Monday, December 31, 2012

The Spider Labyrinth (1988)

Though, perhaps, a bit sluggish in some places, there’s still something compelling about the way The Spider Labyrinth attempts to unnerve viewers with the threat of a perpetual, unexplainable horror, as we are taken along with the young Professor Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga) on his travel assignment to Budapest to investigate the sudden silence from an important collaborator on an international project. What lies in wait for the protagonist in a little niche hidden from the rest of the world is a series of weird and deadly occurrences with Lovecraftian origins.

This is a wholly dark and wicked Italian Horror that lacks any kind of sense of humor and is just as keen on exciting Lovecraft and Argento fans as it is at trying to disturb them. The horror set pieces and visual effects by Sergio Stivaletti, which if used in any other movie would’ve screamed campy ‘80s, are creepy and, at times, capable of stimulating a freaked-out experience, more so than expected. While the horror sequences themselves are exceptional, it’s the demented tone of the film that makes them work in a manner that penetrates the psych in unsettling ways.

The film score consists of a lounge cue and a bevy of traditional orchestral pieces that while making the film less quirky, nonetheless, distinguishes it from the more rock/synth laden soundtracks of its Italian horror contemporaries. The sound effects used to represent the snarling and growling from the spider-witch in the film was probably a bit much, sounding a lot like an agitated critter, but still nonetheless contributed to one of the more brutally insane killer witches (wickedly and quite energetically played by Margareta von Krauss) I’ve seen on screen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Shiver of the Vampires (1971)

The topic of famous seductresses in history is a particularly fascinating one, for instance Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Salome, and Catherine the Great to name a few. There are most certainly negative connotations with seduction, as it is easy to imagine the integrity of the seduced being compromised, more so in the case of folklore, with seductresses like Lilith, Lorelei, and Circe for example. The most alluring predatory seductress in fantasy would have to be the vampiress, being such a beautiful creature on the outside but a foul, filthy thing on the inside, sexually enticing her prey, killing the unfortunate or making them like her in the process. The story that tells the tale of such a vampire is an early one from Jean Rollin entitled The Shiver of The Vampires, which I’d like to share with you, my ever loving readers.

On their way to a honeymoon in Italy, a newlywed couple, Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand) and his luscious bride, Isle (Sandra Julien), decide to spend part of their honeymoon in an old castle that belongs to Isle’s two cousins, whom she desires to visit with. They learn in the village that the two owners of the castle have just passed away the day before and were entombed in the cemetery, and the only occupants in the castle now are the servants. Upon arrival, the couple is shown to their room by two beautiful servants. Upset and in mourning over the loss of her cousins, Isle wishes to sleep alone on the first night. Her husband respects her wishes and rooms elsewhere, and later when the clock strikes midnight, Isle receives a visit from a mysterious female presence, who goes by Isolde (Dominique). 

This visitor seduces Isle, putting her in a hypnotic state, luring her to the graveyard at night to ceremoniously bite her neck and feed off her blood, just enough to not kill her. The seduced Isle becomes obsessed with these nocturnal meetings with the vampiric Isolde that she continually wishes to be alone at night. Of course Isle’s behavior doesn’t sit well with Antoine who attempts to get to the bottom of things when Isle’s cousins, previously thought dead, begin to make appearances while his wife, who does not wish to leave the castle, is drawn further and further to becoming something else, as she begins to show a sensitivity to sunlight and an appetite for dove’s blood.
The Shiver of the Vampires is somewhat of an apex in Rollin’s early career; the artist had indeed been improving with each effort, further developing and nearly perfecting at this point what he was trying to achieve with his previous works, The Nude Vampire and The Rape of the Vampire (The very first French vampire film). With Shiver, Rollin seems well past the beginner phase in his horror output, paying heed to a good narrative while still maintaining that artistic flair with successful experimentation and new ideas. Some of the ingenious erotic moments serve a purpose to the story while others might seem a bit random. The proceedings are still nice and weird, the way we like them, especially in this case with the inclusion of an entertaining pair of crazy, intellectual weirdoes, Isle’s two vampire cousins (Michel Delahaye and Jacques Robiolles). The hard-hitting prog-rock soundtrack, from the band Acanthus, also works very nicely at generating excitement and enhancing the fun with something that is akin to head bangin’ in a graveyard.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Venomous Vixens: Mireille Dargent

