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Mr. Freedom (1969)
This isn't a exactly a masterpiece, but a very brave and very funny look at American imperialism by-way of our consumerism, our over-consumption, our super-patriotism, our racism, and our basic stupidity as a nation.
But since postmodernism is thankfully dead as an intellectual fad (the public never cared about it anyway), and because history has reared its ugly head again showing that American power has its vulnerabilities, this film has become very timely, and is definitely prescient in its criticisms of American culture and economy. That doesn't mean it's supposed to be entertaining, but far be it from us Americans to understand the difference.
What's really boring is how whenever someone has the "temerity" to criticize American foreign policy, they're somehow being "pedantic" and "preachy," while the excesses of our corporate owned media get a free pass. It's a hollow argument whose lies are showing, and we've got a lot of criticism coming-our-way these days, even from our "allies" in the EU. We've earned it.
Ken Russell is much better at this kind of comic book approach to satire--he's funnier. If Klein fails--which he sometimes does in Mr. Freedom--it's only because the subject matter isn't funny. America is a real horror, just as it was in the late-1960s, with more fun to come. What makes Mr. Freedom so great is how beautiful it looks, which should come as no surprise considering its source. Klein was a very successful fashion photographer for American Vogue during the 1950s-60s.
Eventually, he grew tired and disgusted with the direction the country was taking at that time and left for France. Who can blame an intelligent man with a clue? If you can do it, then-by-all-means, do it. You couldn't make a movie like Mr. Freedom in America then, or now, and that's the real courage behind it. It was a labor of love and principle, a rarity in cinema.
Most chilling is the slaughter of a poor Black family by Mr. Freedom in the beginning prologue. That he wears a cowboy hat, uses violence to get his way, that he eats excessively, that he's intolerant of the views of others, all speaks volumes of what America is really about, and that's criminality.
Bobby isn't about Bobby
This was an unexpected surprise, a very enjoyable movie! The pundits/talking-necks have been slagging this film as a deification of Bobby Kennedy, but I never noticed any Oliver Stone overreaching here. The story is simple: you have around 20 different-characters in their little subplots during a 24-hour period at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5-6, 1968, the site of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. It seems many reviewers were expecting JFK (1991), which is goofy. Maybe they're just liars? ;0) It's obvious from the beginning of Bobby that all the characters are composites of real-people who were there, and they are mostly-fictitious. There's a good-reason for this, because the film is not about recreating specific-events. It's a cultural and social 'photograph' of the hopes and dreams of the American people in 1968, and today. Yes, the ensemble-approach is a lot like Robert Altman,'s but Emilio Estevez has his own style that has a nice flow and sheen (pun-intended) to it. A young Czech-journalist informs us about the Prague Spring that was occurring in Czechosolvakia, while others illustrate the racial-tensions of the time. Other subplots are about the dynamics of marriage at that time, and the torture women had to endure under the fashions of the time! There are hints of the emergence of feminism, and 1968 was that year. We have guests of the Hotel, Mexican busboys, waitresses, beauticians, but RFK is only seen as he can be, in clips that weave throughout all the lives of the characters. It's pretty effective, but it was surprisingly subtle.
For the jaded, you just won't like this, and that's too-bad. I really feel-sorry for you. On just a technical-level, Estevez did a great job here. The performances by William H. Macy as a manager of the Ambassador, or Lawrence Fishburn as a wizened head-chef are satisfying and drew me in. All the characters drew me in, and I never felt distracted by star-cameos. The performances are too-good for that to happen. Harry Belafonte's (a prominent-critic of the Bush administration) geriatric-rapport with Anthony Hopkins' Ambassador concierge is so warm and genuine, and adds to a tapestry of what is a compelling-swath of Americana. I valued these characters, and I cared about them. Like I said, this is Frank Capra territory, with all the Populist sentiment of the originals (without being derivative). There isn't any moment where I felt the film beat me over-the-head with any particular-message, it just made some very humble and quiet-observations about where America has been, and where it's at today. From the references to hanging-chads and Black Americans being-denied the right-to-vote in the 1968 primaries, or Lindsey Lohan's war-bride pondering why her government hasn't provided adequate reasons for the American-invasion of Vietnam (or Iraq now), this is about 1968 and 2006. The writer/director did his homework, and the film is as densely-packed with bits of that fateful year as it can be.
