Thursday, December 20, 2018

It is time

for the blog to close down for the rest of the year. Normal service will resume on January, 4th.

Please feel yourself greeted with whatever seasonal greeting applies to you!
Obviously, I'm not going to leave without a song:

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

In Darkness (2018)

Warning: I’m going to spoil the final twist and a lot of what comes before it, but it’s the film’s own damn fault!

Blind pianist Sofia (Natalie Dormer) leads a rather solitary life in London, clearly not having any close friends or family. One can’t help but get the impression that – outside of her work in an orchestra – stumbling onto her party girl upstairs neighbour Veronique (Emily Ratajkowski) from time to time is the closest human contact she’s got.

So it might come as a surprise to the audience when Sofia acoustically witnesses what sounds very much like the murder of Veronique and pretends neither to have known the girl nor to have heard the murder when questioned by the investigating policeman Mills (Neill Maskell). She also doesn’t mention how Veronique managed to get her a gig playing at a private party of the girl’s Serbian war criminal turned politically protected philanthropist father Radic (Jan Bijvoet).

Clearly, Sofia has some secrets of her own that somehow connect to the Yugoslavian Civil War - secrets so big, she doesn’t even come clean when she’s hunted for a USB stick Veronique managed to hide with her without her noticing. Also involved will be Radic’s right hand woman (Joely Richardson) and her brother and private hitman Marc (Ed Skrein). But we all know how professional killers are with blind women.

For the longest part of its running time, I was rather enamoured with Anthony Byrne’s In Darkness, particularly the immensely stylish ways the director finds to acoustically but also visually impress the importance of sound to its lead character, emphasising the sources of sounds and the way sound travels in the staging of many scenes.

It’s a visually rich and striking film, turning nights strangely colourful while still emphasizing the shadows at the core of its complicated and emotionally somewhat twisted plots, while never seeming to overindulge in technical trickery, creating an often dream-like world for its thriller plot to take place in instead of the surface realistically one many examples of the genre prefer. In this it shares – at least in my eyes – the feel of the best giallos, though there is, of course, a lot of Hitchcock visible too. Hitchcock is a rather unavoidable influence, really, for In Darkness doesn’t just wallow in the creation of atmosphere but is also equally adept at classicist suspense scenes, even sharing Hitchcock’s ability to turn moments that should be absolutely silly (the scene where Sofia attempts to hide a poison vial so that Radic doesn’t see it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever when you think about it, for example) into little nail biters. Some blind main character standard thriller scenes also make an appearance, but in Byrne’s hands, these turn out to be just as thrilling as they were the first time, many decades ago. There are also some wonderful action sequences, like the one where Marc saves Sofia from a bit of torture and murder, the film keeping the focus on the matter of factness with which Marc uses violence, showing instead of telling that he must do this sort of thing every day.

Dormer’s (who was also involved in the script) performance is wonderful too, at first suggesting all kinds of things going on behind a very calm facade, then always finding just the right measure for cracks in the facade to appear. She also manages – something that must be particularly difficult because this is the point where many a good performance in a thriller of this sort falters – to convince the audience that the moments when Sofia breaks down completely (and the film provides her with some psychologically nasty reasons for breaking down) are logical consequences of her character, her past, and what is happening right now, and not just the moments when the plot needs her to break down. The film has good performances all around, anyway. Especially Richardson’s Alex is a wonderfully sarcastic and ambiguous presence. Why, even Ed Skrein is sort of okay in this one.

As a movie about vengeance, In Darkness is a surprisingly complicated film too, never trying to convince the audience Sofia’s plan is either right or wrong, only that it feels like an emotional necessity to her, yet also acknowledging that she might very well be lying to herself there too. She is after, all lying to everyone else all of the time, too.

Which brings us to the film’s final plot twist, a moment so self-sabotaging and plain stupid it is difficult to reconcile it with the slick, self-assured and intelligent rest of the film. For, you see, Sofia isn’t actually blind, but apparently so deeply into The Method she’s even pretending to be blind when she’s home alone with only the camera to see her, able to block all her natural reflexes connected to her eyesight completely. Why she’s a real life Natalie Dormer, and Matt Murdock’s got nothing on her! Apart from the stupidity, needlessness - there’s no reason for her not to be blind apart from the film just wanting another plot twist – and somewhat ableist (never thought I’d use that word, but here we are) vibe of the twist, it also retroactively dumbs down what came before. Suddenly, at least half of the suspense sequences I enjoyed so much make now no sense whatsoever. The film’s concentration on sound? Just a distraction instead of a meaningful expression of its protagonist’s world through style. Half of Sofia’s actions? Utterly preposterous now. It’s as destructive a final plot twist as I’ve ever suffered through as a viewer; perhaps even worse is that I can’t even imagine why anyone involved might have thought this to be a good idea.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

In short: Someday, Someone Will Be Killed (1984)

Original title: いつか誰かが殺される

Made in the same year as Fine, With Occasional Murders, and again starring Noriko Watanabe, this one makes an educational contrast with its contemporary film. Someday, directed by Yoichi Sai who would go on to have a pretty interesting career in Japanese and South Korean cinema, is also one of Kadokawa’s cross-media ready films, it’s just much more like you’d expect this sort of thing to actually turn out than Fine, With was.

Structurally and plot-wise, this tale of a young woman (Watanabe) stepping into an espionage conspiracy her father is involved in, is strictly a mess. It is full of pointless scenes like the double musical number consisting of first a pretty dubious piece of Japanese reggae, that is then followed by Watanabe doing things to poor old “Summertime” so horrible, I felt myself waiting for the film playing it as a joke (it didn’t) clearly only in there to hawk other Kadokawa product in the worst possible way. Character arcs never really go anywhere, the plot isn’t really resolved in a dramatic way so much as that it just slowly crawls to a halt, and all the going back and forth by our protagonists is really rather pointless in regards to anything that happens in the plot. On the plus side, the people helping our heroine out are a motley gang of international trademark law offenders, so at least Someday puts a bit of effort into establishing its anti-establishment credentials.

Some parts of the film are clearly meant as something of a bittersweet coming-of-age story for Watanabe’s character, but the script as well as the actress underplay this in a way that robs it of all dramatic and emotional impact; the film’s leaden pacing is no help here, either.

Tonally, this is theoretically more consistent than Fine’s general goofiness (with occasional murders, as promised), alas that tone is so bland this turns out to be a weakness instead of a strength.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Fine, With Occasional Murders (1984)

Original title: 晴れ、ときどき殺人

Twenty-year old Kanako Kitazato (Noriko Watanabe) returns home to Japan from studying abroad in the USA only to find her businesswoman mother nearly on her death bed. As the audience knows, and mother will tell on her actual death bed, she was witness to the murder of a prostitute. She didn’t actually see the killer, yet he somehow manages to find her, threaten her daughter’s life and blackmail the tough old bat into wrongly identifying an innocent as the killer. Said innocent promptly commits suicide by jumping from a window and landing right in front of the woman’s feat, because this is just that kind of movie. Mom’s already ill heart can’t stand all this, therefore the death bed. She did hire a private investigator in the meantime, though, and even found evidence all on her own which connects the blackmailer and killer with someone very close to her. Unfortunately, she dies just when she’s about to reveal the name of this traitor to her daughter. Because it is that kind of movie, too.

So it’s left to Kanako to sort through the whole affair, with the help of another guy the police is hunting for another prostitute murder, and whom she’ll hide away in her mum’s secret office where he proceeds to design a flying bike (I got nothing). As it turns out, it’s good there’s at least one nice man in poor Kanako’s life now, for everyone else surrounding her is either a jerk, a sleaze, a would-be rapist or just an all-around shit, providing her not only with a very unhappy time but also with more suspects than an Edgar Wallace movie.

At the beginning of the 80s, Japanese cinema was commercially at its lowest point, apparently unable to withstand the repeated battering it received by television. Media company Kadokawa developed a method to get their movie business back in the red again by developing what we’d today probably would call cross-media franchises, making a movie based on a book published in-house, probably with a manga adaptation, and casting an idol in the lead to sell records and photo books, too. It was certainly a forward-thinking and highly influential way of going about things, and the films the company made were certainly commercially successful; it’s not exactly how you get genre cinema with much of a personal feel, of course.

Still, director Kazuyuki Izutsu’s film doesn’t feel as completely like a product as one might perhaps expect. It does, at the very least, contain quite a few peculiarities of the kind I know and love from Japanese genre cinema of all decades and places in the budgetary hacking order. There is, particularly, a decided strangeness about many a moment in the film that doesn’t feel focus group tested but personally idiosyncratic. Quite a few scenes here are just too plain peculiar for the film they are in not to be at least interesting. At least if you’re like me and like your comedic mystery thrillers with a dollop of the inexplicably weird, like the only good man’s flying bike, which certainly has a metaphorical meaning to a guy hunted by the police and a girl beleaguered by a horde of utterly shitty people but is just a bit too goofy to be only that. Or take moments like Kanako doing a sad aerobics dance after the death of her mother, which is just an inexplicable thing to include. Unless someone involved in the production confused sad aerobics and sexy aerobics.

Tonally, this thing is all over the place, usually in a highly entertaining manner, reaching from kitschy melodrama (some of mom’s early scenes are like Hitchcock as seen through a supermarket romance novel sensibility) to various kinds of comedy – from slapstick to Japanese deadpan over puns – with some surprise sleaze and your more expected moments of normal thriller business.

