Thursday, 30 July 2015

Tilbury (1987) Vidar Vikingsson

Tilbury is based on an Icelandic legend of an imp born of a rib, wool and communion wine, that can be created by a lady in times of need to steal milk from neighbours cows, is fed through a nipple on her thigh and must kill her if anyone else discovers it. So the opening sees bones, cattle, a lady pouring communion wine on her boobs and yes, a thigh nipple. It's a good opening. Then we get to the story proper. A young swimming champ from the countryside sets out to Reykjavik to continue his training, but also in search of his childhood sweetheart who seems to have gone astray, he is also set on the case by her father, a priest. He finds that she is the lover of a strange older British officer (the film is set during the British occupation of the early 1940's) and that things are generally amiss. And things certainly continue amiss... 

This is one strange film. Not just strange for its plot, in the ways one might expect of a lesser known folk horror, with unfamiliar rules and conventions. Not just strange as a tale of a man out of place, struggling out of his element. Nor as a film of a place out of place, not the Iceland one might expect of locals and chilly beautiful scenery, but trenches, barracks, British soldiers about. This is strange in almost every scene, almost every line and action. There's a kind of poised unreality here, a sense of everything being off, but not inept or merely goofy, rather calculating, pregnant with Fate. And its all supported in the visuals and actions, often appealing, but forbidding too. Older girls swinging either side of the lead in childhood memory, commanding, seductive. One girl reclining on a top diving board as if the whole place is hers. A ball where passion and company turns to green lit stalking. These, and more obvious displays building both swiftly and gradually (the film is less than an hour long but doesn't feel hurried) to a violent conclusion. 

I was almost totally satisfied by this. Its skill matches its weirdness which is matched by an effectively creepy vibe. There's a little necessary blood and nudity, actually enhancing the mood rather than serving to amuse. And one can draw interesting points about the old ways and the new ways, about wartime, about people and relationships and commodities and so on. People who like films to basically hang tightly together, to give reasonable quarter to normality or be action driven or simply explicable may perhaps not want to apply, but for a certain kind of person I give this a strong recommendation. Woo hoo!!!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Martyrs (2008) Pascal Laugier

I only recently came to Martyrs even though for some time it appeared relevant to my interests. Subject of some controversy, to some a masterwork of extreme cinema, as mature, thought provoking and poignant as it is gruesome. To others half flies high only to plummet, to still others the whole thing is a bit of a botch. I find myself most in line with this last group, though I did not outright dislike the film. 

There are substantial things going for it. First is the plot and structure, blending the emotional, the visceral and the metaphysical. Over the opening credits an abused child is found, soon enough she has grown up and one morning arrives at a pleasant suburban home with intentions that are not brunch. The course of events takes in friendship, brutality, endurance and as the title suggests, transcendence, its heady stuff and the plays on expectation are fun. I'm not entirely sure that in general I like ambition in my genre films, it makes for so much farther to fall and so many do fall. But in Martyrs' case I was charmed, if only because I'm slightly cynical about these recent only just to the side of mainstream "extreme" efforts but naturally into this stuff. 

The other big things are the two leads. It's incredibly difficult to summon up effective violent and psychological intensity full stop, let alone sustain it without sliding into bathos. Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi do as good a job of it as I've seen from almost any film recently. I never laughed or yawned or rolled my eyes. 

Together these things are a great foundation, but the film is never great. The first block has a good driving power but is ill handled. Fast paced, with a camera fast and close, but director Pascal Laugier is competent and confident, he frames and lights everything coherently. The trouble is in the editing, barely any shots hold on long enough to build tension, atmosphere or character. There are a lot of effects and I don't demand a sequence of practically experimental long shots, but this all action approach saps any depth or feeling. It's gripping, but not especially exciting or powerful. Ultimately its just frustrating. 

Then there's the second, final block, the really divisive stuff. Unlike many, I think the idea is really nice, I don't know enough about religion or its history, or Sade, Bataille and other supporting thinkers to be able to comment on how reasonable it is, but I do like it. There's just no development. Not to get too far into it, but if one follows the logic of the villains plotting, they really should be weird, or crueller, or tougher, or more dead inside. Instead they are bland, there's no indication that any of this was thought out and the explanation is brief. I don't require chunky exposition, wild left turns and weirdness, but it doesn't even throw a bone. It isn't even truly torturous, cringe making and unpleasant to watch, with the best opportunity for memorably grim nastiness bafflingly skipped over. There are crumbs at best. The atmosphere and characterisation does thicken somewhat as the direction slows down, but they still aren't sufficiently dwelt upon. The ending, neat but empty. 

