Friday, February 26, 2016

The Hugo Stiglitz Chronicles, Volume Four

More Stiglitz mini-reviews for you to skim.  Enjoy.

El culebrero (1998)
Here is the story of a drunk layabout, clad all in black, who shares a special affinity with snakes.  He is being followed, as he stumbles throughout the film, by a strikingly beautiful woman, also clad completely in black.  Stiglitz plays a powerful land baron with a wealth of affectations:  cigar, glass of tequila, faithful dog always at his side, wheelchair, and oxygen tank.  Yes, Stiglitz is disabled in this one, but his character is full of piss and vinegar.  A decent fellow lives in the shadow of Stiglitz’s hacienda with a small farm, accompanied by his lovely wife and teenage daughter.  He needs Stiglitz to cut him a break.  The drunk layabout kills a few of Stiglitz’s peeps.  Then, purely by accident, the drunk layabout witnesses the death of Stiglitz’s weed dealer by heart attack.  He brings the corpse to the local police station, and when Stiglitz sees his dead homey next to the drunk layabout (still clad in all black), he is certain that he is the killer.  The decent fellow, who needs Stiglitz to give him a break, is recruited by Stiglitz to kill the drunk layabout.  He cannot bring himself to do it, because, after all, he is a decent fellow and the drunk layabout is an okay guy.  So, Stiglitz has his henchman kidnap the decent fellow’s wife and daughter to force him to kill the drunk layabout.  The two men have a showdown, but the strikingly beautiful woman, also clad completely in black, intercedes; and the decent fellow and the drunk layabout join forces to rescue the women and take down Stiglitz.  If this synopsis does not make a lot of sense, then that’s cool.

El culebrero is a modern-day Western with some odd themes thrown in.  In a signature shot, the drunk layabout gets ambushed by some of Stiglitz’s hitmen.  He feigns death, and as the hitman search his horse basket, they find a bundle of snakes.  One of the hitmen kills the snakes with his automatic rifle.  The drunk layabout loses his shit, subdues a nearby hitman, grabs his weapon, and kills the entire group of assailants.  The drunk layabout keeps a snake inside of his shirt, like a pet, and at opportune times, he pulls snakes from his pockets and wields them like weapons.  The strikingly beautiful women, also clad completely in black, appears almost in a supernatural role, like the guardian angel of the drunk layabout.  Stiglitz yells at people; drinks tequila, smokes cigars; and sucks oxygen from his tank.  El culebrero is definitely weird, yet it is nothing special for Stiglitz fans.
La noche de la bestia (1988)
Stiglitz and four of his homies go to a secluded shack for a hunting party.  On the first day, there is male bonding, hunting, drinking, more drinking, and more male bonding.  On the second day, after a morning of hunting, Stiglitz and his homies see a beautiful woman running on the shore of the lake, with armed pursuers following in a jeep.  The beautiful woman and her pursuers are all wearing the same yellow jumpsuit.  One of Stiglitz’s homies gets shot, and the rest of his crew kill the pursuers and rescue the woman.  They bring their injured homey inside along with the woman.  They tend to his wounds, and the woman collapses from exhaustion.  Stiglitz and his homies are in possession of an operational automobile.  Do they go the police and report this incident? No.  First, let’s back up.