It’s all very light and fluffy, in a way, and nobody will expect things to turn out badly for Kanako in the end, but this feeling of fluffiness comes from Izutsu underplaying his film’s darker sides rather purposefully. And there’s quite a bit of darkness here. This is, after all, a movie where a childhood acquaintance our heroine is supposed to marry (news to her, of course) tries to rape her in front of her mother’s corpse, where the killer is basically a giallo character, and where everyone around her turns out to be a horrible human being. These, obviously, are not elements you’d usually find in an early 80s movie trying to be commercial, but their inclusion at the very least makes With Occasional Murder quite a bit less predictable, and therefore much more entertaining than you’d probably expect going in.

That Izutsu’s direction is always stylish and interesting to look at goes nearly without saying – Japanese studio cinema was never anything less – as does the fact that he’s from time to time getting downright artful (my personal favourite is the change to very mobile handcamera for the wake scenes to emphasise their stress and confusion).

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: You'll float too.

Drifter (2016): I’m not always a fan of too knowing exploitation movie throwbacks, but Chris von Hoffman’s post-apocalyptic (one assumes) cannibal town trip mostly knows when it’s okay to wink and when to be straight. It’s a very low budget affair, so a prospective viewer should adjust accordingly and cope with a script that sometimes drags a bit, dialogue that isn’t always spot on, and other minor flaws of this kind. On the other hand, the film is much better acted than most films in its bracket, is shot with a lot of style and a great feel for making the most out of the available locations (none of which is one of those damn warehouses), and generally gives the impression of a movie made by people who know what they want and what they are doing. It will probably be not quite a new cult classic for anyone, but I came out of it entertained and with respect for the filmmakers.

Wheelman (2017): Speaking of throwbacks, this Netflix production directed by Jeremy Rush certainly is inspired by crime and car based movies of the 70s, though it does look and feel very much like a slick 2010s production, particularly since Rush opts for the not terribly 70s gimmick of shooting most of the film in the car. That technique could have resulted in strained artiness, but in Rush’s hands, it actually feels like a way to let the audience share the tension of a main character (Frank Grillo still very much in what looks and feels like his unexpected career high to me) completely out of his depth in more than one regard. Plus, the director is playful enough even to have a great moment where the car that audience and character(s) share changes, and knows when to move his camera out of the damn thing, so the story – simple as it may be – doesn’t end up overwhelmed by the way it is told. On the writing side, this is very competent and entertaining genre business, not terribly surprising, but made with too much verve for that to matter terribly much.

Bay Coven (1987): This NBC TV movie about a couple of mostly likeable yuppies – Pamela Sue Martin and Tim Matheson – moving to a strange island community that will turn out to have rather problematic traditions (at least if one values one’s life and one’s sanity), was made in a time when supernatural horror wasn’t really the thing to do on TV anymore. Director Carl Schenkel doesn’t seem to care, though, and tells a merry, American Gothic tale of witchcraft, insanity, and a very peculiar kind of marital trouble most couples won’t encounter in their lifetime with a degree of verve. There are quite few effective spooky moments, as well as some entertainingly silly ones, a proper dramatic climax, and even a director and script (by Tim Kring very early in his career) who realize they are also making a film about female anxieties about alienation from one’s partner, and the secrets and lies in a marriage, and make proper use of the possibilities this offers them.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Past Misdeeds: La Venganza De La Momia (1973)

aka The Mummy's Revenge

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. Pharaoh Amenhotep (Paul Naschy) - please don't ask which Amenhotep he's supposed to be - is too much of a tyrant even for ancient Egyptian expectations of leadership. The pharaoh and his favourite concubine Amarna (Rina Ottolina) just love to enliven a meal by torturing virgins to death, and making a drink out of said virgins' blood.

The couple lives the evil dream until the high priest of Amun-Ra decides that enough is enough with the virgin killing, and poisons them. Because a mere death by poison isn't enough to pay for Amenhotep's misdeeds, the priest curses the pharaoh's soul to be forever trapped in the body of his mummy, never to be able to even step in front of the gods for them to weigh his worthiness.

Centuries later, in the Victorian era to be exact, a couple of married American archaeologists, Nathan (Jack Taylor) and Abigail Stern (María Silva) open Amenhotep's hidden tomb, and carry the pharaoh's mummy, his sarcophagus and a few papyri to the British Museum for Natural History. The couple's expedition was financed by Sir Douglas Carter (Eduardo Calvo). Carter once was an adventurous archaeologist like them, but now he is elderly, wheelchair-bound and rather sickly. Taking care of him takes up most of the time of his daughter Helen (Rina Ottolina again - and we all know what that means in a mummy movie).

Some time later, Egyptian archaeologist Assad Bey (Naschy again) and his girlfriend/assistant Zanufer (Helga Liné) arrive in London and take an interest in Amenhotep's mummy. Carter is surprisingly willing to share his findings with them. The first thing he does is excitedly reading one of the papyri to the new colleagues. In it Amenhotep - warned of the danger to his life by prophetic dreams - lays down how his mummy can be revived. It only takes the sacrifice of three virgins…

And wouldn't you know it, Assad Bey and Zanufer are cultists out to revive Assad Bey's ancestor Amenhotep, so that he can punish those who steal and abuse Egyptian culture?

London's virgin population soon finds itself greatly threatened and Amenhotep's mummy (also Naschy, of course) is revived and "disappears" from the museum after unnecessarily crushing the skull of a poor watchman. Amenhotep turns out to be a talking member of the mummy species, so he explains the next step of his plans to Assad Bey and Zanufer himself. Before he will do anything else, the ex-pharaoh wants to revive his beloved Amarna - say what you will about him, but at least Amenhotep is devoted to the woman he loves. To that end, he needs another seven virgins. Poor virgins of London.

While the virgins are hunted down - I'd really love to know how our Egyptian friends manage to hone in on them so easily, they are not all brides just before the wedding night after all - London's police force is doing sod all. Fortunately, Professor Stone wants his mummy back, and even though he doesn't believe in walking mummies and curses, he does think Assad Bey and Zanufer are somehow involved in the disappearance of Amenhotep. Hopefully, he and Abigail can do something about it before all seven further virgins are bled dry. Obviously, Amenhotep has set eyes on Helen as the obvious choice for his new Amarna.

Everyone even slightly familiar with the body of work of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy probably realizes that one of the ambitions of his life must have been to play the role of every classic (as in "featured in a classic Universal movie") movie monster at least once in his life. By 1973, there was only the mummy left, so a mummy Naschy became in a film directed by Carlos Aured, and of course written by himself.

For once, and very much to my surprise, Naschy doesn't write his character as a jerk the script insists is a tragic figure even though he clearly isn't. Amenhotep is an unrepentant bastard whose only positive character trait is his love for Amarna, but since Amarna is just as much of a monster as he is, this theoretically positive character trait is only cause for a lot of dead virgins and crushed heads. Of course, Naschy still can't help himself and includes a kissing scene between the mummy and Helen, but at least she's pretty much sleepwalking in that scene and it's important for the film's ending, so we don't necessarily have to read it as another one of Naschy's thousands of attempts to write all of his characters as sexually irresistible to all women they meet.

Naschy's other role as Assad Bey is a bit more complex. He's not a much more moral character than Amenhotep is, but his evil is of a more human dimension, infused with enough doubts to make him somewhat sympathetic without the film ever making the mistake of some of the Daninsky films of pretending he is the film's true hero. It's not too difficult to understand Bey's motivation - the slow bleeding out of his country's culture by western graverobbers with a more pleasant title - the problem lies with his methods. Insert my "what have these virgins ever done to you speech?" here.

There is a surprising amount of interesting and likeable detail in the film's script: there's the insinuation that Sir Carter's marriage with his Egyptian wife couldn't withstand the pressure that sort of thing would have had to survive in the Victorian era; the lovely way the American archaeologist couple does everything together, from archaeology to puzzling over mysteries Scotland Yard is too dumb to solve to breaking and entering, an idea of how couples are supposed to work together that is also darkly mirrored in Zanufer and Amenhotep and absolutely speaks to my romantic spirit; the way Zanufer changes her mind about her life's work once she realizes what a bad influence Amenhotep is on Assad Bey and learns to like Helen. It's all a bit deeper than you'd need things in what is at its core a simple monster romp to be, and makes the movie a much more interesting watch. The script is also more tightly constructed than many of Naschy's films are, with all appropriate transitional scenes there and accounted for, no important scene only talked about after the fact instead of shown, and character development that makes perfect sense in the world of pulp horror.

Carlos Aured's direction works well with this script. The film's detailed (how do I know the film is set in the Victorian era? Because there's a picture of Victoria hanging on the Inspector's wall) yet not exactly naturalistic sets and the handful of location shots seem deeply - and fittingly - influenced by early Universal horror, with a lot of fog and shadows whenever Amenhotep stalks his virginal prey but also with some minor, appreciable, gore effects like in the scene where Amenhotep decides that none of the seven virgins he, Assad Bey and Zanufer caught is pretty enough to host Amarna's soul to his satisfaction, and goes on to crush one virgin head after the other like a petulant child. One wouldn't call Aured's direction tight today, but there's a nice enough flow to the proceedings.