Now for all this, I still somewhat enjoyed Martyrs. It's pretty bloody and never dull, in fact its pretty engaging. It has a heart in the right place, and in fits and spurts is good fun. I've thought about it a fair bit after viewing, I expect I'll happily watch it again some day, and my opinions may even change. I'd even go so far as to recommend it. But I sure can't rate it more than average.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Witch Story (1989) Allesandro Capone

I'm a great fan of the sort of horror that takes me to new worlds, down strange and winding paths, expands my mind. But sometimes I just want a film as easy and comfortable as a cup of tea and some choccy biccies in my favourite dressing gown (it's dark red to hide bloodstains) and slippers, and when I want that late 80's trash is my go to. Late 80's Italian trash is all the better, and late 80's Italian trash made in Florida, well, how can it fail? Witch Story certainly doesn't. Curiously, something of a sequel/rip off of 1982 film Superstition which I've not seen. I didn't know that Superstition was a great hit or especially groundbreaking, and since Witch Story also has parallels with the more contemporary Night of the Demons I'm surprised they went for the older reference. But then, questions like these are probably why I'll never be an awesome Italian trash producer. 

Anyhoos, Witch Story starts more or less as it means to go on. A semi creepy scene of a young girl being pledged to evil, then a torches and pitchforks witch pursuit. Unfortunately the chase takes place around dusk, still perfectly visible out, and torches, unlike shades or gloves, don't look cool when used necessarily, just silly. It's amusing though. Just like when events get going in the present and the luckless teens who inherited the witches house meet a priest on the bus who issues dire warning, bleeds from the eyes and then disappears. It may not surprise to know that this hardly fazes them, nor are they concerned much later when they meet a lone young girl playing with a ball outside the house, who also vanishes. Plus later on it seems like the house is very well soundproofed because when the sh!t really hits the fan, no one really seems to catch on until it splatters on them. And it's not like the murderous demons here are subtle, when they kill they really go for it. Still, who actually needs to be able to take this stuff seriously? Fun is all, fun is all. 

The film also brings up its one notable flaw early. There's a pitchforking but the contact is just out of frame, there's a brief semi gore shot after but that's of a wheel going over a limb. The witch burns up nicely, but it feels like things could have gone a bit more graphic. Much like in the rest of the killing, the sort of full on latex slashing, melon smooshing graphic lunacy that could have made this a classic is lacking. 

But the whole thing works anyway. The characters are all stock ordinary, stock odd or stock irritant, but the ordinary isn't dull, the odd isn't irritating and the irritating isn't hateful (still irritating though). Once the action locks in its pretty compelling stuff, a good amount of blood slung around and satisfying savagery (why stab someone once when you could do it a half dozen times or more?). There are a few flashes of amusing nuttiness, and in the final block veteran Scot character actor Ian Bannen even brings some real gravitas and creepy atmosphere. 

All in all, this is well worth a look for trash fans. Pretty much all others can avoid but if you are into this sort of thing and you've already combed the rest of the overlooked fun of the time, say Ritual of Death and the like, it's pretty much guaranteed Friday/Saturday night fun. Go ahead!

Satanic Attraction (1990) Fauzi Mansur

Obscure Brazilian pornographer Fauzi Mansur made just two horror films that anyone knows about, but in the second billed, Ritual of Death, he reached higher than a lot of better known and more legit film makers managed in entire careers. That film is a trash great, the sort of thing that reminds you why you got into watching that stuff in the first place and makes you commit to never stopping. Satanic Attraction alas is not great. In fact, some would have you think that it pretty much sucks. Suck it does not, but it sure ain't great. 

The set up has legs, radio presenter Fernanda entertains her listeners with a neat line in gruesome horror stories but finds herself in trouble when her stories are mirrored in gory reality, there's a nasty killer out there and interested in her, and the police have their suspicions too. And there's promising stuff on screen, the film opening for instance on native dancers and drummers by a river, led by a menacing figure in big gnarly head mask with horns, fur and tinsel. Then our menace is walking down a fresh, clean and well lit corridor to a gathering of squeaky looking upper class types, there are skull candles and a child's blood ceremony. Always fun to see deathless strange roots, new and upward bound embracing old macabre. 

