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 Amazon.co.uk, 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.  


***1/4

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.    


**3/4