Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Seventies Euro Slasher Whodunit
A drifter takes a job as caretaker of an estate owned by three eccentric and beautiful sisters, all of whom are maimed either emotionally or physically by mysterious pasts. The guy, himself, has ominous flashbacks. Someone is going around murdering women to music that sounds like "I Dream of Jeannie," then cutting out their eyeballs. He/she--all you ever see of the killer is a pair of black gloves--wants their eyeballs. Is it the drifter, the doctor, the nurse, the cop, the sexpot, the invalid, or the bitter, maimed spinster? This Spanish film starring Paul Naschy is well filmed by the director of "Horror Rises From the Tomb." It knows how to build tension, use music, etc. Excellent use of old French kids' song. The ending is well worth sticking around for, unlike many Italian gialli that are stylish and thrilling, but anticlimactic. Some of the gore effects aren't so convincing and some of the plot points are laughably illogical, but these characteristics just add to the enjoyment. Watched it twice. Sexy, bloody fun.
Lived-in thriller, cop on the edge
Political thriller by Damiano Damiani (BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, HOW TO KILL A JUDGE) that creates a world so vivid that every time I watch it, I forget Franco Nero didn't dub his own voice. The opening scene takes place in a Sicilian mad house, hundreds of years old, fortified with decaying stone. It is here that we first hear Riz Ortolani's amazing theme, a fuzz-tone guitar and a melancholy orchestra, and the ranting and moans of madmen. We see Captain Bonavia (Martin Balsam, who did dub his own voice) arrange for the release of LiPuma, a psychotic criminal obsessed with cleanliness who is no sooner free than he makes an attempt on the life of a gangster named D'Ambrosio, which results in the deaths of Lipuma and several of D'Ambrosio's thugs, but not D'Ambrosio. It is immediately hinted that Bonavia arranged for LiPuma's release for just this reason. The mystery here isn't who did what, but why he did it, and who you're supposed to root for: Captain Bonavia, the official made cynical and allegedly irresponsible by years on the job, who may or may not be motivated by graft, or DA Traini (Franco Nero), who investigates the attempt on D'Ambrosio's life. Traini is young and idealistic and immediately suspects Bonavia's involvement. Bonavia is fifty going on a hundred and mocks Traini at every turn as he fills him in on the history of a city built, literally, on corpses. Damiani underlines the similarities between these two men--does Traini embody the idealism Bonavia lost, are they both just stooges of a corrupt, ancient system--in subtle ways, and he, along with Balsam, builds Bonavia's character with equal aplomb. You can watch this film repeatedly and see these subtleties, equal credit for which must go to Balsam's performance, which is one of his best, which is saying a lot. Minor characters, like LiPuma and his hunted sister, Serena, come across with enough depth to exacerbate the tension. Riz Ortolani's score chimes in at just the right moments to intensify the drama, which is what this really is, a drama that grabs you by the guts. Damiani's ability to create this kind of film, angry and topical, anti-establishment, but so lived-in, it never feels forced, deserves greater recognition. This one, especially, should be required viewing, despite the fact that I've never seen it in any form other than a cheesy DVD that probably capitalized on public domain and is dubbed (it should be noted that the Italians dubbed most of their films, even the Italian versions, and were good at it) and has glitches that lead me to believe it was mastered from VHS. Don't avoid; the integrity of the film survives.
