Saturday, December 3, 2016

Something Creeping in the Dark / Qualcosa striscia nel buio (1971)

Mario Colucci’s Something Creeping in the Dark has been off the radar for a long time. I didn't even know about it until recently, and this is the kind of stuff I live for. This might be because it is rather mediocre in certain aspects, some might even say a little boring if this isn't your kind of thing. It's a curious little low-key Italian horror, and even though it's not that scary or original, it has its creepy moments. The ambiance and familiar setting is comforting if you’re in the mood for this type of movie. Also on the plus side, all the genre traditions we know and love are here: séances, portraits, fleeting shades of black magic and the occult, contrived gathering of suspicious characters, spirits, candles, storms, murders, babes, a spooky but marvelous gothic mansion, and night gowns. It really is a beautiful looking gothic thriller despite being routine in the story department, but there’s a lot to chew on with its concept, and there’s so many nice touches that keep it afloat. At times, it’s got a strange charm to it, with near Polselli-like moments with actors looking spaced out, standing around like model figurines.

The setup is one we’ve seen a thousand times before: a chance gathering of characters in a remote gothic mansion. It’s contrived but almost always works, especially if you’re a big fan of this type of film, like me. They all have a sinister but cozy night ahead of them. Well at least cozy for the viewer.

I’m definitely a fan of sensational intro credits, such as the creepy witch-cackling during the intro to Maniac Mansion (1972) and the kitschy “Fumetti-neri” style of the Baba Yaga (1973) credits, but the intro credits leave something to be desired with Something Creeping in the Dark. The dramatic freeze framing seems uninspired and almost distracting while we are being introduced to a set of mildly uninteresting characters. It’s supposed to indicate unease and menace, but the somewhat lazy editing pulls viewers out, failing to generate a convincing sense of dread.

A bickering husband and wife couple (Giacomo Rossi Stuart and Lucia Bose), a serial killer named Spike (Farley Granger) being pursued by two police characters (Franco Beltramme and Dino Fazio), a doctor and his assistant (Stelvio Rosi and Mia Genberg), and a professor of the arcane (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino) happen to all cross paths. A broken bridge from a supposedly fierce but painfully absent storm causes them all to have to take shelter at a nearby remote manor with an exterior that is portrayed by a rather obvious looking but still charming maquette.

The dark-and-stormy-night-with-the-bridge-out cliché is a sacred classic horror tradition, but it comes off as a lazy setup here. I understand that it’s low-budget, but more sound effects, heavier wind and rain, as well as a fog machine are sorely needed, as the presence of the big storm that is keeping everyone confined is hardly felt. It's just a little bit of rain and faint thunder, with it being completely calm when everyone gets out of their cars to talk. I guess this might work in a surreal, strange sort of way, but I honestly think a similar film Maniac Mansion had the right idea with the excessive fog. Early on, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to be emotionally invested in anyone, but oh my gosh does this film transition from bland to gorgeous once the stage shifts to the mansion interior, with a visual aesthetic that’s part gothic horror, part giallo.

With the phone lines out (big surprise), everyone is stuck spending the night. They eventually get bored enough to have a séance and conjure the ghost of a killer madwoman who used to live in the house. Spike eventually escapes custody and later Sylvia (Bose) is mysteriously murdered. Was it her fed up husband, the red herring killer, the ghost, or someone else? In the end, it isn’t clear, but that didn’t really matter to me. The first time I watched this, I enjoyed the comfy gothic mansion aesthetic and a number of supernal sequences. On subsequent re-watches, I noticed how much more psychological the film is, with some interesting profound concepts. There’s also an eerie surreal climax where several characters freeze up, suggesting a communal possession or hallucination, but a letdown of a “deus ex machina” ending follows that just kind of ends things just because the movie’s over.

I’m not sure if there ended up being any real reason to have everyone in the house together, unlike say in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, of which the genre owes so much.