During the opening shot of La noche de la bestia, the yellow-jumpsuit-ed team packs some TNT into the side of a mountain and detonate their bomb.  They remove a large clump of glowing ore.  During the second night of the hunting party of Stiglitz and his homies, they go outside the shack when they hear a loud explosion.  Over the horizon, with state-of-the-art special effects, they witness a nuclear explosion.  They chalk it off to the doings of the locals.  The following day the shootout occurs.  Stiglitz stays with his injured homey, the beautiful woman, and another homey in the shack.  The other two homies take the vehicle and drive towards the explosion.  They encounter a shack where yellow jumpsuit-ed body parts and torn limbs are strewn about.  They take the computer from the shack and return to the hunting party. The dude that gets shot stumbles outside to get a bottle of whiskey from the vehicle.  He goes missing, as something comes rising out of the lake to munch upon him.  Stiglitz stays with the beautiful woman, as the remaining bunch go looking for their injured homey.  The beautiful woman, now conscious, requests a shower.  She comes out of the bathroom and seduces Stiglitz.  They do the nasty.  When the remaining hunting party returns, they find the woman dead and Stiglitz possessed.  Stiglitz tries to kill his homies, but they put him down.  They have an encounter, then, with a monster.
I am not a big fan of male bonding and drinking, especially with the inclusion of firearms; so the first have of La noche, is fairly pedestrian.  Its highlight is a scene evocative of the “dueling banjoes” sequence from Deliverance (1972).  La noche really starts cooking when the group encounter the beautiful woman running along the shore of the lake.  Then, La noche adopts the skeleton narrative of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and becomes a decent, B-movie, sci-fi/horror film.  It is worth noting that the DVD version of La noche de la bestia that I watched appeared censored:  the audio would drop out periodically (presumably to remove profanity); the shower scene of gorgeous Lina Santos appears abbreviated; and the pivotal scene of Stiglitz and Santos doing the nasty is absent (it is rare that a B-movie would have its viewer infer an important plot point and avoid sensationalism.)  However, as food for thought, La noche de la bestia is very violent with its violent scenes seemingly intact.  This one turns out pretty cool and an addition to the syllabus for the serious Stiglitz student.
Traficando con la muerte (2001)
The first half of Traficando con la muerte, you can file under “fuck yeah!”  Stiglitz plays a drug-addicted, seriously disturbed individual who practices voodoo; worships the devil; and kills people.  He looks like a hooded corpse.  In the opening scene, Stiglitz snorts some coke and says some mumbo jumbo in his dilapidated shack.  He goes outside and hooks up with two chumps.  They climb aboard a big rig and hit the road (they are trafficking drugs).  The police set up a roadblock, but Stiglitz tells his chumps to drive through it.  Stiglitz and the chumps disembark from the semi and engage in a firefight with the police.  Stiglitz shoots the lead police officer and spares his life, only after giving him a grimacing smile.  They are the only two to survive.  Subsequent to this shootout, the surviving police officer begins to have hallucinations of Stiglitz.  Is it Stiglitz voodoo or PTSD?  I do not know, but the police officer is forced into medical leave until he is better.  Stiglitz attends a rodeo, and after a fight with her boyfriend, a very beautiful woman gets seduced by Stiglitz’s mumbo jumbo.  He takes her back to her home, and the two do the nasty.  The woman’s boyfriend shows and catches the two in bed.  Stiglitz ices the man and sweetly kisses the woman goodbye.  The local drug dealer needs some more drug trafficking via big-rig trucks, so he sends two chumps to Stiglitz’s shack.  One of the two is rather plump, so Stiglitz disembowels the man, so the narcotics can be fit inside.  They cross the border with a coffin in the back of the big-rig truck.  The police quickly allow them to pass.  At this point in Traficando, Stiglitz has pissed off quite a few people who come gunning for him.  Stiglitz finds a homey, drinks tequila, and snorts cocaine.  The final shootout is eminent.

In Traficando, Stiglitz plays a truly evil character whose services are for purchase.  (“Dirty deeds done dirt cheap,” as the saying goes.)  The second half of the film forces its story into a traditional action film which offsets the coolness of the first half.  I really preferred just watching scary Stiglitz go around performing evil acts without purpose.  The first half is essential exploitation cinema, and overall, Traficando con la muerte is well-worth seeing for the Stiglitz fan.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Fighter (Le battant) (1983)