But there is more. Ashton Kutchner (groan, but he was funny!) provides some comic-relief and some cultural context with his hilarious drug-dealer, a freak who's holed-up in the Ambassador selling-dope. Yes, like Altman, a number of the subplots intersect with each other. You either like the style or you don't, and I'm with the former. Bobby isn't a perfect movie by-any-means, but it is a very entertaining and enlightening set of stories about average-Americans on a very bad-day in our history. What struck me was how much happened in such a short-time--it was as if the public was truly overwhelmed by the assassinations of JFK, and Dr. King, but after Bobby, we sank-into a daze that we only seem to be awakening-from now. The 1960s was peppered with political-assassinations of progressive leaders, and by the late-1960s so much had been invested in them that their deaths were almost a body-blow to American enthusiasm and a social-movement. We lost our inertia and our positivity. With the murder of RFK, there wasn't much hope left for many people. It seemed a watershed, and a shared-sense of destiny evaporated for a time. This was a tactical mistake-in-thinking. We all have to be leaders now.
But forgetting all that, it's just a very competent film from a guy I had written-off! Visually, it just looks beautiful, and there was an excruciating effort to capture the styles and the look of 1968. Even mannerisms and dialect fit very well with what I know of the period. Seeing two geeky Kennedy campaign volunteers drop acid (via the Kutchner character) for the first-time is a more-accurate depiction of the 1960s than most period-pieces of the era--the whole-point is that the 'normals' from the suburbs were turning-on and joining the counterculture and the anti-war movement, folks. That was the reason why there was such a violent-reaction from the beltway, there were massive cultural-changes emerging. Freaks and hippies were rare, even in 1968, just like 'dropouts' of any era. Bobby gets this right. But watch other movies on the 1960s, and it seems they were everywhere! It's untrue, the counterculture was widely-distributed and fragmentary. Emilio Estevez just gets so much right, it's hard to fault him here. Rather than obsess over the counterculture, the movie simply shows us the lives of a variety of ordinary-people. Bobby is a time-capsule of where the culture was at, and what the concerns of people were. It is their and our ideals that are important in the story. Bobby Kennedy was merely invested with those ideals by the American public, and he was responding to us. This is what made him special, and it's what the public wants from the new Democratic majority in Congress today. Will they rise to the occasion? Why RFK was murdered is another story, this isn't a story of para- politics or conspiracies, but of life as it is lived. It really isn't about Bobby Kennedy at all, but about us. 'Fails to cohere'? Ditto for America, so how 'off' could it be?
Let's Go to Prison (2006)
While Sascha Cohen's 'Borat' may be the most-popular comedy of 2006, there is an even funnier one, and it's this movie! Astonishingly, Universal distributed this little indie, but has given it virtually no publicity whatsoever. That must have been the trade-off, because it's a pretty uncompromising story that could be compared-to Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation. Directed by Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show, SNL-writer during the Phil Hartman era, Ben Stiller Show, Conan O'Brien), it's an interesting-take on our corrections system, and it's loosely-based on a non-fiction book called 'You Are Going to Prison', by a former inmate named Jim Hogshire. Much of his humor is intact in the film, but writers Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have taken it into the realm of fiction/non-fiction.
The book was literally just a 'how-to' guide to survival in prison, so you know this isn't going to be a flattering-portrayal of it. Most Americans know full-well their prison system is corrupt, and basically dysfunctional, but our culture has a lust for punishment at its core. Don't believe me? Let's go to prison, and find-out! The movie makes the case by stating we have 2 million Americans in-prison now, only being surpassed by China and Russia.
But this blood-lust is most-obvious during our elections, mostly the local-ones, though Reagan and Bush thrived on the 'crime-and-punishment' issue. And man-oh-man, is there some punishment in the first-quarter of this movie, wow, it really was only slightly-funny until...the story has some very unpredictable and hilarious twists to it! Odenkirk did the Midwest proud by placing the tale in Illinois, and they filmed the prison-scenes at the old Joliet Prison. There is a scene with the warden of the facility that is priceless ('Take all of your complaints, write them on a piece of paper--and stick it up-your-asshole.'). In a few-areas, it's almost too-close to reality, but this changes as the story progresses.The movie begins with the story of repeat-felon, John Lyshitski (played to-the-hilt by Dax Shepard who plays rednecks a lot) who is unfairly put on a path to crime by a certain judge at the age of 8. He has what is euphemistically called 'bad-luck', and gets snared into the system like so many others in America.
Judge Biederman just keeps sending him further-and-further into the corrections system, much like what happened to make John Dillinger a gangster, and untold-scores of minor-offenders into murderers. Because we are so harsh in our penalties here, we actually have created a situation where felons are manufactured. Let's Go to Prison makes this point many-times throughout the film, but it does it with a lot of laughs at the expense of the story's other protagonist, Nelson Biederman IV (played by the brilliant and funny Will Arnett from Arrested Development), the son of the judge. Lyshitski gets-released at the beginning of the film, and we get a voice-over of his story. The man wants revenge, but he realizes that judge Biederman died three-days-before his release, so he decides to take-it-out on his son instead. Like I said, the first-quarter of the movie is grim! Lyshitski is constantly giving Biederman the worst advice you could give to someone imprisoned, and the plot takes a radical-turn in a confrontation between the judge's son and an Ayran Nations gang-leader that must be seen to be believed. The worm-turns for Biederman, the pathetic yuppie-fop who loves the 1990s pop-tune 'Shake That Body', and Lyshitski is in for quite a ride as his target becomes the 'big man' in the joint. It just gets funnier, and telling you any more would just ruin the ride for you, but you get a greater understanding of life in prison.