Lucia Bose is stunning in this as social elitist Sylvia Forrest, and her presence does add a lot to the viewing experience; with her enchanting, glamorous party outfit and saucy demeanor, she’s the belle of the ball. Well, at least to those who aren’t married to her, because she does seem to fill the role of demeaning wife to her husband, Donald Forrest (Rossi Stuart).

One of the more striking moments occurs somewhat early on with a highlight piano scene between Spike and Sylvia, where she is almost hypnotized by him and his piano playing (serenading and romancing her), and we go into a theatrical dream segment, which is basically Sylvia’s character having an abstract fantasy about what being intimate with a violent killer sadist might be like. It’s wonderfully shot and beautifully enhanced by the piano music. (Spike has a total rockabilly/greaser look to kind of signify that he’s a bad guy). Spike is probably the most interesting character, along with Sylvia. I can't quite tell if she's turned on by him, but she does seem to be drawn to him, as if being alone with a notorious maniac might be a strange kink to her. She even fantasizes about trying to stab him repeatedly but to no avail, as he laughs and mocks her attempts to play the role of killer. 

For some reason, the enigmatic butler/caregiver Joe (Gianni Medici), who, as usual, just sort of comes with the house, has a hot babe (Giulia Rovai) he makes love to who hangs out in a hidden room, wearing no pants, reading on the bed, looking like a boudoir pinup model, and is pretty much forbidden to show herself to the company for some strange reason. She stays in the room a long time and ends up having nothing much to do with anything for the most part; I can’t figure out her purpose other than eye candy. She and the butler both seem suspicious, but their relation seems to serve little purpose. I’m not complaining though, as she is still a delightful presence. She does come out of her room to the living quarters with everyone else eventually to participate in the eerie climax.

A malevolent spirit of an occultist is apparently haunting the house and possessing characters, opening up their base desires. The ghost is a husband killing mad woman who used to live in the manor, Lady Sheila Marlowe (we only see her in a model photo portrait; the model is Loredana Nusciak from Django (1966).

There’s a terrific roaming POV ghost cam, complete with high reverb moans and creepy siren-like wails that’s almost like being in the consciousness of a ghost. We become intimate with the ghost, despite never seeing it. The ghost wanders the halls and picks different rooms to enter, taking hold of the soul of the occupant as well. The ghost unlocks hidden desires, such as Donald’s repressed desire to kill his wife or Susan’s deep down desire to sleep with her boss.

It’s a ghost movie, but you won’t be seeing any ghosts. The ghost is never seen but its presence is sure felt. They did something similar with A Whisper in the Dark (1976). With Something Creeping in the Dark, the ghost exists in the narrative more as a concept. Instead of showing a hokey ghost, they attach human psych to it, in the process making it a metaphor for our base instincts, a ghost within us that is lurking in the darkest parts of our subconscious, something creeping deep down inside every one of us, in the dark places we’ve been conditioned since birth to repress. If something is repressed, like an emotion or a wish, the ghost unleashes it in someone, sets it free.

There’s a cool part about halfway through when the ghost visits Susan and all the ticking clocks in the house stop, generating a surreal frozen-in-time feeling. 

Up to this point Susan has the studious tied hair and glasses look, with the obvious intention of downplaying her good looks, telegraphing that she’ll be doing the ol’ “remove her glasses and drop her hair” trick and look totally different. It’s a pretty interesting way of changing her physically after the ghost seemingly affects her (possesses her?) where she finally opens up to her boss, Dr. Williams.

The doctor (Rosi from The Hanging Woman (1973)) seems totally concerned for Susan when she tries to seduce him, aware that this is completely unlike her. He ultimately concedes. Susan becomes ambivalent about it afterwards when a bolt of lightning breaks the spell, and she no longer remembers seducing and sleeping with Dr. Williams, afterwards feeling ashamed and uncertain as to why.

