Sunday, July 5, 2015

Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

FYI: I watched this on Shudder, a new all-horror streaming service that was kind enough to give me an invite for the beta-test period.  It's hard to tell how things will work out once the gates are open and there's more traffic on their servers, but for now streaming was immaculate.  The prints look good, there was no buffering, and I was able to rewind & jump around with no issues.  The catalog probably doesn't include much that you haven't seen if you're a serious fan, but they'll hopefully be adding rarer fare as time goes on.  I'm looking forward to seeing how Shudder grows. 

Jean Rollin!  We first met last year when I was impressed by your visual acuity and made excuses for your storytelling frailty.  It's much the same story with Requiem for a Vampire.  In some ways, literally the exact same story as Fascination: crime happens and perpetrators escape to a remote castle which is owned by vampires.  Maybe this is the sole Jean Rollin plot, but as long as he peppers it with lesbian sex and crane shots, it's okay by me.

The two delinquent girls are interrupted by the residents of the vampire chateau.  It seems that there's only one real vampire left and he's slowly transmitting "the blessed malediction" to his fan club.  The girls are entranced through the application of bats to their throats, then taken to the chateau's dungeon.

These scenes are where a slow film starts to drag.  Red light drenches an orgy between chained slavegirls and the vampire's human helpers.  Vampire henchmen sure love to fuck, but it gets old after the first ten minutes or so.  Although the bat affixed to an unshaved lady crotch almost makes up for the time we are forced to invest.

Something like that happens and one starts to think that maybe Rollin was kind of a hack, but then he redeems himself with dizzying, spectacular camerawork.  The overhead shots in this are just gorgeous.

Visuals are where Rollin excels and Requiem leans heavily on them.  The film isn't afraid to embrace space, and we get carefully-blocked panorama shots that must have looked incredible on arthouse/grindhouse screens.

Everything that can't be seen is a secondary consideration.  The use of emptiness even extends to dialogue, as we get long stretches of silence that contribute to the film's elegiac feeling.  The lines that do show up are tossed off with no further explanation—"We murdered a man that was annoying" or "You cannot be both virgins and vampires!"  Requiem emerges as a dark fairy tale with all the genre's sexual implications and stark storytelling intact.

Other things that I loved: Michel Delesalle's performance as "le vieux vampire".  His vampire is world-weary and exhausted, hearkening back to Bela's speeches about how wonderful it would be to really die.  This aspect of vampirism isn't played up enough and it works beautifully in a moody film like this.  Also, the soundtrack here is very effective and diverse.  We get everything from Goblin-style electronics to lute music out of the 13th century.  It's all integrated into the proceedings very well.

There's probably a lot more to this than "it's pretty and has lesbian sex and lutes", but you'll have to check the Peer-Reviewed Journal of Jean Rollin for articles about the use of red and blue lighting in Requiem.  For a casual fan, this was an enjoyable watch pretty much on par with Fascination.  If you're bored of modern slick, loud-noises horror, this is probably a pretty solid antidote.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Whore (1991)

On this day, America celebrates its emancipation from Britain.  But we should also celebrate our ability to overcome our past tiffs and collaborate to create great art!  And also we should celebrate Julia Roberts because, without Pretty Woman, there would never have been a backlash of seedier films about prostitution, of which Ken Russell's Whore is one.

So you can tell by the name Ken Russell and the credits floating towards a tunnel opening that subtlety will not be on the menu.  Latter-day Russell was strongest at corralling campiness into audience-pleasing forms, not unlike American-period Paul Verhoeven.  But even a master craftsman can't do much with inferior materials, so we're lucky that the titular role was filled by Theresa Russell.

Russell's sensibilities as an actress salvage this thing in lots of spots.  The script is really daffy, as we migrate from broad farce to melodrama to gore during our travels.  But Russell is game for all of it, nailing both the stupidest aspects of sexiness and genuine, heart-capturing emotion.  Plus her ass is a triumph.

Russell is Liz, a whore who spends the film recalling her past experiences, often with long monologues addressed right to the camera.  She has a son who's out of her life and a pimp who's an overbearing jerk.  Like its cousin Showgirls, Whore soars highest in its dialog, as we get life-changing lines like "I wouldn't waste my cum on you!"

BITCH!  As you can see, Whore also shares with Showgirls a showcase of vomiting right at the movie's early stages.  Not sure what was happening with the zeitgeist of the 90s.  Lots of bulimia, I reckon.  I'd argue that Russell was even more ready to pull the trigger on bad-taste scenes than Verhoeven, though, as evidenced by this film's brief but glorious scenes of bloodletting.

And that is Ginger Lynn becoming a woman up there.  The Last House-like tonal shifts work really well and this feels like something unique, at least until the end, which wraps up a little too tidily.  But that's a minor criticism and the film's assets far outweigh its deficits.  Besides, even if parts of this don't work in a narrative sense, it all looks good, thanks to Ken Russell's visual genius.

This film is due for a reintroduction.  I suspect that it confused 90s viewers who expected wall-to-wall grit and sex, but got comedy with nerdy Indians and hookers reading Animal Farm.  But its roiling mixture of stuff is pretty much perfect for the mashup era, so stop bitching about Reddit and go see Whore.  It's what your forefathers would want.