Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sleepless/Nonhosonno (2001)

Important note: the US DVD of Sleepless has one of the most wretched transfers I've ever seen.  It turns what's an already dark movie into something that's intensely unwatchable, just scenes of black blobs shambling around the shadows.  Arrow has a very nice R2 disc that's available from aftermarket sellers on, so exercise that option if you're interested in this film.  Otherwise, you will miss the artistry of scenes like this:

From what I understand, Sleepless is regarded by many as Relevant Argento's swan song.  It certainly shares a lot of the same elements that made his early work resonate with so many.  We get spectacularly brutal violence, a convoluted storyline, art deco lighting, a ripping Goblin score, black gloves, references to animals, themes of art intersecting with violence, and peculiar lapses into comedy.  If you added Daria Nicolodi in there somewhere, you could sandwich this right between Tenebrae and Phenomena.  

If you are familiar with gialli, you already know to expect a baffling plot.  But here goes: in 1981, a woman was stabbed to death in front of her young son with an English horn.  Fast forward to "today" and, again, very innovative and stylish murders are happening.  Could it be the same perpetrator from the original killings, a guy called the Killer Dwarf?  That would be my guess, and the guess of retired investigator Moretti (Max Von Sydow), who talks over the details of the case with his parrot.

Meanwhile, we are also presented with nursery rhymes, a harpist performing Swan Lake, a comic hobo, and scenes from Suspiria night at the Eurodisco.   

The violence in this film is especially jarring.  It's rough stuff, as women get stabbed with musical instruments, punched hard in the face repeatedly, slammed into walls, drowned, and so on.  I can imagine that certain people complained about all this, but I'm of the mind that, if you're going to show violence in a movie, you should show violence in a movie—don't make it tepid or cut away in G.I. Joe fashion.  If violence is there, it needs to affect the audience to mean something.  And the brutality here will shake you up, even if you're jaded or have the entire August Underground collection hidden under your bed.

Another thing about the violence herein: no character is safe, which is an excellent choice on Argento's part and recalls paths taken by his own heroes, like Hitchcock.  But back to the purely Argentish—we'd be in for a grim two hours if there weren't some respite from the battery, and Argento thankfully includes a few scenes of levity to lighten things up.  I lma completely o at the scene below.   Very inventive.

There's also a hilarious scene at an America-themed restaurant, complete with gaudy stars and stripes costumes.  The gathering of the "usual suspects" that ends up being an all-dwarf ensemble also fits into the film's comedy column, especially since it's scored with music from a Daffy Duck short or something.

Overall, I thought this was quite enjoyable!  It's a little overlong and bloated, but that's a minor complaint given the thought and effort clearly expended.  I'm definitely going to check around more recent Argento, if only to see what might have happened between this level of competence and something like Dracula.  


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Frightmare (1974)

Don't you dare confuse this with Frightmare, Frightmare, or Frightmare, you little nerd.

This is a Pete Walker film, the first I've ever seen.  Pete Walker was apparently Britain's answer to the burgeoning horror sleaze that got pumped into grindhouses back in the seventies.  Watching this film, it's easy to see the resemblance.  It's a straightforward story of a pair who are arraigned for horrific crimes back in the black & white days.  Fast foward to the art-deco disco seventies and delinquents kiss before beating up bartenders.

This is one of the delinquents, teen Debbie, which the film takes great care to present in states of angry undress.  Her sister, Jackie, keeps sneaking out late at night with parcels that drip blood.  What's happening?

Well, their mom's a lunatic, as the film takes no care to conceal.  There's a pretty nice nightmare sequence on a train that lays it all out for you.

For a horror movie, this spends a lot of time in lower gear.  We focus a lot on the sisterly animosity of Debbie and Jackie, and the film devotes a lot of scenes to Crazy Mom and her put-upon husband.  Mechanically, it's very solid, as you can tell from the screenshots.  All the lighting is on fleek and the tight white shirt game is solid.

So, anyway, Jackie starts sort of dating a psychologist and they go see Marco Ferrari movies! Heart icon! And this Romeo and Juliet tale between reps of mental health and psycho cannibalism ends as well as one might expect.

I dunno, this was okay.  Only two plot points were remotely surprising and otherwise it just seemed rather standard.  Stylistically, this was engaging at times, but the structure and safe storytelling reminded me of Friday the 13th or something.    


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dante's Inferno (1911)

My attempts to teach youngsters about the silent days of horror will continue.  Dante's Inferno is #dank af.

By lots of accounts, this is the first feature-length film that could liberally be labelled "horror".  So it's kind of hilarious that it's mostly a vehicle for makeup and effects!  This is definitely an abridged version of the book, shorn of any sleepy scenes and with 110% more hell content.  For God's sake, please tell me you know the plot of Dante's Inferno, I am begging you.

Fine.  Dante, who had previously fallen in love with a young girl (as in young), wrote this book about his travels to the underworld, accompanied by the famed Roman poet Virgil.  They see all sorts of things, since Dante's version of hell is zoned into different areas of punishment.  Suicides get turned into trees, spendthrifts get to push big sacks of gold around, etc.  God has clearly put a lot of thought into all this.

These hell scenes comprise the entirety of this film.  And, given its age, some of the scenes are staggering, both in terms of technical achievement and audacity.  In the screenshot above, the film utilizes real amputees to feed its infernal frames.  But, hold on, because next we see MUHAMMED with his chest ripped open, enduring the punishment of heretics.  Like Gun Crazy, this is an old film that now seems even more transgressive.