As I said before, there are also hints of the occult and arcane, most notably with the presence of Professor Lawrence (Lavagnino), the eccentric arcane professor with his metaphysical words of caution and theories, whose role is pretty much to remind everyone that there are mysterious forces we do not yet understand. The scene of the professor playing solitaire resembles someone reading tarot cards. In fact, he flips a card to reveal a dual playing/tarot card, the death card/5 of clubs. (Interesting fact: the actor playing the professor also did the music for the film, and the soundtrack is impressively haunting.)

We escape the mansion a couple of times when the police have to chase after Spike in the woods. It gives the allusion of the area’s isolation, having immediate forest region surrounding the house, a troupe still used to this day (AHS:Roanoke (2016)).  

Something Creeping in the Dark is mostly good old fashioned haunted house fun with enough nuances to not make it feel too much like a pointless waste of time. It’s a very talky mystery horror/thriller, but I personally enjoy relaxing and reading a lot of subtitles, but this could be a turnoff for some. It’s long and has quite the languid pace, but, despite its flaws, weak startup and conclusion, it’s definitely something creepy, moody, and atmospheric to unwind with when the mood for classic style Italian Gothic horror in color arises.

© At the Mansion of Madness

Saturday, October 8, 2016

S & M: Les Sadiques (2016)

It seems like only yesterday when we were checking out The Devil of Kreuzberg (2015), a respectably accomplished modern gothic horror film directed by Alexander Bakshaev that’s gotten a lot of due praise, and now, seemingly out of nowhere, Alex and the great folks involved follow it up with a killer Jess Franco tribute S & M: Les Sadiques.

I had viewed a lot of compelling images of this film when it was in production, and one of the images, which did not end up in the cut of S & M that I watched, displayed lead actor Nadine Pape channeling an iconic image of late ‘60s, early ‘70s Franco lead Soledad Miranda, and I thought it looked cool. It captured the original spirit but also had a different energy about it that was trying to impart a new vision, something that’s not only a great tribute but also works on a number of other levels, which is something that could also be said about the overall film.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Night of 1,000 Sexes / Mil sexos tiene la noche (1984)

Despite there being a finite number of Jess Franco films, it virtually feels like I won’t ever run out of Franco movies to choose from, since there are so many (over 200) and from many different eras (from the ‘50s up to 2013). I’ve explored and hunted for Jess Franco films for close to a decade now and still have quite a journey ahead of me, which will probably only end for me if I ever lose interest. The selection pool is deep enough to be a lifelong endeavor, especially if you plan on really absorbing, studying, and digesting most of them. I’ve got my favorites that I return to when I can, but more frequently I always get an itch for a new one, but the list is long, which is equal parts comforting and overwhelming.

When it comes to the large selection of erotic Lina Romay featured Franco titles, it can be difficult to make a selection. You want something that goes beyond just lengthy porn scenes; you want something worth keeping, something that’s erotic but also dark, ethereal, metaphysical, with a dreamy ambiance, emotion, and artistic merit. Well, if you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re looking for a sweet Jess Franco and Lina Romay fix, the film I’m pulling out for you tonight, Night of 1,000 Sexes, will meet your demands.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

I first saw Horror Rises from the Tomb many years ago (around 2003) as part of a four movie bargain set of zombie movies, and my initial thoughts were, “too slow and not enough zombies.” I had no idea who Spanish filmmaker Paul Naschy was at the time, nor would I have probably cared. I was disappointed I didn’t get the zombie movie the misleading box cover promised. I then cast it aside as an irrelevant film that was best forgotten. (Boy is adult-me really annoyed at teenage-me right now.)