French actress Mireille Dargent acted in six movies, four of which were for director Jean Rollin. The one she’s most known for is a Rollin film where her presence reverberated inside my memory, ever since I saw it. This film is Requiem for a Vampire, where the sultry redhead appears alongside one-half of the Castel twins, Marie-Pierre Castel. The two actresses play a couple of inseparable lovers, who after escaping some sort of crime heist, curiously dressed as clowns, eventually find themselves in vampire territory. Interestingly enough, we are introduced to this clown couple and their male companion at the start of the film in a high speed chase with guns blazing. After losing their pursuers, their male companion passes away, not surviving his gunshot wound. The two clowns, named Michelle (Dargent) and Marie (Castel), set fire to their car, with the deceased’s body inside of it, before travelling off on foot and on their own. When they wash off the paint and lose their clown getup, it’s revealed, not surprisingly, that there were a couple of attractive girls underneath the clown makeup. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973)

If ever there was a movie that epitomized the weird, scattered, and strangely erotic nature of Eurohorror the most, that film would most likely be The Reincarnation of Isabel. It’s a work of art where a clear goal-driven narrative seems to have either been purposefully or unknowingly neglected. It’s still a good story but one that is awkwardly told. It may just as well have been that having a story spoon-fed to viewers was of little importance in this case, as director Renato Polselli (Delirium, The Vampire and the Ballerina) might’ve felt he had a lot more to offer by instead unloading his tale of reincarnation in a rather erratic fashion, frequently diverging from the narrative for the sake of overusing the film’s seductive set pieces, with events happening for unclear reasons and moving in unclear directions. It is also nonetheless done with gusto and a unique painterly craftsmanship. Fans of the weird and sexy side of Eurohorror should consider looking to The Reincarnation of Isabel to get their regular fix.

A supposed witch, Isabella (Rita, Nude for Satan, Calderoni), was staked and burned at an altar in front of an attentive mob of villagers. Centuries later, someone or something with a following of cultists and vampires is trying to revive/reincarnate the Great Mistress, Isabella, and they’ll sacrifice as many virgins as it takes for her to live again. Women are turning up dead with their hearts missing and strange bite marks on their necks. It all seems to be connected to a castle that has just been bought and occupied by a Mr. Jack Nelson (Mickey, Bloody Pit of Horror, Hargitay), his wife, and his stepdaughter, Laureen (also played by Calderoni). A special party in celebration of Laureen’s engagement to a local man is underway in the castle, and the epoch involving Isabella’s persecution in the long distant past begins to haunt the inhabitants in erotically bizarre and deadly ways.

What can I say about Rita Calderoni? She’s a delightful and committed lead with very pure good looks. Interestingly enough like in the film Nude for Satan, there are moments where she inexplicably has a single breast exposed without seeming to notice or care that her boob is showing. Seeing her treat us to this provocative sight of her in more than one movie has caused me to consider this look to be her trademark. Calderoni also puts on a convincing performance with her portrayal of the persecuted Isabel. She looks like she went through a lot for us, and it actually looks like it hurts when they drive a stake through her.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Black Ribbon for Deborah (1974)

Marina Malfatti is Deborah, a sterile woman who wants to bear a child more than anything. She’s told by her doctor to give up all hope of having a child; for in her condition it would take a miracle, and miracles don’t exist. This condition is like a malediction to her, and it’s having a ruinous effect on the marriage between her and her scientist husband, Michel (Bradford Dillman), who is earnestly attempting to push for a happy marriage, but his wife’s occasional breakdowns are sometimes too much for him. Deborah doesn’t seem to realize it, but she also happens to be a very powerful medium, and after she and her husband investigate a car accident they’ve just witnessed, Deborah has an encounter with a dying pregnant woman, Mira (Delia Boccardo), which sets the stage for a wholehearted and satisfying mystery. 