All in all, La Venganza De La Momia may be a relatively minor entry into Naschy's body of work, but it's also one of the man's films that is neither batshit insane nor slapdash mummery, and might make a good entry point for viewers looking to start with Naschy without wanting to go in at the deep end. It should be a fun time for anyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

In short: Jack Frost (1997)

Thanks to small town sheriff Sam (Christopher Allport), hard-travelling serial killer Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) has finally been apprehended. When he’s being carted off overland to his place of execution, a nice murder/accident combination involving a crash with a truck carrying a mysterious “genetic material” turns the killer into a living, moving snowman in the traditional style. Well, actually, he looks and moves a bit (a lot) cardboard-y, but let’s not speak ill of a guy who has the sartorial sense to pop in a carrot nose (please don’t ask what he’s going to use it for later, sensitive reader) and all the other accoutrements of his new status as killer snowman. Except for the top hat, alas.

As luck will have it, all of this happened just inside the borders of the town Sheriff Sam polices, so Jack’s right away getting started on killing people in absurd – what else would one expect of a killer snowman – ways. He’s planning to visit Sam and his family eventually. Just before the town is cut off from the rest of the world by the mandatory snow, a rude special agent (Stephen Mendel) and the usual whiny and possibly slightly mad scientist responsible for whatever turned Frost quite this frosty arrive as a rather dubious kind of cavalry. But as we all know, one can’t keep a good US small town down. Particularly one armed with hair dryers.

As my frequent imaginary readers know, I’m not terribly fond of films that have their tongues planted quite this firmly in their cheeks, nor do I have much love for films that go the “see, we know that this is bad, but it’s bad on purpose, so it’s actually good” route. So by all rights, I should hate Michael Cooney’s Jack Frost. Curiously enough, I don’t. Now, it may be the charitable spirit of the season taking possession of me, but watching this, I quickly and repeatedly found my mouth twitching into that strange facial expression humans call a “smile”; sometimes slight guffawing followed; there may even have been a bit of actual laughter involved. Why, it’s as if the film’s jokes are actually repeatedly funny, and as if Cooney hides a rather great talent for comical timing under the surface of the film’s ironic badness. As a matter of fact, the film as a whole is rather well paced, with every little comical and absurd little set piece actually pulling the simple plot forward.

Even better for my tastes, the film demonstrates a fine understanding of how a traditional cheap shoddy horror movie about a rampaging small town monster works, and adds, between the more obvious bits of nonsense, some really clever twists on the formula. I found myself falling a bit in love with Jack Frost’s sense for the deadpan, too, for while there’s a lot of goofy absurdity going on, it plays a lot of these scenes wonderfully straight (which of course only increases the absurdity of the whole affair), often pretending it is a perfectly straightforward little B-movie, yes sir! So expect very serious hair dryer fights, and an inspired scene in which the scientist explains that Jack’s turning into a killer snowman through SCIENCE(!) is proof of the existence of a soul.

I don’t know about that, but Jack Frost the movie certainly has one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Witch in the Window (2018)

Warning: vague spoilers about the ending and more concrete ones about the film’s themes will be forthcoming!

Simon (Alex Draper) and his wife Beverly (Arija Bareikis) have been separated, though not divorced, for some time now. Simon’s going to take their twelve year-old son Finn (Charlie Tacker) for the summer. This isn’t just going to give father and son some of that quality time you hear about, but should also put a bit of distance between a mother who seems to be in full on “oh, these horrible modern times!” mode that’s bordering on the unhealthy right now and a kid who is twelve, and therefore bound to react badly towards overprotectiveness of this or any sort.

It’s not bound to be a boring vacation for Finn and his father, though, for Simon has bought an old farmhouse somewhere in rural Vermont, aiming to fix it up and flip it. It’s all well and good for a time, but there’s something very wrong about the house. It is haunted by the malevolent spirit of Lydia (Carol Stanzione), the former owner whose corpse was found looking out of an upstairs window. But what at first seems to be a conventional haunting and threat turns out to be stranger and perhaps less evil than it at first appears, at least in a sense.

Andy Mitton’s follow-up to the wonderful We Go On – produced for Shudder – is again a ghost story, and again an excellent film, even though I heartily disagree with some of the conclusions about the boundlessness of fatherly love it makes towards the end. But then, there’s clearly a cultural difference between the American insistence on protecting children from every little bit of knowledge about the world and my more laissez faire European attitudes standing between the film and me. However, while I disagree with the film’s ideas about protection and parental love, and find what is clearly meant to be a comparatively positive ending rather disagreeable (just imagine your father’s ghost lingering protectively over your teenage bed while you masturbate, and ask yourself if that’s really such a pleasant, cosy feeling; as a man whose father died when he was five, I hope his ghost has better things to do with his time), as I do the usual bourgeois cliché about the city being the place of all evil, which is particularly ironic in a film whose only actual evil takes place in the country. These things are not just some random musings sprinkled around the core of the film but part and parcel of what’s going on all of the time. At least, they do make psychological sense for the characters; my objection is that the film seems to agree with Simon’s reasoning so completely and so comes to underplay the horror of what is happening in the end rather terribly.

On a more practical level, I find little that isn’t to admire about the film. There’s a lovely organic feeling about The Witch’s slow start that’s all about introducing the viewer to the characters, creating a father-son duo that feels likeable and taken from life. There’s an extraordinary warmth to Draper’s performance that sells Simon as a father, as well as a warm and suffering human being. Tacker isn’t quite as consistently great – no child actor is ever quite perfect but that’s okay – but his interactions with Draper always ring true. Mitton really takes his time in fleshing this central relationship out, and the later parts of the film work much better thanks to its careful and thoughtful treatment.

When it comes to the scary parts, at first The Witch in the Window seems to be a rather straightforward ghost story with the sort of scares you’d expect of it and its creepy ghost lady; very well realized scares, mind you. Further developments turn towards a weirder direction, playing very effectively with time, space and mind of Simon.

So, while I disagree with The Witch in the Window on many philosophical and ideological points, I still very much appreciate and recommend it. If nothing else, it’s a prime example of how to write a script whose elements are truly coming together to make a thematic whole; something quite a few filmmakers working on the more mainstream side of horror could learn from.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

In short: Possessed (1999)

Original title: Besat

A man flies to Denmark from Romania, only to die shortly after from a mysterious illness whose symptoms are rather congruent with Ebola. When his boss does his very best to downplay the thing and doesn’t even put in the proper care investigating things, highly ambitious virologist Soren (Ole Lemmeke), decides this is his best bet for the big time and waltzes off to Romania with his girlfriend and student Sarah (Kirsti Eline Torhaug) in tow to trace another case with the same symptoms there. Because he has all the diplomatic ability of a Trump, things become rather hairy.

In the film’s parallel plot-line, a mysterious man (Udo Kier!) we will later learn can be described as a rogue astrologist has followed the sick man from Romania using a fake passport. He seems rather fond of burning down things while investigating something we aren’t quite sure about, so the Danish police is after him soon enough. Let’s just say that Satan is apparently a bit like a virus, and it’s time for the end of days.

This film produced by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa and directed by Anders Rønnow Klarlund is a rather interesting effort: a horror film cleverly mixing possession horror with the viral outbreak thriller made at a time when European horror wasn’t much of a thing outside of Spain and the UK, presented on a scale small enough not to need large crowd scenes of rampaging infected. In its early stages, it can be a bit of a dry movie, taking slightly more time until it allows its audience the opportunity to see some of its big picture than is strictly necessary.

In later stages, it is exactly this dryness that makes the film’s best parts work. It can be, it turns out, an efficient tactic to create suspense by underplaying things so that suddenly, a relatively simple, cleverly thought out, action sequence like Possessed's climax can turn into a bit of a nail biter. Its general understatedness does stand the film in good stead otherwise too, helping it getting around the silliness of a plot that, after all, asks its audience to believe Udo Kier is some kind of badass member of a Satan-fighting cult of astrologists, or that even someone who is as much of a prick as Soren would go so far as to dig out some grieving people’s dead son on their own property. Thing is, in the calm manner the film portrays them, these things are downright believable and logical.

On the visual side, the film does suffer a bit from the great colour shortage that seems to have struck film productions particularly in the late 90s and early 00s, so most scenes here seem to contain exactly one colour (unlike black and white films, which at least had two) - very often vomit green or urine yellow, of course, perhaps artfully representing the characters’ wish to visit the toilet soon. But seriously, despite this visual annoyance that’s very much of his film’s time, Klarlund does manage to create a sense of a darkened mood and of slowly increasing dread.

In its unassuming (Danish?) way, Possession really is a very fine movie.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Uncle Sam (1996)

After years of being missing in action, the US military finds the corpse of Master Sergeant Sam Harper (David “Shark” Fralick) who died in a friendly fire incident. Sam’s “return” does awaken very bad memories in his wife Louise (Anne Tremko) who is just barely getting over years of physical and psychological abuse she had to suffer from him. His sister Sally (Leslie Neale) certainly doesn’t feel any better about her brother – that is, she’s relieved he is truly dead, too. The only member of the family who thinks fondly of Sam is his nephew Jody (Christopher Ogden).

Following wild and self-serving stories his uncle told him and a couple of poisonous letters, the kid has turned Sam into a great hero in his mind and is dead-set on becoming just like him.

