Thursday, January 28, 2021 13:14

Archive for April, 2010

Mini reviews: short films Where's Mary? (2005) and Girl Drinks Darkness (2010)

Monday, April 26th, 2010

(Both directed by Sid Sabbath aka Tony Hickson)

Where’s Mary?(2005) (5 mins)

Oliver-Postgate-does-serial-killers in this deliberately-offbeat take on the story of killer Mary Bell who, at the tender age of 10, committed a double murder in 1960s Newcastle. The film uses garish puppets to play out elements of her story while a sing-song narrative relates Mary’s decidedly fragmentary state of mind to the audience. The gap between the nastiness of the crimes and the irreverent fun of this take on events works pretty well, and evidently some care went into getting the sound and directing right. Using what is often seen as a kids medium (at least round these parts) like puppetry even on a shoestring budget, to play out the story of a killer child? It’s an idea crazy enough to work, even if skilled puppeteering doesn’t really feature!

Girl Drinks Darkness (2010) (5 mins approx)

Tony’s new film Girl Drinks Darkness (great title) is a film about a suicide, and – because of its disassociated female protagonist and the slow, protracted suicide itself, feels very voyeuristic – more like looking at a tableau or a painting than at a film. The style and high yellow colouration is reminiscent of 70s exploitation cinema – the sort of effect used by Jim van Bebber in his arthouse-styled Manson Family – vivid, and somehow psychedelic by proxy. Unfortunately, this film has been struck by the Curse of the Low Budget Film – the sound quality is poor, with several flaws and cut-outs. Blending poetry with film is a decent idea, although the repetition of the word ‘cut’ from the poem grated on me a little, and it has to be said – the gratuitous sexualisation of the film’s only actress is never going to please everyone. The unusual style of the film is its main selling point – and it’s being sent to lots of film festivals this summer, so look out for it on the circuit.

Let’s Hear It For The Ghouls

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Horror is often an arena shared by sex and death. With regards screen monsters, however, it has largely only been the vampire who has conflated sex and death (with a notable recent exception in Twilight with its asexual, non-threatening, non-biting, teen-friendly Cullen character). I won’t go into great details here but there has been a great deal of literature and analysis on the topic, from the birth of Dracula scholarship to the present: vampires are often sexy, refined, seductive characters despite, like zombies, having a hankering for your flesh and blood.

Ah, zombies. They’re everywhere – a real monster for our times. Changing from Carribean slave army to flesh eating ghoul to fast-running agents of contagion, there’s a zombie for every type of social commentary. Unlike vampires, though, they are rarely seen as sexualised. They’re hardly even seen as gendered – becoming instantaneously depersonalised and one of a stumbling mass blindly out to recruit you into their festering ranks. Or is this so? – Just for fun, I thought I’d dish up a few contradictions to this usual state of affairs. We are ever being treated to ‘sexiest vamps’ so I thought I’d create a tongue-in-cheek list of female zombs. Some screen zombies remain obviously female, and obviously attractive. Although they don’t deliberately manipulate their victims like vampires do, they still get up close and personal – some even get to behave a bit more licentiously than they did whilst alive…

So here goes.

1) Leslie (Antonella Antinori) (Burial Ground, dir. Andrea Bianchi)

The zombification of Lesley could be why women go to the toilet in pairs. After being attacked through a window, she accessorises her red and white outfit with the flesh and blood of poor, dazed Michael (Peter Bark). It’s still better than what a lot of people wore in the eighties.

2) Trash (Linnea Quigley) (Return of the Living Dead, dir. Dan O’Bannon)

No list of living dead ladies could be complete without a mention of the Return of the Living Dead franchise. Linnea Quigley’s ‘Trash’ is beloved of cult film and one of the best-liked characters of underground 80s horror. As an already familiar and recognisable genre – via Romero – developed and absorbed contemporary influences, we got us an enduringly popular undead punk girl.

3) Julie (Mindy Clarke) (Return of the Living Dead III, dir. Brian Yuzna)

Yuzna’s out-and-out gorefest manages to add a dash of genuine pathos in his depiction of Julie, girlfriend of the son of a Colonel working on some pretty nasty reanimation experiments (continuing the theme of zombies-as-biological-weapons which runs through all of the Return of the Living Dead films.) When Julie is killed in a bike accident her grieving boyfriend Curt reanimates her, and although Julie is still ‘herself’, as her body begins to degenerate she craves flesh and can only assuage her cravings by puncturing her skin. This gives us a fashionably-pierced (back in the early nineties, at least) beautiful zombie femme you can sympathise with – and is, I think, an underrated performance.