I love genre actresses like Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri, but I sometimes wonder: what about Marina Malfatti? Sure, she wasn’t as wildly sexual as her peers, but she still made for lovely company as a supporting actress in films like All the Colors of the Dark and The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave. Until now I’ve never had the chance to view her as a leading lady, and with A Black Ribbon for Deborah, Malfatti has the chance to prove herself as the lead character, and she carries this eerie take on parapsychology on her shoulders rather well.

Her short hairstyle here seems like an odd choice; it took me a while to get used to it, although the look grew on me and is something that I’ve come to readily identify her role in this film with. Being that a lot of these films were influenced by Rosemary’s Baby, the choice of hairstyle was likely to give her a Mia Farrow vibe.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rochelle, Rochelle

Of all the fake movies referenced in several Seinfeld episodes, one in particular Rochelle, Rochelle is one that actually looks interesting to me. I usually get a chuckle from some of the silly fake movie titles mentioned in the series like Checkmate, Sack Lunch, Chunnel, and Prognosis Negative, but Rochelle, Rochelle appeals to the inner cult movie fan in me, and I just can’t help wishing that the movie was real and directed by someone like Jess Franco. The tagline: “A young girl's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk” reminds me of Franco’s Eugenie… the story of her journey into perversion, and it also brings to mind Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle Around the World. Could it be that the writers of Seinfeld had these types of films in mind when coming up with the Rochelle, Rochelle gag? In the series, the movie is referred to as foreign and apparently generated a lot of hype, but the general response ended up being that the plot was unbearable, and it was just the nudity that made it revered. Now I absolutely love this kind of stuff (especially if there are horror elements fused in), so you usually won’t find me making such remarks.

What do you think? Is there more to most foreign erotic movies than just the sex and nudity?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sect / La setta (1991)

Beautiful dreams turn into pulse pounding nightmares in Michele Soavi’s highly intricate cult-conspiracy masterpiece, THE SECT (aka THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER).  

Soavi is the type of director that seems to make every movie as if it was his last, taking the chance to squeeze in as many ideas, symbolism, and set pieces as possible. The result is eclectic and convoluted but also spellbinding, as in THE SECT and CEMETERY MAN, with the former being the more ominous and downbeat of the two, likely the result of everyone working to appease the boss-man, Dario Argento

Part of the reason for the intricacy is because THE SECT is a product of three different writers, Argento, Soavi, and Gianni Romoli,* all of whom seemed to have their own visions. The production of the movie started with a screenplay for an unrealized movie called CATACOMBS by Romoli, and Argento took it and added his input, which included references to The Rolling Stones (he’s a huge fan).* Soavi further incorporated a script from an unrealized movie of his, THE WELL, and layered it with esotericism and Celtic symbolism, and the seemingly independent ideas from three different heads was further refined and finalized by Romoli* into one hellava movie.

Nevertheless, the convoluted nature of the film has harmed it for a large fraction of viewers, making it difficult to follow and giving it an underlining annoyance that the movie may not be going anywhere. Therefore, the recommended way to view this is to just concern oneself with what is taking place at hand without worrying about where the story is leading to. It’s best to enjoy the individual segments for what they’re worth, and being that there’s a lot of gold here, they’re worth a lot.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Day of the Dead (1985)

My contribution to Month of the living Dead over at Blood Sucking Geek is an article for my favorite zombie film. Head over to read what I have to say about it, and be sure get in on all of the zombie fun that’s taking place this month.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Ghost / Lo spettro (1963)

‘Epic’ has sort of become a popular internet slang term these days and is generally used as a descriptive response for anything that comes off as grandly awesome. I normally prefer using it in the more traditional sense as a tag for a long story that spans multiple books or movies. So, even given its standard runtime, why is ‘epic’ the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking about Riccardo Freda’s generically titled Gothic horror/mystery THE GHOST?

In trying to come up with a possible answer, I find myself realizing just how well nearly everything about THE GHOST hits the spot. From the opening séance to the fulfilling ending, there ends up being a very attractive mental journey, dense with macabre elements, to a destination that could only be described as maniacal insanity, just before the film closes out with a religious representative reminding us that the devil is a very real person. I feel that it is this cadaverous journey, mostly within the confines of a richly decorated Scottish 1910 mansion as well as the grand supernatural, alien beauty of the film’s star, Barbara Steele, that merits the ‘epic’ tag.