Fortunately – well, unless you’re one of the people who gets killed by him – some teenagers playing around with Sam’s grave and even (gasp) burning an American flag provide Sam with the reason to do what the violent dead in William Lustig/Larry Cohen joints tend to do: awaken and go on a killing spree. Soon enough, Sam’s murdering people for fun and “patriotism” wearing an Uncle Sam rubber mask. It’s gonna be a teachable series of moments of bloody violence for little Jody.

This direct-to-video slasher is the final (until now) feature directed by William Lustig, again teaming up with his Maniac Cop partner as writer and producer, the great Larry Cohen. This time around, the two leave their local comfort zone – skeezy New York – behind and move to the suburbs. Calling the resulting film an artistic success would be a blank-faced lie. Rather, this is one of those films that’s all over the place in tone and effectiveness, the sort of thing we in the business of using dumb phrases call “an interesting effort”.

I surely can’t blame Uncle Sam for its basic concepts and its willingness to go for what from over here in Europe feels like a sacred cow for the US: that soldiering and the love of it might not be the sign of heroism but of of violent psychopathy; and that sending the kind of people least impacted by killing to war only makes them worse. Of course, this being a gulf war movie, what we see of politicians and officers doesn’t really get off any lighter: everyone who isn’t a woman, a kid, a doomed deputy or Isaac Hayes here is pretty much a total shit. This does unfortunately lead to one of the film’s greatest problems. Even though we the audience are supposed to understand Sam as a horrible person turned into a horrible undead person, his murders and his victims are mostly of the EC school of people who deserve it meeting appropriate ends, so there’s a schizophrenic character to the film’s argument against organized violence, portraying the things it damns much too gleefully, even more so than this happens in other horror movies.

As set pieces, some of the killings and their victims (Robert Forster is again there to be horrible and murdered) are very fun, but Uncle Sam’s thematic direction really doesn’t work with fun violence, leading to a very confusing tone.

That tone gets even more confusing because the film plays the family drama scenes with Jody’s obsession with his uncle and the pain this inflicts on his mother and aunt absolutely seriously, as they do Isaac Hayes’s part as a Vietnam vet who thinks he carries some of the responsibility for the way Sam turned out. Well, seriously until the film’s incredibly goofy climax that sees Hayes teaming up with a blind little boy in a wheelchair (don’t ask) and Jody to dispatch Sam with a cannon.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: Some Rides Should Never Be Shared

The Ranger (2018): I’ve read quite a few good things about Jenn Wexler’s throwback slasher, and it’s certainly a better film than many another of this particular genre by virtue of not being crap. However, while it does do a couple of half-clever things, it never quite comes together for me. The slashing and the violence isn’t impactful enough for my tastes, the psychological underpinnings not quite sharp enough, and the titular Ranger never feels like anything but a movie psycho who talks too much. It’s still perfectly serviceable but I have to admit I expected something more/deeper from it than it delivered.

Ride (2018): This, one the other hand, directed by Jeremy Unger, promises to deliver some sort of psychological cat-and-mouse game between a not-Uber driver (Jessie T. Usher), a passenger (Bella Thorne) and another passenger who turns out to be a manipulative sociopath (Will Brill), but keeps the psychological tension too loose for much too long, spending the first half of what is a pretty short running time on nearly desperate attempts to be An LA Movie™. So we get the name dropping, the place dropping, and way too much insipid small talk I can only hope isn’t actually what’s going on in not-taxis in LA. This, again, isn’t a terrible film, but it is trying so hard to be meta-clever one, it misses out on simply being a good one first.

Murder Party (2007): Whereas this film about a lonely guy who stumbles upon what he thinks is an exclusive Halloween party but quickly finds himself victimized by a bunch of would-be artists planning to kill him FOR ART, is indeed meta and clever, actually meta and clever. It’s an often outrageously funny bit of the darkest comedy that climaxes in more blood and gore than I would have expected coming in. On the way, it satirizes a certain kind of poseur artist, people who make fun of poseur artists, itself, and stories about people getting sacrificed for art.

At the same time, Saulnier also manages to portray these rather broad characters and their relations in a curiously kind and believable way, somehow mocking them without feeling cruel. And nobody’s talking about his guest spot on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. either.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Past Misdeeds: A Black Veil For Lisa

Original (much better) title: La morte non ha sesso

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Warning: there will be spoilers

Hamburg's drug scene is hit by a series of professional killings. All victims are enemies of drug kingpin Schürmann (that's the way you'd actually spell it in German, not the way the film spells it), so the police seems to have their work cut out for them.

Unfortunately, whatever investigating Inspector Franz Bulon (John Mills) does leads him nowhere. Witnesses disappear, or are murdered just after Bulon first hears of them. Why, one could think there's a mole in the police force very professionally delivering vital information about the investigation to Schürmann. But that's not the only problem with Bulon and his investigation. The aged cop is driven to distraction by outbursts of insane jealousy for his much younger wife Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi), whom he met during a criminal investigation where she was suspected of being involved in the drug trade somehow. Lisa is understandably dissatisfied with the way her husband treats her. But then, she's acting in ways to not only make a paranoid old cop wonder, so the way Bulon treats Lisa is still quite insane but also not very surprising. Later developments will even make it clear that Bulon isn't actually wrong about Lisa. This doesn't make the cop's behaviour any more sane, though.

After many a false trace and despite all jealous fuming, Bulon - who must have been a ruthless yet effective cop once - finds the professional killer who does Schürmann's dirty work. Max Lindt (Robert Hoffmann), as he is called, is just about to leave Hamburg forever when Bulon catches up to him, having his own troubles with his boss. And that would surely be that for the case, if Bulon didn't see something that convinces him absolutely of Lisa's cheating ways right when he is hauling Max in. Why not offer the killer freedom in exchange for murdering a cheating wife?

Bulon's insane idea results in further complications. Lindt, beginning to enjoy himself, decides to first make contact with Lisa before killing her. Making contact with Lisa and falling madly in lust with her is (and I won't say that I blame the man) a question of minutes. From here on out, things proceed rather a lot like anybody not one of the film's characters would expect.

Massimo Dallamano's A Black Veil For Lisa starts out as that most curious of things, a police procedural I actually enjoy watching, spiced up with at first little yet ever more frequent occurrences of giallo elements. Once Bulon decides - if you can call something based on pure irrational rage a decision - to have his wife killed and betray everything he must have believed in once in the process, the police procedural completely transforms into a very noir-ish giallo. The orderly, sober-minded world of the police procedural turns crazy and emotional.

I particularly love how Dallamano and his four co-writers decide not to use a sudden turn from police procedural to giallo here but show the film's style slowly turning from police procedural to giallo, as Bulon's state of mind and morals slowly deteriorate further (he's already deeply compromised in the film's beginning) until he reaches a breaking point that finishes the transformation. It's not difficult to interpret this approach as a political statement that also tells the audience something about the central character (or the other way around): chaos and disorder are living especially under the veneer of pronounced orderliness and discipline, and are all the more explosive in the proponents of order because they repress and deny them. Even though order - such as it is - is restored in the end of the film, it's an ending that comes with a heavy price, leaving questions unanswered and the world only set right again in the most superficial interpretation.

One of the most interesting questions is how calculating a woman Lisa truly is. The film never really makes clear if she only married Bulon to milk him for information from the very beginning, or if it was Bulon's inability to have any faith in her that drove her to it. I'm glad the film leaves this aspect open, because it also leaves room for Lisa being an actual human being instead of the mythical femme fatale. The film's ending really suggests the more human interpretation, too, but it leaves enough of what happened between Lisa and Bulon in the past untold to make this question unanswerable for any outsider.

This might have something to do with the next interesting aspect of Dallamano's film: unlike many mysteries - be it giallos, police procedurals, cozies - the film is not at all interested in judging its three central characters. Bulon, Lisa and Max are all three capable of committing - and are in fact committing - various amoral, illegal and horrible acts, yet the film just isn't willing to judge them for these acts at all. Instead, there's a feeling of unsentimental sympathy for all of them running through the film, as far from the cynical sneer the giallo often loves as it is from staunch moralizing or singing hymns to vigilantism. In that sense, this is as humanist a giallo as I can remember seeing, which might be what must happen to a film that is as carefully concentrated on understanding its characters as A Black Veil is.

In his project of keeping his characters human, Dallamano is helped along by very strong performances from Mills, Paluzzi and Hoffmann. On one hand, the actors manage to fulfil the expectations an audience will have for the mystery archetypes they embody, yet on the other they give them a subtle and believable humanity and complexity that makes them more than mere archetypes.

Dallamano's visual treatment of the film is often equally winning as the acting and the script are. The director gives even the rather talking head bound early phases of the film a high degree of dynamism, as if to demonstrate that yes, you can film even a brown and bland office that is quite believably German, and therefore particularly brown and bland, in interesting yet not distracting ways. Dallamano actually uses quite a few flashy techniques, but he puts them so organically in service of the film's plot and characters you have to watch out for them to realize what he's doing. It's pretty fantastic.

Which also turns out to be a fitting description of the film as a whole. Where else will you find a humanist, elegant, and subtle noir-influenced giallo than here?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

In short: The Meg (2018)

While it certainly inspires not even tiniest bit of entertainment or excitement in me, and its main claim to fame should be the dubious success of making a film about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark that’s bland and lifeless, at least Jon Turteltaub’s giant monster movie stinker that’s beat by a couple dozen SyFy movies made on a fracture of its budget in entertainment value did finally help me come up with a theory why so many American/Chinese attempts at blockbuster co-productions are so bland and lacking in any kind of personality.

