Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: A Shriek You Will Remember In Your Frightmares!

Super 8 (2011): So, we've now reached a point where filmmakers are making nostalgic films about films that had a nostalgic view of childhood, and get these films produced by the people whose films they are nostalgic about. While I will always disagree with the Spielbergian position on childhood as a precious and magical time for everyone, J.J. Abrams' film sells the concept much better than the guy whose work he so obviously adores, mostly because Abram is much better at acknowledging the parts of childhood that aren't bicycles and unicorns. Plus, the film has a very satisfying monster and - even in a happy end - does understand that life is messy and complicated more than anything Spielberg himself ever did.

Mimic - The Director's Cut (1997): This cut does not turn a flawed yet good monster movie into a masterpiece, but it excises some of the Weinstein cut's least effective moments (second unit material much hated by director Guillermo del Toro, it seems), and manages to add a bit more humanity to its characters through the slightest of additions. There's also a much more visible subtext about the concept of motherhood in there now, that avoids much of what usually is annoying when male directors try their hands at commenting on the theme.

Additionally, Del Toro's audio commentary tells a great filmmaking horror story of the sort that makes one wonder how Miramax ever managed to put out a decent movie.

Ghastly (2011): The directorial debut of South Korean Ko Seo-jin may not have a single original idea in its head (or script) and may be about as subtle as a sledgehammer yet it is a tight little spook show that never pulls any of its punches and doesn't overstay its welcome. There are a few too many dream sequences in it for my tastes, though.

It's just another film about a possessed/evil child and hacked off body parts, but it's still perfectly entertaining.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Assignment Naschy: A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1974)

Original title: Una libélula para cada muerto

A black-garbed and red-trousered killer strolls around Milan, killing addicts, prostitutes and lovers of kinky sex, leaving an artificial dragonfly with each corpse. To prove himself after a never explained case that went spectacularly bad, sadistic, mean-spirited cigar-chomping Inspector Paolo Scaporella (Paul Naschy) is put on the case. Scaporella - whom the film first shows threatening a flasher with death the next time he sees him - seems not too excited about the prospect, for he thinks the victims are getting exactly what they deserve. But it's a job, right?

Scaporella's actual investigation plays out with him not doing much for a while, except getting his wife Silvana (Erika Blanc), who is clearly the brains of the marriage, interested in the case and using a dinner party to a) learn that the dragonfly is a Chaldean symbol to mark "degenerates" and b) put a friendly gay fashion designer to finding out who made the special button he found with one of the victims. The latter will - quite unlike anything Scaporella is going to do - be important later on, but until the film reaches that point, it's scenes and scenes of our "hero" walking around chomping on his cigar, getting pascha-ed by his wife and beaten up by nazi bikers while following up clues that won't actually be important later on. Once the audience really has enough of that, the killings finally reach the inspector's friends from that all important dinner party. There's just enough time for Silvana getting close to the truth and herself in danger before Scaporella understands what's going on.

Directed by Paul Naschy's frequent collaborator León Klimovsky, Dragonfly is the duo's attempt at fusing the Italian giallo and the Italian cop movie by combining both genre's worst traits into a single, meandering piece of reactionary boredom.

So we get the silly mystery full of holes and the loosely structured plot typical of the giallo without much of the genre's visual panache; we get the cop film's hatred of everything and everyone who is different without much of its hatred for large-scale corruption, its often conflicted view of its cop heroes or its exciting action scenes.

Naschy's Scaporella is clearly set-up to be the shining hero of the piece. Yes, the audience is supposed to admire a guy who lets a wounded gangster he's going to arrest crawl to his car on his wounded leg, and who only sees "degenerates" deserving of death in addicts, prostitutes and people who like utterly innocent things like threesomes and necrophiliac role-play. If you see a clear opportunity for the film to explore some rather interesting points about how close its supposed hero and its villain are, then you're a lot cleverer than Naschy's script - like he does with everything potentially interesting in it, Naschy decides not to explore that aspect to put in another scene of himself being shirtless, as if you couldn't combine these things perfectly in some sexposition if you wanted to.

Another of the film's problems is that its ideas of what's "degenerate", and its way of showing them off is painfully behind what the Italians did and unpleasantly reactionary. Where even the most suspect giallos are so gleeful in their depiction of sex and depravity (or "depravity") that it's usually impossible to tell if they are in awe of or looking down on it (I usually suspect them to do both at once), Dragonfly really is so little into that sort of thing that it shows nearly none of it in an interesting way, leaving me neither shocked by the depths of human depravity as I'm clearly supposed to be, nor titillated as I'd have liked to be.

But even if you ignore these problems and flaws, Dragonfly just plain doesn't work as a mystery or a crime film. I could live with the ridiculousness of the set-up, but Naschy the writer is not someone able to produce the tightness of script that would be the only thing able to save the film. It's all wandering around and Naschy showing off how awesome he is without ever actually being awesome. Our supposed hero really comes off as a particularly dense bully who should listen to his wife more (even when she calls that thinking he never does "women's intuition"), stumbling through a case that's just not all that interesting.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prokletinja (1975)

Most of Prokletinja's story is told via flashbacks starting during the inquest about the death of a man that is held in his shack somewhere out in the wilderness. The man - who like everyone else in the movie is nameless - had come to the place following rumours of a "Damned Thing", something invisible roaming the wilderness. He became increasingly obsessed with the thing, discussing its philosophical implications and the shattering of his beliefs it caused with a journalist he was friends with, until he finally was killed by it.

For pretty obvious political reasons, what with the notorious negativity and lack of "scientific reason" in the genre, there wasn't much horror produced in countries east of the Iron Curtain. Sometimes, however, as the slow dripping of fan-subbed TV productions from 1970s Yugoslavia suggests, filmmakers did have a bit of leeway to turn towards the darker side of the fantastic.

Prokletinja is director, screenwriter and actor Branko Plesa's (who is also playing the man holding the inquest) version of Ambrose Bierce's short story The Damned Thing. It's an hour-long TV movie, so Plesa probably did not have many resources to work with, but he does make fine use of what he had, namely the black and white (at least in the version I saw; I'm not sure if the film was actually shot in black and white) cinematography of Milorad Markovic and a darkly dramatic soundtrack by Stanko Terzic.

Terzic's soundtrack is predominantly used to impress the presence of the damned thing on the audience. There are a bit of fog, some growling and some moving bushes later on in the movie, for large parts of it, however, only the soundtrack, the expressions on the actors' faces and the threatening undertone of Markovic's nature shots are what create the monster in our minds. If you're an imaginative sort like I am, this method should work well for the movie and you, following the old adage that the most frightful things you can see in a horror movie are those things you don't see.

Plesa is more interested in the philosophical implications and in the world-view shattering dread the creature causes the film's main character anyway. As it stands, the Damned Thing's mere existence puts in doubt the nameless dweller in the wilderness's formerly scientific and orderly view of life, and suggests to him that the order of nature and mankind's position in it he believed in are just plain wrong. Worse, he may not like at all what he thinks has to take the place of the things he did believe in.