4) Alice (Jacqueline Pearce) (Plague of the Zombies, dir. John Gilling)

Admittedly, she’s only a zombie for about thirty seconds before Sir James knocks her head off with a shovel (how rude!) but Jacqueline Pearce deserves a mention for Plague of the Zombies. The prim doctor’s wife has been transformed. Hair unpinned, a wry smile, she remembers her husband – unlike the other worker zombies – and would have attacked the mesmerised Dr. Peter had the older man not intervened. As a pre-Night of the Living Dead film, I have to wonder whether Romero had Pearce’s character in mind when he styled the character of Karen in NOTLD.

Last but not least…

5) ‘She’ (Anna Falchi) (Dellamorte Dellamore, dir. Michele Soavi)

The incredibly beautiful Anna Falchi’s nameless character (known only as ‘she’ or ‘her’) appears three times during the film. In her first incarnation, the widow, she is bitten by her dead – and buried – husband while getting busy with Francis Dellamorte (played incredibly laconically by Rupert Everett) and she comes back from the grave as the sort of predator Dellamorte just can’t refuse. Talk about a role reversal: once she’s bitten the dust, it isn’t Dellamorte pursuing her anymore. Now She is the one with the appetite and Dellamorte who feels he’d rather demur, especially when she seems more than a little peckish…

Like the other characters on this list, ‘She’ walks a fine line between alluring animalism and monstrous other. It’s interesting to consider just how ‘normal’ and ‘intact’ these women have to be in order to still be considered appealing, or sympathetic, or even sexual characters, because unlike vampires, zombie gals are in a state of decay even if they do share that all-consuming appetite. The women I’ve listed here only have nominal injury; any bodily damage is minimal and even Julie’s self-inflicted puncture piercings are removed by the end of the film. Falchi herself is ‘reincarnated’ twice fully intact. But rather than get mired in critique – this is meant to be fun! – let’s end on a high note. Falchi wrapped in a shroud, her hair and skin tangled with thorns – this is an iconic image and this is a film which plain doesn’t deserve its obscure status. And is she still hot? Absolutely!

Monday, April 19th, 2010

For a couple of my reviews (‘Funny Games USA’ and ‘Banshee!!!’) plus a great retrospective on Dario Argento’s ill-received The Card Player, an interview with the talented director of ‘Broken’, Adam Mason, plus great giveaways please take a moment to visit the updated Sex Gore Mutants site. Support indepdendent horror!

Blood Sabbath (1972)

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

There’s a very fine balance between a film so bad it’s good, and a film that’s just plain bad. I think that Blood Sabbath is positioned exactly between those two states, being both laughable and somehow very watchable as an example of silly 70s horror/sleaze ever about to veer into comedy.

Of course, any film which has Dyanne Thorne in a starring role is always saved from disaster, at least in my book. Ever since I got a bootleg of Ilsa: She-Devil of the SS, I’ve given a little involuntary cheer whenever I’ve seen her appear in anything else. She’s one of the great exploitation film actresses – straight-facedly steering her way through acres of bad dialogue and nudity and still coming out with a strange sort of dignity!

Blood Sabbath is incredibly 70s and bundles several exploitation elements into one picture – though you might have difficulty making them out through the murk of a frankly dismal print. We have a young drifter, aimless hippies, secret covens of very naked witches, and there’s even a strange proto-Jacob’s Ladder attempt to pass off all the blood rites and witchcraft as some sort of hallucination by a Vietnam soldier (don’t laugh).

Plot runs thus: Vietnam vet and erstwhile hippy David (Tony Geary) is making his way through the countryside when he falls prey to a Naked Women Attack. Confused, he flees his camp, falls down a banking and knocks himself unconscious. He’s tended to by a mysterious woman called Yyalah – who might be a water-nymph of some kind, but is very definitely wearing a bad blonde wig. When he recovers, hey presto, he’s fallen in love with Yyalah, but she won’t have sex with him because she’s not allowed to love people who have souls. Fair enough, David thinks, so he goes about ridding himself of his so he can get some action. When it turns out that there’s a coven of witches living nearby who demand the soul of a local girl from the nearby village each year, David offers himself up instead.

Enter Ms. Thorne as Alotta, Queen of the Witches! She takes a bit of a shine to young David and agrees to help him, but on the condition that should Yyalah bugger off, he will offer himself to Alotta. He agrees, and from here on in not much makes sense. There’s a bit of nudey dancing, some mild blood drinking, a dash of psychedelia, and though Yyalah does do a runner, David decides to attack the coven instead of becoming Alotta’s slave. Alotta curses him with her dying breath that he be ‘killed by his own people’, he’s chased around by some people in a love bus, and then it looks as though he might have hallucinated the whole thing. I know how he feels…

I can’t in all conscience recommend this film – it’s patchy, confusing and terribly produced. That said, and although I probably won’t do it again, I quite enjoyed sitting through it – and could be persuaded to sit through it with someone else, just to make them see it, too. I think I’m starting to see where the idea for the video in Ring came from! But Ms Thorne is always good value and fans of occultsploitation might like to add this one to the stack.