Fernanda's studio is pleasing also, dim light barely pushing through dark and mist, cloth fan, little carven half nude and headless figurine, almost cavernous sense of space, lack of much in the way of equipment, it appears altogether like some elder worship place swiftly and shabbily re-purposed. All the better to spread the supernatural really. It doesn't matter that it doesn't really make sense that Fernanda does her show in the afternoon (doesn't every country have some concept of a watershed?), nor that everyone she knows seems to listen to her, in bar, boat or bedroom even though she isn't that great (I would have listened to something else and lied about it), nor that the police can't either shut her down or investigate better. It's a link, and an interesting one, and that's all that matters. 

On the pluses there's also the gore. More graphic and a little better looking than a lot around at the time there are at least a couple of pretty memorable scenes (including a bit with soap that manages to be more unsettling rather than less for its sheer ridiculousness) and more in general besides. 

But then there are are the minuses. Well really its the one big minus. The acting is bad and the dubbing is worse, but then who really cares about that. I heard a full on cut glass English accents from a Chinese princess in a kung fu movie one time and even that was more authentically emotive than the work here, but its all good. No, the real problem is the pacing. This kind of film needs to be concentrated, no time to think, everything done in 85 to 90 minutes at most. We don't need to know about the main characters love life or her friends or their lives or the incompetent cops unless these scenes are either straight direct or delayed direct set ups for weirdness, or for T&A, or sometimes even for humour. In a film like this we don't need anything that's just there, and yet there it is, here, turning what should be a definite blast into over 100 minutes that is only a little, at times. It's frustrating because this could have been so good. Well, not quite Ritual of Death good but still aces. This isn't aces. 

But its still worth a watch if you like this sort of thing. I wouldn't go so far as to call it "good", but if you need this sort of thing in your life and you've seen the better examples in recent memory you should definitely check this out. You probably won't even like it as much as I did, but you should check it out anyway, it might be better than whatever alternative you were thinking about before reading this. So watch it. Or don't. Woozle wazzle!

Shadow of Illusion (1970) Mario Caiano

I was looking forward to Shadow of Illusion, I can scarce think of any Egyptian themed horrors other than a multitude of mouldering mummies and so an occult horror in the land of the Pharaohs with nary a bandage in sight seemed pretty interesting, especially when made by Italians (whose often lax approach to plot logic is quite ideal for such fare) in 1970 (almost bang in the middle of the perfect era for weird cinema). Sadly, there's just not enough to it. Gorgeous Daniela Giordano plays a fashion model summoned to Egypt by a mysterious perfume company but when she gets there there's no one to welcome her and it seems not to really exist. There is a handsome if eccentric charmer to show her a good time though, and a weird, vaguely incestuous brother and sister, and eventually some shenanigans. I get the impression that this was largely improvised around the location rather than a fully realised and intentional project, for much of the time meaningful stares are about the extent of any intrigue. It wouldn't matter too much to me if the local colour came through better, but although this makes some effort it lacks atmosphere. Sure, there are whirling street dancers, rainbow robes, crush of faces and bodies, insistent pedlars and esoteric trinkets. There's a market fight with a stall overturned and fruit tumbling down steps, there are camels, even the obligatory look at the Pyramids. But its all just there, it never really transports the mind. Part of the problem is that the soundtrack is heavy on the European jazz and lounge, rather less so on geographically fitting sounds, and another issue is the slightly beat up quality of the Midnight Video rip in which this does the rounds. But really its hard to exactly pinpoint why this doesn't all work. Disinterested filming perhaps, or laziness? Who knows? 

And when this does actually get into the expected plotting or weirdness, it isn't so great either. The plot isn't short of interesting potential but nothing is really developed. The weirdness is there but all quite pat. Dope smoking, lesbianism, faces shifting into two, three, four and more and back together, dancing, whirling and abrupt editing that frustrates rather than building worthy montages. Mild sadism, a fog machine, lengthy ritual (with more dancing of course) and then only in the last 15 minutes or so there's a bit of actual tension and excitement. I would probably have hated this if I weren't positively predisposed towards this kind of thing, I found it all basically watchable but others may want to steer clear. Mind you, quite a few other reviews of this are quite positive so I guess maybe I was having a bad day. I wasn't really having a bad day though. Take it if you must...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Witch Returns To Life (1952) Rolan af Hallstrom

So, The Witch Returns to Life is just my second slice of Finnish horror, indeed just my second Finnish film outright, so far as I recall. I don't know whether the country has ever produced many horror films, but its presence even in the minds and collections of thorough going cult fans and explorers is pretty small, less even than the like of Poland or Yugoslavia. And alas on the evidence of this and earlier outing The White Reindeer I'm not surprised by the low profile. Not that The Witch Returns to Life is an outright bad film, in fact its actually rather charming. But it is odd and not necessarily in the popularly sanctioned ways that make cult favourites, I can well imagine a lot of disappointed viewers. 