Aesthetically, Prokletinja rather reminds me of an arty Spaghetti Western turned Weird West (actually, I'm not sure if the actor's clothing are supposed to suggest the early 18th century US or Yugoslavia - it's not that important for the film at hand, I think, but I'd go with the former if I had to) Gothic horror. There are a lot of close-up shots of hairy, dirty-faced and obviously very poor men staring at a point beside the camera, and a dry, somewhat cynical humour of the type the Spaghetti Western genre and Ambrose Bierce shared; at other times, weirdly effective slowly swirling camera movement and slow-motion shots of animals that suggest the main character's new, horrific view of nature remind of something one of the Sergios might have shot in an especially philosophical mood.

If you like your obscure horror movies with a philosophical bend (and therefore more in tune with the classic weird tale as with modern ideas of horror), Prokletinja is a film to search out. It also makes me pretty curious about some of the other TV movies Plesa directed during the 70s. Hopefully, some daring fansubber will enlighten us about them one day (I sure don't think we'll ever get to see official releases of movies like these).


Saturday, November 26, 2011

In short: Prayer Beads (2004)

A woman and her imaginary children take bitter vengeance on the friend who slept with her husband. A vending machine in the country is the source of a very special soft drink. A doctor takes a drug that lets him see the worms and tentacles that are really inside of people. A creepy anime character fulfils wishes in a variation of the story of the monkey's paw. Two elderly espers hunt down and explode the killer of their granddaughter.

These and other stories belong to the Japanese nine-part horror anthology series Prayer Beads. Most of the episodes are written and directed by a certain Masahiro Okano, who also has a "supervised by" credit. Okano seems to exclusively work for Japanese TV, so info about him or what else he did is hard to find on the Western internet. It is pretty clear, though, that he has extensive knowledge of all the horror clichés you'd find in this type of anthology show, and is not ashamed of using them.

The episodes are shot in the somewhat raw and cheap looking style typical of contemporary Japanese TV. Okano and the other directors do their best to use this rawness to give most of the episodes an immediacy that is making it much easier to swallow the sillier of the stories. In a few episodes, there are pretty effective attempts at producing a more dream-like feel and pacing through the magic of weird and fast editing and colour filters, or by going the extra mile and actually creating cheap animation for the anime-themed episode. This sort of thing doesn't let the show's budget look more impressive on screen, but it demonstrates an interest in the details and a willingness to experiment that makes it difficult to argue against a show this visibly putting an extra effort in.

Tonally, Prayer Beads is all over the place. Some episodes are examples of earnest yet weird character psychology-based horror, while others, like the vending machine episode or the mushroom hunt story, seem to exist mostly to set up a rubbery gore gag, which in case of the vending machine story is absolutely worth it. The show isn't at all timid when it comes to the rubbery gore anyhow - generally, Okano seems to belong to the school of Japanese horror that just loves to put improbable explosions of red and gooey stuff on screen, at least as far as the TV budget and TV morals allow.

All in all, Prayer Beads is worth watching. There's nothing sensational or original about the show, but it's clear that its producers have their hearts in the right places and know how to have fun with the traditions of the horror genre.


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Friday, November 25, 2011

Assignment Naschy: El Retorno Del Hombre Lobo (1980)

aka Night of the Werewolf

aka The Craving

aka Return of the Wolfman

As you know, Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory (Julia Saly) got in a bit of trouble with the Church for black magic, cannibalism, Satanism and that little thing with bathing in the blood of virgins, leading to the execution of her and her co-satanists and servants. Among those servants was the wolfman Waldemar Daninsky (of course Paul Naschy). Wally wasn't in it for Satan but for reasons of mind control, but clearly, that's not a thing that saves one from death by silver cross through the heart by the loving hands of the Church.

Centuries later, a trio of anthropologists and parapsychologists - Erika (Silvia Aguilar), Karin (Azucena Hernández) and Barbara (Pilar Alcón) - have spent years trying to find the place where Bathory and her servants are buried, and have now finally found it. Little do Karin and Barbara realize that Erika isn't on the side of science(!) anymore but has been converted to the ways of black magic through telepathic contact with the dead and buried Bathory. Consequently, Erika isn't planning on just examining the countess's grave but wants to revive its inhabitant with the help of a magical amulet and the blood of her two friends.

Some undefined space of time before that, while Erika is still killing to get the amulet and the other women are waiting around in Rome, graverobbers have found the crypt of Waldemar. Clearly, a silver cross is too much of a temptation not to steal it for them, even if it is sticking in a corpse's chest, and so the wolfman lives and (oh so tragically, if "tragic" means "without ever doing anything to avoid it") kills again. Together with supposed witch Mircalla (Beatriz Elorrieta) he off-screen-rescues from angry villagers, Wally moves into an abandoned castle close by the ruins and the system of crypts and underground tunnels where Elizabeth is buried, seemingly planning to wait around until a woman comes around who will love him enough to sacrifice herself to kill him.

When the trio of scientists arrives in the area, it fastly becomes clear that Karin is exactly the woman Waldemar has been looking for, but before they can commit double suicide, there are a few other problems for the couple to solve, for Erika manages to bring Bathory back to unlife as a vampire with a taste for creating other female vampires and ambitions for world and wolfman domination. Obviously, there's a wolfman versus vampire women throw-down standing between our heroes and their preferred end.

Even though I still have my problems with various elements of Paul Naschy's creative persona, my fastly growing experience with his body of work has shown the man to be the sort of artist capable and willing to learn from his mistakes, try new things even in the context of a long-running series like the Daninsky films, and improve his weak spots with every film he makes. To my eyes, this sort of passion for improving on previous efforts instead of coasting on their successes deserves much respect.

In El Retorno's case, Naschy is taking the improving pretty far, for the film is a re-working of the man's earlier Noche De Walpurgis, with many of the old film's problems removed and additions made that make the film much more dramatically involved and less random in its feel and structure. Even those of Naschy's weaknesses as a scriptwriter that reappear like bad pennies - namely a tendency to tell in stiffly expository dialogue scenes what he really should be showing - are comparatively reigned in and even make a certain amount of sense this time around. In El Retorno, Naschy isn't showing certain things because they may be important for the plot but are just not very interesting to watch, or are, like the process of Waldemar and Karin falling in love with each other, supposedly so natural - we are talking about the perfect male specimen here, after all - that there's just no need to dwell on them.

Transitions are left out completely, unless they involve skimpily clad vampire women returning into their graves (priorities, you know), which surprisingly does wonders to tighten the film's pacing as well as helps produce the dream-like mood continental European horror in the early 80s had often already lost.