On the day he gets out of prison, Jacques Darnay (Alain Delon) is looking over his shoulder.  Darnay took the wrap: during a jewel heist eight years previously, the store owner was murdered and a cache of diamonds worth six million francs was stolen.  The police knew that Darnay had an accomplice but could not identify him.  The diamonds were never recovered.  As a result, Darnay served a reduced sentence; and at the start of Le battant (The Fighter) (1983), he is now free.  In the opening scene of the film, one of Darnay’s homies, Mignot (Michel Beaune) gets a visit from three well-dressed assailants who tell him to turn on Darnay or die.  The crooks want the diamonds.  The police inspector, Rouxel (Pierre Mondy), who busted Darnay from the original heist, wants to find Darnay’s accomplice who murdered the store owner.  More importantly, it seems Rouxel also wants to collect the ten-percent finder’s fee for locating the missing diamonds.  If Darnay locates the diamonds, then he is dead.  If he does not, then the people close to him will start dying.  Most interestingly, does Darnay even know where the diamonds are stashed?
Delon plays The Fighter close.  He wants his viewer to feel the desperation of a man constantly looking over his shoulder for an awaiting killer and also wants his viewer question his rationale and motives:  is this desperate life worth all of the trouble?  Darnay sees Mignot soon after his release from prison and within minutes of meeting the man, Mignot is gunned down.  Mignot’s death enforces for Darnay how serious his pursuers are.  Beautiful Clarissa (Marie-Christine Descouard), Darnay’s lover before he went away to prison, accepts Darnay with open arms and no questions asked when he arrives at the doorstep of her flat.  After Mignot’s murder, Darnay tries to hide Clarissa but to no avail:  she dies in Darnay’s arms after getting gunned down.  As Le battant unfolds from this point, it becomes clear to Darnay (and to the viewer) that he can no longer trust anyone and is going to have to kill everyone who stands in his way.

I am a mark for both Alain Delon and gritty Eurocrime flicks.  Delon gives an odd performance as Darnay.  In all of the action sequences, Delon is cold and icy, like the bad motherfucker he played in Tony Arzenta (1973).  However, Darnay is all too eager to crack a joke, most often at the expense of Rouxel.  This blend of black humor and cold violence does not come off like a Fernando di Leo antihero, like Ringo or Johnny Yuma.  Di Leo composed characters who had a death wish and were laughing towards their end.  Delon’s performance of Darnay belies that appearance.  Anne Parillaud appears as Nathalie, who is offered to Darnay for a thousand francs for one evening by his homey in the underworld, Ruggeri (Franςois Périer).  After their bout of lovemaking, Nathalie breaks down to Darnay and begs him to free her from her abusive relationship with Ruggeri.  Darnay agrees and puts her up in a hideout.  Nathalie helps Darnay by identifying the Ruggeri’s accomplices, so Darnay knows exactly who is following him.  It is apparent, however, that Darnay does not trust Nathalie:  she is either still working for Ruggeri or is attempting to get the diamonds for herself.  It is also apparent that Darnay has strong feelings for her and wants to trust her.  This human side to Darnay creates a schism in his character which makes his violent actions more disturbing.  Delon’s Darnay comes off as a very well-composed and violent sociopath.  He is not an antihero but more like a sick person.

Anne Parillaud does not appear in Le battant really until its middle and her inclusion in the film raises its interest.  She stole all of Delon’s thunder in their previous collaboration, Pour la peau d’un flic (1981), and while her character is nowhere as rich as her previous role, Parillaud gives another memorable performance.  She is one of the few actresses who possess both a powerful sensuality combined with, at appropriate times, a complete vulnerability.  Her character, Nathalie, is the most important in the film, as she reveals within Darnay what is important in life.  Finally, it is well worth mentioning, Parillaud has two very lovely nude scenes in the film.  The pacing in The Fighter, clocking in at nearly two hours, is amazingly brisk, fueled by Darnay’s desperation.  The action sequences, save some automobile sequences that are clearly sped up, are extremely well-done.  Delon serves up some serious cold-blooded violence in this one.  Highly recommended for fans of the Eurocrime genre.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Night of the Executioner (La noche del ejecutor) (1993)

The Night of the Executioner (La noche del ejecutor) (1993) is a nasty exploitation film, starring Paul Naschy, who also wrote and directed.