In the midst of my giallo collecting craze around 2008, I eventually came upon a Naschy thriller called Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974). Needless to say, I dug it and finally became interested in director/writer/actor Paul Naschy. My next Naschy film was Human Beasts (1980), which to me was an even greater experience. Then, after having fun with a couple of Naschy’s werewolf movies, I thought, despite my disconcerting memories of the film, I’d give Horror Rises from the Tomb another go with a new perspective as a Naschy fan and without my zombie film bias.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Blow Job – un soffio erotico (1980)

Not to be confused with Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1963), Alberto Cavallone’s Blow Job is a witchy Italian horror film with a fairly meagre start that escalates into a reality transcending experience that was influenced by Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1952) and the shamanistic writings of Carlos Castaneda. One similarity between both films is the titular blowjob and its ambiguous nature. Warhol’s Blow Job is a thirty five minute still-shot of a young man’s (DeVeren Bookwalter) face while he is supposedly receiving fellatio, allegedly by experimental filmmaker Willard Maas. Because the sexual act itself takes place off camera, it is never absolutely certain if the fellatio is legitimately happening, which along with conflicting accounts of the filming itself adds a curious air of mystery to it.

The blowjob in Cavallone’s film only makes up a fraction of the movie during the third act and coincides with a mescaline (the main active hallucinogen in peyote) trip, and so the fellatio is also presented indirectly. The mescaline aided “blowjob” sort of doubles as a gateway act to a higher form of perception, but the fascination in this case comes more from how the filmmakers choose to represent “suchness” or “the absolute”, the ultimate nature of reality without reduced awareness. One of our lead characters Stefano (Danilo Micheli) transcends reality, under the guidance of an erotic witch Sibilla (Mirella Venturini), to take a trip through the spirit world, aka tripping balls. It involves dancing and low budget experimental set pieces and was more memorable than I was anticipating it to be.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ten Films That Describe My Aesthetic

Terence from Chicks with Candles has tagged me to “list ten films that describe my aesthetic.” I believe this is a Tumblr game that has leaked into Blogger in my case. Before me, Terence was tagged by @alfredsnightmare. So what does it mean to say “my aesthetic”? With movies, I think of it as a familiar visual and emotional theme that still resonates with me irregardless of how many times I experience it. 

But perhaps the included images might speak a little more than words.

1) The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (1973): Colorful liquor bar carts, ‘70s giallo glamor, Euro-nightclubs, Technicolor, small cars, cigarettes, Edda Dell’Orso, Ennio Morricone – So these features could describe a lot of movies, but this one has one of my favorite titles and Nieves Navarro in a black high split open side dress. I thought that Navarro’s proud and confident sexually liberated character Dominique felt like a proto-Samantha from Sex and the City.

2) Succubus (1968): Provocative muses, looming castle destinations, mannequins, inner personality conflicts, nightclub faux torture scenes, dream sequences, trippy acid parties – The hazy soft-focused sequence when Janine Reynaud’s Lorna Green drifts out of bed and ventures to the limestone river castle in Lisbon and the questionable perspective of dream or reality remains a gold standard for surreal film experiences for me. Is she mad, or just not of this world?

3) The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973): Erotic madness, mountainous terrain, spaced out looking actors standing around the Castle Balsorano, Eastmancolor, expressive sadomasochism, comical sex scenes, day and night merging, excessive use of grandiose set pieces – This movie’s a chaotic mess, but it’s also an expressionistic masterpiece that thrives on account of its aesthetic and not its narrative.

4) The Blood Spattered Bride (1972): Ancestral mansions, sapphic vampires, Carmilla influenced, bloody daggers, blurred line between dream and reality, bloody mariticide, gothic candle lit dinner scenes, sylvan settings – Beautiful but disturbing with several uncomfortable parts, The Blood spattered Bride still works as a great Spanish horror film despite being pretty heavy with its tones of misogyny and misandry.

5) The Spider Labyrinth (1988): Conspiracy theory – How can conspiracy theory be an aesthetic? Well, have a look at the included screen grab below. That realization that you were in the lion’s den the entire time makes for a uneasy experience in denouements to films such as The Perfume of the Lady in Black, Short Night of Glass Dolls, and Rosemary’s Baby.

6) Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987): ‘80s Filmation nostalgia, inappropriately scary for intended kid audience, creepy carnivals – This unofficial sequel to Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio did give me nightmares, particularly on account of one scene with Pinocchio at The Neon Cabaret, some sort of kid disco (the Playland counterpart), where the kids' faces start to horrifically distort after he drinks the sparkly green liquid, which I like to think is carbonated Ecto Cooler spiked with absinthe.