Am I right when I say that Steele was an essential component in helping several Italian Gothics rise above being standard genre fare? Just like the chorus to a particular ‘80s Roxette song, she’s got the look. Here, Steele doesn’t portray her usual dual role of a good and an evil character but only the latter in this film, and it really is what she does best. She’s on fire in an immortal murder scene late in the movie that brings to mind the phrase ‘slashed to ribbons’. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS is one of the creepier and tenser short stories from H.P. Lovecraft. Readers are given enough hints to know all too well that something bad is going on as the story’s protagonist, despite his academic intelligence, seems too clueless and too stubbornly grounded in his notion of the realistic world to realize that he’s heading to a perilous destination. Journeying along with this character, Professor Albert Wilmarth, into an unnatural and creepy situation written in a first person perspective is largely what I think makes this short story work so well. In the first half there’s a lot of tension that is built up from the letter exchange correspondence between Albert and another character, Henry Akeley, whose farm is seemingly being invaded by alien monsters. However, nothing really ends up being truly conclusive with a lot being left to suggestion or just being the possible result of some weird and unexplainable phenomena or coincidences.

While I don’t think that it reaches the same high tension found in Lovecraft’s original story, the film adaptation by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) does an exceptional job at taking the liberty of filling in a lot of blanks by rounding out the story with much more definite events and including a third act that contains some new surprises that don’t disgrace the original story in the least. Though the narrative is understandably tweaked a bit to be more suitable for film, this still feels like one of the most faithful and near-perfect Lovecraft adaptations since the HPLHS’s CALL OF CTHULHU from 2005, though I honestly enjoyed THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS a bit more.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Venomous Vixens: Kali Hansa

Kali Hansa, born Marisol Hernández, sort of put a spell on me with her role as Tunika in Amando de Ossorio’s THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS. I would have dreams that were kind of like my own imagined sequel to the film, where, in a sickly state, I would travel to the African forest where this film took place. Knowing my time was running short, due to some sort of terminal illness, I would travel up a mountain and to a place where I knew I would find Tunika, in her vampire form. Longing to end my suffering, I would find her in a shallow moonlit river where she would welcome me, and through an act of vampiric intercourse, she would make me like her, curing me, making me immortal, and also inflicting her curse upon me. 

Thus is the effect her presence in THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS had on me. With her constantly lingering in my mind, I eventually viewed several more films that she was in, sometimes credited as Gaby Herman or Kali Hansen. I was slightly saddened to find out that she was usually just a supporting/minor character and had an acting career that didn’t really take off, and it seemed to have ended circa 1976 after shooting a hardcore porno for Jess Franco, WHITE SKIN BLACK THIGHS and an erotic comedy, GIRLS IN THE NIGHT TRAFFIC. Despite usually having small roles and frequently being killed off, she visually stood out the most amongst other characters and gave off an ‘Oh-wow, who’s-that?’ impression. She apparently vanished after filming her last movie. She is from Cuba and was the girlfriend of Alberto Dalbes.

(Rumor bin: According to Jess Franco she moved back to Cuba to use her exceptional strength to fight against Fidel Castro!!!

For this tribute to Kali Hansa, and possibly a new series for AT THE MANSION OF MADNESS (Venomous Vixens), I’ve organized a few thoughts and images from a selection of some of her films.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Get Well Soon (2011)

This odd but satisfying psychological horror short is an interesting and nightmarish look at the deterioration of the marriage between its two sole characters, Theodore and Janet (Gresby Nash and Laura Howard). With its claustrophobic home interior setting, the film maintains a consistent tone as we witness a sort of aftermath to Theodore’s bout with breast cancer, now in remission. Contrary to what should be a good thing, the story takes a more downbeat approach as things seem fairly depressing, instead, with the couple apparently growing distant after Janet discovers she is pregnant. Being disappointed by her pregnancy causes Janet to realize that she truly isn’t happy with her marriage anymore, and so she decides to keep the pregnancy from her husband. The idea of feeling trapped is brought out remarkably well with Janet locking herself in the bathroom as a way of escape.