Seraphim Falls (2006)
Revenge western that starts in the cold of the mountains and ends in the desert; this interesting metaphor for the spiritual descent of two violent characters is one of the only good things about this film. Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, and Michael Wincott all give good performances; a lot of the others are stiff and two-dimensional, which actually could be blamed, I suppose, on the script. Anjelica Huston and Wes Studi are great, as always, but in roles that turn up toward the end of the film in lame attempts at being mystical. This film is not "mystical," nor is it "gothic," nor is it "dark," in the manner of, say, KEOMA, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE PROPOSITION, or Cormac McCarthy's writing, most of which I've heard it called or compared to, which is why I can't begin to express my disappointment upon finally seeing this relatively well-directed and acted but scripted-by-numbers film. The best scenes take place near the beginning, where Brosnan is alone surviving in the wilderness, operating on himself, and cooking his food. He makes lots of good noises to which I can relate when he's alone and struggling and the detail is impressive. But we quickly fall into gaps in logic, such as, for instance, if Brosnan is going to make several sets of tracks when he flees his campsite to separate his enemies, why does he only bother to kill one of them and why does it take him so long to do even that? And if Neeson only had one bullet, what the hell is he going to do with that empty gun? I know how these things can be explained away, but those explanations do not work for me. The film quickly becomes a film of pursuit, with various boring characters being encountered along the way, that we know from the start will inevitably end one of two ways, as a revenge story must, but the thing this movie fails to realize is that within both those physical possibilities are a wide variety of psychological and emotional ones, and the psychological/emotional road taken here is one that's older than film itself that is not played out with any kind of vision or point of view that moves me at all. The series of flashbacks that eventually tell us why Neeson is pursuing Brosnan ends in a reveal that would probably work in a Roy Rogers or Fess Parker movie but contains absolutely nothing to justify its being done, once again, fifty years later. I will be the first to tell you that the western, a genre I can't get enough of, has been around as long as narrative film and is almost never about originality of plot; it's about what goes on between the plot points, dialog, scenery, style, character. The scenery is actually beautifully shot, but none of that other stuff is made to work here in any way that justifies the amount of hullabaloo I heard about this film.
Kulay dugo ang gabi (1964)
Entertaining Filipino vampire schlock.
An evil genius vampire whose minions include a hunchback, a midget, a hot chick with sunglasses, and a rubber bat tries to save the life of his vampire lover by transplanting her with the heart of her long, lost sister. The sister, inconveniently, is still alive. Plays at times like an Ed Wood movie, at others like a classic, albeit low-budget, horror film. Made in the Philippines, which lends jungle atmosphere, interesting architecture, and enough catholic iconography to satisfy the Pope. Badly dubbed in English, including the fact that three completely different characters are, evidently, supposed to be mute and make the exact same, "Uhn, uhn, uhn," noises in the exact same voice, which is blissfully confusing. Features one singing cowboy scene, Captain Kirk-style martial arts, and a musical score that sounds like it could be library tracks but nonetheless is very effective. The film is sometimes black and white, sometimes color, and sometimes tinted a garish magenta, which actually works to heighten the atmosphere at least part of the time. Anyone who has read this far and is still interested will not be disappointed.
Action-packed, beautifully shot revenge western
East German western from 1973 with a revenge plot involving the massacre of Apache by white mercenaries in the employ of both the US and Mexican governments in which the heroes are Apache. Well directed and beautifully shot, apparently in Romania and Uzbekistan, and the eighth of twelve westerns from the point of view of various tribes starring, and in this case co-written by, Gojko Mitic, who was a star in Eastern Europe because of these films.
APACHES was made in a communist country during the cold war and it's easy to see what the angle may have been, how the "white eyes" villains could represent capitalism, especially during a scene in which the Apache steal the water and horses from a band of travelers, leaving them stranded in the desert, then sit back and watch as they kill each other off. They are self-centered and greedy, thus unable to cooperate long enough to survive a bad situation. The indigenous tribes, known for boundless generosity to those not their enemies, not having a concept of private property, could easily fit the socialist ideal. Not the reality, mind you, but the ideal.
What's really funny, though, is that this movie, by the standards of what we know today, really doesn't play like propaganda. It feels much more authentic than any Spaghetti Western I've seen on the subject--NAVAJO JOE immediately comes to mind--and at times even plays like "Blood Meridian" from the point of view of the Indians. It was supposedly based on research of a real-life massacre that occurred at the beginning of the Mexican-American war.
The costumes and production design are great and the action scenes are great and despite all my prattling about sociopolitical context, it's an entertaining western, which I'm sure is what it was intended to be. The villain looks a lot like the Italian actor Piero Lulli, smokes a giant cigar, and uses a whip. The music sometimes reminds me of Spaghetti Westerns, especially Stelvio Cipriani's score for THE UGLY ONES, but ultimately has a style all its own.
The First Run DVD has a ten-minute trailer featuring scenes from this and other East German westerns that ends by announcing, "All this material will be restaurated soon." I'm definitely anxious to find out how soon.
Sitting Target (1972)
Spare, tense, vicious, a must.
