Thursday, April 30, 2009
Like I said, this is another unhinged Savage character, but he wasn't always that way. Pre-opening credits we see him as semi-normal. Then his surfer buddies drag some poor woman under the pier and gang rape her (don't worry, i'll try to establish a moratorium on film's that contain anything resembling rape for at least a week or so). Savage, playing a guy named Terry Lambert, isn't too excited about what's going on here, but he doesn't really put up much of a stink. Then his buddies force him on the poor girl and yank down his trunks and this horrific act is what begins his descent into madness.
He gets out of the big house after a few years and makes his way to his mother's house. His mother is one of those overbearing, over-loving types, wonderfully played by Ann Southern. She lords over an apartment complex and, upon seeing just-released Terry at her door says "they let you out" to which he responds "you gonna let me in?" She does and spends the rest of the picture covering up for the boy, plying him with chocolate milk, desperately trying to keep him away from the female tenants, and, eventually covering up for his misdeeds. Oh, and she also insists on mouth kisses which is kinda weird, but, I don't know, this might be one of those progressive mother-son relationships. Nah, it's pretty weird.
This picture is almost always interesting. I loved the bookish neighbor and her elderly crippled father who is disgusted by Terry's release and begs his daughter to stay away from him. So, of course, the daughter drinks alone in their apartment and then later tries to seduce Terry by the pool. Terry isn't really interested in the type of girl that would be interested in him though (this trait is more common in men than one would think). Cindy Williams, as new tenant Lori, plays a little more hard to get (at first), and so Terry spends a night outside her window holding his mother's cat for some strange reason. The cat meows, Lori hears it, and, wow, I haven't seen animal cruelty like this since Deathdream. Mrs. Orland is another fun character, whose fear of rats isn't exactly remedied by Terry. He is a man of contradictions. He seems to love women, but can't help himself from hurting them. He loves animals, snuggles and coos them, but then can't help himself from suffocating them or snapping their necks. This is a pretty well written role as we don't know what to think about the guy (fear, horror, disgust, pity). Hell, he calls his mom an "old, fat slut" after she resists his advances, but later offers a sincere apology. I think his mother failed to establish boundries when he was a child. He might be a lost cause. He needs help, but his mother just mostly sees through his faults and is not the one to provide it. Also, I mean, she was coming on to him with the insistence on the mouth kissing. I mean, come on already, she had it coming.
There are some powerful moments when Terry seeks vengeance upon those who put him away; namely the rape victim ("you still do it under the pier?") and his lawyer (of course, another female). A demented dream sequence involves a grown Terry in a crib next to the rape victim while adults stand around chanting "shame" over and over again. Eventually, Terry is seduced by Lori (Williams) who claims "I've never done it in a bathtub before" after calling him over to help fix a leak or something. Shit man, this is a pretty good movie.
One scene, in particular, is pretty bizarre and involves actions not too well thought out on the part of the characters involved. Terry, in a minor fit of delirium, which is putting it pretty mildly, strangles a girl he's got a crush on (one of the girls from the apartment complex). The next night, his mom finds him curled up on the floor next to the body and I guess this is when she first realizes her son might have actually been guilty of his crimes. She's a mother though, loves her son, wants the best for him, believes he can change, maybe she imagined it or whatever. Anyway, she can help his problems go away and then maybe he'll get better, have a second, third, fourth chance to be normal (again, probably step number one would be to stop insisting he give you a "real kiss" but I digress). Anyway, back to this post-murder scene. What does the mother do? Waits until nightime, wraps the body up in sheets or whatever was available, stuffs it in a tin garbage can, rents a u-haul (I am not joking here) and then takes the "trash" to one of those 24 hour landfills that are probably popular around California (I assume that's the location). Even weirder, she pays the attendant, then leaves. I don't think this is the proper way to dispose of bodies but we can give the gal a break, she's probably new at this.
Anyway, other than the weirdness of that scene, the writing is tight. The performances are all good, the camera work not at all amateurish, even borderline good at times. I love the fact that DVD is allowing us to revisit all these forgotten pictures from an era that most people have little affinity for. The Killing Kind is not an especially graphic film. There's one eerie death scene towards the end, you'll probably know the one I'm referring to. The relationship between mother and son in this thing probably borders on the perverse, without ever getting explicit. I don't know, it's all a matter of perspective. The ending isn't shocking, scary, or anything like that. It's actually god damned depressing and that's probably the way it should be.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The story involves mega-star Leslie Uggams (she won a tony and is apparently a jazz singer that I'm not too familiar with, also black and she appeared in an episode of "The Cosby Show", so yeah, she's pretty big) who, after performing the national anthem at a football game, decides to get away from it all. She drives her fancy car (some exotic foreign number) into the deep south where the thing breaks down. So, of course she ends up at an old run down motel proprietered by Shelly Winters (played by herself) and her young lover and elvis wannabe Eddie. Also, the original Lurch from the original Adams Family. This is not exactly the vacation spot Uggams had in mind.
This picture falls into the rape-revenge genre that people seemed to love back in the 70s. I don't know man, but I fucking agree with those critics that saw this at the New Bev, this thing is fucking brilliant. Obviously, I am no advocate of rape. I'm also no advocate of racism. But, what I am an advocate of is being entertained and this thing entertained me in spades ("spades" not being used in racist context here). First of all, this "character" that Uggams is playing is a bitch. She's no racist, but she's a bit prejudiced against southerners, especially against racist southerners. She hates her hosts immediately. She is arguably a racist, if southerners were considered a seperate race. Not the most sympathetic heroine is what I'm trying to say.
So, anyway, she gets a room at this crappy motel while Lurch (who despises Eddie and is in love with Winters) fixes the car with Eddie. Eddie is suddenly in love with Uggams so he rips out the starter and hides it so she has no choice but to stay and eventually be raped and then, later forced to marry him. Oh wait, I think I gave away the ending....sort of....I might be drunk while I'm writing this masterpiece of film critcism, I hope you forgive me.