This was something I never expected, because...well, we all think we've seen-it-all with prison movies, but Let's Go to Prison goes further than all of them! From Biederman getting-punched everyday, to his being-sold to a Black inmate called 'Barry' (the always-great Chi McBride) for an ounce-of-pot and a carton-of -smokes, to their ongoing 'courting', it's hilarious. It also has an ending for the ages that I would personally love to see in real-life! If the movie says anything, it's that the criminal justice and corrections system is a joke on all of us, and it actually finds some hilarity in this fact. That's a tall order that it fills, no-problem. But most Americans are too cool to laugh at themselves. That's OK, we'll laugh at you anyway. Flawed, but hilarious. Score.
The Devils (1971)
Warners Should Release This Film Onto-DVD NOW
Ken Russell is a director you either hate or love--I'm with the latter, and enjoy irritating the same targets Russell does. The simple-fact that many of Ken Russell's films are hated makes me love them all-the-more. This is arguably his best film, and his only political one. As a period-piece, this film is stylized, but looks very convincing, and the cinematography and set-designs by Derek Jarman (another genius of film) are stellar. Consider why films like this one aren't made often, and you have part of the answer as to why this film is still so shocking. Many people dislike his films because of what he reveals about all of us, but that's too-bad. People didn't like what Auschwitz said about humanity, but there it is. Apparently, Warner Brothers has finally-decided to release this film as a director's-cut in 2006, or 2007. It is being-reported that all footage removed by the BBFC and American- censors (mainly Warners) in 1971 will be reinstated in an "unrated-cut" approved by the director. It may have been taken from the Aldous Huxley book, and the 1960s play by John Whiting, but it is Ken Russell's film.
Also-included will be the BBC-documentary by Mark Kermode ("Hell on Earth"), about the making-of the film, and the firestorm it created. The "renegade" DVD by Angelfire is acceptable, and will have to tide-us-over until then. It has the aforementioned Kermode documentary, and a widescreen-transfer (1.85:1, the wrong aspect-ratio, the film was Panavision at 2.35:1) of the film, with some of the deleted-scenes (like "the Rape of Christ") reinstated. It is a flawed-version, but adequate, and is relatively-cheap. This was a film that Warners hated after the executives saw the final-cut. The Warner press book-ads even state it was a hard-sell, with posters marketing the film as horror--it is, but a political-one. Some of the posters warned potential-audiences that it was a film "most people won't like"! In a film that bombards the viewer with violence, decay, plague, and death, it isn't surprising that people miss some of the film's thematic-points, it has a lot to say: the threats to individual-rights and liberties (and spiritual-liberty) are often played-out in the same ways in different times-and-places. You can see this in the parallels made-between Oliver Reed's character Father Grandier, and that of the accepted-Christology in 1600s-France (represented by the characters of Father Mignon, Sister Jeanne and Cardinal Richelieu--an unholy-trilogy?).
Is there much-difference in why Grandier is degraded similarly to Christ? Russell (a Catholic)goes-further: is there any-difference between the political-scapegoating of Urbain Grandier and Jesus? The answer should be obvious, and Richelieu's theocratic-yearnings for power can only be seen as a threat to liberty, just as they are now in the Middle East, and the United States. Even from that remote-year of 1971, Russell could be saying that these political and spiritual-struggles are one-and-the-same, and that they are eternal. This is not an exploitation-film, but it is as dark and horrific as any classic horror film. What is most-terrible is that it is true. Keep-in-mind not one image is in this film "by-mistake," as Russell places an image in a film for a specific-meaning and purpose. The film is a warning to be vigilant against the aims of power, and sheds-light on why Christ was crucified.