My hypothesis is that it’s focus groups that are to blame (adding another sin to the kind of amount that’ll make Satan uncomfortable). First, the script and later the film are run through the Chinese marketing expert rat labyrinth, losing about half of any possible personality in the process, yet leaving at least the sort of thing a Chinese audience supposedly enjoys in. Then, this half-living thing goes over to the American side who cut exactly the fifty percent of life the Chinese side left in, because an American audience surely won’t enjoy those, resulting in a film that may feature little to nothing anybody in any country could actively hate, yet also one that has nothing anyone could get even the tiniest bit excited about. That’s my theory at least.

In The Meg’s particular case, things are not helped along by an incredibly antiseptic “romance” between Statham and Li Bingbing – both of whom deserve better than this crap – and a script that isn’t just a series of boring clichés, but a series of boring clichés presented without any conviction or sense of drama by a director who seems to be aiming for the the new Academy Award for most complete absence of personality by a director. This is not so much a film that’s bad as one that can’t even get up the energy to be anything that lively. I could go on and enumerate the film’s flaws in detail, but honestly, what’s the point?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pwera usog (2017)

Jean (Sofia Andres) and her friends Bobby (Albie Casiño) and Val (Cherise Castro) belong to that lowest rung on the human ladder, the YouTube video prankster. Jean’s Dad really rather has higher hopes for her and wants her to go to university, but then, he’s one of those absentee widowers who spent little time with their children yet still wonder why they don’t get any respect from then. His best bet when it comes to convincing her of the dire future looming after her attempts in being an Internet personality is reading her the negative comments to her latest video.

Ironically enough, the comments do indeed nag at Jean more than just a little, and she decides to do something really interesting for her next video. The first plan is to drive to a spooky place out of Manila for it; because she’s just that kind of person, she asks her ex-boyfriend Sherwin (Joseph Marco) to drive, for nobody else in her little clique has a car or a licence.

When they arrive at what looks like the kind of ruined parking house all horror filmmakers wherever they live love, they encounter a strange homeless girl (Devon Seron). At first, Jean plans to film herself giving the young woman money to once and for all prove for all on the Internet that she’s a good person (seriously), but then she decides it’s best to first dress up as killers and hunt after her with knives and then give her money afterwards. Not surprisingly, they manage to kinda-sorta accidentally chase her off the building’s roof. The fall should have killed the girl, but she’s just gone.

Of course, the trio, as well as Sherwin who stayed in the car for most of this, ignoring quite a bit of screaming in the process, quickly find themselves hunted by a very angry spirit. A spirit with a rather more complex backstory than you would expect, also involving the past of a family of country faith healers and the kid they couldn’t save from demonic possession.

For large stretches at its beginning, Jason Paul Laxamana’s Pwera usog is a rather typical horror film from the 2010s, the sort of thing that could have been made just about anywhere, featuring pretty much the shocks you’d expect happening to character types you’ve seen very often who go through arcs which are also rather well-worn. Well, to be fair, there’s much more vomiting than typical. These parts of the film are at least competently done, though, so there’s entertainment to be derived from them, if little insight apart from “rebelling against poor rich girl problems via internet prank videos sucks”.

However, Pwera usog gains quite a bit more traction once Laxaman earths (or is that unearths in this case?) his horror more in Filipino folk beliefs and folk magic. There are, after all, not many horror films in which the magically – or in this case rather spiritually – abled defenders of its stupid young protagonists are a family of rural faith healers whose most secret weapon is a jar of dear departed grandma’s saliva. And because this is a Filipino film and not a Western one taking place in the Philippines, Laxamana uses these elements with the matter-of-factness of someone talking about things that are common parlance, like the exorcist rattling down bible verses in American movies, adding elements of the local that rob the film’s more worn international horror tropes of their genericness in the process, doubling the enjoyment of at least this jaded viewer by filtering the well-worn through a somewhat different lens that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

In short: Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)

Turns out the revival of maniac cop Matt Cordell (always Robert Z’Dar) at the end of Maniac Cop 2 is the responsibility of some New York voodoo priest. He needs Cordell for something vague and hand wave-y to do with justice, apparently, though the undead cop will still spend the movie killing the guilty and the innocent alike, so no idea what’s going on there.

Cordell will show – probably (nec)romantic - interest in Katie Sullivan (Gretchen Becker), a cop who spends most of the film in a coma after getting shot. She just happens to be a protégé of Sean McKinney (Robert Davi), so the whiny cop is back with us again. She’s also framed for killing and innocent who was anything but, but given that here nickname is Maniac Katie, and she polices New York with a sub-machine gun and hollow point bullets, she’s not exactly the innocent victim of circumstance hear. Cordell’s implied search for a bride leads to him spending most of his killing time in and around the hospital she is in. McKinney obviously takes an interest.

Ah, how far the dynamic duo of Larry Cohen and William Lustig has fallen, not only from the heights of not only the wondrous Maniac Cop 2 but also the pretty entertaining original Maniac Cop! There are a couple of interesting ideas hidden away in the script here – the whole pseudo-romantic angle at least gives us a nice dream sequence – but none of them is developed at all. It’s all random goofy shit all the time, but unlike with the last film, the goofy shit isn’t cleverly embedded between sleazy New York and insane stunt work. Well, we get some of the latter in the final couple of scenes, but the whole scope of the film seems much reduced since the last time out, and the plot and pacing meander in many directions, none of them much fun to witness. Well, I enjoyed Robert Forster’s little outing as the vilest physician (shortly) alive.

The film as a whole feels reduced, in fact, not just because of the comparative dearth of action, and the lack of Claudia Christian. Cordell’s killing spree feels rather lackluster too this time, and for much of the film’s running time, he could be any third row slasher killing himself through an improbable hospital. Why, even Cohen’s dialogue isn’t as fun as it usually is.

There’s just too little of interest going on here at all, so I’m happy enough the series ended with this, before Cordell could be kung-fu kicked to death by Bustah Rhymes.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Formerly half-undead serial killer cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) is back from his watery grave, now even more dead, and still so angry about being framed for crimes he didn’t commit by THEM and then being murdered in prison, he is still murdering basically everyone he meets. In fact, he seems to put little effort at all into seeking out the political higher ups responsible for his fate and only in the very end of the film gets around to kill off their pawns. As an undead seeker of vengeance, Cordell’s not terribly impressive. He’s great at killing random people, though.

Because he has so much time off, Cordell uses the film’s first act to kill off the heroes of the first Maniac Cop (bye, Bruce Campbell, so long, Laurene Landon!), leaving the audience to the tender mercies of whiny, self-righteous, hard-ass cop Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) and police psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian) as our new protagonists. After the usual dance of scepticism and mutual dislike, these two team up to get Cordell off the street and clear his name. Because that’s important after the dozens of innocents the zombie cop has slaughtered.

Cordell doesn’t want to be left out of the partnering up business this time around, so he shacks up with serial killer of Times Square strippers Turkell (Leo Rossi, wearing some sort of hilarious alien hair mop creature on and over his head, looking for all the world like one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers).

As sarcastic as I may sound above, I really had a hell of an entertaining time watching the second of the three Maniac Cop movies from the dynamic duo of that great New York writer/director/producer Larry Cohen (only writing and producing here), and that loveable, semi-great sleazebag William Lustig. The plot makes little sense – though you can see the vague shapes of the sense it is probably supposed to make – but every scene here is basically written to provide either some intensely goofy shit (the scenes of Turkell and Cordell showing each other their knives, and Landon’s short chainsaw fight against Cordell stand as obvious examples), provide Lustig with opportunity to wallow in by 1990 old-school New York sleaze, or win the audience’s hearts with insane stunts and absurd violence.

As such, the film is a raving success. The goofy shit is indeed goofy as heck, New York has seldom looked more like some sort of crazy nightmare built out of trash and human desperation, and the action scenes are insane and gritty in idea and execution. Because Cohen and Lustig know and love actors, the film also contains a ream of fun performances. Even the in theory utterly unlikeable McKinney becomes great entertainment in the hands of Davi who is after all one of the guys who wrote the book on playing these types of characters in low budget films, and Christian pretty much wins my heart by playing her character absolutely straight even though she’s moving through a world made out of absurd nonsense.

Adding even more value to the whole proposition is Cohen’s patented dialogue that sounds sharp and fun (and often funny) in a way which tempts one to talk of realism; in truth nobody does talk like a character written by Larry Cohen, of course. It’s rather that one feels this version of New York should be populated by people talking this way, so there’s a feeling of veracity to the dialogue. Which beats boring realism any day.

Indeed, all of this adds up so well I hands-down prefer Maniac Cop 2 to the first one by a mile or two, and that even though it uses one of my least favourite horror movie tropes by killing the first film’s heroes off in the first act. But then, Davi/Christian are much more entertaining than the original pair (sorry, Mr Campbell), and the rest of the film clearly sets out to outdo the first one in everything, from grime to explosions, and succeeds wonderfully.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: It's too late for exorcism!