Theodore learns of the pregnancy after overhearing Janet talking on the phone to a friend. It ends up being real hard on him to know that Janet is deliberately keeping the news about their child from him. As events unfold in a days-of-the-week progression, he undergoes a kind of mental degradation. With the cinematography on display during Theodore’s decline, I could almost feel his inebriation when he starts to go heavy on the drugs and alcohol. The horror elements of the film start to come out more as the problem escalates and reality and nightmare start to merge.

GET WELL SOON showcases terrific performances from its two sole actors (I especially loved the chilling way that Laura Howard abruptly switched her facial expression during a key moment that involves her screaming at something off camera). The story by Michael Woodman is engaging and well written, though some viewers might end up with some unanswered questions (being a psychological horror film this is understandable, but I’m interested in knowing if the consistent use of the bathtub symbolized or meant anything). My favorite part consists of an artistically shot nightmare scene that portrays the cause of Theodore’s drug consumption and the effect that this new ordeal is having on him -- a disturbing visual of Theodore resting on Janet’s bosom as she envelops him and feeds him pills. I also enjoyed getting freaked out by the movie’s ending scene, which caused GET WELL SOON to impress me more than I was expecting. It is genuinely scary, and I admire the way Woodman decided to avoid having a predictable ‘guy goes crazy and kills his wife’ ending.

Get Well Soon: Full Movie (14 min and 3 sec)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963)

Thinking outside of the box can be a tricky task, but it is necessary if one hopes to come up with a story that hasn’t already been thought of or isn’t something that could just as easily be dreamt up by anybody. The natural habit of falling into a comfort zone can easily hamper one’s ability to innovate. In the context of genre film, it is easy to stay inside the comfort zone while exploring around a little outside of the box, not too far, though, to discover something pretty new and cool that keeps the genre alive for that much longer. With Antonio Margheriti’s THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG we have all of the ‘60s Gothic horror themes we know and love that keep us happy and comfortable but melds and fuses them with fascinating new approaches that keeps one from getting bored of the same ol’, same ol’. 

A young nobleman moves into his ancestral castle with his wife. After the wife notices her husband missing one night, she strolls out of bed and seemingly witnesses the aftermath of a servant being tortured and murdered in the castle’s museum of medieval torture devices. The person responsible is a ghostly killer whose identity is hinted at by a servant that refers to him as “The Punisher,” claiming that he’s come back “to plant the seed of terror in shameless women’s hearts.” Is the killer her husband, one of the strange servants, or something else that has culminated from past evils?

A cool little charm to Margheriti’s film is that despite a few reminders of the modern (1960s Germany) setting, the majority of time spent in and around an ancient castle frequently fooled me into thinking that this was an era piece. I liked that there were plenty of candles with antique holders on hand for when the mandatory thunderstorms would cause the power to go out, giving us a nice reason to view our gorgeous heroine, Mary (Rossana Podestà of SEVEN GOLDEN MEN), wander the dark castle halls with lit candles in hand.

Monday, June 4, 2012

She Killed in Ecstasy (1970)

What decides when to move forward with experimentation that may be considered unethical or taboo but could better humanity? Debates on the ethics and consequences of the research are usually conducted. But what of the consequences of the idea being turned down? One possible answer to this is provided in Jess Franco’s SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, where a physician, who believes his experiments hold the key to making humanity far more resistant to disease, is condemned, on moral grounds, by his colleagues, insulted and has to endure his precious documents being ripped and thrown aside.
With Jess Franco, I don’t necessarily think it's a simple matter of taste but more a matter of acquired taste. I mentioned a while back in my write-up for A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD that I wasn’t too impressed with Franco at first. In fact, I started watching his movies just to see if they are as bad as some people say they are. But the impulse to continue to explore his works stayed with me, and I’m glad I didn’t lose interest, otherwise, I really would’ve missed out on some gems, like this one.