Shelly Winters used to be beautiful at one point in her life (see Lolita or even Night of the Hunter). Here, she's what might happen to Uggams if she stays on the same track and were white. Winters is drunk in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, chainsmoking like a chimney that has a poor filter. She's a former starlet whose lost it all, most especially her self respect...even more especially, her figure. Eddie is her boyfriend, but he's not used to seeing a beautiful woman, which is why he's so taken by the character played by Uggams. He's so taken by her, in fact, that when she retires to her bedroom, he's waiting there for her, sans shirt, on her bed. His chest hair is all in tufts and shit. It's a great scene and he's pretty funny in it, until the rape starts and then it's not so funny. Then the director (David Worth) starts intercutting the rape shit with scenes of Lurch throwing his dog into a ring so the dog can fuck another dog, doggy style. That's when it became funny again. Holy shit, man, who the fuck would think to do that? It's completely offensive and yet, somewhat, artistic.
Worth has obviously been inspired by Peckinpah. All the violence is shot in extreme slow motion and also he cast Slim Pickens (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) as the sheriff and also Dub Taylor (The Wild Bunch) as the justice of the peace/pool hall owner. The only difference is that Uggams doesn't seem to enjoy the rape as much as Susan George did in Straw Dogs, which I think is the main inspiration for this picture. Like Straw Dogs, we are introduced to a town where all the inhabitants are a bit fucking insane. Hell, Dub Taylor is a judge (sort of) and yet he wears a t-shirt about 3 sizes too small so his gut hangs out. Also, he holds the rape trial in the middle of a town dance and then tries to look down Uggams bra in the middle of it. Pickens is no better, in my opinion. During witness questioning back in the station, he is shown to be taking notes while Uggams speaks. His notes are revealed to be doodles of breasts and I think one of his questions was "did Eddie gnash on your titties?" Not appropriate law dog behavior I think.
This is a fucked up town and things only get worse. Eddie is acquitted in "a court of law" of all charges and is allowed to take Uggams home with him where he proposes to her, to the chagrin of Winters and, I think, Uggams. Fuck man, there's a dinner scene that doesn't leave Lurch (the resident dog lover) too happy. Also, Pickens has a semi-retarded son who provides the picture's funniest moment only you might have to pause your dvd to see it (it's during the climactic, slow-mo shotgun/wedding battle). This is a great movie, and certainly one that could not be made today. It's completely un-pc, with a view of the south that most would consider horrific. I don't know, I enjoyed the hell out of it. None of the characters were particularly too racist, although the N-word did come out once or twice. They weren't too malicious though, except for the raping and the eventual murder. Ok, they sucked, but I'm not explaining myself too well. This one just needs to be seen I guess.
This is, by no means, a bad movie. Do you like the way I structured that sentence? Seriously, it's not. It's a borderline art film based on that dog/rape scene. There's also supposed to be a front seat, in Uggam's car, fellatio scene which I fear was completely cut out of the edition I saw. I'm starting to take a real liking to these 70s "exploitation" films. Unfortunately, we'll probably never see an era like that again. I've seen this labeled as black sploitation, but I think that's inaccurate. Uggams could have been white and the film wouldn't really be that much different. If anything, we're exploiting the south with this thing. I don't know if small southern towns are truly like this, but I do know I will never be driving through one with a foreign piece of shit. Not that those hicks would take to raping me or anything, I'm not that pretty. I really have no idea where I'm going anymore with this critique. I do know where I'm not going though if that makes sense to y'all.
Friday, April 24, 2009
I was excited for this one after watching Svankmajer's picture, Little Otik. That thing was a classic retrelling of the "pinochio" story. In that one, a young couple are unable to conceive so the husband digs up a root and carves it to look like a little baby. Eventually, they bring it back to the city where the thing comes alive, as a result of some fun stop-motion, and demands to be fed. Otik liked sausages I think and also mailmen and social workers. It's a deliciously macabre story that's got a mad streak of humor running through it. One thing I didn't get into was the way the camera looked at a little girl in the building, that was a little creepy. If you've seen the picture, you'll know what I mean. Anyway, good stuff. Reminded me of early Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi and it got me wondering if this Svankmajer fellow wasn't an inspiration for them since he's been working since the 60s. Oh, and I forgot to mention he's from the Czech republic or whatever it's called these days.
The first 20 minutes of Alice are a pretty fun and imaginative way to spend twenty minutes I think. Alice is alone in her room and the white rabbit frees himself from his glass prison, grabs some scissors, and escapes to wonderland through a nightstand drawer. Oh, he's also a stop-motion creation as are all the creatures in this thing, except for the pig, he was real. Alice, also real (until she eats a tart and turns into a stop-motion doll), follows after. On the other side of the drawer is some dark dank tunnel. There she finds the rabbit eating a meal of sawdust I guess which, incidentally, is also what he's made of on the inside. He pulls his watch out of the opening in his chest, wipes the sawdust off the glass cover and proclaims, in Alice's voice, "oh dear i'm late" or something to that effect. Then he spots Alice and hightails it deeper into wonderland. Well, I guess you kinda understand the surrealist nature of this picture now.
I don't know, I started to get into it, but as Alice goes deeper into wonderland I just kept thinking that none of this is all very wonderous. Sure, you got some stop-motion toys walking around and, in the picture's cutest scene, a little rat that swims in a lake of Alice's tears and climbs up on the girls head, thinking it's an island where he builds a little bed, a makeshift stove and begins to boil up a stew. He even cut off some of Alice's hair to use to light the fire. This kinda stuff is ingenious in my opinion, but then Alice has "had enough of this" and dunks the poor little bastard. We next see him, 30 minutes or so later down the road, dead in a mouse trap. Let that be a lesson to all you rats I guess is the moral here.
Another key scene from the story is completely drained of anything resembling awe by the sheer length of it. That would be the Mad hatter tea party. At this point, I was busy clipping my toe nails so I had to look up to realize what I was seeing. The scene goes nowhere. The hatter and his pal, March Hare, sipping tea, constantly changing seats, etc while the white rabbit fit in here somewhere and also the hatter asked Alice if she'd like a sip of wine or two, which is something a pedophile would probably ask a little girl. Another creepy moment in the world of Svankmajer.
