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Archive for May, 2010

What I Learned About the World via 'Night of the Bloody Apes' (1969)

Monday, May 24th, 2010

One of the original ‘video nasties’, Night of the Bloody Apes is more than just a grisly, nudity-spiked apetastic romp. It can also be seen as an enriching life experience…so, this is what I learned about the world, simply from watching it.

* The style edict ‘both red and green should not be seen’ does not apply to lady wrestlers. Incidentally, female wrestling seems to be a sell-out sport.

* Even at the close of the 1960s, modern doctors can reliably expect to have a devoted hunchbacked servant who calls them ‘Master’.

* Gorilla hearts can reverse fatal heart conditions because…look, they just can. Now “Prepare the gorilla!”

* It’s not unusual to have rifles handy in Spanish operating theatres. Hey, you never know when your patient is going to turn into a marauding half-ape bent on murder, right?

* Entering, and exiting out of windows is the preferred mode of moving from place to place, and that goes for the medical personnel too.

* When the half-ape goes on a murderous spree in a local park, most people are certain he’s a regular escaped gorilla, despite the fact that he’s wearing a pair of trousers.

* A lady in a green dress who is on the receiving end of a forced ‘outfit change’ seems to have a self-repairing frock. If only everything in the scene was as durable – the grass underneath her seems to be detached from the ground and slides along when she does!

* During the closing scenes, even lots of dramatic music can not render an ape-man in blue pyjamas all that scary…

* …Although we do now know where Bo Selecta originated!

Doctor Orloff's Monster (Jess Franco) (1964)

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Ah, the perils of Jess Franco! All in all, I’m very positive on Uncle Jess’s films: though not quite a Francophile, I can always appreciate his brand of zany Eurosleaze. But in the pre-Lina and pre-Soledad years, Jess hadn’t quite found his sense of fun. Even the camera work is disappointingly staid, with ne’er a random zoom in sight. So it is with early b&w offering Dr Orloff’s Monster. Perhaps my tastes have been formed by less cinematically well-crafted, less artistic offerings, but so it goes. You should see my DVD collection, and then you’d forgive me that, and most things…

Although Dr. Orloff is mentioned in the title, the mad scientist of this film is actually one Conrad Jekyll (or is it Conrad Fisherman?) who learns the secret of controlling the dead as automata. He kills his brother when he discovers him in a tryst with his wife Ingrid, and then keeps him as a slave, using him to dispatch pretty jazz chaunteuses and strippers (by giving those women necklaces which contain transmitters – sending ‘Andros’ as he’s now known into a murderous rage.)

All the scientific apparatus in this film – as in many films of the period – seems to emit a stylophone-like drone. Learn from my mistake – keep the volume low…

Meanwhile, Conrad’s niece, Melissa (daughter of his brother) arrives at the castle (if you took Jess Franco’s and Jean Rollin’s word for it, you’d think everyone in Europe had a chateau of their very own!) She’s there to hear details of her inheritance, but not before a flirtatious taxi driver called Juan takes a shine to her and holes up in a local hotel to spend more time with her. She meets her aunt and uncle – and it soon becomes apparent that all is not well – Ingrid is a bitter, sick woman and Conrad spends all of his time in the laboratory. Slowly, we begin to discover Ingrid’s past feelings for Conrad’s brother, and Melissa grows increasingly interested in finding out more about her father’s untimely death. ‘Cept of course, he’s still in the castle, and one night when not out strangling women, they bump into each other.

Now Andros is loose. With a homing instinct for pretty nude ladies. Melissa and Juan must solve the mystery before more women die, (with the help of an oddly comedic police task force) and stop Andros forever.

I know, it’s absurd to sound crestfallen about this but – this is actually a really well-made film, well edited, with some gorgeous long shots and scenery. It just doesn’t quite make it as a cogently-plotted piece, and lacks the madcap bravado of later works. The performances aren’t bad, and there’s even a few moments of pathos for ‘Andros’ (Hugo Blanco) and his daughter Melissa (Agnès Spaak). But the comic cops destroy any tension, and seem an unusual choice here – comic foils don’t quite seem needed.