The images of people being-tortured, vomiting, acting-hysterically--they are not there to merely shock, but as a warning about social-hysterics of all-sorts. Repression can lead-to perversion, states Russell, resoundingly. Set specifically in 17th Century France after the eight "Hugenot Wars", "The Devils" should be read as a cautionary-tale of how people can willingly give-up their liberties in uncertain times, not-unlike our own. The religious-wars still rage, and will continue to. With the world finally being able see what director Ken Russell intended, we might see this film being very-influential in years-to-come. Italian-filmmakers were inspired--they created the "nunsploitation-genre" from-it! Good lapsed-Catholics, all. This is what the "Grand Guignol" was based-on. From the 1600s-to-now, the threats are the same. Only technology has changed. Bother Warner Bros. into releasing this classic at:
The Ruling Class (1972)
Peter O'Toole's Greatest Moment
Could there be a film crazier than Marat/Sade (1966)? Yes, it is the O'Toole/Medak/Barnes collaboration from 1972, 'The Ruling Class.' One could be forgiven in thinking this was a Ken Russell film, but it isn't like he was alone in making blistering-cinema during the late-1960s, early-1970s. We will probably never see an era in movies like this again, it was so free and unfettered by the studio system that it pushed-the-envelope forever (only to have what is acceptable in commercial cinema recede again). Many viewers would say this kind of film is overindulgent, but that is entirely the point. It was originally given an 'X' rating in the UK in the 154-minute cut, but was released with 20-minutes removed in the American PG-version. The 2001 Criterion edition is the first-time the film has been widely-available in this original-cut as it was shown at Cannes. There is no better edition, it is perfect, and a must-own for anyone who loves serious cinema.
The story began as a successful 1968 play by Peter Barnes, and it was considered bizarre for its anti-naturalism, as well as the comments on the English-aristocracy. If I describe much of it, the effect will be ruined, but there are musical-numbers in a movie that is not a musical (similar to Brecht here). Similar to Artuad's 'theater of cruelty', the approach is to alienate the audience in particular-moments--sometimes throughout the entire piece! This was common in the cutting-edge cinema of the time, just watch A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Devils, or even Midnight Cowboy (1970). Barnes rewrote the screenplay with very few changes, but don't think that the O'Toole/Medak version is simply a filmed-play. It is not, it is much more than that. At once, a parable on the folly of belief-systems, it has much to say about the flimsy-glue that is the ruling-class anywhere. Some hierarchy is inevitable in this life, but do we want crazy-imbeciles running the developed-world? And what of psychiatry or academia? Both are beholden to their own class-assumptions, as The Ruling Class amply-illustrates. Oddly, it is all about the end of all belief, a hallmark of the time it was made in.
The story is pretty-strange, yet plausible: the 13th Earl of Gurney (Harry Andrews) has accidentally hung-himself in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation, a monologue/prologue-scene that lasts over 15-minutes! It's riveting, nonetheless. With the old Earl dead, there is only one heir left for the Lordship of the Gurneys: the Earl's crazy-son, Jack (O'Toole). Jack is completely-insane, and thinks he is Jesus Christ, messiah and savior of the human-race. The would-be Lord is a paranoid-schizophrenic. He is so insane, his speech-patterns betray him immediately. He has constant-tics, and flights-of-fancy that defy-words, and make this the finest-performance by Peter O'Toole in any film (it's his favorite of all of his film-performances). The performance was nominated for numerous awards in 1972. He really is a sweet-character in the first-half of the film, and shows some wonderful humanism that is lacking in the rest of his kin. His only conscience is the butler (James Villiers), a closet-anarchist! His character recedes as Jack becomes...different.
With Jack insane, his uncle Sir Charles (William Mervyn) sets-out to get him declared by a German-psychiatrist he has hand-picked...or has he? It appears that his sister, the Lady Claire Gurney has had an affair with the analyst, and has other-plans for Jack and the whole-situation. But Charles has decided he can control Jack through a call-girl he has groomed as the heir's wife, a Grace Shelly (played by the super-hot Carolyn Seymour). They are eventually-married by the very-reluctant Bishop Lampton (the legendary Alastair Sim!), a distant-relative in the Church of England. In such an environment of intrigue, being a paranoid-schizophrenic would be a natural-reaction, so one is struck by the fact that being one of the 'Ruling Class' means to be eventually driven-mad by the role. The jokes are biting in this one, with some of the best-retorts I have ever heard! To sum-it-up, the factions are battling-for-control of the Estate through Jack, who is 'J.C.' in the first-half of the film. The German-psychiatrist finally decides he can cure the would-be Lord with a radical-approach: he finds another madman (the 'High-voltage Messiah', an insane Scot played unforgettably by Nigel Green) who thinks he is God, and puts them in the same room together. It should be noted that Green died after the end of shooting from a barbituate-overdose.
This approach of 'two-gods in one-room' actually has been attempted in psychiatry before, but it usually doesn't work (the delusions are impenetrable). The problem is, the High-voltage Messiah thinks he's the Old Testament God of Wrath and destruction, and it causes a crisis in Jack's version of Jesus, destroying-it utterly. You could say that both characters embody the Manichean-mythos, and that they hold a heretical-view of religion. The High-Voltage Messiah represents the 'demiurge', the blind idiot-god of gnosticism, while Jack represents gnostics who believe in the Christ-within. Previously, Jack denied his name as part of his illness, and he just wanted to be someone-else.
