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.