Fab Fest 2010

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Those of you who already know me in person will know I really enjoy going out to film festivals as much as I can. You see new films (many which sadly fall through the cracks and don’t get distribution deals), you get to socialise with other film-lovers, and you often get to shop at film-related stalls which carry oddities you rarely see anywhere else. Well, if you’re in the UK, I really hope you might be able to pop along to Fab Fest in the beautiful ciy of Edinburgh at the end of this month …

If you need to see some details, then take a look here. Many horror/cult film fans will already be familar with FAB Press. That brilliant book you have, or want, on American grindhouse cinema, or the history of zombie movies, or Takashi Miike, or Pete Walker? Probably out on Fab Press. Well, Fab Press’s head honcho Harvey Fenton knows his stuff and has selected a brilliant crop of films for this month’s festival. I’m especially looking forward to Yatterman – being a big Takashi Miike fan – City of the Living Dead in HD (just imagine some of those scenes in high definition) and the intriguing-looking Neighbor, but that’s just a small selection and I’ll see everything I can on the bill (potential hangovers aside).

Especial mention goes to Resurrecting ‘The Street Walker’ (see prior post). See this film whenever you can. Hope to see some of you there!

Antichrist (2009)

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Anyone with half an eye on the media, certainly here in the UK, can hardly have failed to notice the prominent write-ups given to last year’s Antichrist: its director, Lars Von Trier, seems an adept at generating publicity. And as we all know, negative publicity is still publicity, and often has the same effect when it comes to film – you want to see what all the fuss is about, often despite yourself.

The film’s ‘prologue’ introduces us to the main protagonists – nameless, but basically well-played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh – a couple having sex. Meanwhile, their infant son Nicholas awakens, climbs out of his crib and, in wanting to watch the snow, falls to his death out of an ajar window. The film then moves onto Part One, as the couple try to come to grips with their bereavement. Gainsbourgh’s character collapses at the funeral, and undergoes a breakdown which incarcerates her in a mental institution – but Dafoe’s character, a counsellor, decides to take control of her treatment and to coach her through the different phases of grief.

In trying to ease his wife out of what he terms as ‘the second phase – anxiety’, Dafoe’s character uses hypnosis to try to determine what exactly she sees when she is undergoing a panic attack. After much ado, and a great deal of strain between them, he sees that her fears are embodied by ‘the woods’: specifically, the woods surrounding a cabin she had spent some months in in the previous year in order to write (called ‘Eden’ – geddit?) He decides they need to go back there, to truly deal with her fears.

It is at this stage in the film that any cogent plot seems to unravel. Von Trier introduces various symbols into the action in the forms of animals: a deer with a stillborn faun still attached to it; a wounded fox; and a raven. These, we are able to glean by the end of the film, variously embody grief, chaos and despair, but they are not truly part of the plot and are only bit-players, seen for a moment, and not otherwise explicable. If you want them to figure, then you have to do the work. The relationship between the two characters grows increasingly erratic and violent, and the director shows us a cabin decorated with woodcuts of witch burnings, thereafter also introducing us to the fact that the wife used to put the child’s shoes on the wrong feet (!) Von Trier seems to be, like, saying something deeply important about the, you know, inherent evil in people or maybe, like, how women have always borne the brunt of fear and misery, or, you know, something. The characters hereafter seem to spend most of their time without trousers on and I now feel I could identify Willem Dafoe’s buttocks at twenty paces in the dark. And the feted clitoridectomy scene – where Gainsbourgh is haunted by the fact that her sex life stopped her noticing her son clambering out of the window and decides to ‘operate’ – is by turns bemusing, silly and pointless. She should have fixed the child gate. Much easier.

There are things of worth in the film – Dafoe’s acting skills save the film from utter farce and elements of the cinematography are actually quite beautiful – but, remove the odd, mismanaged symbology and the moments of extreme violence and this is a very boring film. As a study of grief and mourning I could have seen its relevance, and its depiction of anxiety attacks are unpleasantly accurate, but it seems to me that Von Trier had a handful of symbols he rather liked and was determined to shoehorn into the film regardless. If he does indeed have an axe to grind with misogyny or original sin or any of the other potential themes, it is not effectively done. What we have here is a film written and directed for film critics to unpack and essay about, rather than for audiences to enjoy. And the sex scenes! – not only blatantly there for shock value but very unrealistic. I’m no expert, but hit a man in the knackers with a plank of wood hard enough for him to lose consciousness and I”ll wager he won’t still be in a state of arousal, let alone start ejaculating blood when his mad wife takes him in hand. It made us laugh and roll our eyes – I’m betting Von Trier imagined it’d have a much more solemn effect.