This is interesting, since early-Christians often were given a new-name upon entering the cult. Unfortunately, this warmer Christ-personality is gone after the treatment, and all that is left is the Old Testament God, and so, Jack takes-on this role. 'I'm Jack, I'm Jack,' says the future-Lord, and the psychiatrist and the family think a cure has occurred. 'I'm Jack, alright...Jack-the-Ripper,' states O'Toole in a moment of hilarity and horror. Instead of the Prince of Peace, he's begun advocating bringing the 'noose back to England', and nobody in the ruling-circles notices him as odd anymore. It's really sums-up the tone of the film.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep (2006)
Decent as Horror, Poor as a Translation of Lovecraft-to-film
"Every man, and every woman is a star." ---Aleister Crowley
"Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?" --Edgar Allan Poe
Beyond the Wall of Sleep isn't going to be some timeless-classic, but it's a very solid piece of Lovecraftian cinema. A good-portion of the original 1919 short is present here, with some of the usual liberties taken. The bulk of the story is here: Joe Slater, a Catskills inbred is found in his home screaming indescribable-utterances, and begins attacking his neighbors who have come to see what the commotion is all-about. With super-human strength, he attacks one of his neighbors, ..."leaving behind an unrecognizable pulp-like thing that had been a living man but an hour before." In short-order, Joe is taken in-chains to an asylum by the State Police. It appears he has a growth on his back that resembles a face, and two-hands...as though someone was trying to escape his body. Things get-stranger from there. At times, the inbred seems to be inhabited by a superior-intelligence, babbling strange-utterances of no-known language.
In the film, Joe (played with skill by the great William Sanderson who is now seen as the Mayor in the Deadwood series) flees and is eventually caught by a sheriff's posse (changed to State police, led by Tom Savini), followed by a party of local inbreds. Things get-darker at this point. This is all fine-and-well, so I don't want to seem like some Lovecraft-fanatic splitting-hairs. Some alterations work, some don't. The face on the back is still there in the film, and while you might believe it is an undeveloped-aspect, Lovecraft didn't do much with it either.
One major-change works well: changing the narrator. In Lovecraft's tale, it is the intern who tells the story after it has happened--with the characteristic lack-of-context of how-much later it's happening, or even the name of the narrator himself. Nobody who knows Lovecraft well would say his writing was always good, but there were things that the filmmakers left-out that I found confusing. Namely, the nature of the being inhabiting Joe Slater. In the original-short, the being is not necessarily evil or malefic, though sometimes destructive and unpredictable. It's as though it struggles to merely exist in Slater's body, seemingly trapped in him. Evil? Maybe, though not on a cosmic-scale, that seems evident in Lovecraft's original short-story.
Quite the contrary, the being is attempting to destroy another being known as "the adversary" out of revenge. It struck me that the adversary is supposed to be like the devil, or some truly malefic-being, while the being inhabiting Joe Slater is of a lower-order in the cosmos. "Good" and "evil" become meaningless in the Lovecraftian cosmology, so I found this too-simple. The original short has the being leave Slater's body, becoming a star that attempts to eclipse and destroy the adversary-star in another realm of the cosmos. The tale ends with the "good" being losing, the event being viewed by astronomers as a nova, then dying.
Ironically, I believe this could have been done more-economically than the Cthuloid-being that was created with CGI. The tales becomes one of a summoning, when the original is really about the escape of an entity that has been trapped in the body of an imbecile. This, then, is probably my main-problem with the film, but the theme of dreams being more-real than our own reality is still present and well-expressed in the editing and imagery. The images of the children are very-interesting, because it reflects H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic-horror so well. The children are subdeities toying-with humanity, much like the Archons of the Gnostic-cosmology.
It should also be noted that early-Christianity held that all people had a star for themselves in the cosmos--it was what we became after death. The ancient Gnostics felt that a select-few people in the world were part of a "starry race", or "knowers" of the divine. They were supposed to hold a "divine-spark" within-themselves, and Gnostics (especially Sethians) believed they were not of this world, but of this race. How Lovecraft embedded similar-concepts in his shorts is a mystery, since most all Gnostic-texts have only come-to-light since 1945--eight-years after his death. I also have to wonder how Crowley had-access to these Gnostic and Hermetic-concepts, it is puzzling as many of the Gnostic-ones simply weren't considered even to exist. It's a shame, but this wonderful mystical-aspect is almost absent in the adaptation, and it bothers me. However, the film is still very good for Lovecraftian cinema. It accurately reflects how brutal turn-of-the-century America was, too.
I especially enjoyed the opening-prologue with the time-date slate, showing us when the recounting of the tale happens (1979). American Mental Institutions were notorious 100-years-ago, so the context of the tale is solid. Maybe some of the production-design could have been better, but this is micro-budget cinema and the film is a great achievement, nonetheless. The subplot with the trepanned-girl (lifted from "Hannibal"?) was good, but I thought could have been pared-back to the very-end, this might have been more-effective in making it unsettling. We should remember that the short is a little over four-pages, so its addition is understandable and sets-the-stage for the intern's and Joe Slater's fusion with an electronic-apparatus.