7) All the Colors of the Dark (1972): Black Masses, Edwige fenech (yes, she counts as an aesthetic), looming mansion destinations, Bruno Nicolai, staying classy and fashionable (like something out of a JCPenny’s catalogue) while being stalked by your killer. I love black mass scenes and All the Colors of the Dark easily has my favorites.

8) The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (1971): Vampires moving through space in slow motion, classic monster mashups, Paul Naschy, gothic ambiance – With the right amount of fog and dread, slow motion framing can make your monsters seem to exist outside of space and time, and the effect is quite startling, so much so that Amando di Ossorio would mimic it for his Blind Dead Templars.

9) Queens of Evil (1970): Horror movies with a fairytale exterior, provocative situations that aren’t what they seem, ancient witches in touch with modern ‘70s fashions, Snow White, free spirited hippies with a lot of crazy ideas about free loveQueens of Evil is a fantastic horror film with a biting social message.

10) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): Classic cel animation juxtaposed with reality, nourish style set in 1940s LA, inappropriate for kids despite being one of my favorite movies as a kid – There couldn’t be anything more awesome than cartoons being real and the existence of a place like Toontown and not to mention a chance to meet Betty Boop.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Adrift / Touha zvaná Anada (1971)

Adrift was one of the last, if not the last, Czechoslovak New Wave films before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Filming was actually interrupted by the invasion, with a military bridge being temporarily erected at the filming site on the banks of the Danube River. Adrift’s co-director and co-writer (academy award winning filmmaker Ján Kadár) then fled the country and made another film in the US, The Angel Levine. After the loosening of Soviet control in Czechoslovakia in 1969, Kadár returned, and, after getting everyone back together, filming for Adrift resumed.

I became interested in Adrift (or my preferred title: A Desire Called Anada) at random while scanning for new older foreign films to watch. One drew me in by its poster design (I know, typical) that put me in the mood for a haunting, surreal fantasy about a water nymph. I also saw that it was Czechoslovak, which had me recalling At the Mansion of Madness favorites Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Morgiana (1972). I’ve also been meaning to explore more Czechoslovak New Wave films, especially for this site, so I kind of committed myself to Adrift for review before even watching it. I decided not to read anything about it and go in fresh without knowing what it was about or if it was any good. (Yep, that’s how this blogger sometimes picks movies). Spoiler: it’s good.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marta (1971)

Austrian actor Marisa Mell (born Marlies Theres Moitzi) is remembered by most as a sexy ‘60s cult icon, particularly as Diabolik’s girlfriend/partner-in-crime, Eva, in Mario Bava’s comic adaptation Danger: Diabolik (1968), but Mell also starred in a fine line of Euro-thriller dramas, usually playing the seductive swindler-murderess type – Death will Have your Eyes (1974) and Diary of an Erotic Murderess (1975) to name a couple. Her particular attention-grabbing, statuesque presence could make the most routine mystery plot a delight to sit through. However, she was underutilized in her movie career in certain respects; considering her demigoddess-like physiognomy, it’s unfortunate that she didn’t play more fantastical or otherworldly characters in fantasy or horror films; and along with Margaret Lee, I thought of her as a Eurospy girl that should’ve eventually been a real Bond girl.

A number of Marisa Mell starring vehicles currently suffer from not having proper releases, such as a little seen Spanish/Italian mystery thriller, directed and co-written by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, called Marta aka …dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora. I had been interested in checking it out for a while, and when a reader mentioned the film to me, I was finally driven to track down a copy and watch it. The version I first watched didn’t have the best image quality, but even worse was that it had all of Marisa Mell’s nude scenes edited out (the nerve), but I liked it enough to buy a DVD-R of the uncut version, which, sadly, was of even lower image quality; Marta is obviously in need of proper restoration.

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