Under-appreciated British crime thriller with antisocial characters and an antisocial plot: a convict finds out his wife is pregnant by another man, so he busts out of prison to hunt her down with every intention of killing her. No time wasted on "redeeming" characters. No goofy humor or chase scenes through clubs playing bad, dated music. Just a spare, tense study of two vicious men (Oliver Reed, Ian McShane) hot on the trail of a treacherous moll (Jill St. John). A nemesis detective (Edward Woodward) tries to intervene, but never fouls the nihilistic tone. Solid performances and one of Reed's best as an uber-thug who does push-ups on the ceiling of his jail cell, is sitting on a volcano, and only lets on what he has to, even to his partner. The script does the same thing, imparting information on a need-to-know basis, doing so smoothly as it races toward Hell. All in the back-lots and stygian prisons of a cold, drab London, with a musical score by Stanley Myers that perfectly enhances the story and mood. A must for fans of seventies crime thrillers, British or otherwise, that take no prisoners.
Joshuu sasori: Kemono-beya (1973)
Very Japanese, very seventies, very much something else entirely
This is Shunya Ito's final entry in the FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION series, starring the great Meiko Kaji. The series, based on a Japanese manga, follows the exploits of a woman unjustly imprisoned, brutalized by guards and fellow inmates, who defends herself with such aplomb, she becomes a jail-house legend. The other convicts nickname her Sasori, which means Scorpion. Over the course of two films, she escapes to wreak vengeance against the man who got her busted, is sent back for his murder, and escapes again; the second film ends with Sasori on the loose.
This, the third film, focuses on Sasori's life as a fugitive outside the walls. In an eye-opening first scene, Sasori evades detectives on a subway train; she comes out of it handcuffed to one of the detectives' arms, but not the rest of him. She flees to a slum which consists of a red-light district run by a forced-prostitution ring and a residential area made up of a mud street and shacks, where she is put up for the night and befriended by a lonely prostitute named Yuki. We soon discover that Yuki gives of herself on a nightly basis to her brain-damaged brother, who she keeps locked in a closet. Sasori tries to lead a normal life, taking a job as a seamstress and renting her own apartment, but she and Yuki soon meet again and are both embroiled in a plot that involves the Cruella De Ville-from-hell madam who runs the prostitution ring and the detective from the subway (Mikio Narita, a regular in Kinji Fukasaku films), who by God wants his arm back.
What follows is an atmospheric noir/horror yarn--it takes elements from both and uses them well--that applies Ito's flair for the visual to a mood that is different from the first two SCORPION films, yet bears the same unmistakable signature. A scene involving lit matches falling into a sewer tunnel is especially beautiful. Ito's use of sound, like when Sasori is incessantly scraping the handcuffs with the arm against a tombstone in an attempt to free herself, is as effective here as ever. He also employs silence more than usual, as if by virtue of a newly honed minimalism. This goes along with the relatively subdued tone of the first section of the film, which allows space to explore Sasori's and others' characters. Things pick up by the end, though it's all handled with a dreamier rhythm than the previous films. This is an asset. Each of the three films has its own style, I realize now, and seeing this one made me go back and watch the first, appreciating it more than before.
Meiko Kaji gives her usual amazing performance as Sasori, emoting silently, standing or moving or pouncing or maiming with a grace that switches seamlessly between human and animal. The pathos present in all three films is largely due to the human side of this grace, which never inhibits the films' darker aspects. Reportedly, Kaji, who did one more SCORPION film after this one, had as much to do with developing the character for film as Ito, not only in her performances, but off-camera as well. This film is a worthy swan song for the collaboration. Very Japanese, very seventies, very much something else entirely.
Hell Raiders (1985)
HELL RAIDERS: Raw, exciting, surprisingly ironic
This Indonesian war epic from Rapi studios, the people who brought us THE DEVIL'S SWORD, plays, at some times, with the slanted melodrama of a vintage American WW II pic, and, at others, with the irony and emotional intensity of Sam Fuller on top of his game. It tells the story of a guerrilla army from an Indonesian village during the war with the Dutch in 1945. It has the highest production values of any Rapi film I've seen, which isn't saying much, but what it lacks in resources, it more than makes up for with its crackling energy and genuine heart. The initiated will note that this is true of any Rapi film available in English, most of which are lore-heavy horror or martial-arts fantasy tempered with a weirdness that's never been exceeded by films made anywhere else in the world.