For El Retorno, Naschy has also entered the director's chair, and instead of ending in a megalomaniac clusterfuck, this actually results in a Daninsky film that for once feels like a whole, losing the messiness I now suspect to be a result of directors and scriptwriter/lead actor of the other films in the series not seeing eye to eye about what they were trying to achieve. The price for this new-won unity of purpose is the loss of the batshit craziness I've learned to associate with Naschy, but Naschy the director replaces craziness with oodles of gothic mood and some very supernatural and weird (capital w version) feeling vampire women who very convincingly move from the seductive to the animalistic and back again, like they move from otherworldly gliding to predatory leaps. Julia Saly (who did work quite a bit with Naschy), Silvia Aguilar and Beatriz Elorrieta are properly great as the vampires, too, adding a distance and a sense for melodrama and some pretty fantastic screeching noises to their roles and making the perfect foil for Naschy's by now excellent wolfman and Azucena Hernández' sometimes feisty, sometimes whimpering (always doomed) heroine.

In Retorno, Naschy manages to unite his two main interests of his work - the comic book/pulp stylings and the more atmospheric parts inspired by Universal and Hammer horror - until they become something all his own. Turns out I don't miss the craziness of many of his other films at all in this case.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things I Thought While Watching Conan The Barbarian (2011)

for it's really not worth a proper review. Yes, I know I've reviewed much worse films.

  • Oh hey, it's another Robert E. Howard adaptation that has fuck all to do with the stories it's supposed to adapt. Now if it were at least good…
  • The Hyborian age was so brown, people even bled a brownish hue. Remember when movies had colours in them?
  • Wait, so Jason Momoa is Ron Perlman's son? I think that's the sort of situation paternity tests were invented for.
  • Li'l Conan shows all the signs of becoming a psychopathic serial killer. I would not suggest forging a sword for him, but then I'm not Ron Perlman. Also, now I want to watch an all ages cartoon show named "Li'l Conan".
  • Slow motion horsemen. I dunno how they ever manage to ride down anyone, what with them moving much slower than normal riders or people on foot.
  • You gotta love how these war-like non-nomadic Barbarian movie tribes always have no defensive structures whatsoever at their places of habitation and always seem completely unprepared for any attack.
  • Ron Perlman prefers death to being in this movie any longer. I do understand, Ron, I really do. The bad guy doesn't, though, so he just has to hold out for one scene longer. Say "War. War never changes", Ron!
  • Is denositation a word? If it is, that's what Conan's good at.
  • These barbarian tribe members all have fantastic teeth. Except for most of the bad guys, of course. I imagine time travelling dentists with high morals are to blame.
  • Aha, so all the actual Howard stuff happened between little Conan shouting "Grraaaaar" and becoming Jason Momoa so that there's room for the crap the scriptwriter came up with instead of Red Nails.
  • And now he's a leading member of a gang of hard-partying pirates.
  • Conan is way too fond of decapitations for comfort. And of torturing people and then being a dick to them afterwards. I thought he was a Cimmerian, not an American.
  • The Shadowlord? But which one? And where is Lord British?
  • Conan has known his pirate friends since he was a child, but he only now mentions the name of the guy who killed Ron Perlman (and wiped out Conan's tribe, but that's obviously not worth mentioning). He's only playing to the camera.
  • Hooray for martial arts monks!
  • In a surprising twist, Rachel Nichols is actually allowed to be competent in a fight.
  • It's rude to discuss the property rights to a woman in front of her. I think.
  • "Woman! Come here! I said, come here!". That element of Howard they did not change.
  • Stop the press! The big bad has a motivation apart from being evil!
  • They're bickering and he's tying her up. Obviously, these two are meant for each other.
  • "Why would you save me only to tie me up?"
  • My incest sense is tingling.
  • I think someone responsible for the production mixed up Conan and the Punisher.
  • Exploding barrels! Why didn't I invent them? I'm sure I'd be rich now.
  • You know, I'd totally watch a movie about Rachel Nichols' character having swashbuckling adventures instead of the one about Jason Momoa avenging his father in a very brown land.
  • So Conan is a grunter during sex. Who'd have thunk?
  • Obligatory kidnapping of female lead so we can have more scenes of Conan scowling and mumbling through his dialogue. Which is what this movie thinks is "being heroic and badass". Bored now.
  • Why isn't this scene awesome? It has Conan fighting a tentacle monster below him and bad guys around him while also trying to protect a thief companion. There are cages and chains. And yet it's still not very exciting at all. I don't think Marcus Nispel is all that good at this directing lark.
  • "Behold - in despair - your new master!". I wouldn't work as a henchman for this guy, but then I am something of a wimp.
  • "Barbarian, I don't like you anymore". I assume when they taught smack talk in villain school, Mister Bad Guy did not attend.
  • Dual-wielding broadswords looks dumb.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In short: Ministry of Fear (1944)

England, 1944. Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) is released from the asylum he spent the last two years of his life in for the mercy-killing of his fatally ill wife into the bomb-scourged countryside. On his way to London, Stephen visits a charity country fair and wins himself a cake under slightly complicated and bizarre circumstances that involve a fortune teller and attempts to renege on the promised cake (I wouldn't be surprised if GLaDOS had seen the movie, really). Next thing Stephen knows is a fake blind man is stealing his cake, only to be hit by a German bomb.

Stephen can't let the strange occurrences he experienced rest, so, once he has arrived in London, he begins a series of enquiries that will lead him onto the trail of a Nazi spy ring. Stephen will visit a drunk private detective, take part in a séance that will leave him under the suspicion of being a killer, and stumble into the arms of an Austrian émigré (Marjorie Reynolds) who may either be the woman he's going to marry or a Nazi spy herself.

I know this is still something of a sacrilegious idea in certain circles, but I've always preferred Fritz Lang's Hollywood movies to those he made in his first German phase. I think it has something to do with the friction between a fiercely intellectually independent like Lang and the strictness of the Hollywood system, or rather the sparks that can result when a director has to fight for every self-indulgence (see for example also Seijun Suzuki).

Ministry of Fear has always been one of my favourite films by Lang. This will probably not come as much of a surprise to regular readers of this blog (hi, Mum!), for Ministry of Fear contains many of the elements known to get me excited. First and foremost, there's a feeling of the bizarre (and sometimes the whimsical) lying at its heart, as if it were perfectly reasonable for a Nazi spy ring to hide McGuffins away in cakes and stage fake séances to cover their tracks and scare interlopers away; if you need realism instead of the peculiar yet coherent logic of certain types of mental illnesses or dreams in your plots, you'll probably despair of Lang's film quite soon.

Ray Milland's Reynolds is obviously the perfect foil for a plot of this kind, because he's more than just a little unsure of his own position in life and reality, and at first clearly can't decide if he's gotten so out of step with life in the world that quotidian reality looks strange to him, or if quotidian reality itself has gotten out of step. Lang's matter-of-fact depiction of wartime England as a place where it's as normal as waiting at a bus stop to keep to blackout rules and calmly go to the next bomb shelter once the bomb warnings sound emphasises this feeling of a world that's become strange even further. Once the outside world has reached a point like it did during World War II, Lang's film seems to say, there's just no telling what's real and what a paranoid fantasy. There might never have been that much of a difference anyway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

Who would call the sequel to a movie "The Beginning"? Bruno Mattei is who, demonstrating the crystal clear sense of logic you expect from his body of work.