The gore is stupendous, and I really enjoyed the mixing of black & white photography with color (color denoting that Joe's dream-reality has intruded into our own). The super-fast editing was also very good, and there are some truly unforgettable-images in this film. But remember: this is low-budget cinema, it was probably made for a couple-million dollars, possibly less. But it works, it's respectable horror. Lovecraft is about imagination, unfortunately the makers of this movie forgot that this is the key to his horror.
Dracula's Dog (1978)
Bad-Good, But Basically Bad (makes a good drinking-game)
You have to hand-it (the booby-prize) to the Bands. This was the final-film by the patriarch of this schlock-horror family, and it's hard to describe. Disaster just doesn't work here, and I think Albert Band knew he had a turkey-script, so he made-the-best of it. His 1950s psychological-thriller/horror, "I Bury the Living" is excellent, but this is...wow, pretty bad. So, when your backers (UK and Yugoslavian) don't want to pay the Bram Stoker Estate money for the rights to Dracula, what do you do? Exactly! You do a tie-in, with a story about DRACULA'S DOG. Yes, his dog. Yes, it's as absurd and ridiculous as you might imagine. There is even a scene where the dog is wearing a turtle-neck...and operating a hearse! The story--what little there is--begins with Russian (obviously Yugoslavian) soldiers dynamiting a hill. They accidentally uncover a tomb that holds Dracula's manservant (Reggie Nadler, who looks creepy out-of-makeup), and his doberman, Zoltan. Yeah, it's retarded, I know. Yes, the stupid-soldiers release the half-vampire, and vampire-dog, and the "fun" begins. A lot of the story revolves around some followers of Dracula trying to make one of his living-descendants a vampire (WTF?!). The writing is full-of-holes you could drive a semi-truck through. At this time, even Hammer knew when to give-up on Dracula, having extended it into the mid-1970s. But this film is hilariously-bad, so it is watchable for all the unintentional humor it pummels the viewer with.
I'm 100%-certain that this is the ONLY film in human-history to contain a flashback scene for a vampire-dog character. I nearly fell out of my couch--could this be?! Did I really see what I thought I saw? I had to rewind my DVD-player. Yes, it was real, and there was even more hilarity. To make it short: the dog returns to America (where one goes for "success"--yeah, bullshit) with Nadler and some vampirized-dogs to sink-his-fangs into the descendant of Dracula, making him a vampire. Still, Albert Band's son has directed films that are much-worse with his excrement-mill, Full Moon. The only noteworthy thing here is that Stan Winston did some of his earliest makeup here, but doesn't get to shine much. Oh yeah, and the dog "talks" too, telepathically with the Nadler-character. Sucks, and not like a vampire, but good for some yucks. Not scary, unless you look at it as how stupid people with too-much money can be, they paid for this.
Voci dal profondo (1991)
The Last Decent Film By Lucio Fulci
This is another one that isn't all-that-bad! It's a post-Sachetti scripted story (co-written by Fulci), but it's still a great supernatural-mystery sprinkled-with the horror that Lucio Fulci-fans adore. A brief-synopsis: a young-girl's father has been murdered by-poisoning, and a telepathic-link is formed between the deceased and the child. However, time-is-slipping-away for them, as the communication between the dead-man and his daughter is dependent-on the decay of the corpse--the more he rots (which Fulci shows us in delightful-detail), the weaker-the-link of communication. Will they discover who murdered him? Reminiscent of the opening-prologue of "Sunset Boulevard", Fulci delivered his last good horror-film here, there would be no-others. Having a narrative partly-delivered-by a dead-man was (and is) still uncommon, and an interesting experiment by Fulci which bears-fruit.
I found-myself pondering on the many-many issues of mortality watching this film, and it can certainly be read as a parable of the link the living share with the dead--the dead do speak-to-us, but we have to listen-carefully, and usually with detecting and forensics!Understanding the dead--in-part--is understanding the human-condition. Eventually, we have to let-go of the deceased, and move-on. One has to marvel that such an ailing-man (diabetes plagued Fulci his entire life) was capable of such a film, done with an almost non-existent budget. Fulci had a very tender-relationship with his daughter, so it could be inferred that there is some autobiography at-play here.Fulci knew he was dying slowly of diabetes.
Fulci was a valued-director--he could deliver under austere-conditions, and with over-50 films, his "hit-ratio" is surprisingly-high. He was cheap, and he usually delivered a solid-film with so little. Always remember that a majority of his films were made for under $1 million, and you begin to understand how truly-great he was as a director, a veritable-magician. People who compare other films by a director aren't worth listening-to, because people and times change. Yes, the films are frozen, but why should we be frozen too? Voices From Beyond is well-worth repeated-viewings, and almost totally-forgotten. Sure, it isn't his best film, but it's pretty good. It teaches us that we can let-go of the deceased, since they are always with us anyway. Long-live Lucio Fulci's legacy!