Naschy plays Dr. Hugo Arranz, a successful surgeon, who is spending his fiftieth birthday with his wife and teenage daughter at his home.  While they were shopping earlier in the evening, a thug spied on them and noticed that Dr. Arranz carried a large sum of money.  This thug and his crew have now invaded the Arranz home during dinner.  They rape and murder Arranz’s wife.  They rape and murder his daughter in front of him, while he remains beaten and bound with his tongue cut out.  The thugs presume Arranz dies, but he survives.  Now unable to speak, Arranz hits the gym and pumps iron; conditions himself with jogging; and becomes seriously adept at firearms and throwing knives.  All that is left is to find the thugs responsible for the deaths of his loved ones.  Back at his home, fresh from the hospital, Arranz finds a flyer for a local bar.  There is a name inscribed upon the back, “Gloria.” 

Naschy writes that, “It has been said that this film is a copy of Death Wish, the film starring the ever impassive Charles Bronson.  There is a grain of truth in that statement but I approached the film from a totally Spanish viewpoint, with the Madrid criminal underworld in mind.  I wanted to make a movie that reflected the sordid side of certain parts of the capital.” (1)  Naschy was inspired to write the screenplay after an experience that he had one evening leaving the gym. (2) He writes:
“Suddenly three scruffy youths appeared in front of me.  They looked like they were out for trouble.  Two of them whipped out hunting knives and I knew what I was in for.  I don’t know exactly what thoughts flashed through my mind at that moment, I just reacted instinctively.  Dropping my sports bag to the ground I quickly unzipped it and got hold of the thick protective belt used for power lifting.  I could feel rage boiling up inside me.  Maybe it was the pure anger of frustration that I’d had to hold back so many times in my life or maybe I saw those thugs as a symbol of all the bastards who’ve had it in for me down the years.  The fact is I just went for them with a vengeance and left two of them in a really bad way.  ¶ It looked like I wasn’t going to be so lucky with the third assailant but, fortunately, the headlights of a passing car put the wind up them and they made a run for it.” (3)
Naschy’s screenplay also embraces the current discourse in regards to the current system of justice, criminals’ rights vis-à-vis the rights of their victims.  Clearly Naschy sides with the victims.  For example, the character of Olga, a magistrate and close friend of Dr. Arranz, advocates for a better criminal justice system and reforming jails and prisons to make them true rehabilitation facilities.  The thugs who assault Dr. Arranz’s family later gang rape the woman in her garage.  Subsequent to her assault, now a victim, Olga ceases to be a staunch advocate for criminal rights but she does not wholly abandon her causes.  I believe Olga, like Naschy with his screenplay, sees the issue as not a completely academic one and one which must confront the rights of victims.

Naschy never abandons his lofty ideals in Night and he certainly is not reticent to put the sensationalism on display.  In a creative scene, Arranz busts through a window like The Terminator upon two thugs in their apartment.  He ices one with his magnum, and with the other, the lone female in the group of thugs who attacked his family, he hesitates.  Naschy’s character has a Bergman/Von Sydow/Virgin Spring moment, where he can see his criminal as human when begging for mercy.  However, Arranz is so overcome with vengeance that he cannot stop his parade of violence.  He ices her.  (This character was shown earlier castrating a guy.)  The thugs who attacked Arranz’s family are part of a larger syndicate who are run by “Cobra,” whose face is never seen by the viewer until the final act.  In my favorite scene of Night, two thugs report to Cobra for orders.  Cobra is in an S&M session and only stops when his thugs enter the room.  In a nifty shot, his portrait is shown but he is hidden behind his S&M mask.  (I don’t know why but I find this hilarious.)  Finally, I believe Naschy’s son, Sergio, appears later in the film.  He is an adolescent boy who lives near Dr. Arranz’s country home.  Arranz has housed Gloria there, in order for her to have a home while she puts her life together.  This adolescent boy meets a very ignominious ending during the final act shootout.

