to find Alaric’s head and body among the grounds. 
Horror Rises from the Tomb escalates in sensationalism with every subsequent scene.  My personal favorite scene shows Alaric’s head in a box above a pillar in the crypt where his body is laid.  The scene is actually Naschy rigged up so he can deliver orders to his hypnotized slaves.  For whatever reason, I find a talking head in a box extremely entertaining.  Once Liné’s Mabille is resurrected (in a wonderfully convoluted and sensational manner), she is free to wreak havoc among the population.  In a scene which is probably very close to most young men’s dreams of the period, a young man lays in bed reading a photo-magazine of scantily-clad ladies.  He looks up from his bed to see Liné standing at his bedside, and with one movement she removes the shear slip that she is donning.   The young man embraces her only to have his back ripped to shreds moments later.  Emma Cohen plays Elvira, and her father, the caretaker of the de Marnac estate, is one of the film’s first victims.  Her younger sister, Chantal (María José Cantudo), is the second to be murdered.  In an intimate, sweet scene Hugo visits distraught Elvira who admits that she is all alone in the world.  Hugo tells her that she stills has him and that he loves her since they were children.  The two kiss, and despite the fact that Elvira has lost two of her closest family members and is very emotionally vulnerable, Naschy as Hugo takes the opportunity to cop a serious feel upon Elvira.  Spooky séances, crazed, violent locals, zombies, sorcerers, vampires, buckets of blood, and boatloads of nudity comprise the running time of Horror Rises from the Tomb.
Carmelo A. Bernaola composed an excellent organ score for Horror Rises.  The clash of its archaic sound in a contemporary setting is perfect.  Naschy’s screenplay, perhaps fueled by desperation, births something amazing, usually only reserved for spontaneity.  Carlos Aured was the director of Horror Rises, and he was chosen because he was León Klimovsky’s assistant who was unavailable at the time. (3)  The duo of Naschy and Aured would go on to collaborate on El return de Walpurgis (Curse of the Devil) (1972); Los ojos azules de la muneca rota (House of the Psychotic Women) (1973); and La venganza de la momia (The Mummy’s Revenge) (1973). (4) While their subsequent works were all entertaining, none quite have the je ne sais quois of Horror Rises from the Tomb. 

1.   The quote is from Naschy, Paul.  Memoirs of a Wolfman.  Midnight Marquee Press.  Baltimore, Maryland.  2000:  p. 119.
Naschy would repeat the anecdote in the following interviews:
1.  “Paul Naschy comments on each of his films.”  Videooze.  Ed. Bob Sargent.  No. Six/Seven.  Fall 1994.  Alexandria, Virginia.  1994:  p. 27.
2.  Bouyxou, Jean-Pierre, Jan Van Genecten, and Gilbert Verschooten.  “Interview with Waledmar Daninsky, Alias Paul Naschy.”  Fantoom.  Ed.  Gilbert Verschooten.  No. 5.  Fall/Winter 1977.  Grimbergen, Belgium.  1977, English Supplement:  p. 10.
3.  Cuenca, José Ignacio.  “The Howl from Overseas.”  Fangoria.  Ed.  Anthony Timpone.  No. 134.  Fall 1994.  Starlog Communications International.  New York, New York.  1994: p. 63.
4.  Lipinski, Mirek, Shade Rupe, and The Gore-Met.  “The Creature Incarnate.”  Rue Morgue.  Ed. Dave Alexander.  Issue 98.  Marrs Media Inc.  Toronto, Canada.  March 2010:  p. 19.

2.   Cuenca, José Ignacio.  “The Howl from Overseas.”  Fangoria.  Ed.  Anthony Timpone.  No. 134.  Fall 1994.  Starlog Communications International.  New York, New York.  1994: p. 63.

3.  Naschy, Paul.  Memoirs of a Wolfman.  Midnight Marquee Press.  Baltimore, Maryland.  2000:  p. 119.

4.  Ibid. at p. 120.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Evil Sabbath (La vision del sabba) (1988)

Evil Sabbath (La vision del sabba) (1988) is an Italo-French production, directed by Marco Bellocchio and starring Beatrice Dalle in one of her earliest roles.  Dalle plays Maddalena a young woman confined to an asylum who is awaiting a diagnosis of her mental condition to determine whether she is competent to stand trial for murder.  Davide (Daniel Ezralow) is a young doctor who arrives in Italy to examine her; and after their fateful first meeting, Davide’s life makes a radical change.
Evil Sabbath opens with a young woman standing calmly in the foreground while a blazing fire erupts in the background.  In the following scene, an Inquisition torture scene occurs where Dalle is accused of being a witch.  The Inquisitor is about to adjudge her a witch after a series of tests, but a young man assisting the Inquisitor steps in and reveals that Dalle’s character has the plague.  This faux diagnosis saves her life for the time being.  Cut to the present where the young man awakens from sleep—it is Davide:  he was either dreaming the Inquisition scene or his ancestor was present during the period (and Bellocchio is cross-cutting between the two events).  Davide and his wife Cristina (Corinne Touzet) arrive in Italy, and Davide finally meets Maddalena.
Marco Bellocchio crafts an interesting arthouse drama with Evil Sabbath.  It is not a wholly successful film, but the fault does not lie with Bellocchio’s technique:  he is purposefully punctuating his drama with obscurity.  There are more questions at the conclusion of the film than answers.  Evil Sabbath oscillates between scenes of intimacy and more ornate scenes, typically the subjective scenes from Davide’s point of view, involving the historical scenes with witches.  As to the latter, for example, in a night scene in front of a castle Davide encounters a group of wild women, and they surround Davide with a ring of fire.  The seeming intention of the group is to menace and harm Davide, but undaunted, Davide begins to play with the group of women.  They engage in a playful mimicry, and the scene appears as a dance. When these scenes are contrasted with the intimate scenes, of which there are really only three involving Dalle, they pale in comparison.  Davide’s initial interview with Maddalena; Maddalena’s formal questioning by a tribunal; and a love scene in the final act between Davide and Maddalena are the strongest sequences.  Bellocchio shoots each scene primarily focused on one medium shot of Dalle and he allows the camera to linger upon her.  Dalle is amazingly captivating, and the chemistry she has with Ezralow is strong.  (Ezralow’s intimate scenes with Touzet are good too, but they are not nearly as strong as Ezralow with Dalle.)  When Evil Sabbath does not focus on Dalle, the film cannot generate the energy present in the intimate scenes.
Evil Sabbath is an interesting film conceptually.  I just wish it had been done differently.  The exploration of the word “bewitched” in a filmic composition is a subject well worth exploring:  a man as a completely submissive subject towards his powerful female object.  If any actress is bewitching, Dalle is certainly one first to mind.  Preferring a wholly intimate film focusing on Dalle is my stance on this obscurity.  Anyone seeking a tripped-out arthouse drama may seek out Evil Sabbath, but it will only make each seek out more Dalle.