Sick for Toys (2018): David Del Rio’s horror film with a streak of very black humour is certainly a great demonstration reel for two of its actors. Camille Montgomery solves the not exactly easy job to bring a character to life that is at once childish, childlike, childishly sadistic and over-sexual, while Jon Paul Burkhart portrays a much more self-knowing kind of movie crazy person, a guy who clearly knows how ill he and his sister are yet can’t help to enable her and himself. On the plot side, there’s a nicely realized protagonist shift in the middle, and an atrocious ending that just doesn’t work as a part of the film that came before at all. As a whole, the film left me with the feeling that it’s just not quite there; there are quite a few good ideas, quite a few moments when things come together well, but things never truly cohere to form an actual whole.

Terribly Happy aka Frygtelig lykkelig (2008): This Danish black comedy/mystery directed by Henrik Ruben Genz about a cop finding himself demoted to a provincial village after a violent incident and/or nervous breakdown and having to cope with the horrifying culture of unhealthy closeness and hypocrisy of the place while getting involved in the dubious affairs of dubious people and losing the little mental stability he still had in the process does come together rather better than Del Rio’s film. This is very much a film setting out to portray the corruption under the surface not just of supposedly idyllic country life but also under the skin of everyone who pretends to be a decent upstanding person everywhere; with a side dish of hell is other people, especially if other people won’t ever let you leave the soul-destroying way of life they decide to be the proper one. Jakob Cedergren’s lead performance is rather spectacular, showing all the absurdity of the film’s situation, all the crap his character is just ignoring about himself, all his destructive and self-destructive urges while making it look easy.

Down a Dark Hall (2018): On the visual side, Rodrigo Cortés’s adaptation of a Lois Duncan novel about a group of teenage girls sent to a very peculiar and very exclusive boarding school where very weird things are going on, is a feast of contemporary gothic, not just using fantastic sets and locations right out of a gothic novel but also the older actors in the cast as mood-building props to great effect. The acting’s pretty snazzy, too, in an artificial and somewhat big way, but then the characters are rather artificial too, so this approach is only fitting.

The whole pretty moodiness of the affair is dragged down by a script that apparently imagines the audience to be impressively stupid, treating things as revelations even the mildly addled will have figured out long before the protagonists do, and wasting some perfectly good ideas concerning the poisonous character of the concept of “genius” and the possession by spirits on a much too obvious series of plot devices. Which really is a shame, for there’s quite a bit in here that should work on a metaphorical or mood level; unfortunately, the film never realizes mood and metaphor are its strengths and emphasises plotting, its weakest point, over mood again and again for little reason and certainly little gain.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Past Misdeeds: Teseo Contro Il Minotauro (1960)

aka Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Life isn't pleasant in Ancient Crete. For a generation or so, the Cretans have made yearly human sacrifices to the Minotaur, whom its priesthood sees as a protective godhood rather than a monster with a tragic backstory roaming a labyrinth. Crete's king Minos (Carlo Tamberlani) changes his mind about the whole human sacrifice thing when his wife begs him on her deathbed to abolish the practice. After all, she even has proof the gods don't care about these sacrifices, seeing as she secretly hid away one of their twin daughters with foreign peasants to protect her from being sacrificed as the later born of every twin pair in Crete should be, and was not punished by the gods for it.

That argument is enough to convince Minos, and while he's planning on breaking with traditions, he also decides to bring that twin daughter, Ariadne (Rosanna Schiaffino), to court. Alas, his other daughter Phaedra is not very happy with another claimant on a throne she already sees at hers, and the man Minos sends out to find Ariadne, Chiron (Alberto Lupo), is all too willing to fulfil her wish to see her sister dead rather than rescued.

Chiron's tactics as a political assassin are bad, though, for instead of locating Ariadne and then silently letting her disappear, he hires a horde of bandits to snuff out the whole village where she lives. Fortunately for the forces of justice, hero and prince of Athens Theseus (Bob Mathias) and his best buddy, the Cretan noble Demetrius (Rik Battaglia), are in the area. As Greek heroes, they are quite willing and able to push back a mere horde of bandits, even though Ariadne's adoptive parents and a lot of villagers die in the attack before the duo can get in on the action.

Since Ariadne is a bit of a stunner, and Theseus really a nice guy, he takes the now orphaned girl to Athens to be taken into his father's house and romanced. Demetrius's confused reaction to the girl looking exactly like his princess our hero just laughs off.

Of course, this won't be the last attempt on Ariadne's life, and of course Theseus and Demetrius will sooner or later have to set out to set things right in Crete. However, things will become more dangerous and complicated than anyone could have expected, with Phaedra falling in love with Theseus, the involvement of the Cretan resistance of people who sit around drinking wine instead of acting, and war and doom coming for Athens.

Silvio Amadio's Teseo came as a bit of a positive surprise to me. I do love my peplums, but I generally don't expect too much of them, so when a film delivers as much of interest as this one does, I tend to get a little giddy. It's only fair, too, for there is much to be giddy about here.

Some of the film's positive aspects are easily explained by the fact that it came relatively early in the peplum cycle, when the budgets for films of the genre often were a bit higher, so the productions could afford to hire extras for mass scenes and put more effort into their production design, which is always helpful in films as soundstage based yet in need of spectacle as these tend to be. Consequently, there are often more people on screen here when the script needs it than one would expect, giving the handful of battle scenes and the obligatory storming of the bad guys' throne room (though it's the sacrifice chamber here) a bit more weight and believability through the sheer number of participants. Compared to classical Hollywood monumental epics, there aren't still all that many participants, but when you have seen enough of these films, you become rather thankful when an army consists of more than ten people. Depending on your taste in historians, you may even see the not quite as large armies as more realistic, though I doubt anyone involved here was interested in historical authenticity as much as in producing as much of a visual spectacle as the budget allowed.

Weight and a bit more believability seem to have been important when it came to the production design too, for every set and every costume is created with a love for telling details, from the walls of the houses of nobles actually being adorned with pictures and wall hangings, to the ubiquitous minotaur and bull depictions in Crete. This extra effort helps make the film's Mythical Greece feel more like a world with its own coherence and its own rules than a series of sets.

Yet even an army of extras and the most beautiful production design in the world need a director equal to the task of using them properly. Amadio is more than equal to it, with a sometimes painterly eye for the staging of scenes to the greatest visual effect, and a wonderful sense for the use of vivid colours. Amadio's Mythical Greece may not be as dream-like and magical as that of Mario Bava, but it never is bland or colourless, and always vivid and larger than life.

The word "bland" unfortunately does lead me to the film's greatest weakness, Bob Mathias as Theseus. His performance isn't bad at all, but rather painfully neutral, as if that awesome (in the classic sense of the word) hero Theseus the other characters are speaking of had just stepped out for a moment only leaving his body there. Mathias's blandness isn't enough to ruin the film or even to annoy me much, yet it may be a stumbling block for some.

The rest of the cast is much stronger, with Schiaffino able to play her double role well enough to keep Phaedra and Ariadne believable as two distinctively different persons; even though the script tends to make Ariadne a bit too virtuous and Phaedra a bit too evil for my tastes. But that sort of thing is part of the genre, and on the other hand, Ariadne is a bit spunkier than peplum heroines usually are. It's probably not necessary to mention that Alberto Lupo could play the type of heel he's playing here in his sleep; he's clearly not asleep here.

On the script side, the film underplays the mythological elements of the story for most of its running time, making this a very entertaining and melodramatic story of Mythical Greek palace intrigues with an influx of swashbuckling, that just happens to include a surprise rescue by Amphitrite, and the battle against a not very threatening but rather lovely Minotaur with a very mobile but also very confused looking face. I also have to applaud the writers for their use of interesting and not always the most obvious parts of Greek myth here. They take their freedoms with it, but they sure do seem to know what they are doing and why.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

In short: Death Valley (1982)

As if going through his parents’ divorce and now making a tour through Arizona and particularly Death Valley with his mother (Catherine Hicks) and her new/old boyfriend who likes to pretend he’s a modern cowboy played by Joe Don Baker even though he’s hawking real estate and played by Paul Le Mat weren’t enough to trouble a little boy, little Billy (Peter Billingsley) stumbles into a caravan that’s actually the scene of a murder. Neither Billy nor the grown-ups realize it at the time, mind you, and just when they encounter the same caravan as a wreck surrounded by police by the side of the road, do they realize something was very wrong.

Billy took a medallion from the caravan, and wouldn’t you believe it, the nice waiter (Stephen McHattie) in their hotel is wearing one just like it! Billy is a clever little boy, so he gives the thing to the local sheriff (the Wilford Brimley); unfortunately not before the nice waiter has seen is too. For reasons best known to himself, after dispatching the sheriff and, as you do, stowing his corpse in a cupboard, the killer waiter now begins to stalk Billy and his family with murderous intent.

Death Valley’s director Dick Richards started his career as an ad director, and watching the film, this doesn’t come as a complete surprise. The film’s visual style is certainly slick, and the plot goes through all of the expected motions of a film neither quite a thriller nor a pure slasher with perfect competence. However, there’s a certain lack of depth that makes it easy to fall back onto the old cliché of ad directors not tending to make very brainy films. And not just because it telegraphs its supposed plot twist early on in the scene when Brimley gets offed.

