Tuesday 27 October 2009

October Horror 2009 #8

On today's menu...

The Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Woman (1971 - Leon Klimovsky) - I happened to stumble across one of those cheap "10 movies for $9" sets, so I snagged it based on a few of the titles it contained. One of which was this apparently multi-pseudonymed movie ("Walpurgis Night", "The Werewolf's Shadow", "Blood Moon", etc.) with promises of an epic battle. It was a crappy print and cut to the old standard TV size, but still had some decent moments and was mostly fun outside of the really slow parts. But it wasn't until I saw Arbogast's screencaps did I really see how good this might have been with a better print. Man, I gotta track that down...Don't get me wrong, this is still B movie cheese filling, but I couldn't help be entertained by the oddly paced story and the very lovely vampires (even with my poor resolution). That epic battle, by the way, lasted all of 3 minutes.

Frightmare (1974 - Pete Walker) - I love these little 70s horror gems that just seem to pop up on my radar from time to time. For some reason, when this came to my doorstep, I thought it was an 80s flick (ala "Fright Night" - which would've been just fine), but it's a much slower burn than that style. Filled with really strong performances, wonderful setups and framing, it winds up with a final forced decision on one person's part that is the most horrific thing in the whole story. It's based around a couple who are sent away to an asylum due to the predilections of one of them - specifically, Dorothy likes to eat the brains of her victims. Years later, the couple have been released, live on a remote farm and their daughter and step-daughter live in the city. But Dorothy is getting hungry again...

Screwed (1998 - Teruo Ishii) - Opening and closing with dark orange hued, grotesque bodies writhing on a beach in some hellish orgy, Teruo Ishii's adaptation of a manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge is a feverish waking dream. After a suicide attempt, Tsube begins to wander about and come into contact with several different women. Each meeting seems to up the sexual ante between Tsube and his contact of the moment: a guest hostess at his first lodging establishment who tries to seduce him (he pulls away); private visits with a stripper who warns him of the depression pills will cause while also admonishing him because he won't look at her; an experienced woman (ie. used) that he claims is not his type because of her wantonness (though he allows himself the thought of having rough sex with her). Towards the end, after managing to acquire a very nasty jellyfish wound on his arm, he acquires some "help" from a woman gynecologist who believes she can fix him. That's pretty much the entire film. Of course, it's loaded with images and symbols with which a psychoanalyst would likely have a field day. The bevy of phallic and yonic references add to the crashing waves, pouring rain and little trains that could (or could not in this case). Ishii was 74 years old when he directed this and I can't help but imagine him chuckling away while thinking of all the different things he could drop into the film. In particular is that gash in Tsube's arm which leads to a unique form of "screwing" as a cure. The cast is fine, but the characters are just ciphers - simply there to work through one man's detached and disillusioned feelings towards sex and relationships. There's not a whole lot of emotion on view here, but it's still an interesting ride. I can't identify with Tsube and I'm certainly happy not to, but it's still an engaging enough look at how an individual can separate themselves so completely from emotional attachment.

Paperhouse (1988 - Bernard Rose) - A young girl's dreams can be pretty scary - especially when she's suffering from a fever, has raging hormones and doesn't quite know what to make of her absent father. While not exactly a horror movie, Rose's film builds its dream sequences (all based in a house that young Anna has drawn on paper in her waking hours) carefully and creates a mood that is always uncertain and a bit dangerous. It's quite effective at getting across an on-the-cusp-of-adulthood girl's view of her world. It's always teetering on the verge of collapsing like a, well, like a paper house. The film does have a couple of problems though. The biggest is Glenn Headley's looped dialogue in which she uses a British accent. It's painfully obvious that they filmed it with her normal speaking voice first and then got her to redo all her voice work as a Brit. It really pulls you out of the film and simply isn't necessary. The second problem is a single scene in the middle of the movie where both Anna and her Mom frantically search for a crumpled up picture of the house through garbage bags on the street. It plays completely differently than the rest of the film and was really pretty painful to watch. However, to end on a positive note, everything else is engaging, occasionally creepy and quite lovely to watch. Rose went on to direct Candyman several tears later, so I'm surprised this film hasn't got much more attention.

Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic (2007 - Herman Yau) - Director Yau (according to IMDB) has 48 credits to his name in the last 16 years. So at a rate of 3 directorial jobs a year, you're bound to have some fluctuation in what works. This particular production falls somewhere below the line...While investigating the murder of a fellow policeman, a detective's wife and child are subjected to Gong Tau - an ancient form of black magic - by a mysterious presence. The child dies, his wife is half insane and confined to a hospital and the detective has to grapple with his past in order to solve all the mysteries hanging over him. It all doesn't quite work, even if Lau does have a good eye for scenery and colours. The actress playing the wife gets a really terrible role - all she does is whine and scream and cry and moan. Granted, if I was cursed by some black magic, I'm likely not going to be skipping down the sidewalk humming a sunny tune, but it makes for a great deal of irritation whenever her character is on screen. The tone of the rest of the characters is never quite right either. Is this a world where black magic is accepted or not? I couldn't quite tell from the different reactions. It all ends in too much coincidence, too much silliness and far too much ambivalence towards the characters. By the way, if you think Yau's output is significant, one of his actors in the film (Suet Lam) has been in 100 films in the last 10 years. I see the guy everywhere (if you've seen a Johnnie To film, you've seen this guy)...