Despite The Night of the Executioner being filmed and released in the early nineteen-nineties, Naschy’s visual style and story content feel straight out of the nineteen-seventies in true grindhouse fashion.  Paul Naschy plays a bad motherfucker in this one, and it is highly recommended for fans of his work.
1. Naschy, Paul.  Memoirs of a Wolfman.  Translated by Mike Hodges.  Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.  Baltimore, Maryland.  2000: p.205.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Sleep of Death (1978)

The Sleep of Death (1978) is a pretty cool Euro production that lost a chance at an audience in the late seventies during the Rise of the Blockbuster.
Based on a story by Sheridan le Fanu, Sleep is about English aristocrat, Robert (Brendan Price), who longs to visit Post-Revolution Paris to gamble, to drink, and to consort with various continental women.  His father will not allow him to do so and arranges for him to be married.  However, fortuitously for Robert, he dies before his wishes are fulfilled.  It’s off to France with his manservant, Sean (Niall Toibin).  En route to Paris, Robert’s coach is almost driven off the road by a sinister-looking coach, replete with the crest of a Dragon.  Inside, Robert catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman.  Robert’s coach gives chase, and they find the sinister-looking coach at an inn outside Paris.  While dining, Robert meets the Marquis (Patrick Magee) who offers to accompany Robert to Paris and introduce him into society.  Colonel Gaillard (Per Oscarsson) arrives at the inn with his guard and he threatens the Count (Curd Jürgens) and his wife, Countess Elga (Marilù Tolo).  Robert steps in and subdues the Colonel.  The beautiful young woman, whom Robert spied within the sinister-looking coach, is the Countess.  Robert is smitten and follows the Countess (with the Marquis) to Paris that very evening.  A young chambermaid is murdered that evening with her throat torn out.  Colonel Gaillard seems suspicious but unsurprised and follows onto Paris…
Sleep is set during a very interesting historical period, the rise of the Enlightenment and the end of Superstition.  It is within these two schools where the filmmakers, screenwriters Calvin and Yvonne Floyd with direction by Calvin, frame their narrative.  One of the most interesting questions to be posed within such a narrative is, “Could one who is so ‘enlightened’ exploit the superstitions of those around him for his own gain?”  The drama which unfolds in Sleep gives an answer to this question. 
During my first viewing of Sleep, I brought my own memories of le Fanu cinema and saw them in the production.  Tolo, who plays the Countess, is eerily evocative of Ingrid Pitt who played in the excellent le Fanu adaptation, The Vampire Lovers (1970).  Both actresses were about the same age in their respective roles.  Sleep also has direct allusions with imagery taken from Carl Theodor Dryer’s masterpiece, Vampyr (1932).  During a second viewing, I was able to put those memories aside and see how cleverly crafted the narrative is.  Sleep is really told from the point of view of Robert, and all the characters appear to the viewer as they would to Robert—The Countess is beautiful and seductive; the Marquis is a kind confidant; and the Colonel seems overzealous and crazy.  Since Sleep is a historical piece, the costumes and the apparent authentic locations also contribute to the narrative’s seductive beauty.  About midway through the film, when Robert attends a masquerade ball hosted by the Count and the Countess, it becomes obvious that Robert is being set-up.  As to what kind of ending Robert is being primed, this remains a mystery.

