Sunday, 28 October 2012

Even The Wind Is Afraid (1968) Carlos Enrique Taboada

Not too hard while watching Even The Wind Is Afraid to thread back through the years, imagine children watching rapt at the picture-houses, their first horror film, perhaps even first memory of the land of moving pictures. Like a number of made for television horrors in the US of the early 1970's it seems to have sunk heavy into a lot of young minds. Like a lot of those made for television horrors it's a staunchly traditional piece and like those, sadly it isn't much of a big hitter these days. In fact these days I'm not sure that even young audiences would find it terribly impressive these days, such is its restrained approach weighed against the glut ofr flash and excitement offered even by quieter chillers these days. Happily it's fine entertainment for the traditional seeker, filled with charm and a certain satisfaction to it's simple, easy workings. It tells the story of schoolgirls punished to remain on premises during half term, after they trespass in a mysterious tower, explored by young Claudia in her restless sleep, called by nightmare, and there of course dark secret and upheaval.

A typical take on a girls school, desires repressed, two authority figures one old and stern, the other young and friendly. The schoolgirls are I suppose meant to be in their mid teens though the actresses seem to range from mis to late teens even to around mid twenties. Not exactly convincing as schoolgirls then but a comely bunch with an easy, lively chemistry that convinces in establishing them as a cohort. And their mixed ages do mean that the films one racier moment has a somewhat pleasing charge, though it simultaneously robs it of potential daring effect. It's a shame that the film doesn't make more efforts to push the envelope, there's plenty of scope here for taking the story beyond its tropes and winding the supernatural into an actual consideration of repression and authority, isolation and tragedy, the notion of school as microcosm, but nothing really emerges, the film stays basic throughout. But its still good stuff with a couple of able chills, and in the nightime howling of wind moments of rather engaging clammy atmosphere. In essence it may come down to a childs film, but it's a childs film in the best way, calling to the imagination, looking to the world to come and the world beyond. And as such I guess I rather recommend it, a film for the child within the horror fan if that child still lives. Not the enduring classic that some have it as, but still definitely worth a look.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

La Dinastia Dracula (1980) Alfredo B. Crevenna

La Dinastia Dracula was my first Mexican vampire film, and man, I expected more. More atmosphere, more flavor (apart from sombreros and some of the architecture it could just as easily be a slacker than usual Mediteranean offering). More blood (there is very little), more sleaze or even sensuality (there is none), more madness and mayhem (to be fair there is quite a lot of madness here but nothing in the way of creditable mayhem). But despite lacking in most aspects, this awkwardly edited, crudely staged schlocksterpiece is pretty decent entertainment for the most part, a midsection stumble into boredom tries the patience but things get moving again pretty nicely for the finale. The pacing is swift, from the opening execution of naughty vampire Duke Orloff, through multiple attacks and chintzy effects to a grand fiery climax. Duke Orloff's seedily suave successor Baron van Helsing (!) offs men, women and children, has the power to turn into mist, a dog and rubbery bat, can teleport and materialise in a burst of flame, and at one point even appears to have the power of pyrokinesis. He also looks a bit like a washed up Latino Elvis, which is pretty awesome. His consort Madame Kostoff is fairly witchy and malign, though not as attractive, naked or lesbian as I tend to like cinematic witches to be. Both are pretty terrible actors, as are the rest of the cast, but to their credit they handle everything as high drama, one imagines their enthusiasm as audacious ploy to have the material transcend itself though sheer force of will. They don't quite succeed but it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch them try, and they do manage to smooth out the limitations and the confusions, like why does Baron van Helsing sabotage his own evil land grab plan by killing loads of people, and what was hanging a pig from a tree in aid of? Or why is the content largely tamer than even the mildest of Hammer period outings, despite various scenes that seem to indicate quite clearly that it wasn't a film for family audiences? Heck, I've seen stronger Mexican fare from the 60's and even that wasn't exactly striking. Still, I had a good time with this one and I'd say it's worth a watch for undiscriminating fans of oddball period horror trash. Entertaining enough, and sometimes enough is, well, enough.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Panico (1970) Julian Soler

Panico was my first experience of vintage Mexican horror, and an intriguing entree it is. An anthology film leftfield of many of it's time, which tended towards  collecting traditional tales, taut, simple and neatly wound. Panico for the most part deals little with spooks, goblins or bumps in the night, it is instead an offbeat and even arty look at the troubles within, unquiet minds rather than unquiet graves and dark. Its three tales are labelled Panic, Solitude and Anguish, and they deal in said states with some success, although Anguish glosses its darkness with streaks of uneasy humour. Panic is the highlight, a nearly relentless chase through forest of a young white dressed beauty by an older scowling purple clad avenger. Wordless save for a largely superfluous piece of exposition at the end, it works very well on a miniscule premise through deft employment of symbols and a telling flashback. Repeated facial close ups bring a feeling of melodrama, but their strained flesh of torment seeking outburst is contrasted wonderfully with the forest around, trees impassive, so straight and tall and spread out round, the setting dwarfs interior trauma, makes all insignificant and in insignificance the more poignant. This section would be even better were its explanation left implicit, but remains a little gem.