A married couple lives a blissfully happy existence together, until the husband’s controversial research on human embryos results in him being expelled from his occupation by the medical association. He is driven to suicide, and his wife swears revenge on those she believes to be responsible.

This story contains no real surprises, and it ends up being easy to see where everything is going, and so, it instead becomes more important that we at least enjoy our time in the world that the film creates for us and the company of its lead character. The pleasant company in SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY is Soledad Miranda, who I’d like to describe as being like a fragile doll with enticingly dark features and doughy eyes that stare seductively. In a room full of people, she stands out like a beautiful black rose in a garden of weeds.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sweet Hand of the White Rose (2010)

Davide Melini’s horror short, THE SWEET HAND OF THE WHITE ROSE, brings to attention the avoidable tragic loss of life from irresponsible driving habits. Alcohol, relationship problems, and cell phone distractions are the root of a tragedy that ends up feeling almost Shakespearean in nature. Normally it would be very difficult to sympathize with the lead character, Mark (Carlos Bahos), for letting such petty issues ruin two lives, but after watching him desperately pray at an altar, Mark’s gut wrenching regret for something that could’ve easily happened to anyone ends up being heartfelt. 

Despite having a sad story, the film starts off with a sexy and rockin’ start in a crowded bar with tabletop dancers and a rock band with an appealing female vocalist. The club scenario is the backdrop to the story’s setup, but it also gives Melini a chance to show some directorial diversity. The club is something that may not have been essential, but it still gives the intro a nice pizazz and is a neat contrast to the movie’s main theme. 

Eventually, the loud music decreases in volume and the sounds of chatter become more eminent as the attention is taken off the band and onto Mark, sitting alone while smoking and taking back a shot while looking troubled. Immediately it becomes apparent that his disappointed girlfriend, Mary (Leocricia Sabán), has tracked him down, and instead of explaining himself, Mark takes the more dramatic approach of walking out on his upset girlfriend.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Puzzle (2008)

Succeeding in creating a good five minute film takes a creative filmmaking prowess. The premise and everything the viewer needs to know has to be made clear from the start, without any kind of drawn-out setup. Also, because every second is a significant fraction of the runtime, every second must count. With THE PUZZLE, Italian filmmaker Davide Melini makes a basic idea interesting and creates a disturbing and fascinating movie with very little run time.   

The film’s pre-credit sequence is spooky and well done; making use of creepy chants and whispers, in the vein of SUSPIRIA, before a ringing phone sets the stage for the lead character’s evening.
A mother (Cachito Noguera) quickly becomes disgruntled after receiving a call from her son (Alessandro Fornari) asking for money. Apparently she finds her son’s reasons disagreeable and highly unsettling, and so, after hanging up, she attempts to remedy her frustrations by sitting down to piece together a jigsaw puzzle that ends up holding an unpleasant surprise.
The only spoken dialogue in the film is at the beginning, with the events unfolding in a dialogue-free fashion with visuals, sounds, and SILENT HILL-esque music driving the narrative. The piano-laden montages are the most enjoyable parts for me, which are complete with rotating camera shots and brief moments of black and white. These scenes succeed in making the inclusion of piecing together this puzzle a bit more profound. It immediately starts to answer the question: How interesting can it be to watch someone put together a puzzle? 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Murder Obsession (1981)

I sometimes wonder if evil is inherent in every one of us. Some say that evil does not exist at all, and what we call evil is merely the absence or lack of good. But what is it that compels one to want to do harm to another with a complete disregard for the viewpoint of the victim? Anger, jealously, or possibly just a primal instinct to inflict pain? The wicked and malevolent being that could potentially lurk deep down inside of us is brought to the forefront in MURDER OBSESSION.  