It’s one of those films that really doesn’t do anything that’s wrong, but it also doesn’t much that’s right, and certainly little that’s interesting. Quite a few scenes here should by all rights be real suspenseful nail biters but there’s an emotional distance to the film that makes it very difficult to become very excited by much what’s happening in it. You know you are supposed to be on the edge of your seat, but the film never puts in the effort to actually drag you there.

The whole affair doesn’t become more interesting once you have copped to the fact that the whole subplot about new boyfriend trying to prove himself to Billy has all the psychological sophistication of a very special episode of a contemporary TV show. On the plus side, Stephen McHattie could be pretty creepy without the script he’s working from actually providing much help even this early in his career, and Peter Billingsley was a great precocious kid performer.

It’s just all a bit too riskless and harmless to grab me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Upgrade (2018)

A near future. The somewhat improbably named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) seems to be something like the next to last car mechanic on a planet full of autonomous cars and people with light cybernetic enhancements. Despite him being a bit of a luddite, he’s married to tech company suit Asha (Melanie Vallejo), and they seem to be very happy indeed. Happy, that is, until Asha’s self-driving car has a curious malfunction – though not so curious anybody in the film will ever think it strange until it’s plot twist time – and first drives them into and then crashes them in the worst part of their city.

As luck (cough) will have it, there’s a group of heavily cybered up thugs on the spot to greet them, murdering Asha and severing Grey’s spine. Grey ends up quadriplegic and suicidal, but one of his clients happens to be a genius tech mogul and offers to fix Grey’s little problem with his newest invention, a microchip implant called STEM that can basically do anything. It’s all quite hush hush and illegal of course.

Anyway, the thing does indeed give Grey control over his body back, something that becomes rather useful when he decides he’s dissatisfied with the investigating cop Cortez’s (Betty Gabriel) handling of his wife’s case and involves himself in the investigation. Turns out STEM has quite a bit of superpowers, like speaking to Grey in his head (in the voice of Simon Maiden), doing movie-magical photo enhancement, and showing itself really useful when it comes to taking over for bloodily dispatching wife killers while doing a variation of Keanu Reeves’s stiff back fu.

Given that, as a writer, he’s heavily involved in two of my most loathed franchises in the horror genre, the Insidious movies and the Saw films, I’m really not a fan of the work of Upgrade’s  Australian writer/director Leigh Whannell. However, despite sharing a couple of the flaws of these franchises, the film at hand is a much more enjoyable proposition, at least for as long as it is an unapologetic love letter to old-style exploitation films and particularly ozploitation flicks, with an added dose of cyberpunk. Which basically means until the last minute big plot twist comes around, for it, alas, is utter, unmitigated shite, leaving most of the actions the film’s villains have taken throughout the film inexplicable and more than a little absurd. In fact, given the plot twist, there’s no reason at all for anything in the film to have happened as it did. Up to that point, the film does a fine and highly entertaining job in carting out all kinds of exploitation film clichés, while giving them a new coat of paint that’ll signal “RELEVANCE TO OUR TIME!” to any mainstream critic or viewer who may stumble onto it, without ever actually saying anything insightful or relevant. This last bit is not really a complaint, but me admiring Whannell’s chutzpa.

Now, as a director, Whannell certainly is no George Miller, probably not even a Brian Trenchard-Smith, but he has a very good eye for a very 80s exploitation and cyberpunk mix of neon glowing high tech and gritty, grubby, urban street life, and a bit of gore. He’s using little of the bad music video editing and wobbly camerawork you might expect but provides Upgrade with clear lines and a stream-lined flow that isn’t even disturbed by the fact that many of Whannell’s best side-ideas are slightly bonkers and a little bit absurd. Being able to play a villain who has a weaponized sneeze among his super powers straight is quite something. This sort of thing certainly provides the fast, fun and violent revenge flick this mostly is with many entertaining distractions, distractions Whannell doesn’t let overwhelm the rest of the film but clearly enjoys including, and which keep the film from feeling too slick and factory-made. The whole affair has a lot of personality, and, as you know, personality goes a long way with me, even if you end your movie on quite as bad a note as this one ends on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

In short: Secreto Matusita (2014)

The film consists out of the – apparently edited – footage that is the final trace of the traditional three student filmmakers (Lupita Mora, Bruno Espejo and Eduardo Ramos). The team manage to bribe their way into the most haunted house in Peru (whose backstory is explained in ten minutes or so of interviews), pack in a medium (Willy Gutiérrez) and start filming in the hopes of being the lucky ones among millions who finally get a ghost or three on camera. As it happens, they will indeed encounter quite a bit of paranormal activity, but even the surprisingly competent medium can’t save them (or himself) from some very bad ends.

Despite not really getting along with it, I found the good parts of Peruvian director Dorian Fernández-Moris’s previous film, Cementerio General, promising enough to try my luck with his next film. I’m happy I did, for while Secreto Matusita certainly isn’t any more original than the cemetery excursion, it is quite a bit more effective. For one, this is a much tighter film, establishing place and characters with effective briefness while still finding space for leading in with some nice ghost stories about the place the characters are going to die in. That last bit really helps in building up mood as well as expectation in an audience and also helps formally ground the film in the genre of paranormal documentaries, making it more convincing.

Once the POV spookery really gets going, this is still a much improved film over its predecessor – the various ghostly apparitions and supernatural shenanigans are well-timed and fun, the character reactions to them believable, and even the final act doesn’t fall into the POV horror trap of consisting of people running and screeching in the dark for half an hour that destroyed Cementerio’s middle part for me. In fact, the spooky old house stays effectively lit for most of the film, and while the camera is a bit shakier than you’d hope those of actual film students would be it’s the kind of shakiness that suggests tension and not an epileptic fit.

As a lover of ghost stories, I appreciated the film first building the house up through the kind of short, ambiguous takes that make up much of authentic ghost lore too, all of which will be important in some way or the other later in the film, and which certainly added a greater feeling of veracity than is usual in this sort of outing, as does the fact that the stories localize the house’s past in Peruvian ephemeral history, making it more specific and less generic through this.

Add to that the film’s tight running time and general air of competence, and you not only have a nice improvement on Fernández-Moris’s first film, but a genuinely fine bit of POV horror.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Terrified (2017)

Original title: Aterrados

Three houses in the same suburban street are hit by strange and disturbing events that end in more than just one death, as well as what looks a lot like the corpse of a child digging itself out of his grave and walking back home. The policeman Funes, and his good friend Jano, a former pathologist who has turned into the sort of paranormal investigator purposefully good at burying the terrible stuff, and the team of “specialist” Dr Allbreck and her colleague Dr Rosentok are involved in investigations of separate of these incidents, only to realize they might just be looking into the same series of events from different angles. I’d love to tell you which actor is playing whom here, but the absence of a proper cast and character list online in combination with my general lack of knowledge about more than a handful of Argentinean films and actors makes that impossible.

Anyway, when the characters team up and spend quality night time in the houses where all the strange stuff has been happening, events quickly get out of control completely.

I rather liked director Demián Rugna’s The Last Gateway from 2007. Like the earlier movie, Aterrados is a film very much in the spirit of the Weird and the strange, yet where Gateway sometimes felt amateurish and random (that’s not necessarily a bad thing), Terrified’s older Rugna has full control about the world of the strange and the grotesque he creates here. Watching the film, I still found myself sometimes reminded of Fulci-style cosmic Italian horror (though with far fewer gore effects than the maestro would have included) with its dominating mood of the irrational. However, the Fulci-esque elements have turned into small nods included in a more personal approach to cosmic horror.

And cosmic horror Terrified’s tale of a dimensional rift right in suburbia absolutely is, even if it at first seems to be a more conventional bit of supernatural horror with comparatively conventional, though well realized, shock sequences (at least if you find the idea of a creepy, naked, long-limbed man living and not living under a guy’s bed conventional). That, as it turns out, is the director biding his time until the final act turns towards the kind of strange that reminds even more of Junji Ito’s grotesque cosmicism than of Fulci – a huge compliment, even though I do love Fulci much more than the next guy. Rugna plays an interesting structural trick: the film’s first half, when you still expect a more conventional horror piece, is actually less conventionally structured, non-linearly moving around the plot’s timeline in a way that in hindsight is a spiral movement towards its core. Once the true cosmic grotesquerie starts, the film’s narrative becomes unexpectedly linear. You’d expect it to work the other way around, of course, but Rugna’s control about the Weird stuff – which I don’t want to spoil for those having the luck of going into the film for the first time – is so great the final act is strange enough it doesn’t need added formal strangeness to work how it is supposed to. This structure is also a wonderful way to play with the audience’s expectations, keeping the viewer confused early on until she gets the increasingly disturbing picture of what’s really going on.

Technically, Terrified is a fine film too, featuring camera work whose angles and movements are only ever subtly wrong and some wonderfully “haunted” suburban homes that become stranger in ways a viewer might only notice subconsciously. The only element of the film that doesn’t always quite come together as well as it could are the special effects – while everything is conceptually very strong stuff, sometimes the effects look a bit too much like effects; there are, on the other hand, some very strong moments there too, like the short glimpse of Allbreck’s fate (that’s as wonderfully Ito as things can get).

All this together add up to a film I find very special indeed, at least from the perspective of the friend of cosmic horror on screen. And which right minded person isn’t one?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: This movie is so real it makes every other movie in this town look like a movie.