Some of the effects are, as one would expect from this early date, rather rough.  But much of the imagery shows great imagination and a commendable sense of perversity.  

This probably isn't something you'll select for movie night instead of Bridesmaids, but it's only an hour and worth watching to get a sense of where this thing on which we've wasted our lives literally began.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mondo Keyhole (1966)

Jack Hill, who would gain fame for his blaxploits and Spider Baby, first filmed this seedy and fitfully entertaining piece of roughie sexploitation.  Despite the title, it has nothing to do with the mondo genre—Hill's original title was The Worst Crime of All.  And what is the worst crime of all?  No, not the Suspiria remake.  It's rape!  The movie even tells you this in the dialogue. 

Rape is the reason why Howard Thorne's marriage is falling apart.  He spends all day at the pornography office, overseeing torture photosheets and circumventing the Comstock laws in Peoria.  So when he gets home and his wife is ready for randy adventures, he's all, "ZZZZZZZ".  But he's always up for raping and seems to have a special affinity for nonconsensual sex.

Thorne waxes eloquent about the natural origins of rape and spends copious amounts of movie time daydreaming about rape in exotic locations, like the beach.  

This is kind of an indication that Keyhole was made by a genuine talent, as Thorne's rambling mirrors the comedic rhapsodies of a pretentious pornographer earlier in the film ("Even Freud would like this movie!").  The early goings offer lots of comedy and weirdness, but the film loses it way a bit and starts stumbling midway through.

We get twin Big Endings.  In one, an Eyes Wide Shut-style costumed sex bash offers all sorts of softcore thrills.  I enjoyed the woman buried under mounds of food, who is then swarmed by hungry partygoers.  That's transgression!  But too much of these scenes are devoted to typically 60s pool shots and such.  Kinda dull.

And, of course, the rapist gets his comeuppance in a reprisal of an earlier staged torture scene.  I don't care who gets nominated to the Supreme Court as long as her makeup looks like that of the judge below.  Also, way to go, Jack Hill, at including the clock from earlier scenes,  This is worth a glance if you are a huge Hill enthusiast, as glimmers of his style are displayed, but otherwise the director's own assessment is probably accurate: "just a cheapo junk movie".


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Edison's Frankenstein (1910)

Hey, remember when this blog was updated?  Now you can relive them golden days.

This is, as far as I can tell, the oldest piece of horror cinema in existence.  At just over twelve minutes, it offers a greatest-hits abridgment of Mary Shelley's novel along with some new elements that place the emphasis on psychological horror rather than sewn-together body parts.  There are some other alterations as well.  Specifically:

The monster's creation scene, which has become fixed in popular culture based on what happened in 1931's Frankenstein, is here way more witchy.  There are no pallets rising to meet the lightning, no spark gaps to shock Bela Lugosi.  Instead, we get a monster ascending from a cauldron, first as a waving skeleton, then affixed with layers of bulky flesh.  It's a kewl image.

Sort of like Demons, innit?  The finished creature is quite bulky and husky, but probably not as imposing and iconic as Karloff's definitive rendering.  As it menaces its creator, we see the film's main artifice, a mirror gimmick that suggests the psychological horror that I mentioned up there in that other paragraph.

Wise readers can probably guess what is suggested by these shots and they definitely mesh with this film's tweaked ending, which is pretty cool if you are not a Shelley puritan.  Given that its the silent era, one expects overwrought acting with arms flung emotionally about.  And you get some of that, but not as much as you might think—maybe the "sawing the air" style of hyperemoting evolved as actors competed with one another?  Maybe it wasn't born complete out of a pot, like Frankenstein's monster?  IDK.

Visually, this is solidly stuck in olden times.  Even given its brief duration, you'll probably get antsy over the constant static wide-angle shots.  The set decorations also seem to recall past eras, much more in line with a theatrical production than what we'd expect from a modern movie.  Even so, this is where it all began and it's well worth the time it requires for viewing.  And you can watch it for free, just below the stars!


Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Bride from Hades (1968)

Wow wow wow, if a new discovery can get me this fired up this far into the engorgement of October, it must be pretty special indeed.  I like what I've seen from older Japanese horror, but I haven't delved deeply enough into it if gems like The Bride from Hades are waiting to be unearthed.

The Hades of the title is a good fit.  A movie entitled The Bride from Hell might make you shudder in anticipation of shrieky gore or a shrieky Melissa McCarthy """comedy""".  But Hades is a different, older concept—not so much a place of pitchforks and punishment as languid shadows.  We begin this movie with a lantern festival celebrating the onset of a three-day holiday in which the dead ascend from Hades and walk the Earth.

Our hero, Mr. Shinzaburo, devotes his time to teaching the poor to read.  He attends the lantern festival to assist the poor in their lantern ghost invocations as well.  There, he meets two ladies, one of whom will quickly posit herself as a romantic fixture in his life.

Problem: she is dead.  And encounters between the dead and the living in this film don't end well for the latter.  A sort of vampiric draining of energy seems to result.  Naturally, Shinzaburo's community is not enthused at losing such a good dude.  But it's not like the ghosts here are monsters.  The film goes to great lengths to make them very sympathetic figures and the whole thing is suffused in slow, quiet drama rather than intense shocks.

Everything here is on point.  If you're impatient with Ben Carson-tempo slow burns, you might not be able to sit still for this.  But you'd be missing out on plotting and acting that are masterfully executed, and a horror film with more atmosphere than anything I've seen in years.