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.