Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interrabang (1969)

Considering movies like Barbarella (1968), Top Sensation (1969), and Russ Meyer’s Vixen! (1968), it would seem that the late ‘60s, the peak of the sexual revolution in the western world, was a turning point for erotic movies. Sexually charged films from this era were not only challenging censorship but were also challenging the monolithic wall of puritanical behavior that associated sex solely with marriage, which also mirrored the changing attitudes towards sex during the revolution.

With both “the pill” and penicillin on the market, pregnancy and STDs were less of an issue, and a woman’s sexuality outside of marriage was becoming more widely accepted, unlike before when it was more permissible for unmarried men to have sex, the so called “double standard.” Naturally, sex began to saturate the media, was used to sell products, and became a big part of mainstream culture. In addition, more and more married couples began experimenting with extramarital sex.

After the Hays Code was put to sleep in 1968 sexploitation cinema would really begin to thrive. With hopes of being free from the restraints of censorship, erotica would be used to explore new creative avenues of film making.

Inevitably, a lot of these so called sexploitation movies were taken to court, but a good way erotic filmmakers could get passed this was to not only make their movies sexually explicit but to make them intellectual and artful as well, which was particularly more common in foreign sex movies. On the VH1 documentary Sex the Revolution, John Waters said that in order to win in court you had to prove that a prosecuted sex film was socially redeeming, which would then make it acceptable.

While it really isn’t sexually explicit, save for a brief bit of nudity, the sunny nautical thriller Interrabang is still an interesting product of its time, with plenty of social commentary interlacing the dialogue and plot. If Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) foreshadowed the sexual revolution, Interrabang is one of its more obscure reflections.

A ritzy photographer, Fabrizio (Umberto Orsini), lives a luxurious jet-setting lifestyle with his wife and business partner Anna (Beba Loncar). The source of their luxury is pretty evident, as their profession seems to be sexy pinup and fashion photography in exotic locales. Their business trips aboard their yacht to scout for photography locations are naturally more like swanky vacations. It’s made obvious that Fabrizio likes to get intimate and physical with his model and muse, Margerita (Shoshana Cohen), something that his wife appears to tolerate. Fabrizio is definitely “la dolce vita” (the sweet life) type – a photographer, jet-setter, philanderer, etc. It’s hard to tell if he and his wife have an open marriage or if she reluctantly tolerates him. The two seem a little annoyed with one another, but it could be a love-hate thing.

Despite her knowledge of Fabrizio’s philandering ways, Anna still likes to tell herself that she thinks she loves her husband, professing that if she does love him then it’s for him and not his mind, which might suggest infatuation, but I think she is trying to say that it’s something deeper. Her reason for not being jealous is because she's certain that he loves her; she’s his "personal model" and the one he comes home to at the end of the day (interestingly enough, Margerita also refers to herself as Fabrizio's "personal model" later). It's like a kind of personal philosophy that makes their marriage work, supporting the idea that love can still exist even without monogamy, which is in context with the rise of extramarital sex during this period, something that was thought of as the solution to the problem of marital boredom, and both Fabrizio and Anna seem bored with one another. Later, Anna also proves to be somewhat adulterous.

Along for the trip is Valeria (Haydée Politoff), Anna’s sister and a second model for the island photo shoot. Valeria wears the titular interrabang symbol (a superimposition of an exclamation point and a question mark) around her neck, almost like a piece of trendy jewelry. She describes it as the new symbol of doubt and uncertainty in today’s world. She brandishes it like a fashion accessory, like something that’s becoming a cool new thing amongst the young crowd. It’s an appropriate symbol for the young and sassy Valeria, as there does seem to be something mysterious, uncertain, and ultimately alarming about her.

While on the boat ride to find a suitable place to do a photo shoot, a radio broadcast alerts of three escaped convicts, with two being captured and one still being on the run. The police are searching an island for the lone escapee, foreshadowing that our lead characters might be heading into a danger zone.

When they arrive at a suitable secluded island (the shoreline footage was shot at Monte Argentario), we get to see how Fabrizio works and how significant his camera is to his identity. His camera is like an extension of himself; he’s almost always carrying it and liberally taking pictures of everyone. Without his camera mojo he wouldn’t have much to work with anymore. His camera is his pride, power, and identity. He proves to have the sensibility of a frustrated artist and is the type of photographer who likes to get vibrant and demanding when he’s snapping his camera at his models. Once he starts shooting Margerita or Valeria, he feels little inspiration, seems annoyed and unsatisfied, like he’s trying to find that one realization or feeling to achieve orgasm and is having trouble finding it. Of course when Margerita invites him to do nude shots he's not as unsatisfied. Anna makes an almost sarcastic comment about Margerita being stupid as a woman but having value as a model, paralleling the criticism that female pinup and nude photography, which was exploding in the market in the '60s, only gives significance to females for their bodies and not their minds.   