Magic and Mental Illness
"Abracadabra, I sit on his knee. Presto, change-o, and now he's me! Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed. Magic is fun...we're dead." --The tagline to "Magic"
Schizophrenia is still a very controversial mental-illness, and many psychiatrists have argued that it doesn't even exist. But what we do know is that the mind can fragment into quasi-independent parts that can behave like personalities, or aspects of personalities. In many-cases, the neuropathology of schizophrenia is unknown, and has only been studied for some 100 years! Right-now, the science tends toward heredity being a primary-cause, but not everyone agrees. Enter the movies: While psychological-horror is nothing-new to cinema, this 1978 film by Sir Richard Attenborough (A Bridge Too Far, Gandhi) is very-very special, and offers some interesting speculations.Originally a best-selling novel by William Goldman (who also wrote the screenplay), this is also the "big-break" of Anthony Hopkins. It was the moment the public really took-note of this 40-year-old actor. Other than "The Bounty" (1984) this has to be his best film-performance, where he even had to learn to articulate a ventriloquist's-dummy and throw-his-voice.
Hopkins plays Corky, an amateur magician who is too shy to charm an audience, and he bombs at his first-performance. In the opening-prologue with his dying mentor Merlin, we find-out Corky had become-enraged and cursed-out the bored-crowd. Cut to two-years-later, and Corky is selling-out the same nightclub with a residency and lines around-the-block. He's a hit! Something happened over those two-years, and Corky's addition of a foul-mouthed ventriloquist's-dummy named "Fats" has made his act wildly-popular--he's funny and profane, spouting dirty-jokes and insults. Fats acts and looks like a distorted-version of Corky, maybe even his shadow-self. But, was it "Fats" who chewed-out the audience two-years-ago? Goldman and Attenborough let us decide, and it's this enigmatic-style that makes "Magic" so interesting and chilling. Jerry Goldsmith's eerie-score doesn't hurt either, it's reminiscent of Bernard Hermann.
Sure, we know that Fats isn't really alive, but an extension of Corky, but there are a few moments where he moves without help! It is as if the disease has externalized-itself, taking-over the protagonist. There is a light-touch of ambivalence as to whether Fats is more-than just a part of Corky's psychosis, but this is soon upended by too-many objective-views of his behaviors without Fats. Fats only moves a few-times without Corky, and sometimes Corky sounds like Fats when he gets angry. One almost gets a disembodied-sense watching this, a little taste of madness. And so, with his fame comes a fear of exposure of his illness. His show-business agent wants him to take a physical for a network television-appearance, and Corky refuses, escaping to his hometown in the Catskills. He seems to know instinctively that he is mentally-ill, and Fats the dummy even reminds him that ..."we're special". A schizophrenic fear of persecution becomes obvious. Fats wants to return to Manhattan to fame-and-fortune, but Corky doesn't. The pressure builds as the two-personalities fight, and Fats becomes jealous of a childhood love named Peggy. Peggy runs the cabin Corky and Fats are hiding-out in.
There is something so creepy about Fats, and it isn't hard-to-believe that he comes from somewhere deep and unknown within the human-mind. He is a force, rather than a personality, and he is rage and vengeance. Corky repeats his fears of failure to the character Peggy (played by super-hot Ann Margaret) in a mind-reading session with playing-cards, and it is here that it seems Corky isn't playing with a full-deck (had to write it). Is it also MPD (multiple-personality disorder)? Is it a primal-darkness within Corky, brought-on by his illness? It seems to be a complex combination of many things, and the descent-into-madness of such a likable-character is very unsettling. Though it's best to remember this is a movie version of mental-illness, it works. Corky is basically a paranoid-schizophrenic, with some writing-touches.
The best-scene is when Corky's agent (played with-class by Burgess Meridith) finds him at his hideaway, and challenges him about his sanity: "Corky, can you make Fats shut up for five-minutes?" Corky can't do it, and the scene is hilarious, heart-breaking and horrific. Eventually, Corky kills a couple people to hide his illness, and it just snowballs. Exposure is inevitable, and I leave the ending for you to watch yourselves. It is a film that is both funny and sadly-poetic, the dying of a beautiful, prismatic-mind that had so much to give. This makes Corky the classic "monster", and this a horror-film. He simply cannot help-himself. Mental-illness in the universe of "Magic" is tragedy, and our connection with Corky is almost that of an accomplice, like with Norman Bates in "Psycho". We want him to keep-hidden. It is a wild-ride that is humanizing and sad, but also very entertaining--even a criticism of entertainment-itself. After-all, once Corky is sick, the crowd loves him. Fats is just an externalization of his illness, and it all seems like a diseased-version of the American Dream.