Patrick Magee and Per Oscarsson are two amazing actors who give easily the best performances in Sleep.  During the final act, when both of their characterizations have a full turn is when both shine.  I especially love how their two story arcs are concluded, with especial note to Oscarsson’s character:  his character’s ending is cryptic, and I use that word with more than one meaning.  The Sleep of Death is an adult drama, wrapped tightly in mystery, for the curious to seek out. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sara (1997)

Sara (1997) is an amazing Polish film, primarily because it has an overarching commercial appeal and is dealing with rather transgressive subject matter.  Or maybe not.  Sara could be classified with its American ilk, like the Kick-Ass films, big studio films with big actors whose subject matter is, let’s say, “edgy.”  Or…I’m just getting old.
Leon (Boguslaw Linda) is a decorated soldier, returning home to his loving wife and two child daughters after a tour.  While he is in the kitchen of his flat with his wife, Leon carelessly leaves his pistol in open view.  One of his daughters picks it up and fires it at her sister.  Cut to a few years later and Leon is still in his flat, but his wife and child have left him.  He has been seeking serious solace in the bottle.  He gets a call from one of his homies to meet a wealthy client for a protection job.  Leon arrives at the meeting place, an upscale bar, and is immediately rebuffed by the wealthy client for being a drunk.  A trio of armed thugs storm the bar, and Leon saves the client’s life.  As gratitude, the wealthy client gives Leon a job and helps him clean up his life.  The job he gives Leon is simple:  protect his teenage daughter, Sara (Agnieszka Wlodarcyzk), as the wealthy client’s enemies may harm her to get to him.  This job turns out to be simple but not easy for Leon…
The narrative of Sara is the romantic comedy, familiar in the American tradition.  Leon and Sara’s relationship begins with playful antagonism:  initially, Leon’s only real task is dropping off and picking up Sara from school.  One evening, however, she wants to attend the basketball game and dance after.  Leon shadows her the entire evening, and visibly irritated and perturbed, Sara steals the car keys from one of her bodyguards and escapes in the car.  Leon gives chase on foot, and Sara has an auto collision on the road.  From within the other car emerges an armed assailant, and Leon shields Sara with his body, absorbing the bullets and saving her life.  (Leon was wearing his bulletproof vest and survives.  Sara’s father moves him into his manor to recuperate.)  Leon now wants to quit but Sara won’t let him:  she has declared her love for him.  Leon has a bit of dilemma regarding the coquettish young lady’s feelings.
Subsequent to his tragedy, depicted in the first act of Sara, the viewer can clearly discern that Leon has a death wish.  There is not much that he is willing to lose or afraid of risking.  Sara begins after her declaration of love seducing Leon, and Leon, after some initial reticence, complies to having a sexual relationship with her.  Sara’s seduction scenes take upon the oddest aspect:  each composition seemingly is not a subjective composition, intended solely for the character of Leon; but rather, the compositions of Sara seem directed towards the viewer.  While the dialogue remains playfully antagonistic between the two, there is something disturbing about Sara’s seduction scenes.  Slowly, Leon begins to articulate warmer feelings towards Sara, and the two have a dinner date at a Chinese restaurant.  They have a sweet tango scene on the dance floor (a la Scent of a Woman (1992) and True Lies (1994)).  Included also is a scene where Leon, in his flat of all places, rides in circles upon his bicycle while Sara rides upon the handlebars.  (I almost started humming “Raindrops keep falling on my head” during this scene.)  The juxtaposition of Sara’s seduction scenes with the sweet, romantic comedy scenes give Sara an odd, off-putting vibe.  (Not to mention the John Woo-esque finale in the final act.)  Like the Kick-Ass films, this quality makes Sara both simultaneously disturbing and alluring, which is quite a unique feat.
Sara is well done in all technical aspects.  The leads are quite good in their roles.  Most of the comedy, even when it becomes repetitious, remains fresh and funny.  In the end, Sara is probably the sleaziest film that is also kind of sweet.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Who Wants to Kill Sara? (Tutti gli uomini di Sara) (1992)

I certainly do not, but Sara thinks somebody does.