I guess the main issue I had with the picture was the way the "story" was told. Everytime we had some narration or another character, besides Alice, talking we would cut to Alice's giant mouth. Every character spoke in her voice. We get it I think. It's just a story. I don't know, that doesn't cut it for a ninety minute movie. It works for a thirty minute short and even then it's stretching things a bit. I want characters. With unique voices. The mad hatter was just a wooden puppet, by the way. The march hare was a wheelchair bound plush toy, which I thought was clever. Everytime the hatter drank, the tea came out his back. Hell, it looked like Svankmajer just stop motion animated all the toys from his toy chest from when he was a kid, which is a pretty good idea come to think of it. Especially when hampered by a tiny budget.
I don't know, I didn't hate it. I loved a lot of the animation. It's just too long. If you can watch this one in pieces I say go for it. I just wish the world of wonderland had been a little more worldly instead of an escher-like freak house filled with room after room leading into even more rooms, all of varying shapes and sizes. Alice is the only fully realized character here. If I were a kid, all the other things moving around in that herky jerky style would probably give me nightmares. I guess I will say good try Svankmajer, I can see why some stoners like this one, but it's just not for me. I will have to stick with my wallace and gromit cartoons for now, but I also can't say I'm giving up on you.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Sister in Law is another good one, which is something I kinda expected once I noticed John Savage in the cast. Savage is probably the best actor in the entire set and I'm pretty sure he's been nominated for an oscar or two or maybe none. He was pretty good as the crippled buddy of Walken, Deniro, and Cazale in that 70s vietnam epic Deer Hunter and I would argue even better as the photographer always looking for the perfect shot in Salvador. His characters always seem a tad unhinged. Lately, he's been seen in a couple of Terrence Malick pictures (The Thin Red Line and The New World) where it almost seems like he's wandering in from another movie, usually drunk, muttering nonsensicals and then wandering off camera again. I love the guy.
Consider how impressed I was when Savage's name appears twice in the credits. Once as Robert Strong and, again, as the "score". Yeah, that's right, Savage did the fucking music for this thing and, to be honest, it's not all that bad. There's not a whole lot to it actually. One scene incorporates a banjo which I kinda liked. I'm guessing he was doing a favor for the director. Maybe they were friends and it's probable that Savage has some kind of background in music so I guess it's a perfect fit. I just checked his imdb credits and, yes, this is the only time he worked as a composer. That's a good thing. The music is solid but he's still a much better actor. He's actually very good in Sister in Law.
The title is not very indicative of the movie though, that's one thing I've got to take issue with. Yeah, they were probably trying to lure in a certain type of crowd but this is more of a crime drama. A more apt title would be The Brother, but that's not the kind of title that would get guys into the theatre. Sure, there is a sister in law, and she does have sex with the brother in law (Savage). After the first 20-30 minutes she becomes such a peripheral character though. I mean, the mistress probably gets more screentime, or at the very least they're even. The Mistress would be too generic a title. No one wants a movie that features vanilla sex. Everyone bangs their mistress (that's why she's the mistress) but who bangs their sister-in-law? It's one step away from a real tabboo.
This is really a picture about two brothers. One is a rich guy, settled down, trying to break into the movie producing business. He's played by some guy named Will Macmillan (Edward). He lives in a mansion on the outskirts of New York City with his wife, Joanna (Anne Saxon). Joanna is home alone one day, sunbathing by the pool when Edward's brother, Robert (Savage), comes home. Robert is a drifter which we can figure out by his army sack and his scraggily beard. Also living in the house are the two elderly parents of Robert and Edward, but they mostly stay out of sight. Sometimes, Edward's mistress swings by the house but Joanna is ok with it. She's got her eyes on Robert anyway. Edward is a bad guy. He embraces his brother and then they engage in a little game of pool basketball that leaves Robert bloodied. Ed openly cheats on his wife. He runs drugs for the mob and also owes them a boat load of money on top of that. Robert seems like he's a much better person, a guy with ethics at least, or maybe I'm thinking of morals. But then he sleeps with his brother's wife while eyeing his brother's mistress. That is pretty weird I think to follow up banging your sister-in-law with banging your mistress-in-law. That is probably no easy task. In this family,however, it's not too hard since there are no secrets.
The filmmaking is a step above most of the pictures in this collection. I mentioned Savage's solid score. I also liked the verite feel to everything. I want to mention John Cassavattes as an inspiration for the director but that would be me being a poseur because I've never seen a Cassavattes film. Certain scenes reminded me of Mean Streets and I've read Cassavattes was an inspiration for that particular Scorsese picture so we'll just go with that. Also, young Savage reminds me somewhat of a young Keitel. And there are two gangsters in this thing that have sort of an Abbott and Costello routine that reminded me a bit of the fat guy in the pool hall from Mean Streets and whoever he was making fun of in that particular scene. There's a great scene between Savage and the mistress in her apartment that is interestingly shot. He's obviously fallen in love with her, by this point (I think it's their second meeting). The scene seems improvised and is shot with a hand held camera. It's very intimate, raw, and effective. I liked when Savage dropped an empty wine bottle out a window and into the busy city street below. He pauses for a minute and then looks out...."see, didn't hit nobody!"
Like Mean Streets (I'm guessing this was a major inspiration the more I think about it) the majority of this picture is care free and loose, almost a sense of whimsy about it. Characters are joking around, no one's life is threatened. Ed claims to be a marked man, but we don't really believe him. The picture could have ended without any violence and I would have been satisfied. Even the two gangsters seem completely unthreatening. At one point, Ed convinces Robert to run some drugs up to Canada and the gangsters follow him to make sure he completes the drop. They stop at a hamburger stand and the following exchange takes place after the fat guy returns with a bag of hamburgers:
Little gangster: give me a burger, will ya.
Fat gangster: (clearly peturbed) you didn't order any!
Little gangster: are you fuckin kiddin me tubby, how many are you gonna eat? you've got ten in there!
It plays a lot better than it reads, believe me. The point is I never really believed these two capable of whacking (gangster speak for murdering) a guy.