What sets this one apart is its realized ambition. This is no B-movie diversion; this is a sweat-dripping labor of love. It has an ensemble cast which includes, but in no way defers to, the best-known action star of Indonesia's film boom of the nineteen-eighties, Barry Prima. It's notable that Prima played the comic-book folk-hero fighting the Dutch colonials in the early nineteenth century crowd-pleaser THE WARRIOR. Here he fights them a century later, with guns and grenades, rather than sorcery and swords. He gives a fine performance as a character, not a hero. The heroism in this film is shared by many, including a thief reformed by his thirst for revenge and at least two women who fight, in completely credible roles, with at least as much grit as the men in the film.
The characters' weaknesses are likewise shared, and that's just one of the things that gives HELL RAIDERS its surprising ability to haunt the viewer long after it ends. Another is a bloodless image of the effects of torture created by an actress and an up-close camera. Another manifests in arresting moments of the aforementioned irony, which work due to the skillful cohesiveness of the complex script that sets them up. Despite an understandable and certainly not unique tendency to villainize the enemy, HELL RAIDERS possesses humanity, honesty, and insight that place it far above, say, a MISSING IN ACTION film.
Despite the transcendence, there's plenty of gore, shock value, and pulse-pounding action to enhance the other elements, thanks, in no small part, to art director El Badrun, the special-effects master of Indonesia. This guy can create, in a hut in the middle of a freaking jungle, more interesting and creative spectacle than ten-thousand art-school key-jockeys in Hollywood.
The film's roughly two-hour running time, much like its budget, far exceeds that of the usual Rapi film. I highly recommend investing that time, as well as the time and/or money it takes to find a copy of this precious little piece of obscure world cinema.
The Driver (1978)
Nocturnal urban crime thriller...
Nocturnal urban crime thriller that is more about style than realism stars Ryan O'Neal as a professional getaway driver and Bruce Dern as his obsessed-cop nemesis. With its spare dialogue and stoic delivery, it plays like a distinctly American homage to French crime auteur Jean-Pierre Melville (LE SAMOURAI), right down to the mysterious woman (Isabelle Adjani) who provides an alibi for the opening caper. Director Walter Hill makes excellent use of locations, wardrobe, and vehicle paint schemes to create a world that is lawless, eerie, and desolate, sleek and colorless, where the days are short and the nights are very, very long.
The "distinctly American" part comes as a series of tense, brutal car chases. These drive the movie, but they do it in a way that transcends their sub-genre and fits the mood. The wrecks don't burn, they scrape and slide and leave trails of crumpled steel. This high-speed symphony, enhanced, throughout, by Michael Small's score, never grows tedious; it builds on itself and crescendos when it should.
Dern, whose usual down-home demeanor is here a tissue-thin veil over spit-house lunacy, runs his elite detective squad out of vans and barrooms; there is no police station. Wraith-like Adjani, always watching, rarely speaking, has an aura that perforates the screen. Rudy Ramos, who gave a memorable one-scene performance as a howling bandit in the Dirty Harry film THE ENFORCER, here plays a villain who takes to the landscape like a mad dog to a junkyard.
When the cast credits roll, even the headliners have generic labels instead of character names, The Driver, The Detective, The Player, The Connection, maintaining the bare-bones feel until the screen goes black.
Lumaban ka, Satanas (1983)
A jean-jacket-wearing champion named Lando must travel to a cave to rescue his daughter from the forces of evil. A Filippino amalgam of Christianity and other religions appears to be the basis for this bizarre fantasy adventure. It has a budget as low as Geek Maggot Bingo and acting that makes William Shatner look like a candidate for knighthood. Guys zap each other with magical rays that appear to have been drawn on the film with crayons. Rubber snakes turn into naked people. Nudity, gore and implied rape co-exist quite happily with a child-like innocence that's at the story's heart...I don't have the cultural background to process this film properly, I'm sure, which is what makes it so damn entertaining. I am now hanging my head in shame and questioning my own gratuitous use of the phrase "WTF" up to this point, because this film is clearly what it was meant for all along.