Now, you may remember that Island of the Living Dead ended with our last survivor Sharon (Yvette Yzon) being declared dead by her rescuers and rising again as a zombie. Curiously enough, this hasn't actually happened, and Sharon (who turns out to be a doctor of biology, by the way) is alive and well and suffering from regular nightmares. If you're a more generous person than I am, you might read the first movie's ending as one of Sharon's nightmares, but dear Bruno doesn't actually bother to sell it that way. Anyhow, it also turns out that the protagonists of the last movie were lying to us when they repeatedly called themselves treasure hunters and acted that way, for they were in fact working salvage operations for an evil corporation, Tyler Inc.

Obviously, Tyler Inc. doesn't believe Ripley'sSharon's story about alienszombies killing her crew mates and fires her for reasons of mental instability and "the inexplicable explosion" (cough, self-destruct button, cough) of her ship, leaving RipSharon with working at the docksbecoming a Buddhist nun as her only career option. If you know Mattei's films, you'll probably now have flashbacks to the other times when he ripped off James Cameron's Aliens, and verily, he does it again. Only this time around, Mattei keeps even closer to Aliens' narrative structure, leaving Zombies with nary a scene that isn't mirroring another one from what we must imagine to be the Italian's favourite film. Good old Bruno (or his script-writers, returning Antonio Tentori and new guy Giovanni Paolucci) manages to borrow even more of the original's dialogue than he and his buddy Claudio Fragasso did in the best movie ever aka Shocking Dark, though I am a little disappointed he didn't find a way to include anything about nuking the place from orbit. I also decry the sad absence of androids.

Given that everybody really should know the plot of Aliens, there's no need for me to do any further plot synopsising for Zombies. Just imagine Aliens without Newt and Bishop (and of course without anything taking the place of Newt in motivating Ripley/Sharon, because we can't have her act in a way that makes sense, right?) and with mutant zombies and later on conehead mutant zombies replacing the aliens, and an inexplicable and unexplained talking - of course with a British accent, for all brains are British - brain in a glass cage standing in for the alien mother. If much of the plot doesn't seem to make much sense to you after these replacements, hey, it's a Mattei movie, and the man aimed to please. I think.

As a matter of fact, I found myself hard pressed to not be pleased by Zombies while watching it. This reaction to what happened on screen is probably on the same level as the delight of a certain kind of anime fan confronted with scenes of female characters whose breasts make "boink! boink!" noises when they move, but what can a guy like me do when confronted with a guy like Bruno Mattei not having learned a bit about filmmaking in all the years he worked as a director.

All the shoddiness the connoisseur expects from a Mattei movie is there and accounted for: acting on school play level with an especially hysterical performance by the guy standing in for Bill Paxton (Yvette Yzon who was one of the least terrible actors in the first movie also manages to top her performance there and sometimes reaches the levels of overenthusiastic horribleness the film surrounding her deserves); action directed without an eye for the position of the characters taking part in it; dialogue that is borrowed from another movie not exactly known for brilliance of dialogue and then dumbed down until it fits the quality of the acting; a sense for weird, stupid and peculiar details that manifests in things like flame throwers that seem to work without fuel (I imagine they use fire elementals), that brain in a glass cage, or a fascination with mutant foetuses that really shows by comparison how tasteful H.R. Giger's shtick is; sets that include empty brown rooms, empty grey rooms and not much else; a complete lack of sanity. In other words, Zombies: The Beginning is an awesome film that never ever wants to waste a single second boring you or talking sense. After all, there's still a scene from Aliens it hasn't transformed through the magic of its $100 budget it needs to rip off.

Some may find it tragic that Mattei's last film is a shot-on-very- visibly-digital rip-off of a James Cameron movie, without a budget and clearly nobody of talent involved, but if I am honest, I think this is the perfect, honest end point for the man's career. Mattei's talent did after all always lie in his ability to make highly entertaining crap, and in this regard, he couldn't have succeeded more than he did with Zombies: The Beginning.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nothing to see here

At least until next Monday. I'm sure this has nothing at all to do with the release of Skyrim, for elder horrors do not roam imaginary countries rescuing kittens and shooting bandits in the back.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

On WTF: Island of the Living Dead (2006)

I was very sceptical about Bruno Mattei's return to filmmaking via crap looking direct to DVD features, but I did do the great man wrong.

While Island of the Living Dead isn't quite as brain-damaging as Mattei's films made together with Claudio Fragasso, it still does contain more than enough of the good stuff to cause major hallucinations. My column on WTF-Film will explain - as far as Mattei is explicable - more.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

In short: Don't Look In The Attic (1982)

Original title: La Villa Delle Anime Maledette

aka House of the Cursed Spirits

aka House of the Damned

Three relatives and one spouse (Annarita Grapputo, Tonino Campa, Fausto Lombardi and Ileana Fraia) who didn't know about each other's existence because they've all been scattered around the world by their parental generation, inherit the family fortune and the family mansion. Alas, the fortune comes with the condition to live in the mansion, and the mansion is cursed, having cost the lives of many a generation of the family by driving them to murder and suicide.

This time around, family member Elisa has a direct connection to the beyond, but despite her mother's dire warnings from the grave, she - and her male cousins - still end up living in the unhealthy family home. Elisa's cousins soon succumb to the house's bad influence, and it's only a question of time until a bloodbath will happen and/or a completely random explanation for what's happening in the movie will pop in out of nowhere.

Carlo Ausino's (whoever he might be) Don't Look In The Attic is a shoddy and threadbare movie even for the not exactly high standards of Italian movies made at the beginning of the 80s. I've become used to the often stiff and always slightly off nature of the English dubbing of these films, but Don't Look beats most everything I've encountered from these quarters by virtue of swinging in a wildly out of sync way between the incomprehensible and the plain stupid.

The dubious quality of the English language dub is quite a good thing, for it adds entertainment value to a film in dire need of it. Between its too few expected moments of batshit insanity, Don't Look is quite a bore, you see, so it's actually necessary that its longish discussions of the reproductive problems of some family members (really) and the non-relationship between one of the family lawyers and his secretary Martha (Beba Loncar), who will also swing a mean silver dagger later on, are made more interesting through the dubbing.

The main problem standing between Don't Look and a place in my heart is that it spends too much time on scenes of nothing happening at all, and too little on expanding my mind with true Italian weirdness. It's true that there are moments of the skewed and nonsensical beauty I'm looking for in this sort of film, but these moments are drowned out by the wrong, which means the uninteresting instead of the hypnotic, kind of boredom. Don't Look In The Attic is a film that can even make an incestuous rape attempt look utterly boring.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: Things happen that have never been seen by human beings. The blood flows like vintage wine.