Solitude keeps up the bleakness, with two gents feeling through swamps from yellow fever and the memory of those they have had to bury. But while they may be able to get away from the immediate horror, one is still overtaken by paranoia and guilt, with predictable consequences. It's similar to Panic in that facial close ups and emotional intensity are set at odds with the glaring natural world, but this time there is more a feeling of life to the swamps, of sound and movement and almost open hostiliy. There's more dialogue here as well, more plotting and action and what might seem to be a pretty conventional set-up, albeit cloaked in a murk of ambiguity. Unfortunately at just a little under 40 minutes, what might have been pretty impressive stuff, moving and chilling in equal measure, ends up drawn out and dull in spots. There are a couple of memorable images and the muggy, depressive atmosphere is well spun, but it's too dreary to fully keep interest going.

Anguish is a rather substantial turn around, a slight and fairly silly tale of science gone wrong given power by some effective suspense and boasting a rather inspired darkly comic final shot.The premise holds little water, a scientist has developed a drug that induces catalepsy for several hours but accidentally takes some himself and is mistaken for actually dead. Now the second part is pretty reasonable, but it's never explained, nor is any explanation immediately apparent, why any scientist other than a mad one would wish to create such a drug. This isn't a mere anaesthetic gone wrong, this is a substance that causes the appearance of death for a few hours, accompanied by no loss of cognition so that any test subject knows and can feel exactly what is happening to them throughout. Now I don't know about anyone else, but this sounds like mostly an instrument of torture to me... Still, so long as one doesn't think too hard on this, Anguish is a fairly effective tale, both witty and nightmarish, the two twining ever tighter until the climax. Much more conventional in style than the first two tales and lacking their psychological weight and genuine darkness, it still appeals as something of a time capsule, a well handled darkly humoured vignette that is perfectly early to mid 20th century in idea and development. And it also wraps up the film around in theme, presenting death after the earlier stages of the previous chapters. Perhaps after horror and dark, when the end comes we can but laugh...

Well, perhaps. Anyways, Panico is a fairly interesting affair that probobly won't be of much interest to any other than devotees of vintage foreign horror or perhaps serious anthology addicts. But to those compelled to see it, it does earn my mild recommendation, for if nothing else it does quite well at being unusual, and where convention is so much easier, the unusual is worth commending.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Violent Virgin (1969) Koji Wakamatsu

You know, I like experimental films and I like pinku films. But as it turns out, those aren't two great tastes that go great together.. Well, not exactly. Violent Virgin falls into that odd hinterland of of occasionally striking and too generally interesting to ignore, but not powerful, cohesive nor overall forceful enough to quite qualify as a proper success. The plot is certainly somewhat inspired, a young couple eloping from the city have been intercepted by gangsters who take them to a deserted field and force them into a twisted theatre parody of society. One can easily see the potential spreading out, the absurdity of societal structures revealed in abstraction, the havoc that they wreak upon the individual and the action of the beast within man once unbound by the loosing of normality. It's all there, but in a slightly unsatisfying light and loose way, the effect being less of a clearly thought provoking comment and more an undisciplined riffing on place and theme, spiralling around and by the by out into nothing. It isn't a terribly gripping experience, but not really a dull one either, with a fair amount of nudity (mostly breasts), and some entertaining blunt violence, especially scenes involving baseball bats.

As was often the case in older Wakamatsu films, both color and black and white are used, black and white for what the camera sees in general surveyance of the landscape and action and color for what the protagonist sees. The balance is interesting, though the color scenes have an inevitable vividity in comparison, they ultimately come across as bleak as the black and white, the implication being of a grim insignificance to the individual and his view, no matter how he might try to impress himself upon a scene. There's also prominent use of a Christian image whose purpose is less easy to divine, either an obvious critique or elusive comment, or perhaps just there in spirit of the surreal. Like much else in the film it's an interesting touch but heavy handed and insignificant in the end. Quality acting might have granted greater weight to things, but most of the cast seem wrapped up and ineffectual, with the exception of the final scenes they seem generally experimenting rather than whole heartedly participating. The script shoulders a good deal of the blame here though, though there are moments of emotion there's very little here of naturalism for anyone to easily get their teeth into.

So in the end this is a divisive piece for me. I'm certainly glad I saw it, it has plenty of good as well as bad and I won't forget it in a hurry, but at the same time its a disappointment both from generic perspectives and coming from an otherwise frequently brilliant director. A worthy curio is perhaps the best summation, worthy, intriguing but inessential, to be pursued or dismissed mostly depending on your level of tolerance for the odder end of this kinf of Japanese cult fare.