If you don’t like jazz music – I don’t, but squirm at most club scenes in films – then this film will be heavy going. The film also contains one of the most unconvincing murders I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid – topping even Dennis Price’s pathetic getaway in Vampyros Lesbos! That said, despite the hazy moments in the plot, this isn’t a bad idea, and just lacks a certain something along the way to really make it work, at least for me. Interesting in some ways, and flat in others, I think I’d just prefer the 70s-era films whose flaws are integral to their charms.

Best quote of the film: spoken about Dr. Jekyll – “He comes off as if he’d invented penicillin or something.”

Fab Fest 2010

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Last Thursday we headed up to the gorgeous city of Edinburgh to catch FAB Fest, held at the city’s Filmhouse (and stepping into the void created by long-running festival Dead by Dawn’s gap year). Whilst, as you’d expect, horror featured strongly on the bill, there were films from several other genres too and for me this was a good thing. Left to my own devices I would probably never pick up a martial arts movie, but as there was one billed I not only watched it, but thoroughly enjoyed it.

Special guests included the director and star of grimy Brit gangster flick A Day of Violence (more on this anon), director of Combat Shock/Life Is Hot In Cracktown Buddy Giovinazzo (who incidentally bought me a pot of tea; hence he is now my friend for life) and the man present in more of the infamous video nasties than anyone else, Giovanni Lombardo Radice: when not getting drilled, castrated or sliced up he’s a good-humoured and self-effacing chap (who doesn’t like horror films!)

Some of the cinematic highlights:

Merantau – a martial arts film from Indonesia which blends brilliantly-choreographed fighting moves, skilled cinematography and touching, believable characterisation.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
– take a fantastical spin on corporate greed and add some well-observed, often laugh-out-loud dialogue – then throw in a heavy dose of weirdness, where self-heating cookies cause a biological anomaly which causes men to ‘give birth’ (well, kinda) to blue fish…and you may just about be at the level of The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle. It’s a film that manages to be both bizarre and yet down to earth, a cult-film-to-be which has no unpleasant pretentions to being a cult film. I found it incredibly refreshing.

A Day of Violence – whilst gangster films aren’t really what I would usually choose to watch, A Day of Violence deserves a mention, I think, as an example of the grim determination needed to make an independent film in Britain. The director (as he explained in a Q&A session after the film) made the whole thing for £50,000 – in itself a huge feat – and not only that, the film was made solely on weekends, as those involved held down day jobs. The result, as they say, gives us ‘exactly what it says on the tin’: A Day of Violence is a nasty, brutish tale of gangster life which certainly pulls no punches. Interestingly, the director Darren Ward felt the need to atone for one scene in which a woman has a tooth removed by a thug – explaining that although this is unpleasant, she gets retribution for the attack – whereas the incredibly protracted scenes of violence between men were given no such apology. It’s a strange state of affairs when, where cries of ‘misogyny’ often echo through the horror scene, gratuitously cruel treatment of men – either by other men or by women – is tacitly accepted. As I noted in my review of Deadgirl (see previous post) it’s misanthropy which runs through many of the grittier films out there, and A Day of Violence is no exception.

City of the Living Dead – one of Fulci’s high points, an ever-spiralling nightmare of (fairly nominally) Lovecraftian gore – seen here in HD. Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice got creeped out by the entrail-vomit scene and went outside for a cigarette. Ah, I love film festivals…

High Lane aka Vertige – a competent tale of peril where, instead of heading underground a la Descent, we head up – The Ascent, if you will. Although all sympathy for the young protagonists was destroyed by the fact that they sang along to Supergrass’s bloody irritating Alright near the beginning, this film lays on the fear of heights incredibly effectively as a group of friends go mountaineering but find themselves isolated, vulnerable – and being watched…

Sadly I had to miss a couple of the films, but other honourable mentions go to Takashi Miike’s Yatterman (a real genre shift for him, but with his trademark unhinged style) Resurrecting ‘The Street Walker’ (which I’ve already reviewed in full for Sex Gore Mutants) and please, check out Buddy Giovinazzo’s bleak, disillusioned tales of urban life.

The Filmhouse is a great venue for these sorts of get-togethers, and having a decent bar, food (and of course the Fab Press stall at hand for drunken Jess Franco DVD purchases) makes these sort of long-haul cinema stints feel a lot easier. It’s also gratifying, as a horror/genre film fan, to see how well film festivals are now doing in the UK: here’s to many more.