While the majority of schizophrenics are not violent, this could certainly happen, and that's why I find it so horrifying. People lose their minds, and they lose control to impulses we and they do not understand entirely. Hopkins did the eerie voice of Fats, even throwing-his-voice, and he gave the dummy an old-vaudeville/freak show barker quality. He sounds like a street-hood from 1920s Manhattan, like a completely "other" personality than Corky's. He sounds-like someone who lived once in another body. The twist-ending seems to support this possibility. So, one would imagine from Anthony Hopkins' performance that he was at least nominated for a major-award. But, this was and independent film by Attenborough and Joseph E. Levine, so an Academy-Award was out. It's ironic that so many films that win Academy-Awards any-given-year are often forgotten, but ones like "Magic" are remembered-fondly.
Gorehounds Resemble the Characters of this Film
While 'Dance of the Dead' isn't my favorite Masters of Horror episode, it's still a pretty good entry. If you're expecting conventional-horror, look-elsewhere, this is about a horror that is internal. Peggy (played wonderfully by Jessica Lowndes) is a young-girl living in the contaminated-ruins of the United States, in Michigan. She and her mother run a diner in what is left of their community, while the streets are populated with the sick, dying, and gangs of youths willing to do anything to survive. Utilities still exist, and there is food, but the social environment is every-man-for-himself, a situation very close to complete anarchy.
Everyone in the film is dying-slowly from a terrorist-attack of a chemical weapon known as 'blitz', especially those who have been exposed-directly. In Richard Matheson's original-story, 'blitz' is exploded in the stratosphere, creating a huge corona-cloud that rains a skin-eating snow on its victims. Most of the victims have the look of lepers. One day, a gang of young 'blood-runners' comes into the diner led by a guy named Jak, and Peggy goes with them to the shunned city of 'Muskeet', where the dance of the dead is the main-event for nihilist-survivors and criminals. According to the MC of the club (Robert Englund, in a show-stealing performance), the military found that certain chemical-warfare agents would reanimate dead-troops to keep them fighting. One of the main-ingredients for this process is blood. Peggy's mother has warned her about the town ('It should be burned to-the-ground.'), with an odd-turn. She's hiding-something, like the fate of her other-daughter who...you'll have to watch the episode.
In this bleak-future that could happen tomorrow, Tobe Hooper shows us where America is psychologically, and where it could end-up. I've actually talked to people in their twenties about this entry, and none of them could tell me why they didn't like it. I can tell you why--it paints-a-picture of youth that isn't flattering, and it makes a few comments on the counterculture (as a dead-end expression) that aren't either. We aren't really very far as a culture from the 'dance of the dead' strip-shows, not-at-all. America has become-addicted to a form of sexualized-violence in our culture, and it's a violence that is senseless and without any motivation behind-it, or meaning. Some would call this conditioning.
37-years-ago, director Sam Peckinpah tried to change this with 'The Wild Bunch', by showing-us violence for what it really was and, for-a-time, it worked. With his machine-gun editing (taken-up by Hooper here, the hour-episode has1,100-cuts), and his graphic-depictions of people dying in slow-motion, Peckinpah tried to make people sick. By the 1980s, this style had been copied ad-infinitum without any depictions of the consequences of violence. Ironically, showing these consequences is more visually-graphic, and usually earn a 'hard-R', 'X', or an NC-17 rating for a movie. So, by the 1980s, Peckinpah had been trumped by Hollywood. Today, it's even-worse.
Hooper (and both Matheson-scribes) shoves this fact in our collective-face, and he does it with a barrage of imagery that is pretty-ugly. You could take-away the setting of a post-apocalypse America, and you could still tell this story in the present about an overprotected 16-year-old girl who loses her innocence. This overprotection is crucial, and Matheson setting the story in the American Midwest is strongly-symbolic. This is the real story of 'Dance of the Dead', and it rankles the wounded-idealist in all of us. But again, he's also telling us that we are jaded, bored and dehumanized, another reason some viewers were angered by the piece.
Sadly, most of the bad-reviews of this film only prove-its-point: we have become desenitized and dehumanized as a culture. Through the use of deep-colors, incredible-composition, and an editing-style that can only be called a barrage, Hooper has a great work here. Also, most of the gore here is pretty grim, and I expect a certain level of it in most horror-films. It's my own humble-opinion that the worst horror-fans are gorehounds, but even-worse is the film-buff who expects Orson Welles to do Citizen Kane over-and-over again (you could argue he did). This is a great addition to Tobe Hooper's canon, even an exceptional one. I think the main-problem people had with this film was the editing--it never lets you rest, and that's good. What a heavy metal Weimar Republic-nightmare he has crafted, it's stunning and real. We're all denizens of the Doom Room.