Nancy Brilli (Ruggero Deodato’s Body Count (1986) and Demons 2 (1986)) plays Sara Lancetti, a successful divorce attorney who is set to marry Max Altieri (Giulio Scarpati).  They forgo a long engagement and choose to marry fifteen days from Max’s proposal.  They’re happy.  One evening in their flat, a bouquet of flowers arrives with a mysterious message telling Sara not to marry.  Max believes they are the gift of an old bitter boyfriend, and Sara ignores them.  Sara receives a second bouquet and subsequently an obscene phone call that threatens her if she gets married.  Sara does not phone the police, believing her life may be in danger.  Rather, Sara decides to take a trip down memory lane and seek out her old lovers.
Who Wants to Kill Sara? (Tutti gli uomini di Sara) (1992) wants to defy the expectations of the genre from it was so clearly born: the erotic thriller, brought to the A-List from the B-List by directors such as Adrian Lyne with 9 ½ Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987) and Paul Verhoeven with Basic Instinct (1991).  In the end, Who Wants to Kill Sara? is a thriller; but its screenplay, by Silvia Napolitano, keeps it as loose as possible, only including the requisite scenes of the genre as they are demanded.

Subsequent to her second bouquet and obscene phone call, Sara begins visiting old lovers.  The first she meets in a café and has a light conversation.  (Implicitly, Sara is able to remove suspects from her list by listening again to her lovers’ voices.)  While their conversation is light, the pair feels a chemistry and Sara and her old lover become flirty.  Despite the duo’s romantic feelings, their meeting ends uneventfully.  Sara then locates ex-lover, Daniele (Claudio Bigagli), who, upon seeing Sara, again, becomes overcome with emotion.  He’s sensitive, and after another uneventful meeting, where Sara eliminates him as a suspect, Daniele shows outside the courtroom to confront Sara the next day.  It was too much for him to see Sara, again, and he has to let her know this.  Sara meets another lover who’s hiding a secret, but in the end, this secret has nothing to do with Sara.
There is an obvious warm nostalgia visiting and reminiscing with old lovers, simultaneously with a danger of reigniting the charged emotions that may have led to that relationship’s ending.  The pitfalls of such dangers are the driving force behind Who Wants to Kill Sara?  The opening scene of the film after Sara successfully defends her client in a courtroom, in the bathroom, Sara is pulled into an empty stall by an unknown man.  The two have a steamy standing love scene.  At the mid-point in the film, seemingly to remind its viewer that Sara is a thriller, Sara pops into a convenience store for some milk and receives a phone call while inside.  A stranger is calling from a phone booth, and Sara gives chase.  She cannot locate the man making the phone call, but soon after, she is attacked near her flat.  Sara escapes with little injury.  As the film builds towards its climax, Sara’s obsession to find the caller grows and causes havoc in her personal and professional life.  During the final meeting of Sara and one of her old lovers, it ends with Sara sharing his bed.  Peppered throughout the film are sexy shots of Brilli in her garter and hose or in her panties.  Erotic scenes? Check.  Thriller scenes? Check.  Erotic thriller?  Not quite.
Who Wants to Kill Sara? suffers from an A-list production forgetting its true, b-movie roots.  The film is lit in a Lyne-ish manner with natural light filtering in through windows, giving its actors a smoky silhouette look at times.  The night scenes, especially the ones in Sara’s flat, are pedestrian.  When the killer is revealed in the final act, I didn’t really care too much.  To be truthful, it seemed Sara didn’t seem to particularly care either.  Obscure.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The House by the Edge of the Lake (Sensitività) (1979)