Riccardo Freda’s last directorial feature may be flawed, but it is one beautiful looking movie where familiar and highly significant genre actors such as BLACK SUNDAY’s John Richardson, BLACK EMANUELLE’s Laura Gemser, and giallo favorite Anita Strindberg (her last starring role) come together in a dark and mysterious series of murders, ceremonies, and somnambulant wanderings in a secluded villa. With its modern Gothic setting and indulgently directed sequences, MURDER OBSESSION feels like an exceptional finale from the man who brought the world the pioneering Italian horror effort I VAMPIRI and the unsurpassed and hypnotically psychedelic bloodbath in TRAGIC CEREMONY. The film effectively establishes the right mood by forcing a throwback to candlelight on account of the mansion’s electrical wiring malfunctioning, and along with the rich and vibrant colors as well as the lead character’s hairstyle and mustachio; the overall feeling is like a ‘60s Gothic in an ‘80s movie. Two of my favorite things… 

While playing the role of a killer during the filming of a movie, the lead character, Michael (Stefano Patrizi), is introduced as a movie star and a shady person when he takes the method-acting technique a little too far by nearly strangling his co-star, Beryl (Gemser). Although he might not be the most appealing or likable, the unease brought on by the character of Michael makes for an interesting lead that may or may not have a dormant impulse for murder. This creates one of surprisingly few red herrings in a murder mystery plot with pretty vicious death scenes where everyone dies except for the killer and one other final character, resulting in one of those fun horrific endings that is like Oh my god!  How could you!?  No….  Nooooooooooo!!!!  Roll end credits. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The House That Screamed / La residencia (1969)

From Antonio Margheriti’s NAKED YOU DIE to Lucky McKee’s THE WOODS, the all-girl boarding school setting in a horror/thriller film is sort of an inviting and seductive guilty pleasure for me. The obvious appeal is the excuse to overflow the film with attractive female actors, but localizing storyline events into a gloomy and Gothic architecture has a lot of potential, especially when it is a claustrophobic and oppressive place with an overwhelming feeling of being cut-off, as if the outside world doesn’t even matter or exist anymore.   

What sets Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s LA RESIDENCIA, aka THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, apart from most boarding school horror is its authentic nineteenth century setting, several interesting themes to explore, and an ambition for exploiting violence and odd sexual themes that seemed ahead of its time for 1969. The ambiance as well as the characters' costumes and mannerisms effectively transport the viewer to a different and melancholic world in an older era. The film’s body-count may be a little low, but things are exceptionally macabre and grim, with a certain character’s late night demise in a greenhouse being unexpectedly crowd pleasing and so beautifully and artistically filmed that Dario Argento would likely be impressed. Void of pomposity while having a lot of interesting character interaction and depth, and surprisingly little faults to identify, LA RESIDENCIA is a really well-made, classy, and high-quality movie. It did get the Elvira treatment, though, but we won’t go there.   

Something unusual but commendable is the manner in which the film proceeds after the protagonist attempts to escape the school. Due to a particular event that occurs, the final twenty-two minutes roll on in a way that is a very bold and risky move by the filmmakers and is usually something that is generally avoided in storytelling. I’ve only ever seen it happen in one other movie, which I won’t name because I don’t want to give it away, but it definitely adds to the unique flavor of the film. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dellamorte Dellamore / Cemetery Man (1994)

One can't help but wonder what cemetery watchman Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) would have had to of done in his past life to have to constantly lose his love, over and over again, in Michele Soavi’s darkly poetic and comical DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE. Could it be that Francesco is being punished by Death himself in an attempt to drive him to the breaking point so he’ll stop shooting the dead and instead do Death’s work for him by killing the living?   

I remember going into this expecting a zombie movie, but I ended up enjoying and appreciating it on a number of different levels, with the zombies being the part I cared the least about in the long run. Love and death are the main themes here and the zombies are merely a backdrop to the story and end up becoming the least important element. It is like this is a zombie movie that isn’t primarily about zombies.   

There is an eminent cycle of ironic plays on life and death all throughout this film. Consider the brilliant intro when Francesco is having one of his evening chats over the phone with his only other living associate that ever calls him. He is interrupted by a knock at the door and after opening it, without being alarmed at all, Francesco gazes at a slightly rotting visitor for a mere few seconds before shooting him in the head, point blank, and all the while looking very bored. After the person on the other line asks how things are with him, Francesco calmly replies with “You know how things are (exhales cigarette smoke), life goes on” to which the camera travels out the front door to a beautiful view of the Buffalora Cemetery. Cue the opening credits.  

Bravissimo Soavi! That’s how you start a movie.