This is a good one with an ending that is legitimately shocking. I think it's worth seeing if you are a fan of John Savage or even just a fan of naked breasts. Who knows, if they had packaged this thing differently back when it came out it might be available as a standalone DVD. I think you can pick this 8-movie set up for $6.99. There is a funny line when Ed says "the movie business is gonna get me out of the gangster business" which would be like leaving the frying pan for the fire, or so I'm told. He has a funny movie pitch that doesn't go very well as evidenced by the producer saying "I don't understand, you want the audience to feel sympathy for this son of a bitch". It's funny because we can imagine the star of the movie Ed is pitching being just like Ed, himself. Get it? Ed is a son of a bitch in this thing and is afforded a hero's exit but the audience doesn't like him 'cause he's a son of a bitch. We want vile, awful things to happen to him as soon as the credits roll. What's the technical term used for when a movie within a movie emulates the movie? I guess there are those of us who might think Robert had it coming when he tells his brother, over the phone, "I love your wife and your mistress and I threw your heroin into a mountain stream" but still, I think we've all, at least, thought about saying this to our own brothers at one point in time. The music at the end of this thing was perfect..."it's a living classic situation"...not sure who performed it, perhaps Savage. I think the relationships between brothers their wives and mistresses is what going to the movies is all about.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I expected this to be one of those Swedish exploitation films from the 60s that I'd been hearing so much about since this was the inspiration for Last House on the Left, Chaos, and the Last House on the Left remake (which I still haven't seen). What we have here is an honest to god real film, a beautiful mediation on the nature of evil, violence, guilt and various other shit like that. Also, religion I think. I don't know, I'm not the typical audience for these type of pictures. You know, ones that make you think. Those other films I mentioned used this film as a jumping off point so that they could include some exploitative elements, things like oral castration, axe murders, forced urination, vaginal stabbing, and even more things like head microwaving, which I guess was in the LHOTL remake since I saw it in the trailer. I'm not sure though since, like I said, I haven't seen it. In those pictures, there's a rape followed by revenge. The difference between Virgin Spring and those other, mostly shitty, movies is that in Virgin Spring we are not really satisfied with the revenge and I think that's the way it's supposed to be. Also, in that piece of shit movie Chaos, I believe the director went so far as to show his version of Krug getting away with it. Virgin Spring is a picture where we don't root for the father to avenge his daughter's rape and murder. I mean, not really.
Well, here is, like I said earlier, a real god damned film. Completely inappropriate to be written up on this blog. First of all, it's based on a 13th century ballad. Second of all, it's directed by some Swede named Ingmar Bergman. I am somewhat ashamed to say that this was the first picture I've seen from this guy, but am now certain it won't be the last. It's filmed in crisp black and white with little to no score except for the natural sounds from the forest and the farm. It features great performances all around, especially Max Von Sydow as Tore and Gunnel Lindblom as Ingeri. I'll go so far as to say that this is probably the most important film reviewed here since Starship Troopers 2.
The film portrays a family living on a farm in the mountains. The father (Von Sydow) and the mother (Birgitta Valberg) live with their daughter and several farmhands, including Ingeri, a savage woman apparently found and taken in by the Von Sydow clan. Ingeri, now pregnant is a bitter woman who seems to loathe the pretty daughter, Karin. She prays to Odin for something sinister to happen as she churns butter and prepares the milk for supper. Odin is a pagan god, so I found the clash of religions (the old vs the new) to be pretty interesting, especially in light of the events that later take place. The story is a simple one. Karin, as the virgin child, is appointed to bring candles to the church (tradition dictates it must be a virgin). Her mother sends Ingeri along. They depart on horseback through the forest, as the church is apparently miles away. Along the journey, Ingeri stays behind at a sort of way-station while Karin continues ahead. Ingeri, is eventually chased away by a deranged caretaker and forced to follow Karin on foot, sensing she is in danger. Karin encounters three mountain herders on the way and offers to share her lunch with them. They repay her kindness with rape and follow that up with a side of murder (highly inappropriate wording!) as Ingeri finally catches up and watches helplessly. Anyway, these mountain herders (one's just a small child - no he didn't participate in the rape or murder) make their way to Karin's farm. They are offered shelter in exchange for chores. Eventually, they make the mistake of offering some of Karin's things to her parents as a memento and she, and her husband, put two and two together rather quickly.
This is a heartbreaking picture. The relationships are set up beautifully between Karin and her parents. The scene where her mother helps her get dressed on that fateful morning. Her father, questioning why his girl would sleep past sunrise. We wonder how far his anger will go, but then when he sees Karin that morning he picks her up in his arms and begins to laugh. It's a pretty happy household is what I'm tryin to say. Karin is a typical teenager; loves to sleep, infatuated with boys and fashion. She's blonde, beautiful, completely innocent, naive. Ingeri is her polar opposite; Dark skinned, dark hair, cynical, angry, prone to worshipping dead gods, not at all virginal (based on her large belly). I liked her immediately.
The filmmaking is pretty masterful, I should say. The lunch scene with the three herdsmen (including the child) starts off playful. There's laughter and food. Karin doesn't believe them capable of doing her harm because she doesn't believe in evil, has never encountered it which of course makes the eventual rape all the more horrifying. Bergman doesn't cut away. It's not exploitative. This is not a sleazy skin flick. It also doesn't leave much to the viewer's imagination, either. We know what's going on here. The camera is set up behind some branches and the audience becomes like a voyeur. Helpless to stop it. After it's over, the two men don't look very happy with themselves. Karin quietly gets up and begins to walk away, gently sobbing. One of the men whacks her over the head with a large stick. She looks at her tormentors once and then collapses, dead. At this point, Bergman does something interesting. He sets up the camera from an even farther distance, almost in the trees. We watch the two men struggle to pull off Karin's clothes. In a strange way, this scene is almost as bad as the rape and murder. We just watched it happen, helplessly, and now we're forced to watch the robbing of her corpse. For, what we later learn is, a little monetary gain. In one of the picture's more powerful moments, the young boy grabs some soil and sprinkles it over her body, ashamed of what he was too small to stop. Ingeri, from a distance, like us, was also a helpless witness.