And The Crows Will Dig Your Grave aka Los Buitres cavaran tu fosa (1972): Despite its being graced with an awesome title, routine Spanish Western director Juan Bosch's film is a wee bit too generic to warrant me writing anything long about it. It's the usual mess of people (Craig Hill, Angel Aranda and Fernando Sancho among them) of variable nastiness doing nasty things to each other for monetary reasons - not much vengeance going around here - with some light political allegory thrown in. While I've seen it all before, I can't really complain about Bosch's execution of the story: the cruelty is cruel, the action is tight, the dialogue scenes have a certain amount of bite. Add decent acting by people with excellent facial hair and a generic yet fine soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai, and you get a Spaghetti (Paella?) Western that might be totally forgettable, but is also pretty entertaining.

My Horse, My Gun, Your Widow (1972): Again directed by Bosch, again made in 1972 (and still not the last film the director shot in that year), again a Spaghetti Western, again featuring Craig Hill, a Bruno Nicolai soundtrack and an awesome title. Alas, I wasn't as happy with this one, for this is one of those dreaded "comedic" films that suffer from not being funny at all. There are of course some good Spaghetti Western comedies, but those films usually know if there in it for the jokes, want to be parodies of the genre their working in, or hide more complex things behind their humour. My Horse etc doesn't seem to have much of a plan at all, and ends up being one of those films that are just kind of there without ever amounting to much.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): After the rather disappointing Thor, Joe Johnston (the guy responsible for the horrible Wolfman remake) of all people pulls the Marvel superhero films out of the druthers again with what is as fine a piece of blockbuster cinema as you're likely to encounter. The film not only gets the core of the character it is about right, but also realizes which elements of the original's serial/pulp origins will work under these particular circumstances and which won't, and then proceeds to dial up the useful elements to awesome. Add that the film has an actual heart, and find me a very happy man.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In short: Gamera (1965)

Original title: Daikaiju Gamera

A pretty hot moment in the Cold War somewhere in the Arctic ends in a plane carrying an H-bomb exploding. The explosion sets free the ancient devil of the Inuit tribes, the giant fire-breathing turtle Gamera. After eating a Japanese research ship, only leaving alive zoologist Dr. Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi), his assistant Kyoke (Harumi Kiritachi) and journalist Aoyagi (Junichiro Yamshiko), Gamera disappears to parts unknown.

Some time later, the turtle lands on Hokkaido and smashes up a lighthouse. Because he's a suicidal, dumb little twat, a turtle-loving boy named Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida) is climbing the lighthouse while Gamera is already smashing it. Then Gamera makes a grave mistake. Instead of letting the little bastard fall to his well-deserved death, Gamera rescues him, leaving Toshio free to spend the rest of the movie whining, moping, shouting for Gamera and wandering into danger. Thank you so much, Gamera.

When the film doesn't show us the non-adventures of the most stupid boy in Japan, it does from time to time allow us to watch Gamera's further adventures and the attempts of scientists and military to somehow get rid of the fire-breathing menace.

The plan that succeeds in the end is very special indeed.

The first film in Daiei's Gamera series (the studio's attempt to create a monster as successful as Toho's Godzilla/Gojira) is actually two films. The first one is a pretty fine kaiju eiga about one silly yet wonderfully imaginative monster, with some fine suitmation - clearly the best in a Gamera movie before Shusuke Kaneko got his hands on the character -, pleasant city-smashing and what might just be my most favourite way of getting rid of a monster in all of kaiju-dom. In other words, that film isn't as good as the best Toho productions - it's lacking a bit in emotional resonance and depth for it - but it is a smashingly good time. Director Noriaki Yuasa even manages to let Gamera quite often look like the threatening force of nature a giant monster should be. That Yuasa does this with a rocket-propelled, fire-breathing turtle deserves all respect.

It's just too bad that Yuasa loses that respect again with the second film you can find inside of Gamera. This Gamera is about a whining little brat named Toshio who neither possesses a sense of self-preservation nor empathy with the suffering of others nor a brain and is always at hand to distract from the stuff that's fun and important in a kaiju eiga, that is, a monster smashing things and earnest people in white coats talking SCIENCE(!). I know, I know, Toshio's supposed to be the audience identification figure for the children Daiei was mainly aiming the Gamera movies at, but you can't tell me that anyone - child or not - could watch him going on whining and moping and not come out of the experience hating him with great passion. What makes Toshio even more infuriating is the fact that you could cut all of his scenes out of the film, and nothing at all about the plot would change, making Toshio not only annoying, but also completely useless.

How much you'll be able to enjoy the parts of Gamera that don't contain Toshio will really depend on how hardened your are against annoying child characters in movies. I found myself suffering so much from the child's scenes that I began to wish for odious comic relief instead.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Assignment Naschy: La Maldicion De La Bestia (1975)

aka Night of the Howling Beast

aka Hall of the Mountain King

aka Horror of the Werewolf

aka The Werewolf and the Yeti

In this edition of the long and continuity-challenged cycle of movies about poor beleaguered Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), our hero is a famous psychologist, anthropologist and adventurer. Because of his manifold talents, a certain Professor Lacombe (Josep Castillo Escalona) - coming with the mandatory young, pretty, and soon Wally-adoring daughter (Mercedes Molina) - asks for Waldemar's help mounting an expedition to continue the life's work of a now deceased colleague who was travelling Nepal looking for the Yeti. In fact, the dead scientist managed to find the animal, but making a photo of a yeti and then getting mauled to death by one is no proof for it's existence. Or something.

Anyway, Waldemar does of course agree to help out with the expedition. Once they have arrived in CataloniaNepal, the main body of the expedition stays behind while Waldemar strides forth heroically to find a pass to Yeti Central, an attempt that is the death of his only companion on this part of the journey, and nearly Waldemar's as well.

After some exhausted stumbling through Catanepalia, Waldemar comes upon an inhabited cave, where two women pray to Black Kali and a stone sarcophagus with an arrow in it. Despite saving Waldemar's life and starting a freaky threesome, the two don't have his best interests at heart, for they are cannibalistic witches with lycanthropic tendencies (or something of the sort), and they are planning to turn Waldemar into their companion (he will be an avid lover, or so they say). That arrow sticking out of the sarcophagus comes in handy once Waldemar has found out that his hosts aren't exactly human, but even though he manages to kill the women, one of them gives him a good and proper bite that of course infects our hero with the curse of the wolfman.

While all this has been happening to Waldemar, the rest of the expedition has decided to follow their disappeared friend, but soon find themselves under attack by bandits working for the local potentate, Sekkar Khan (Luis Induni). These bandits are of the "torture the young men, rape and kidnap the women and just kidnap the wise old men" persuasion, so it's no surprise that soon enough not many members of the expedition are left. The Professor, Waldemar's buddy Larry Talbot(!) (Gil Vidal), and Talbot's girlfriend Melody (Veronica Miriel) are captured and brought to the Khan's palace. Sylvia manages to escape only to run straight into the arms of another rape-y group of the bad guys.