When it is discovered that their carburetor is broken, the group ends up stuck until help comes, but no one seems too worried. When a small motor boat eventually comes along containing another attractive girl in a skimpy bathing suit, Fabrizio is all too happy to leave, presumably to get fuel and a carburetor, leaving the three ladies alone and to eventually meet with the lone man wandering around on the island, Marco (Corrado Pani).

The thriller element, itself rather marginal, is introduced with the presence of Marco, who claims to be staying on the island alone to write poetry, but he’s too suspicious to not most likely be the escaped murder convict previously mentioned on the radio, although he's quite friendly and personable. The writers could've taken a more straight forward route from here, but I like how odd and bewildering the movie gets at this point. Marco is not a flat one-dimensional antagonist; he’s actually quite the romantic poet and seems to be making the best of the situation of being on a secluded shoreline with three beautiful supermodels. Both Valeria and Margerita separately stumble upon the dead body of a police officer, but things get mysterious when Valeria doesn't seem to mention it to any one and when the body vanishes. Somewhat peculiar is that despite the risks, the ladies still take a liking to Marco and still take the opportunity to enjoy themselves, sunbathing at every opportunity.

Marco is romantic and full of profound wisdom. Although he lied about being a poet who’s retreated to his villa on the island, he’s still like a poet. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel intellectually stimulated from his words or if it’s just rubbish used to impress the ladies, because he’s also a kind of jokester too. He’s got this mysterious allure that the girls can’t resist despite their suspicions that he’s the one who might’ve murdered the police man.

There are two depictions of newfound-liberation on this secluded island that are subtly contrasted: that of Marco experiencing new freedoms (assuming that he's recently escaped from a dark prison cell to a sunny paradise) and that of newly sexually liberated women, who from a cultural viewpoint in 1969 had recently escaped the prison of sexual inequality. Women had overcome the "double standard" and now had the freedom to a sex life outside of marriage, just as men did before. However, there are repercussions to being irresponsible with sexual freedom. Margerita is shameless enough to be with Fabrizio in front of his wife. In addition she has a readily open interest in Marco. At one point she expresses protest for people thinking she is a nymphomaniac, but there would have to be a reason people think she is a nymphomaniac, and that might be apparent in her having a sort of sexual irresponsibility. Being liberated means new freedoms, and with new freedoms comes a need for new responsibilities, and without responsibility there are consequences. Before apparently killing Margerita, Marco tells her that he must kill her for everyone she made suffer, "for me it is like a clear order from those who've suffered," suggesting the idea that she is facing redemption for those who were affected by her irresponsibility.

Interrabang isn’t much of a thriller, although to be fair it doesn’t try to be. Its more stylistic and philosophic offerings override the thriller elements for the most part, which doesn’t seem to hurt the film too much in this case, because it still works on many other levels. It’s hard to tell at first, but the film is working towards a twisty conclusion that is perhaps its biggest strength as a thriller. It really isn’t an explicit movie and whatever sex there may be is implied, and the apparent murders are either tame or done off camera, but again this doesn’t really hurt the film.

Close to the end, a police man says, “I’m curious to know how this one ends,” which is practically channeling the thoughts of the audience. The first twist makes sense yet is somewhat predictable and not quite enough to make for a memorable ending, but the final twist is surprising and a little troubling to believe, definitely feeling at odds with everything that has occurred before, but it still works. It’s a terrific sequence and a final reminder of how great the film’s soundtrack is (Edda Dell’Orso’s voice can sometimes make an entire scene), as the truth slowly comes into view from the distance.

Interrabang is so very perpetually sunny, sexy, and conversationally deep, and I personally enjoyed every minute. However, anyone not caring much for the poetic and existential side of it, and only concerned with moving the story along, might find the film’s many conversations to be painfully slow, but the payoff will most likely hit the sweet spot for almost anyone. 

© At the Mansion of Madness


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Maniac Mansion (1972)

The Italian-Spanish co-production La mansión de la niebla / Maniac Mansion was the directorial debut of Spanish filmmaker Francisco Lara Polop, who had been previously working as a unit production manager for about ten years. He would also produce the Paul Naschy classics The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) and Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973).

Made at the height of the Spanish horror boom, Maniac Mansion really is quite the fanciful gothic horror film with enough giallo and murder mystery influences to make it appealing to all Eurocult fans.