Everyone feels guilt in this thing. Ingeri wished Karin dead, and then it happens. Maretta (Karen's mother) was jealous of the attention Karin paid to her father. The father feels guilt for many things, not protecting Karin, and, in the film's most shocking scene, the murder of the young boy. Hell, even the two rapist-murderers were guilt ridden, though not too guilty to try selling back Karin's shawl to her own mother (they probably weren't aware she was her mother, but they'd almost have to suspect it as Karin did tell them the general vicinity of her farm). I wondered if their presenting Karin's shawl to her mother was a form of penance, an almost admission of guilt. At dinner, the young boy is unable to keep down his milk, constantly wretching it back into his bowl. The father, upon realizing the nature of his three visitors, knocks down a virginal birch tree so that he may hack off the branches to whip his back as he bathes, a sort of pre-penance for the sin he is about to commit.
Holy shit, the killing of the herdsman and the boy is not easy to watch. This is not a set piece, like the killings in those pictures this film inspired, designed to excite the viewer. The act, itself, is quick and brutal, but death comes slow. Sydow, bars them in the guest house and, while they sleep, walks in, dagger drawn. He doesn't kill them immediately however. He checks their bags, producing more items that belonged to his daughter. Then he sits upon a chair overlooking his snoring visitors, silently judging them, pronouncing sentence. This is not an entirely satisfying conclusion. We don't cheer these deaths. These were bad men, no question. It's not so much what happens to them, but what happens to this family, Sydow-his wife-hell even Ingeri, that leaves the viewer rather drained. After the two men are dispatched, the boy stands alone, frightened. He runs immediately for the arms of Maretta, who embraces him. For a moment, we think the boy is saved. He is, after all, just a child, innocent. Nope, Sydow grabs the kid and chucks him against the wall, killing him instantly. The following observation might be a bit off color but, what can I say, it was an amazing shot. I'm not sure if they got a stunt little person or used a dummy here but it looked completely real. Of course, the realism only adds to the heartbreak. On the part of the mother (over the death of a child who sought her protection), the father (who immediately regrets his action) and, of course, over the child (deprived of the chance to grow up, to evolve).
I don't know, but this Bergman fellow is the real deal. He's got some serious directing chops I think. The minimal score on this thing was a masterstroke. The performances are all good to great, extremely well written, which is something completely lost in those other pictures I keep referring to. I was incredibly moved at the end. I'm surprised more hasn't been made of this one. It's got a criterion release, but online reviews are scarce and, some, surprisingly negative. Probably, there are those out there that look at the religious aspect of the picture and immediately say "no thanks". That's something I don't really understand. If a picture works, has great characters, powerful moments, and all comes together at the end, then who cares if Sydow gets on his knees at the spot of his daughter's murder and calls out God for his inaction? Who cares that he, ultimately, doesn't disavow God ("I don't understand you and yet I ask for forgiveness") and vows to build a church at that very site or that when they lift up the body of his daughter a stream appears as if God is saying "yes, you build that church and all is forgiven"? Who really gives a shit man? I don't care if you do or don't believe in God. Either way, this is a powerful picture because it's characters do believe in God (even that pagan seductress Ingeri believes in something) and so the ending is perfect for them. Because it's perfect for them, it's perfect for us. It's a great feeling to be moved by a film.
Of course we know any religion that would cause this much guilt sucks balls. There we go, that's more like it.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Well, this illustrated man, this Steiger guy, thinks he got a raw deal back when he was working the carnival circuit and some witch covered his body in ink (don't call them tattoos to his face or you'll make him angry). Slowly, I guess these "illustrations" cause him to go mad, as they each tell a different story, if you stare at them too long. So, Steiger is on the road to kill that witch (Claire Bloom) and gain himself a little bit of vengeance I guess. I don't think they could remove them with lasers at this point in history so he is shit out of luck in that department. So, of course Drivas can't stop looking at the art work and, as a result of his folly, we are treated to three separate stories. Three visionary tales about science and progress and isolation that look and feel like they were made for television. Probably a result of the director, Jack Smight, having spent the majority of his carreer in that particular medium. Maybe not the best choice for a Bradbury adaption, especially one that might depend on cutting edge effects. Oh well.
The first story they chose to include is actually one of the better ones in the collection, "the veldt". It's about a family (Steiger, Bloom, and their two obnoxious, spoiled children) living in a futuristic society. Everything is sterile and white, which I guess is where we thought the future was heading back in the late 60s. The veldt refers to a nursery for the children, a room that creates a hologramic playground of anything they desire. For some reason, the kids choose the african veldt, full of Lions and tigers and...pretty sure no bears, maybe a giraffe was in there somewhere, but I doubt it, since they probably couldn't afford them or the studio was out of stock footage. So, everything is going well for these two spoiled brats until their parents finally come to terms with just how spoiled they are. Meanwhile, fiction becomes awfully close to reality. The parents ground the kids, the kids disappear, the parents go looking for them in the veldt and then later we see that Drivas guy show up in the veldt to wonder what those lions are eating off in the distance. This is a terrific story given a so-so presentation. Things could have started off worse I suppose.
Next is the story about the long hard rain which is pretty much a piece of shit. Again, Steiger stars, this time as the leader of some astronauts marooned on venus where apparently it never stops raining. So, they walk and walk and bitch and complain and walk some more. Some of them go mad, one drowns himself by titlting his head back and opening his mouth. Steiger tries to maintain some semblance of hope by mentioning these sun dome things that will provide shelter and radio contact to home. They find one, completely destroyed, another guy kills himself and, well, you get the picture. The original story was fine because, while not a lot really happens, we at least delve a little into the psychology of the men. It's not easy to accomplish that in a film, especially an anthology film, so we're simply left with lots of walking and talking and yelling. Also, no mention of the alien race that destroyed the sun dome (from the book). Also, what the fuck is Claire Bloom doing in the sun dome at the end?