Fortunately, it is then that Waldemar re-appears. Even though it is daylight, he's walking around in wolfman form and he's not at all in the mood for rapists. Soon after taking care of Sylvia's attackers, our hero loses his fur again, so it's time for him and Sylvia to try and rescue their kidnapped friends. There are also still a wise monk, more kidnappings, an evil witch/mad scientist named Wandessa (Silvia Solar), some Naschy-style swashbuckling, a short Wolfman versus Yeti fight and a surprise ending waiting in the couple's future.

After the rather boring gothic horror of El Retorno de Walpurgis, actor/scriptwriter and professional wolfman Paul Naschy brought his series of Waldemar Daninsky movies back to their roots, that is to say, into the realm of pulp craziness where he - as I now realize - ruled supreme.

This time around, Naschy has decided to spice up his stew of supernatural silliness with a dollop of adventure movie tropes, and cut down on Waldemar's self-pity. Even though Naschy possibly made the latter decision only because there was no space for the usual whining scenes in his film's allotted running time, it turns Waldemar into a more sympathetic character than he usually is for me; there is a time and place for whining about being a werewolf, but it's pretty difficult to see Waldemar as a tragic figure when he never seems to spend a single thought on the people he killed.

Watching Maldicion, I was also pretty surprised by the film's ending, or rather, I was surprised that Naschy didn't hold to his established formula for the ending this time around, but actually went for something a bit more friendly for this more deserving Waldemar. I don't know if Naschy had an especially optimistic year in '75, if he just wanted to shake things up a little, or if the film's ending was producer mandated; I do know that I like this change, even though I'm a pessimist at heart.

As a writer, Naschy had become quite a bit more proficient at this point in the Daninsky cycle. Sure, especially the film's beginning still features scenes of people telling each other parts of the plot, but generally, Naschy now prefers to show us potentially awesome things instead of just telling us about them. Structurally, Maldicion is still a bit of a mess, but it's one because Naschy has stuffed it full of, well, everything.

While this grab-bag approach to plot (or "plot") construction may be rather problematic if you believe only in the tight, the clear, and the coherent, I can't help but admire it, for I think this approach is based on Naschy's unwillingness to just repeat his favourite elements of a certain Universal movie. It's an attempt to liven things up, even if the narrative has to get crazier with each film and Naschy has to go to more ridiculous lengths with each film, this time around ending up with a film containing witches, werewolves, warlords, yetis, kindly monks and everything else that's wonderful and cheap.

All of this is of course very very silly, a silliness that is further emphasised by the film's brazen attempt to sell late-autumnal/early winter Catalonia as Nepal without even trying a bit of movie magic to make it look that way. The whole adventure movie element, with its bizarre ideas about local dress and culture, is a lot like little kids pretending to be Cowboys and Indians, which of course means that it's much more enjoyable than more earnest attempts would be, at least in the context of a Dansinky movie. Plus, the parts of Catalonia this was filmed in are very picturesque places for a wolfman to wander through, Nepal or not.

But even if you don't like to look at the pretty landscape or to laugh about not-Nepal, Naschy is trying his hardest to find something that might entertain you, so there's his wolfman, a bit of swashbuckling, some near-nudity, somewhat freaky sexiness, utter confusion, some curious Buddhism, a handful of moments of a certain ickiness, romance, a yeti, various witches and half-witches, multi-coloured fluids, a real deus ex machina, a very colourful (remember when movies weren't avoiding colours?) cave, "native" dancing, etc. and so on and so forth, all held together with a shoe-string budget (I suspect) and a clear and wonderful feeling of enthusiasm. Whatever you like in your pulp entertainment, Paul Naschy, director Miguel Iglesias, and La Maldicion de la Bestia have your back, and they have it gladly.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Assignment Naschy: Dr. Jekyll Y El Hombre Lobo (1972)

aka Dr. Jekyll versus The Werewolf (and variations thereof)

After having a little party with their friends, including a certain Doctor Jekyll (Jack Taylor) who doesn't like to be reminded of his grandfather, aging industrialist Imre Kosta (José Marco) and his freshly married wife Justine (Shirley Corrigan) are off to a most romantic honeymoon. The loving couple visits rural Hungary to let Imre breathe the air of the land of his birth and give him an opportunity to visit the graves of his parents - that's what all people do on their honeymoon, right?

The local villagers warn Imre off from going to the old graveyard where his parents lie buried, for the area is infested with murderous bandits and opportunity rapists, and the castle next door is supposed to be inhabited by a monster, but the industrialist, being a man of the world, takes it all for superstition and nonsense. It turns out that we're witnessing darwinistic principles at work here. After visiting the graveyard, Imre is knifed to death by a trio of the non-existent bandits, and Justine's life is only saved with the help of a barrel-chested man dressing like a French existentialist novelist. Hello again, Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), the world's most frequent werewolf. Waldemar - no slouch even when he's not wearing a face full of fur - kills two of Justine's attackers and takes the - by now fainted - woman to his castle where he lives with the local leper and an elderly woman the villagers take for a witch.

After the expected hysterics, Justine just as expectedly falls for the irresistible manly and tragic charms of Waldemar (yes, of course this was scripted by Naschy), even when she learns of his curse; things seem to go well.

Alas, the last surviving bandit is a very bad loser with highly dubious ideas of right and wrong, and begins to obsessively plan Waldemar's demise. The jerk's first plan of attack only costs the lives of some more bandits when he happens to learn that trying to kill a guy you know to be a werewolf on the night of the full moon is a pretty stupid idea. The jerk's second plan is a bit better - not attacking on the night of the full moon, beheading the old woman, and exciting the whole village into a state of torch-wielding mob-dom to do his dirty work for him.

Despite these dangers (and thanks to the modern commodity we know and love as the motorcar), Waldemar and Justine escape to London. There, Justine tells her friend Jekyll all about Waldemar's little werewolf problem, hoping for help.

Although Jekyll is pining for Justine himself, he's putting an honest attempt into helping Waldemar, quite to the disgust of his assistant Sandra (Mirta Miller), who for her part is a) pretty mad and b) pining for Jekyll. The doctor has a fantastic plan to cure Waldemar, too. Just wait for the night of the full moon, pump the man full of the serum that turned Jekyll's grandfather into Mister Hyde, wait until "the absolute evil kills the wolfman", and inject Waldemar with the antidote to the serum Jekyll invented killing off (off-screen, in the past) dozens of guinea pig patients. I can't imagine what could go wrong.

As you will have realized by now, Dr. Jekyll Y El Hombre Lobo is - in a different version of the usual structural eccentricity all scripts written by Paul Naschy I've encountered thus far feature - a film of two very different halves that do suggest an interesting production history to me, what with them being of so very different style and content. The first one is a slightly silly, yet very atmospheric piece of neo-gothic filmmaking that shows off director Leon Klimovsky's talents at more than just racking the zoom lens.