The set up is solid, archaeologist Hannu is working in a marsh when he comes across an old grave with body staked through. Despite warnings he removes the stake, which I would have thought was a rookie mistake, what with damaging the body and all. But the body is apparently undamaged, and as a storm comes down a naked, very much alive lady is found in the same grave. Superstition and hysteria surge, and the mysterious lady (announcing herself as Birgit) wastes little time in stirring up lust and jealousy, working through the cast, feeling out and preying on division with playful menace. Much potential here for working on the rot of rural living, the peril of superstition, the battle of the sexes and related matters, but little is actually done with any of this. All is simple, the men think that all women are witches and the women think that all men are beasts. The leads are mostly housebound and the villagers mostly dumbly run around, the two have little interaction. And while some ambiguity to Birgit is hinted, this is dispelled by the matter of fact presentation of her powers. Basically this is a sort of parable, its simplicity, emphasis on exposition and slap yourself in the face ending could all be aimed at children. The effects too, almost entirely simple editing tricks which appeal to a primitive, undiscerning wonder. But then there's the dialogue, fairly frank on sex and infidelity, and enough nudity that this was originally touted as erotica in the States. A strange mix really, it should be jarring and offputting but somehow is more often than not simply good fun. Mirja Mane is most pleasing as Birgit, with a demeanour of shifting childlike innocence and crooked, dangerous sensuality she pulls events along nicely. The mounting mischief musters some suspense, chuckles and even mild creeps too, perhaps not especially intense or thrilling but at least quite engaging. Quality cinematography and plenty of fog and wind give this a far off, wistful atmosphere that is quite alluring, and it all moves like a rocket. 

Altogether I'm not sure how much appeal this will have to most viewers. A whole different world and different time, more for explorers than casual genre fans. But definitely of interest and merit and at least a little memorable. Not my heartiest recommendation, but if you're still here reading this it may be for you. Enjoy!

The Venus of Ille (1979) Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava

Until now I've liked through to outright loved every Mario Bava film I've seen, and only once got less than solid cock eyed entertainment from his son Lamberto. I'm fond of ambiguity, fantasy, Gothic romance, not the corrosive kind unfortunately popular these days but real yearning for the beyond. So The Venus of Ille should have been an easy winner for me, co-directed and written by the younger, but instead it only just about passes. The story sees antique lover Matthew come to the town of Ille to see its recent discovery, a bronze statue of Venus that crushes a workman's leg early on but is still generally thought to be a good thing. Matthew is entranced by the Venus, but also by Claire, engaged to boorish and boozy landowners son Alfonzo. Of course there's something more going on, the statue may be haunted or cursed. Could it even be alive? It's a good story, taken from a 19th century tale by Prosper Merimee and filmed several times previously, but the treatment here is not altogether satisfying. Slow burning, intent on character and atmosphere, this is interesting but lacking in drive or true engagement. The best aspect is Daria Nicolodi as Claire, the camera adores her, drawing out strength, intelligence through an enigmatic air, beautiful but unusual, she is just ideal for this sort of film. The Venus is interesting too, the camera also circles to draw out mystery, hints of life, drawing parallels, weaving a spell. I also enjoyed Matthew, his quietness, curiosity, artistic and romantic probing are quite interesting. But really, not enough happens here. Until the climax the few scares are not much effective and filler sequences including tennis and cookery (chopping meat, pulling out guts, cracking eggs etc.) bulk out the plot without adding much beyond a bit of sense of place and time. There are only a few small moments of the old Bava visual magic and those are diminished from his best, fun but not the sort to linger long in the memory. And all in all there's a lack of substance, this intrigues but never really locks down, sizzle without much steak. Not quite full on dull but in the environs, quite disappointing. 

A browse of a few other reviews of this indicates that it is better liked by others, a fitting swansong, superior to Schock, etc. And there's enough here for a tentative recommendation to those like me particularly interested in this kind of thing, especially if they can find a decent looking print (being a TV film I don't suppose its ever looked spectacular but I'm sure some are still better than others). But personally I'm not that convinced. Watch if you must I guess.