The third story is even worse. I think it's called the last night on earth or some shit like that and involves Steiger and Bloom playing the same asshole parents to the same asshole kids from the first story. Only this time, the parents weren't eaten by a lion, they've got more important things to worry about like the nuclear holocaust that will take place sometime early morning. So, the parents debate the merits of euthanizing their children so they won't have to experience it. I'll be fucking honest for a moment, I didn't remember this story and I just watched this picture a week ago and I can't remember what they decided. If these were supposed to be the same kids from the first story then I think it's a pretty easy decision. Kill the little bastards, right? I don't know, this should have been a powerful tale, but it was just lots of talking as far as I could tell. No end of world in sight. You don't need a big effects budget to effectively convey a hopeless situation like nuclear war. I often think about that picture Testament, which might be the only nuclear war film from the 1980s that actually withstood the test of time. It was probably made for something like ten grand and focused on a mother trying to protect her kids in the face of nuclear fallout. When all hope is lost, she somehow managed to find a little. The end is pretty fucking heartbreaking, but a little, miniscule bit of hope manages to shine through. Not hope for the characters in that film, they were all toast. Hope for us, I believe was the message. Anyway, back to The Illustrated Man and that last night on earth story. It reminded me of the last night on krypton with the set design and also Steiger kinda looked like Brando, when Brando was in Superman. The final story should be the best, but that's certainly not the case here. It's the worst.
I don't know what to say...the final story is told and we cut back to Steiger and Drivas, who is now pretty much insane and then completely loses it when he sees Steiger strangling him on the one empty spot on his chest. This thing will never lessen how I feel about the original stories but it will always cause me to lament a missed opportunity. Also, it's fucking distracting as hell to feature Steiger and Bloom in all of the stories. What the fuck, couldn't they afford anyone else in the cast? Why bother making an anthology film based on Bradbury when you are given a miniscule budget. This isn't a movie. It's three mediocre "outer limits" episodes strung together. They didn't even pick the best stories from the collection which is, I guess, the most frustrating thing. Would have loved to see "kaleidoscope" put to film. Zack Snyder is attached to a version of "The Illustrated Man". Hopefully, he won't follow this one too closely. Of course, with today's technology we can go anywhere, do anything in our moving pictures.
I know it sounds like I hated the picture which is probably a bit too harsh. I guess I would never go out of my way to hang out with it. Everytime Steiger, as the illustrated man, was on screen I was never less than compelled. He's an entertaining actor. The makeup was incredible as well since I realized these were not actually real tattoos. The transition from tattoo to story was a pretty lousy, vintage 60s, wavy picture, psychedelia type of effect. They went with what they know. This was probably a popular picture for tripping hippies. I just wish there were more scenes with the illustrated man and less of the stories. Or, maybe they could have chosen better stories. Also, it's an interesting contrast to go from a world where magic is possible (the illustrated man's world) to visions of worlds where science is the source of all evil. It's a nice try Jack Smight, but he should just stick with television I guess is the motif I am taking from this thing.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Anyway, continuity has certainly not been a strong suit for this series. In Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first and still best of the series, the Templars had their eyes pecked out. In Return of the Blind Dead, they were burned...the eye holes then cauterized. In some films, they can survive the sunlight. In Return, it kills them. Fire seems to do the trick in every film. Since these guys are blind, one would think not screaming and standing still would be pretty helpful. In the first film it doesn't really matter, as depicted in a great scene, as the dead can hear and follow the beating hearts of their victims. This detail is largely ignored in the follow ups. Another element forgotten after the first film is that to be killed by the blind dead turns you into one. Except for the blindness. That is their own cross to bear. Someone get these guys a blind dead seeing eye dog for chrissake.
They may not have eye dogs, but they do have horses. In the second picture, it's established that, yes, their horses are, in fact, also dead. They're also fiercely disloyal. Apparently unable to discern flesh from bone as countless potential victims steal them away as their tormentors are forced to blindly pursue. The horses can see fine but are only able to gallop in slow motion, an unfortunate side effect to being dead I guess.
So, what the fuck is the weirdly titled Night of the Seagulls about anyway? A young doctor and his blondish wife travel to a seaside village to replace the doctor who worked there before who was said to be getting too old for this shit. It's a strange little village with little stone buildings, a plethora of beautiful virgins, and an old lady that mans the local five and dime but refuses to sell any of her products to outsiders. It's quite possible the old hag refered to them as "outlanders". The doctor and his wife settle in to their cozy new stone walled apartment on the outskirts of town and wonder why no one seeks treatment, why won't the old bitch sell them medicine, and, lastly, what's with that strange procession heading to the beach every night led by, what appears to be, a virginal nineteen year old woman dressed in a white (see through!) gown? Also, what's with the squawking of those fucking gulls? What the hell are they doing flying at night? According to this movie, that is something they never do so what the fuck gives man?
As it turns out, every seven years or so (no, it's exactly every seven years) the "blind dead", for seven consecutive nights, come out of the sea to claim a virgin so they can hack her to pieces and feed her to their precious sea god. That sea god can't be bothered to come out of its abyss, however, so I guess he sent in a party of crabs to grab the remains and scuttle the pieces home. I'll be honest here for a moment. It would be pretty stupid and absolutely nonsensical if these dead templars actually came out of the sea. That is from the plot description on the back of the dvd case. I think that plot description was written before anyone realized this would be just another "blind dead" picture. These guys come out of their crypts like they do in every other picture from this series and I'm pretty sure this scene was just stock footage used from the first two. Oddly, it still fucking creeped me out.
One thing that wasn't made immediately clear is that the "blind dead" only claim their virgins for seven consecutive nights every seven years. In return, I guess the men of the village are allowed to live and bang gorgeous women so that they can keep producing these virgins. Anyway, for about an hour or so, I was under the assumption that the villagers sacrificed a virgin to the blind dead every night, for every year, pretty much until time stops. I was a little confused. With a population of about thirty, at least half of which are old men, older women, and sluts...they would somehow need to produce 365, of age, virgins per year. The math just didn't add up. I actually think this would be a difficult task to accomplish every seven years. If it was just one or two virgins I might buy it. Also, if you're a virgin living in this village what the fuck are you saving yourself for? I am booking my flight today. *
There is a bit of a somber mood that hangs over this picture. It's probably a product of one of two things;
1) it's always sad when a good thing is coming to an end.