This part of the film is dominated by moody shots of an atmospheric winter landscape (with only a little snow), and is blessed with a modernized version of the play of light and shadow that's so important for everything gothic even in a film that doesn't take place in the olden times. There's also a surprising narrative consistency to the film's first forty minutes. Scenes flow into each other in a manner that makes logical and narrative sense, all important scenes are actually happening on screen, and for once, Naschy's script even manages to convince me that Waldemar is a somewhat tragic figure. The latter may very well have something to do with the simple fact that Waldemar's attempts at not killing random people when he wolfs out seem less half-hearted this time around.

Then, quite abruptly, the film's style and content change. Neo-gothic turns into mock-psychedelic, Spain in winter standing in for Hungary turns into some classical "look, we actually carted Paul Naschy to London for two days" scenes and some not very interesting looking sets, while the not exactly clever, but up to this point at least coherent, plot turns into raving lunacy of the sort that may be inspired by late period Universal movies or poached from the scribbling of an overexcited twelve year old boy. I'm not complaining about it, mind you. As much as I would have liked to watch a Naschy wolfman movie that is coherent yet still good, I won't ever complain about a film turning this delightfully strange.

I can't help but admire the absolute, beautiful wrong-headedness that leads to Paul Naschy playing a wolfman and Mister Hyde - for no good reason but tradition dressed like the Fredric March version - in the same film, as if these figures weren't different sides of the same archetype anyway. As nobody who has ever witnessed Naschy's werewolf performances will doubt, the man plays his Hyde scenes with great relish and enthusiasm.

Our man's script for its part attempts to cram variations on all of Hyde's traditional misdeeds into about fifteen minutes of misdeed time, with a high degree of success. It's as if Naschy and Klimovsky had decided to not just give their audience two films for the price of one but to also cram both films as full with fun stuff™ as they could in a technique that reminds me a bit of the wild abandon of 90s Hong Kong cinema. Sure, this way the pair had to leave sense and coherence behind in the end, but who wants coherence when she can have scenes of Paul Naschy with grey make-up and yellow eyes strolling through early 70s London dressed like a Hollywood Victorian, and nobody around him caring?

If my explorations of Naschy's work have taught me anything, then I surely don't


Saturday, November 5, 2011

In short: Blood Runs Cold (2011)

Winona (Hanna Oldenburg), a popular artist (musician, I suppose, but the film's not making that part too clear) is in dire need of a bit of rest and relaxation, so her manager rents her a house in the deep dark wintery woods somewhere around the town where she grew up in.

When out and about in what just might be the only bar in town, she meets her ex-boyfriend Rick (Patrick Saxe) whom she had left to have a career closer to civilization. In an attempt to rekindle old feelings, Winona invites Rick, his perfectly annoying friend Carl (Andreas Rylander) and Carl's girlfriend Liz (Elin Hugoson) to her house.

Alas, poor Winona had stumbled into the wrong home right from the start and is accidentally squatting in the abode of the local cannibalistic undead serial killer. While Winona is sleeping, the axe-wielding and very hungry killer gets rid of her guests for good. The following day will find Winona going toe to toe with her very grumpy host.

Generally, it's never a good sign when a movie's marketing material tries to turn its budget into a selling point. It comes over either as an attempt to excuse a film's flaws or as way too self-congratulatory. I don't think director Sonny Laguna's Swedish $5000 movie (or so the marketing tells me) Blood Runs Cold is good fit for either of the two, for it has mostly the same flaws and troubles any other contemporary ultra-generic slasher movie has.

Problem number one is, of course, the film's desaturated look, keeping with the adage that having actual colour in a movie instead of kinda-sorta colour is something that is to be avoided at all costs. After all, there's no great tradition of horror directors working on a budget using intense colours to good effect at all, right?

Problem number two is the cast's pretty variable acting that isn't completely horrible all the time, but fluctuates between basically alright and pretty horrible without ever reaching the exalted heights of being horrible or alright in a compelling way. I don't think it helps the quality of the performances that the Swedish actors are all speaking English. While it's clear that everyone actually understands what he or she says, and their accents are a lot better than my own, the English dialogue does make the acting look more artificial. It also adds unnecessary distance to the film as a whole; it's more difficult to lose yourself in a movie - a state a film with a plot this thin and full of the usual slasher movie holes needs a viewer to get into - when the all-Swedish cast for some reason decides to speak English with each other all the time.

The rest of the film is slasher movie by numbers. Although there are two or three tense moments, and nothing about the film is technically bad, the film lacks a personality of its own. I have seen everything that's going on here a million times before, so a film really needs to do something original or strange to keep me interested. Blood Runs Cold unfortunately doesn't.

So yes, Blood Runs Cold proves you can make a middling slasher movie for $5000 that is just as middling and basically okay as a movie that cost twenty times as much. I just don't think this is an achievement I should be praising.


Friday, November 4, 2011

On WTF: The Incite Mill (2010)

While the once great Takashi Shimizu makes absolutely horrible films now, that other core director of the Japanese horror renaissance Hideo Nakata seems to have slowly recovered from his horrible US The Ring 2. Nakata's making thrillers with SF elements now, and he's actually very good at it.

Case in point is The Incite Mill, the film I talk about at length over at WTF-Film today.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

In short: The Five Man Army (1969)

Somewhere in revolutionary Mexico. Certified criminal genius The Dutchman (Peter Graves) summons a group of old acquaintances and friends for a heist. Knife-throwing swordsman Samurai (Tetsuro Tanba, trying to go broaden his reign of being in every Japanese film to Italian cinema too), food-fixated strongman Mesito (Bud Spencer), explosives expert and cardsharp Captain Augustus (James Daly) and unsuccessful bank robber and former trapeze artist Luis Dominguez (Nino Castelnuovo) are perfectly willing to take part in one of the Dutchman's plans, seeing they all have hit rock bottom in one way or the other.

The Dutchman has been hired by Mexican revolutionaries to steal half a million dollar of foreign bribes in gold that are bound to be delivered to the military dictator of the day, and instead give them to the revolution. Officially, every member of the Dutchman's team is promised a thousand dollars, but he heavily hints at further plans to steal the gold from the revolutionaries too.

However, before anyone can think about any kind of double-cross, there are a few problems to solve. Chief among these problems is that the gold is being transported in a heavily armed and guarded train only a fool or an army would take on in a frontal assault. Fortunately, the Dutchman is quite the planner when it comes to impossible missions.

From time to time, Italian producers didn't just import a handful of foreign stars to improve their films' chances at success in international markets, but also made attempts to give the director's chair to an American. Usually, these films didn't amount to much, for the US directors were generally of the dependable workhorse type of filmmaker badly equipped to work through the peculiarities of Italian scripting practices, as well as just not the sort of visual stylists many of even the lesser Italian directors were.