The fiery intro credit sequence is hypnotic and a nice mood setter, featuring a killer theme and a couple of chilling evil-witch cackles. The beginning of the story is a lot more grounded in reality with a somewhat unremarkable setup involving numerous shady characters, among which are a few familiar faces including Jess Franco regular Alberto Dalbés, before derailing into a foggy nightmare world, where things get a lot more interesting. Initially, you might start feeling better off just reading a mystery novel instead, but it does start to get good when all of the characters seemingly enter what feels like Silent Hill all of a sudden.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Man with Icy Eyes (1971)

Although commonly referred to as a giallo, Alberto De Martino’s The Man with Icy Eyes would have to be a rather atypical example of the genre, if not an ostensible one. It is set and filmed in a southwestern desert city called Albuquerque, NM (where I’m from, but we’ll get to that later). It doesn’t follow the violent murder mystery plot set forth by Mario Bava and popularized by Dario Argento, nor does it have any of the attractive gothic horror crossovers with ultramodern psychedelic fashions or drug-induced delirium. If anything, the film is more of a rustic detective story with a smattering of the crime thriller and a climax not entirely unlike that of Lucio Fulci’s One On Top of the Other (1969). Given the film’s mystery element, tense soundtrack, and early ‘70s era, and considering the presence of key players like Antonio Sabato (Seven Blood Stained Orchids 1972) and Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972), I can still dig the giallo tag. It also flirts with the supernatural, just a little, and there’s a colorful nude photography scene with Bouchet to give the film a minimally erotic edge.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Simona / Passion (1974)

You might not know it from looking at the playful erotic movie posters and DVD covers, but Simona is no sex comedy. Though still playful and sexy in certain parts, Patrick Longchamps’ Fellini-inspired adaptation of the French novel Story of the Eye (1928) is a dark oddity of avant-garde filmmaking, with a heavy undercurrent of social alienation.

At the time the film was released its lead actress Laura Antonelli had recently achieved overnight fame from her award winning role in Salvatore Samperi’s sexy, controversial dark-comedy Malizia (1973). She had made such an impact that moviegoers flocked to see Antonelli in Simona, which was actually shot about a year before Malizia (Simona was shelved for a while before being released).

Simona was unfortunately confiscated in Italy for its explicit content. One-time Belgian filmmaker Longchamps had a friend with connections in the Vatican who organized a private screening of the banned film for four priests, and after finally being approved by the church, Simona was released in Italy, where it made a lot of money (the film was never released in its native country of Belgium). Eventually the original film negatives were acquired by "distributors of ill-repute," and as it currently stands, a properly restored version of Simona, as far as I know, remains unrealized.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Night of the Walking Dead / El extraño amor de los vampiros (1975)

"The sun shining in my dreams 
  The light is getting hot
  Saved by eternity
  I have seen death so close
 Away, awhile the angels crossed the sky
 But I'm condemned to stay here." -- Heavenly  

In his memoirs, Paul Naschy said he had referred Argentine film directing stalwart Leon Klimovsky to be director of his seminal Spanish horror classic La noche de Walpurgis, AKA The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), because one of the film’s financers wanted a quick and reliable director.

It would seem that Klimovsky was known for his fast shooting and workmanlike skills, and yet he managed to direct some real atmospheric classics of Spanish horror, often on low budgets and high pressured shooting schedules, and he introduced an oft-imitated technique of filming vampires and zombies in slow-motion, capturing a uniquely nightmarish plane of existence in the process.
Klimovsky’s vampire films are exceptional and interestingly varied, and they belong alongside the best of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. The aforementioned The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman was a record breaking box office success that revived the Spanish horror fantasy genre. The other Klimovsky directed vampire films that followed were the epic The Dracula Saga (1973), the more grindhouse flavored The Vampires’ Night Orgy (1974), and the romantic, adventurous, and somewhat eclectic Night of the Walking Dead / The Strange Love of the Vampires, the topic for tonight

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shock / Beyond the Door II (1977)

Mario Bava’s final full-length film as director Shock (AKA Beyond the Door II) is like The Amityville Horror (1979), Repulsion (1965), and The Shining (1980) combined into a progressive-rock tinged haunted-house Italian horror/mystery thriller that does manage to be scary. Bava again employs the vengeful ghost story, as in his child-themed Kill Baby Kill (1966), but keeps it in the family, creating a ghost story about marital vengeance, which was based on a true story that Bava weaved in to an already existing script, about a living house, he had co-written with Dardano Sacchetti several years prior. The end product is a slow-paced but ultimately exhilarating experience that succeeds at being one of the creepier Italian horrors. Bava’s son Lamberto Bava, who also contributed to the script, said they were influenced a little more by Stephen King and were attempting to make a modern horror film.

The film also has a possession angle that takes a few cues from The Exorcist (1973), which might have been in response to the success of The House of Exorcism (1975): producer Alfredo Leone’s revamping of Bava’s Lisa and the Devil (1973), with newly filmed possession scenes spliced in.

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