2) this isn't really the movie De Ossorio wanted to make.
I actually think it's more the latter than the former. In addition, the theme of not being able to achieve eternal rest leaves me feeling a bit morose. Why are the seagulls flying at night? The spirits of the dead virgins are trapped in them, called upon each night of the blind dead sacrifice, to sing for the new victims, to welcome them into their midst. Not only were these poor fettered vixens horribly slaughtered but now they must spend an etnernity as a shit eating bird chasing down little crackers and eating off soiled diapers from the dumpster. These girls were hot once and now they repulse me. Sad.
This is one of the better entries in the series. Of the four, only Tombs of the Blind Dead is better. I enjoyed the dynamic of the village. I loved Teddy, the slow witted fellow who performed odd jobs for the new doctor and his wife. His first appearence, as a disembodied head in the window, is great. He tries to help the young couple but unfortunately lacks the ability to explain what they're up against. I fell in love with Lucy, the young woman (virgin, of course) that also took a liking to the doctor and his wife. I would have happily taken her flower to save her life or for whatever.
The blind dead makeup is, as always, fantastic. The atmosphere is near perfect (a little too perfect at times as it became hard to figure out what was going on in some dark, i.e. poorly lit, scenes) and the gore, while probably more tame than the first two films, is still splendid. Lots of prosthetic breasts cut open so the templars can evict the still beating heart, suck out its juices, and, like Mogwai, gain their victims strength and, i guess, virginity? I enjoyed this one. It's rare these days to see a horror film where virgins are punished so I guess, for that reason, it felt kinda fresh. I'd like to see a movie where the broad that saves herself for marriage is punished immediately after consummation. That would be original. What about the girls that have sex frequently, but not so frequently that other girls refer to them as whores? I guess in the late 60s and early 70s there was probably a lot of fucking around without condoms and such. The people making pictures were probably getting laid a lot as well...and they were like, what's will all you girls that won't put out? You know what, I'm gonna savage you prude bitches in my next picture. I'll rip off your tits and eat your heart, etc. Then, in the 1980s, all these guys and gals that were fucking around left and right started coming down with AIDS and so we entered the boring safe sex/no sex generation. In that decade, the survivors were almost always virgins while the girls that liked to fuck around were always being killed off in horrific fashion. I think a slut in one of those Sleepaway Camp movies even asks her next conquest if he's got AIDS. The 1990s was a shitty horror decade that mainly stuck by the final girl=virgin motif. Today, now that people have forgotten all about AIDS, it's ok to glorify hot slutty chicks once again. I can't really think of an example off the top of my head, it's been a long day, what can I say? Perhaps we'll get some in the comments. I'm glad to report that people are finally getting laid again and that the next sexually transmitted epidemic is probably just over the horizon (I guess AIDS was cured or swept under the rug or something). I'm not getting laid though, just other people. Anyway, Night of the Seagulls is a good one. I like the title the more I think about it.
*the majority of this paragraph is rendered moot at the 1:10 mark of the picture. sorry.
Friday, April 10, 2009
For starters, you can have Terry Lofton (this is his only credit) write and direct the thing. Lofton got the idea for his masterpiece when he wandered onto a construction site and into the middle of a nail gun fight. He rushed home and feverishly cranked out an 80 page script which was then cut down to 25 pages due to budgetary restraints. The result is a poorly structured film with kill scenes interlaced with incredibly boring scenes of "exposition" where absolutely nothing is exposited. Clearly a lot of ad libbing going on by actors not cut out for it. Actually, that's not entirely true. There are several scenes of T&A, clearly added to pad this thing out to feature length. I'm fine with that choice. Hell, the first nude girl has a fantastic mullet to go with some amazing breasts. If I had watched this before the internet, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Damn you to hell "youporn"!
I said this picture is poorly put together which is sort of an understatement. The very first scene is the construction site gang rape. We jump right into it. A bunch of fat white guys hovering over some girl we can barely make out. We know nothing about the girl; her hopes, her dreams, her ideal mate, etc. We certainly don't care about her. Yeah, it's a girl, on camera, pretending to be raped (not very convincingly I might add), but I really didn't give a shit. The guys doing the raping have no personality. They're simply frothing sex maniacs. Not one of these characters registered. No scenes to set this up. No reason to give a shit. Yet, the "filmmaker" expects me to root for vengeance. Yes, rape is terrible. All I'm sayin is show me...don't tell me. The first scene, post rape, is of the first revenge kill. The Killer dressed all in black, with, what could be, an iconic motorcycle helmet (if the far superior Strip Nude for Your Killer didn't use the same get up nearly a decade earlier) descends upon a backwoods home and nailguns his/her first victim; some fat slob that I guess we have to assume took part in the rape. I didn't recognize the fat fuck though.
It doesn't help matters that there's no central character in this thing. It's an ensemble piece. Unfortunately, Lofton is no Robert Altman. Characters are introduced only to be killed off in their first scene. In the hands of a decent filmmaker this could be kinda fun. Here, it's just tedious. The score tries to be creepy, while evoking the Texas Chainsaw Massacre score, but is just awful, completely inappropriate, and, always, overbearing. The dialogue is often overwhelmed by the background noises (cars, random gunshots, wind) which is just fine with me since the dialogue I did manage to hear wasn't worth listening to anyway.
I'll give them credit for the look of the killer since I find it unlikely they saw Strip Nude. In their minds, it was pretty original anyway. Unfortunately, this fucking guy has a wisecrack for every kill (such as "now, you've really pissed me off" after a guy urinating against a tree is startled, turns around and pisses on the killer's boots). They modify the killers voice as well. It sounds awful. The laughter emanates throughout the soundtrack. The film's best scene involves the girl with the mullet brushing her hair, topless, in front of a mirror and the camera zooms in and stays focused on her breasts for a good minute or two.