Deadgirl (2008)

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Although I heard a little about Deadgirl on its release, it had quietly disappeared onto my ‘list of films I might one day see’ – that is, until I picked up on the decidedly mixed reviews it has been getting. Although there have been numerous very favourable reviews, I was struck by the fact that this film has generated genuine anger in some quarters – most notably for its ‘misogyny’ and ‘sexism’. Well, these opinions may not have been intended to encourage viewings, but that’s the effect they had on me – so I picked up a copy.

Deadgirl is most definitely an unpleasant film, but to me it is the central message of the film which trumps all else. The casual acceptance by several otherwise ‘normal’ people of a warped situation in which they can forget all social boundaries and norms, regressing into a demi-monde of their own making? This is what packs the punch, and – although the film plays this out in an admittedly grotesque fashion – it’s not quite as fantastical a phenomenon as we’d like to think.

“Think about it, we’re just cannon fodder for the rest of the world. Down here we’re in control. We call the shots down here….you don’t have to be the nice guy…”

In the film, two lifelong friends, Ricky (Shiloh Fernandez) and J.T (Noah Segan) are on the verge of leaving school: social outsiders, they really only have each other, beer, and various ways of dissipating their time – like trashing the town’s remote, disused sanitorium. One day, as they explore the basement of the building, they discover something – the dead body of a young woman, naked, and chained to a trolley. But is she dead? When the two boys approach, and despite her obvious postmortem state, she moves slightly. Before Ricky can follow his first instinct to call for help, J.T suggests they follow his – and keep her, as ‘their secret’.

For the first time, the two friends are divided. Ricky refuses to violate the girl and continues to try to engage with the ‘real’ world, a world of thwarted romance for his first love, JoAnn (Candice Accola) and beatings at the hands of JoAnn’s boyfriend – whilst his mother is entirely absent from the film and he’s left only with the predictable, jaded advice of his deadbeat stepdad. J.T on the other hand is now master of all he surveys. Ricky is invariably drawn back to the basement – both for the sake of his only friend and his fascination with the dead girl – but, soon things unravel, as J.T is all too willing to ‘share’ his find with other school misfits.

I hope it’s not overstating the case to say that this film works well on an (admittedly sleazy) allegorical level. In many fairy stories, children can retreat from the awkward world of rules and regulations into fantasy realms – different worlds where the unfairness of encroaching adult life can be forgotten. I don’t think it’s any accident that at several points during the film the characters mention things that happened when they were eight years old – this is when the two boys became friends, and when Ricky first became interested in JoAnn. Childhood adds an unpleasant contextualising factor to this film. So, when these two alienated young men, unhappily coming of age, fall under the sway of a fantasy world, it is an unpleasant, distant place and a complete withdrawal from the real world which is so problematic for them – as J.T says, it is somewhere where they can ‘call the shots’. The dead body is the site of, apart from obvious sexual gratification, both power and wish fulfilment – sex, power, and control – everything unattainable to the boys in question.

There are, however, obstacles to this set-up: besides Ricky’s determination not to behave the same way as his friends, there’s another possible allegory, in the form of a rabid dog. It’s the dog that first pursues the two boys into the room where the dead girl is, and then at intervals it intercedes between them and the girl’s body. J.T is particularly irritated by the dog; he says he wants to keep the door shut so the dog can’t get in to ‘mess with’ the girl, and in a late scene where the dog quite literally stands between J.T and the girl, it is the girl herself who bites and kills the animal. J.T might not have a conscience, but there’s a snarling hound there to present a problem where his conscience ought to kick in (and the object of his lust just happens to win out). And, as J.T proves he is not ultimately in control, neither is his more resistant friend – in a deeply pessimistic ending which puts the boot in after the hammer-blows of the rest of the film. After all, when you finally have to admit to yourself that you’ll be pumping gas until you retire, a way out of those shackles might make someone else’s shackles seem a bit more tolerable.

Ultimately then, this is a misanthropic rather than a misogynistic film: it just happens to make its point via sexualisation, something which modern viewers will both comprehend and yet, because of its presentation here, want to reject (only Deadchild would pack a similar punch in our society, albeit for different reasons). Deadgirl gives us a hell of a gruesome display but its message is more gruesome – and more timely – than the sum of its parts.