Playing It Cool (2014): Meta genre films are difficult, for you really need to have something interesting to say about a genre if you want to get away with deconstructing it (at least a little) while still staying inside its lines. Otherwise, a film will end up looking embarrassed being part of the genre it is in, satisfying no one, most certainly not an audience going into a genre movie because they actually like the genre it operates in. Which is a bit of problem. In parts, this dreadful fate does strike Justin Reardon’s film. It has its funny moments, its short flashes of interesting insight, but mostly, it really doesn’t seem to want to go for the big tearful emotion, and isn’t really as clever as it thinks it is to make up for that. Adding to the problems is that the film is – like a lot of the more male centric romantic comedies – really not interested in romance so much as in its male lead Chris Evans’s character learning to stop being a complete dickhead, with the supposed partner Michelle Monaghan really not being fleshed out terribly well. Which again doesn’t exactly scream romance to me.

La délicatesse aka Delicacy (2011): In the same genre is this French movie directed by David Foenkinos and Stéphane Foenkinos about Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) losing her husband and much of her joy in life until she rather randomly romances her mildly weird, not terribly pretty (that’s a plot point, though one rather curious in a film from the country that treated Gerard Depardieu as pretty damn hot) colleague Markus (François Damiens). It’s just as genre conscious as Reardon’s film but where the American movie seems a bit embarrassed by the whole thing (and really not terribly interested in being romantic, like a slasher movie without murders), this one steps into clichés, traditions and regular plot beats with wild abandon, discarding the bits it doesn’t like, wallowing in those is does, adding an honest appreciation of the weight of pain, as well as general whimsy, and otherwise trusting in Tautou’s natural awesomeness. Or more precisely, her ability to go through emotions from bereft to confused to adorable (that’s an emotion, right?) with full conviction, changing tracks at the drop of a hat, while actually producing effective chemistry between her and her not exactly obvious romantic partner Damiens.

The Hearse (1980): It’s easier to go from that last film to this horror film starring Trish Van Devere than you’d think, seeing that both concern a female main character coping with loss, badly. Just that Van Devere’s Jane stumbles upon a mix of late 70s/early 80s supernatural horror clichés from ghosts over Satanic conspiracies, to bad love, reincarnation and (sort of) an evil car instead of love. Unfortunately, director George Bowers (or the script, for that matter) never manages to get a grip on the material, turning what should by all rights be at least an entertaining grab bag of horror fun into a tame little film that never amounts to much – not even a decent ending.

It’s too bad, for Van Devere certainly applies herself with conviction, but apart from two, perhaps three creepy scenes, she seems to be the only one involved. Unless you count Joseph Cotten chewing the scenery outrageously (and tone deaf) as an impossibly rude lawyer.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Past Misdeeds: Der Fälscher von London (1961)

aka The Forger of London

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Peter Clifton (Hellmut Lange) and Jane Leith (Karin Dor) are getting married, but the bride at least isn't very happy about it, seeing as she only marries Peter so his money can provide for her uncle, the not very successful postcard painter John Leith (Walter Rilla). Peter for his part should be happier, for he loves Jane madly, but he's surprisingly moody nonetheless, as if several dark secrets were hanging over him and his affairs.

On the couple's (such as it is) wedding reception, some of these secrets begin to come to the fore. Firstly, there's some curious business about a forged five pound note. When Scotland Yard inspector Rouper (Ulrich Beiger) finds it in his heart to go to a frigging wedding reception to question people about a forged five pound note, family doctor and friend Donald Wells (Viktor de Kowa) says he got it from Peter, who of course and quite believably says he knows nothing about it. Still at the same wedding reception, Basil Hale (Robert Graf), an admirer of Jane appears to make a very loud nuisance of himself, insinuating much and achieving little. And because fun comes in threes, next up is a certain Mrs Unterson (Sigrid von Richthofen), who races in to loudly complain that Peter doesn't deserve all his money. By rights, it should belong to her (dead) son, his half brother. Or so says wedding crasher number three.

After the best wedding reception ever is over, the newlyweds go on their honeymoon in a dark and spooky old castle that'll surely lighten everyone's mood. Jane - who doesn't want to sleep with Peter because he "bought" her, by the way, even though it really looks rather more as if she sold herself to him quite purposefully, as neither shotguns nor blackmail were present at the wedding - soon learns more awesome things about her new family life. Turns out Peter fears he has inherited a bit of violent schizophrenia from his dear dead dad. And might be the biggest forger of Britain, known as The Cunning. And might be going around murdering rude people like Hale.

Obviously, once she finds her husband in bloody clothes and with a bloody hammer by his side, Jane decides she suddenly does love her husband. That sudden love is so gigantic, Jane's even willing to hide murder weapons and lie to the police. Speaking of the police, another Yard inspector, Bourke (Siegfried Lowitz), is just as willing as Jane to break the law to protect Peter, for both he and the woman suspect somebody has it in for the young man, and that he is a poor beleaguered innocent.

This early in the Wallace movie cycle, nothing about the movies was as set in stone as it would soon become, so there was still room for a movie to be quite different from those that came before or after it. Der Fälscher is quite a bit more of a "normal" mystery than most of the other Wallace krimis, though also a film quite focused on its melodramatic elements, while the pulp elements are rather underplayed. This doesn't mean the film is totally devoid of your typical Wallace-isms, or in any shape or form interested in being realistic, its feel is just delightfully weird in ways slightly different from other Wallace films.

Sure, the film's comparative lack of two-fistedness, evil orphanages and odious comic relief (well, Eddi Arent pops in for a curious very minor double role, but I always rather liked him) may come as a bit of a shock to the krimi neophyte, especially since the first two of these things are elements of the genre the film's director Harald Reinl usually excels at, but a plot that manages to be at once obvious and ridiculously convoluted and a series of well-paced revelations, semi-revelations and reversals will soon enough distract from that particular shock.

Der Fälscher's major positive surprise for me is the emphasis its script puts on Jane as an actually active character. I suspect the relatively heavy influence of (gothic) melodrama to be the catalyst for this not very Wallace-ian change. The melodrama, after all, is one genre in film history absolutely dominated by its female characters. In a typical Wallace adaptation on the other hand, the female lead is usually there to be threatened and kidnapped, and sure as hell isn't allowed to do anything regarding the solving of the film's core mystery.

On a plot level, the damsel in distress here is really Peter, who may not get kidnapped but is knocked out and confused more often than not, and is utterly unable to help himself in any way. Even though Jane isn't allowed to solve the whole mystery herself - that's what Siegfried Lowitz in an unusually sympathetic and finely ironic performance is there for - she is the audience identification figure of the piece, not given to hysterics, and resolute when she needs to be. Even more surprising is how well Dor - all too often an actress with much beauty but little presence - sells the role. She's still as stiff as usual, but here, her stiffness seems to be there to tell us something about her character, and not because she's totally lacking in personality. If it weren't for a slight subtext of helping one's spouse during a murder investigation seen as a married woman's duty, I'd even call the film's gender politics progressive instead of just progressive for a German film made in 1961. But I'm not complaining.

While Reinl's direction has been more obviously strong in other krimis, he still shows his usual fine, often clever, sense for the blocking of scenes, an eye for the slight gothic touch - especially whenever the plot concentrates on the rather fantastic looking castle and his surroundings -, a hand for pacing that works for this melodramatic pulp mystery as well as it does in the pulp adventure movies most of his other Wallace krimis are, and of course an un-Germanic love for dynamic set-ups in the movie's few action scenes. Add to Reinl's talents some rather beautiful, moody, photography by series mainstay Karl Löb (who is probably as responsible for the actual look of the krimi as any of the various directors he worked with), and a fine semi-jazz soundtrack by Martin Böttcher (who somewhat unfairly always stood in the shadow of the slightly more crazy and original Peter Thomas, even though his scores are generally nearly as good), and you have yourself a Wallace krimi as fine and entertaining as they get.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

In short: Cementerio General (2013)

Iquitos, Peru. A bunch of teenagers decide to assuage the grief of one of their own for her dead father by sneaking onto the picturesque Cementario General by night and holding a ouija board session. As you will surely be surprised to hear, things don’t go too well, and soon a possessed eleven year old does what possessed people in movies do – though she has to play on tomb roofs instead of hang in ceiling corners on account of a despicable lack of ceilings – and everyone runs around, screeching. But wait, there’s more, because all of this is part of some revenge plot for some adulterous family business. The film doesn’t bother to get into why the kids not part of any of the families involved have to die too.

At the beginning and in its final act, Dorian Fernández-Moris’s Cementerio General is a decently shot, if been-there, done-that low budget horror movie, just coming from Peru instead of a backyard near me, again demonstrating that the drive to make a horror movie, any horror movie is something like a universal impulse. The young actors are decent enough, the director stages scenes with a promising eye, and the long-suffering viewer is hopeful for whatever follows. However, once the full-on POV middle part of the story came around, my patience frayed increasingly. There’s a certain amount of night-vision shaky-cam and running around screeching in the dark I can take with no problem, but once a film does like Cementerio General and adds quite a few out of focus shots to what feels already like a lifetime of shaking and screeching, even I start sighing sarcastically. Even more so when I encounter this in a film that demonstrated before, and will demonstrate in its final act, too, that it knows how to stage things straight and somewhat effectively.

The possessed kid is neither terribly convincing nor used very effectively either. All this leaves us with a film that has an okay beginning, a godawful middle, and a decent ending.