I also liked the scene in the convenience store where some old woman clearly fucked up her lines but the director eventually decided that was still the best take. That same old woman does manage to deliver the picture's best line, however; "Do you remember when you could sit outside and not have to worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?" I don't know, I'd rather not think about this one anymore. A picture like Blood Freak was just as incompetent but at least there was a story and a character to drive that story. Also, it was fucking hilarious. This thing has no characters, no sense of location (most of this takes place in the woods. there's a town center, some houses, etc...but I didn't have a fucking clue where they were in relation to each other. Don't remember if there were any establishing shots...doubt it), no atmosphere, a terrible score, several lazy nail gun killings, etc, etc. It's not good, I guess, is the gist of what I'm trying to say.
Monday, April 6, 2009
That "someone" is Jack Sholder. You may recall him as the guy that helmed The Hidden, and also Nightmare on Elm Street part II. While Nightmare has a myriad of problems, The Hidden holds up as a great sci-fi actioner. Alone in the Dark, Sholder's first picture, might be his best. What a fucking cast we have here. Martin Landau, Jack Palance, and Erland Van Lidth (we all know him as the opera singing giant from The Running Man) appear as three inmates in Dr. Leo Bain's (Donald Pleasance) ultra progressive insanitorium. Bain treats his patients well; they're allowed to walk the grounds, play games, eat food, and etc. He doesn't really consider them crazy. It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. Bain might be a bit loco himself. Anyway, the dangerous patients, Landau, Palance, Van Lidth, and some guy named Bleeder are confined to the third floor, an area that is under constant electric lockdown. Approach a window and the sensors trigger an alarm that brings down impenetrable barriers. I hope this place has a good generator.
Into this environment arrived Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) who, ironically, would go on to play the insane Murdock on "the A-team". Potter arrives in town with his wife, young daughter, and punk rock loving younger sister. They occupy a beautiful, old, isolated, house on the edge of town. The inmates, Palance in particular, are not too trusting of the new guy.
Jack Palance plays a guy named Frank Hawkes, a paranoid schizophrenic. He believes that Potter killed their former doctor so that he could take his place. Landau is Byron "Preacher" Sutcliff, a guy who made the mistake of burning down his church....with a full congregation inside. Van Lidth is "Fatty" Elster, the requisite child molester. Rounding out the foursome is Skaggs, aka the Bleeder. He's so-named because he gets nose bleeds when he's about to kill. This unfortunate problem is the source of one of the picture's better scares.
Well, of course, everything goes to shit eventually. Potter's sister drags the clan off to a punk rock concert to see a band called The Sick Fucks (they're an actual band...and, not that terrible). The female harmonies reminded me of Kim Deal. Apparently, the song they sing ad nauseum (it's their only song I think) is called "chop up your mother" which I guess is fitting. There's a funny moment when the buttoned up Potter is nearly refused entry into the club. This band is so raucous that they cause the power to go out for the entire town...and, well, unfortunately the insane asylum isn't in a bordering town. Put yourself in Palance's shoes for a minute. Where would you go if you were a paranoid schizophrenic who thought your new doctor had murdered your old doctor? Maybe call the cops, or, at the very least, go have a cup of coffee with the guy and try to get to the bottom of things. Or, if that doesn't work, try to chop up his family. Whichever, doesn't really matter in the grand scheme I suppose. Since Hawkes is clearly a leader, and the others probably have more of that follower type personality, they all go along for the ride.
I think Sholder was trying to say something with this picture, something along the lines of "we're all a little crazy". I mean, he employed a band called The Sick Fucks to sing a song advocating the use of sharp instruments in chopping up one's mother. The head of the asylum, Bain, has ideas about treating crazy people, that some might deem a bit on the crazy side. Also, after the powers been out for barely an hour, the townspeople have already begun looting and pillaging the local strip mall. These fucks even lit some fires which I'm sure would please Landau's Preacher. Into this particular fray, arrives Hawkes and crew (in a stolen van) so they can raid a sporting good store. This place has axes, crossbows, machetes, you name it. Skaggs even picks himself up a hockey mask which, unfortunately, he doesn't wear for the finale. Oh, here's another thing I liked. The guy that plays Skaggs (bleeder) never shows his face. I guess he's the official "slasher" of this picture. When he puts on that hockey mask, he actually did it before Jason Voorhees first donned the thing in Friday the 13th part III. Yes, Friday was released a little earlier into theatres, but Alone was shot first. Unfortunately, Jason has that whole supernatural, brute/retard strength thing going for him so he'd probably win in a fight. Skaggs is crazier though.
When it gets right down to it, this movie does creepy extremely well. There's a scene involving a babysitter, her boyfriend who shouldn't be there, and the things we all fear lurking beneath our beds (if I ever see Landau under my bed I'll probably shit a brick). Of course, it's probably not the same watching this thing now. Landau and Palance have both since won oscars. At the time though, their careers were floudering in B (and worse) pictures. I mean, holy shit, when that knife comes up through the bed inbetween the babysitters legs I could only begin to imagine what awful fate might await her. There's also a touching little scene where Fatty pretends to be the babysitter for Potter's daughter (Potter and the rest of the family are away). Does he play the scene like a blubbering psycho. Not really, he's just an overgrown child that wants to hold her hand and take her up to her bedroom to cut up some paper and make origami for her or something. I mentioned he's a molester, right? Yeah, a creepy scene in which Van Lidth manages to inject more than two dimensions.
The assault on the house is well staged with Potter finally having to serve as protector. Preacher sets fire to the basement, Skaggs does some bleeding, the big guy doesn't come out too well...molester's rarely do. I just wish this Sholder guy had more of a prolonged career. I mean, his last big movie was Supernova. I haven't seen it yet, but I hear it was a piece of shit. This guy takes a straight up slasher premise and layers in all this good shit, shit that you don't see in pictures today. Even in Nightmare part 2, he layered in a ton of shit....albeit, mostly homoerotic shit. The opening scene of Alone in the Dark is brilliantly surreal, involving Martin Landau, a diner and, I think, hell. Who the fuck would think to have a scene where Jack Palance beats up a bouncer so he can catch the Sick Fucks in concert? And the bastards standing in line cheer him on! Who're the sick fucks now?