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.

It’s safe to say that Alex has upped the ante this time around with S & M, as the murder is more violent and visceral than in TDoK, and there is an appropriate amount of nudity for a movie called S&M, whereas TDoK had none. It’s not only a sexy movie; there’s lots of atmosphere, colorful lighting, and good character dynamics. In fact, I was surprised at how attached I felt to the characters, especially the lead Marie (Pape). I did really like the way she remains a sympathetic character despite her unsavory transition into a murderer.

In the spirit of Franco, there is a sapphic element to the proceedings, with lesbian sex scenes and stage performances shot with a sensibility that’s equally naughty and artistic. The intro to the film feels a little like an overture, consisting of some real smooth synth music that gives us a stylish taste of sensual S&M before transitioning into the main plot, which has to do with uncertainty in life’s destinations and braving the trail from a sheltered home towards independence, albeit without a solid plan.

Our lead girl, Marie, is a runaway of sorts, seeking independence, a new home, and companionship in Berlin but instead finds poverty, disappointment, and rejection. The first stranger she comes across for help kindly takes her in only to attempt to sexually abuse and assault her. She escapes and reaches her absolute low before, through a chance (or perhaps fateful) meeting, finding comfort and a home in an enigmatic, caring, but fierce woman’s arms.

Sandra (Sandra Bourdonnec) takes in the homeless Marie after coming across her in a pitiful state sleeping on the stairs outside of her apartment, and a tender relationship develops that isn’t without its fair share of conflict, gas-lighting, and the occasional tragedy or two. Is she an angel of salvation or damnation? The two female leads have chemistry and there’s a convincing sensuality in their love making, although Sandra is the dominant one and has a fierce side, biting back at Marie for any slight suggestion, firmly asserting that she takes orders from no one. Marie also serves as a kind of muse for Sandra’s erotic photography.

During her time under Sandra’s wing, Marie is introduced into her world - love, death, sex toys, corsets, pornography. I’m sure Marie has seen all of this before she met Sandra, but not with this type of emphasis. It’s a kind of awakening for Marie, one that leads to corruption (foreshadowing the theme of corruption, De Sade’s Justine is in clear view on the bookshelf). Marie’s character arc is quite sudden, one moment she’s gently caressing her pet bunny during a flashback, the next she’s strangling a male prostitute with her belt, at Sandra’s whim.

I’m not sure if I'm detecting a bit of misandry with Sandra, but she somewhat objectifies males, loving them as her playthings that she has fun with and eventually murders. When she tasks Marie to go out and find a new “playmate”, the drama is amped up with a third wheel, in the form of a nightclub singer, Corrado (Kevin Kopacka), a role inspired by Dylan Dog (which I can dig very much). Things get complicated, as Marie’s attempts at finding love and independence only seem to catalyze tragedy.

There’s an impressive image that gives me chills with Sandra coldly walking down a hallway spattered in blood wearing nothing but red thigh highs after murdering someone in a sexually disturbing manner. She comes off as a total psychopath, and the effect is awesome. 

There are pleasing visual aesthetics in S & M that do feel like vintage Jess Franco, like soft focusing, hypnotizing erotic nightclub performances, and a pervasive use of red with lighting that calls to mind a particular reddish smoking scene I’m fond of from Les nuits brûlantes de Linda (1975) with Lina Romay and Alice Arno. The couple of times Corrado is performing in a club, I’m reminded a little of the great musical nightclub performances in Al otro lado del espejo (1973). Alex infuses the film with the natural locale and makes Berlin a living, breathing entity in the film. I recognized the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the shopping district that had me thinking of the finale to Succubus (1967).

You'd think this was a romantic scene, but you'd be wrong... Oh so wrong...
S & M is a surprisingly polished and emotionally rewarding experience from Bakshaev and co. The soundtrack is pleasant and the lighting and cinematography are all ace.  I salute the love, work, and creativity put into it. It’s obvious that Jess Franco fans won’t want to miss this, but S & M does manage to elevate beyond being a mere homage and is a highly watchable and impressive piece of work. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

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.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spasmo (1974)

I know now that it’s Italian for ‘spasm’ (or a name giallo fans might give their pets), but when I first watched this film’s delirious trailer, I remember thinking: “who or what is Spasmo?” and after I saw the movie, I still didn’t know what Spasmo was. It’s just one of those appealing one word titles that, like Orgasmo, somehow complement the film rather well.

You don’t forget a title and a film like Spasmo. As for the details of the story and characters, that can get a little hazy, not just with time but even upon reflection the following day, since there’s so much to it. Images of assaulted mannequins meld with memories of murdered characters that may or may not have been real from the perspective of the protagonist, who is either losing his mind or is in the worst company ever. It really makes you wonder if Umberto Lenzi’s experimental giallo is either a confusing mess or a labyrinth of mysteries and riddles for the viewer to explore and analyze.

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