Intuitively, one would think that The House by the Edge of the Lake (Sensitività) (1979) was directed by Joe D’Amato: the similar compositions (by Alejandro Ulloa; although not quite as good as D’Amato’s); the antique almost colorless yet quite beautiful medieval village setting, as in Anthropophagus (1980); and finally, an emphasis on atmosphere and softcore sex.  However, no.  The House by the Edge of the Lake was helmed by Enzo G. Castellari, not known for his work in this genre, who responded to the question, “Are there any of your movies which you don’t like?”
“Of course. For example SENSITIVIA (aka KYRA, LAST HOUSE NEAR THE LAKE, 1979). We made that one during my holidays in Spain, it was a completely Spanish production, involving some questionable money that had been left from some other, even more strange production. It was some sort of joke for me but then the producer came and said that there is no more money left to complete the film and that he needs my ‘name’ to raise more from other production companies. I was not very happy to see my name on that picture. However he failed to get more money, I returned to Rome and from what I’ve heard, the Spanish producer finished the picture by himself later on. I’ve never seen it but I’m sure it’s completely unwatchable. However, I had a great time with my friends at the Costa Brava (laughs).” (1)

A notation follows this paragraph in the interview where the interviewers note that, “Castellari has since seen the finished film and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.” (2)
Lilian (Leonora Fani) returns to her ancestral and familial home from Italy to do college research about the local superstitions.  Her house sits upon a lake that is avoided by the villagers as cursed.  In the opening scene of the film, a young mother is rowing upon it with her child daughter.  She lets her daughter go to shore, and while the young mother paddles to find a navigable path to the main shoreline, a woman’s hand comes from the lake and pulls the young woman from the boat.  En route to her home, Lilian encounters several bad omens:  she almost hits a blind young girl with her motorcycle; inside the home, she hallucinates a hooded figure who attempts to kill her with an axe; and finally, without Lilian’s notice, a young woman about her age spies on Lilian from a distance who seems none too happy that Lilian is home.  Lilian hooks up with the young people in the village, and later in the evening (after drinking), they decide to go to the cemetery.  Lilian notices a unique grave with a bust of a beautiful woman, sitting atop.  Her date for the evening identifies the plot as the resting place for Kyra, a woman suspected by the village as being a witch.  Her date, whose name is Julien (Alberto Squillante), says the woman was not a witch, because she was his ancestor.  Lilian becomes excited and the two start fucking.  The young woman who was spying on Lilian at her home, named Lilith (Patricia Adriani), is again watching Lilian.  Lilith has a vision of Kyra (Caternia Boratto), becomes aroused, and starts masturbating.  Lilian has an orgasm and faints.  Julien loses his shit and flees in his car.  He has an accident when his car goes over a cliff and he dies.
The simultaneous arousal of Lilian and Lilith happens three more times; Lilith masturbates three more times; Lilian has sex three more times; and two of her partners subsequently kill himself after Lilian faints after orgasm in House.  The lone lover to survive is Lilian’s boyfriend, Edoardo (Wolfango Soldati), while the other lovers who meet suicidal ends (one of whom is Michele, played by Antonio Mayans aka Robert Foster) share a strong connection.  Castellari plays the police inspector who suspects that Lilian has something to do with the murders (but has no proof), while the superstitious villagers turn on Lilian after the second death, believing she is a witch.  Wonderful, Italian-American character actor Vincent Gardenia plays an artist in the village.  He doesn’t think that Lilian is a witch: he knows the real secret behind the killings, as he houses a dark secret himself.  The dramatic action and plot of House is quite simple but the odd history driving the action is rather convoluted.

The House by the Edge of the Lake is obscure and rather inconsequential.  The screenplay isn’t completely compelling—the inclusion of the overtly sexual elements raise the eyebrows of the film.  Subsequently, really only the sex scenes receive any creative treatment and are the only memorable moments of the film.  Hence, the overall Joe D’Amato-esque feeling of the production.  The House by the Edge of the Lake is a film on the periphery of the syllabus for serious students of European cult cinema.
1.   Blumenstock, Peter and Christian Kessler.  “Enzo G. Castellari Part. 2 of an Interview.” European Trash Cinema.  Vol.2, No. 10.  Ed. Craig Ledbetter.  Kingwood, TX. 1994: p. 31.
2.  Ibid.