The Five Man Army's director Don Taylor is quite a good example of the type of American willing to do this type of work for hire. As a very experienced director mostly working on TV, Taylor is enamoured of a straightforward point and shoot style that makes the film look visually impoverished when compared to other Spaghetti Western. Ironically, how much of the film was actually directed by Taylor is not clear at all. Depending on the source, Taylor either directed most everything or was replaced by the film's producer Italo Zingarelli after a day or so. Since not even the actors playing in the damn thing are telling the same story about its production history, we will probably never know for sure.

Personally, I'd go with Taylor as the film's main director, though, because Five Man Army looks like the product of exactly the kind of director Taylor was, someone who doesn't have much of an eye for beauty or for mood, but who knows how to keep a film moving. The script (curiously co-written by US animation writer Marc Richards and Dario Argento) plays more to Taylor's strengths as a director than is normal in this sort of project, replacing much of the moral ambiguity and cynicism typical of the Spaghetti Western with more easily digestible boy's adventure tropes, and featuring a narrative that is as straightforward as the director's style.

Consequently, Five Man Army isn't much to talk about as a Spaghetti Western, but works perfectly fine as a straightforward Western with (also straightforward) heist movie elements. Plus, it has a pretty great scene where Tetsuro Tanba hacks an office full of soldiers to pieces while Nino Castelnuovo looks on with a shocked expression, which is something that can't be said about many Westerns, Spaghetti or not.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: INVISIBLE and DEADLY!

White: The Melody of the Curse (2011): At first, I thought South Korean former experimental film director brothers' Kim Gok and Kim Sun's horror movie taking place in idol circles would be quite the thing. It is, after all, stylishly shot, solidly acted and interested in exploring the point where melodrama and horror movie - both emotional and visceral genres - meet while throwing mild barbs in the direction of showbiz, and therefore perfectly inside my areas of interest. Unfortunately, after fifty minutes or so, the film begins to drag quite horribly, its plot moving off into a direction that is slightly surprising but not all that interesting. Mainly, though, it moves slowly, until all the goodwill it has built evaporates or transforms into mild disinterest. If I were of a nasty disposition, I'd suggest that what we have here is a movie that only had enough material for seventy minutes of running time but had to be bloated up to a hundred minutes by any means necessary.

Terra Nova (2011): I don't usually talk about contemporary US TV here anymore, but I wanted to at least turn some of the time of my life the pilot to this show - which is as much as I'll ever want to see of it - stole from me into something worthwhile. If you think that the best way to set up a show about a US (the rest of the world doesn't exist, as we know) project to colonize an alternative timeline Jurassic age is to let us view this potentially exciting world through the eyes of that classical US family (though Mum has a British accent) I have come to hate with a passion through overexposure, then you're probably Brannon Braga and Steven Spielberg. Also, creatively bankrupt. As if it weren't enough to make the central cast direly uninteresting, the show also shows them to be ridiculously egotistic, but obviously wants the audience to admire them for that, too. We can also look forward to old auto-plotting chestnuts like the whiny male teenager who will surely learn the meaning of "family" one of these episodes. And while I'm mentioning the word "family" - I think the script writers had a bet going how often they were able to shoehorn the word in; painfully often, it turns out.

Gorath (1962): To end this on a continuing down note, let me just state that this is the only Ishiro Honda movie I've seen I barely could stomach at all. Despite the appearance (or not, depending on the cut you see) of a decidedly silly walrus monster, this is a movie living in that area of the SF movie where only the insufferably po-faced dwell. Expect characters sacrificing themselves, young military officers singing rousingly and ideas about women coming from the least enlightened corners of the 50s.

I'm not usually one for calling movies out for taking themselves too seriously (rather for taking themselves not serious enough), but I have make an exception for Gorath.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Assignment Naschy: Assignment Terror (1970)

Original title: Los Monstruos Del Terror

aka Dracula vs. Frankenstein

A group of aliens from a slowly freezing planet decide to take over Earth to ensure their continued existence after that thing with the artificial sun hasn't worked out for them. Their invasion plan has a certain whiff of Plan 9, what with them transferring alien minds into the dead bodies of scientists Dr. Warnoff (Michael Rennie), Maleva Kerstein (Karin Dor) and Dr. Kirian (Ángel del Pozo). These undead scientists then begin to gather around them various classic monsters to experiment on so that humanity can be conquered by their own fears, or to just build an army out of them, or something. The aliens first revive Count Dracula and/or Nosferatu (Manuel de Blas) - obviously found as a skeleton in a sideshow tent -, then everyone's favourite werewolf Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), then a surprisingly creepy looking mummy (Gene Reyes), and finally - coughing innocently - the monster of Farancksalan (Ferdinando Murolo), whom I'd imagined bigger.

Because the aliens leave behind quite a few dead bodies in these activities, Inspector Tobermann (Craig Hill) of the city police(!) is soon on the case. Alas, the good Inspector is really more interested in listening to exposition, sexing his mandated romantic interest Ilsa (Patty Shepard), and hallucinating "humorously", so he does not make much progress at all.

Fortunately, mankind is protected by something much stronger than Tobermann: human emotions that can easily influence a corpse-riding alien to become quite a bit nicer, especially if it is female (woman's intuition, the film explains). Well, that, plus Waldemar turns out to be quite a bit more heroic than the supposed hero of the piece in what I assume is one of the perks of being played by the scriptwriter.

After my last visit in Paul Naschy land lead me to encounter a surprisingly un-silly piece of filmmaking, I decided to go back a few years in the Daninsky cycle to a film directed by Tulio Micheli and written by Naschy and possibly (never trust the IMDB) a few other people. That's something easily done in a series of movies without much of a continuity. In this respect, the Daninsky films are on the same level as the equally free-form adventures of El Santo, with whom Naschy also shared his basic body form and favourite sport. Someone should really write a short story about El Santo and Waldemar Daninsky teaming up.

But I digress. Quite unlike El Retorno De Walpurgis, and even more so than the earlier Daninsky films, Assignment Terror is a full-time monster mash that uses what there is of a plot exclusively to put everything on screen your basic monster movie loving kid and adult adores. Body-snatching aliens, variations of all four classic Universal monsters, a bit of mind control, some happy mad science ranting by Rennie, a lab with more blinking lights than most Christmas trees, monster bashing and monsters mashing, chauvinist nonsense, Paul Naschy being irresistible to women, and even some slight eurospy stylings coming from Craig Hill - the only thing the film, at least in the cut I saw, leaves out is some friendly nudity.

Now I have obviously reached the point in this review where I should begin to criticize Assignment Terror for its non-plot, the sometimes cardboard-y sets, and the fact that it is utter nonsense. That, however, would be quite a bit more nonsensical than anything the movie itself puts on screen, for Assignment Terror was not made to fulfil my silly ideas of what a "good movie" is supposed to look like or do, nor to further my love for films peeking into the subconscious of Paul Naschy. The reason for this particular film's existence (apart from parting people from their money) is plain and simply to reiterate one important point that has been at the core of my philosophy of life for years now, and certainly had an equally strong influence on Naschy's thinking: monsters are awesome.