Sunday 25 October 2009

October Horror 2009 #7 - The Italian Horror Edition

In order to highlight the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon continuing until the end of the month over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies, this post will focus on several Italian chillers. They don't really indicate the peak of the genre or even all of its typical features, but a random sampling can still give a decent overview of what to expect. Though these are just titles that I either had hanging around or stumbled across in rental outlets, I was glad that I managed to get one each from the "masters" - Argento, Bava, Fulci. Not that you would necessarily recognize all of them as masters purely from these selections. In particular...

The Mother Of Tears (2007 - Dario Argento) - Well, that certainly was a wholly unpleasant experience...Argento's concluding chapter in his "Three Mothers" trilogy (Suspiria and Inferno being parts one and two - from 30 years ago) is overly serious, terribly dull at times and extraordinarily cruel. There's barely a drop of fun to be had. Of course, it's supposed to be a horror film and usually people die in horrific ways, but there was just something additionally nasty about the deaths in this film - particularly the women. The term misogynistic gets thrown around too often, but I'm tempted to use it here. The initial gutting of Asia Argento's workmate and the later impaling of another female friend felt overly vicious and didn't seem to jibe with the tone of the film. Suspiria was gorgeous to look at and a solid example of how to keep your audience on the edge of their seat. This was neither.

Don't Torture A Duckling (1972 - Lucio Fulci) - Though fine, this felt more like a run-of-the-mill basic giallo - not the garish, colour-filled, stylish ones we've come to expect. That doesn't make this a bad film of course, it just took the wind out of my sails a bit. Fortunately Barbara Bouchet was on hand to add the occasional gust. She's crazy beautiful (in case you're wondering, no that's not her in the fourth screencap down...). A remote Italian village is experiencing a rash of child murders and only a reporter and a young frivolous city girl seem to follow the trail of clues. It's not overly difficult to figure out by the end, but it does keep you guessing a bit in the middle. It's not particularly scary, but has a few great looking scenes. It also has one of the funniest final death scenes I've seen in a long while - who knew that a human head could cause huge sparks to flash out of it when it comes into contact with rock?

A Blade In The Dark (1983 - Lamberto Bava) - Of the titles in this post, this is probably the closest to the typical giallo fare of Italian horror. Stylish and with slow building scenes complete with tense repetitive music, Bava Jr.'s film was a great deal more fun than the previous two above. The blood is bright red, the death scenes are spaced as expected throughout and the killer will only be revealed at the end (though it's another case where it's not overly difficult to guess where the story is going). Unfortunately, it does hold true to other some giallo characteristics - the women in the film aren't given very intelligent things to say or do and simply don't meet very happy endings (though at least the opposite sex doesn't walk away scot free this time). The most egregious example is that of the one strong female character in the movie - the film director. For her film within the film, she needs to work with a male musician who is scoring her film and one evening at his place the two of them get spooked. Just in case you had been thinking that she could take care of herself and was in a position of power, the film undercuts her and has her say to the composer, "I'm starting to realize that as a woman, I'm a physical coward". It's been a long standing issue I've had with many of these films, but aside from that aspect, the film is quite well handled and provides some very good set pieces.

Lisa And The Devil (1974 - Mario Bava) - The elder Bava's turn and by far my favourite of the bunch. This is one beautiful film...There's not really a lot to the plot, the dialog is iffy at best and the acting spotty, but the style, the look and the feel is impeccable. Elke Sommers plays a tourist who wanders into a shop owned by Telly Savalas. She has an odd feeling about being there and sees a resemblance between Telly and a rendering of the devil she has just seen on a painting on a city wall. Upon walking out of the shop, she finds herself now in a city that seems to be completely abandoned. Eventually finding a rich couple and their chauffeur, she gets a lift for help until they break down outside a large mansion. They meet the blind woman and her son who live there as well as the butler who just happens to be, wait for it, Telly Savalas. Things don't go so well for several of the guests from there on. I love Bava's films because from one scene to the next you really don't know what kind of colour palette he may be using and how he may incorporate the sets into his shots. That alone makes it an entertaining film, but the slow creep and the goofy charm add a great deal more. Sommers barely speaks in the film and that strangely works in her favour - it just adds to the feeling that she is just a pawn in a larger game being played out.

Nightmare Castle (1965 - Mario Caiano) - By all accounts a bad B movie (acting, script, dubbing that doesn't even try, choppy edits, etc.), however there are still numerous quality moments in this Barbara Steele vehicle. She plays a dual role - first we see her as Muriel, the cheating wife of a scientist, and then as her half-sister Jenny, who later marries that same scientist after he kills Muriel as vengeance for her infidelity. The plan is to drive Jenny insane and get the ownership of the mansion from her (it was left to her after Muriel died), but Muriel's spirit is still present in the house. It's in the staging, the look and a few quiet moments that the film becomes a bit more than just a simple late night time waster. Barbara Steele has a face built for horror films - sunken cheeks, big wide eyes and an oddly shaped mouth that seems to completely change characteristics depending on her expression.