Thursday, 28 March 2013

La Traque (1975) Serge Leroy

From an era of many a grim, classy thriller edging on exploitation, prefiguring survival horrors of today, La Traque has sadly fallen into obscurity. A great shame, though it falls short of the likes of Chabrol its still a damn fine Gallic entry, well worthy of dicovery. Eurocult notable Mimsy Farmer stars as a teacher from England come to work in France, renting a weekend house on a beautiful rural estate. She runs afoul of two drunken members of a hunting party (tastefully restrained but still somewhat powerful rape scene), but worse comes in the aftermath of the vile deed and she becomes the quarry of the day...

Now sadly this aftermath is what hold the film from greatness, imprecisely staged and shot it makes something of a grey area of what should be a complex but clear pivotal moment, contrasting uneasily with the clarity of the rest of the film. It echoes some way through the duration, rather distracting from what is otherwise an assured escalation of events, harder to be engaged in mounting suspense when the trigger poses undue questions. But by the by events fully grip again, building to an inevitable yet still devastating climax. The films notion of the varied strata of the Frencyh hunting classes riddled with flaws from social to the outright criminal and in these flaws inextricably bound is something of a bourgeois baiting cliche, but instead of absurdity or simplistic provocation La Traque thrives on humanity. The majority of the characters may not be good people but they are people, shaded and subtly played not caricatures of seething evil within respectability. Their pasts are pasts, they don't crystalise to monsters in the situation but generally hold back at every step, drawn horribly further by every mistake and every single moment by which they don't turn back. Skilled, potent stuff, backed up by superb cinematography, crisp, clear and bleak. The locations are gorgeous but damp, chill (off season) and as the film goes on seem to grow ever more forbidding along with the plot. Little more to say, though I suppose animal lovers should be warned of a couple of scenes of hunting related violence. And though the film has aspects in common with exploitation such viewers should be warned there is little violence and almost no blood. But as intense and thought provoking rural thrillers go this is close to front of the pack with a close that'll rock your socks off, highly recommended. 

Blackout (1978) Eddy Matalon

Blackout begins with criss-cross of power lines, then a traffic report with striking view of New York, glum magnificence of soaring buildings, grey sky and mist. View soon moves below to the hustle bustle of the streets, traffic and noise and rush and crime, and then to varied appartment block dwellers and their doings, a Greco-Jewish wedding, magician and his beloved pooch, kids, the elderly, the whole spectrum. But weaving through this slice of life a police transport carries some decidedly scurvy knaves, and soon things will never be the same...

It's a leisurely, smartly handled opening, dotting lightly between characters in such a way as to establish multiple threads of interest in the shortest possible time, but also building atmosphere of small crouched fragile within great, disorder lying gnarled just beneath the surface, realistic tension of city living. So when power fails, and things start to go awry there's real tension, and the film maintains higher speeds throughout, having banked plenty of steam. As far as lesser known late 70's urban thrillers go, this isn't as grotty or shocking as one perhaps might hope, but with a most able cast it makes a pretty excellent ride. Jim Mitchum makes a credible hero by not straining at heroism, his cop protagonist is just a good commited guy doing his job, no daredevil or tough guy. The baddies are the real winners though, one Don Granberry (also seen in the excellent Death Weekend) as a hyperactive, visibly, bracingly unstable pyromaniac, Terry Haig (appeared in The Pyx and Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia) as a slick but suddenly vicious rapist, one time player Victor B. Hall as (mostly) mute brute Marcus and best of all Robert Carradine as lead villain Christie, arrogance underpinned by callous intelligence and random mean streak. They have good chemistry and make for a few jolting moments (one is especially mean spirited), especially towards the end. Supporting cast is good too, especially from Ray Milland as the building owner who goes from merely grouchy to downright pissed and scowling like a champ as things go from bad to worse.

The drive of the film is pretty relentless once it gets going, while there is some downtime and levity there's no real ease and any smiles are crooked. There are a few unbelievable moments that belie its gritty attitude, and one or two spots where the intensity could have been punched up a little, but otherwise this is an exciting, high quality film of its type, well recommended.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Full Circle (1977) Richard Loncraine

Something of a cult notable but rarely aired on the box and seemingly unavailable on DVD, Full Circle (aka. The Haunting of Julia) sits firmly in the land of the flawed gem. An adaptation of a novel by Peter Straub (called Julia, I've not read it) it has some troubles typical of horror adapted from literature, and possibly marks of production woes too. Characters and their relationships which might in a novel be well delineated, deeply if not clearly considered and wrought, here are somewhat more sketchy, and one subplot is allowed to drop without impact. Also, more is said than shown of the stories horror, an approach which feels at times more TV theatre than cinematic. Now in context there's useful purpose. The focus is tightly on Julia, after the tragic death of her daughter (the days before everyone was taught the Heimlich) seeking to start new life alone, away from her interfering husband. That other characters have bare looks in, that we see them entirely in relation to her says much for her isolation. And the use of exposition over flashbacks, tense, frightened faces, quavering voices, sinister underswells in the delivery, draws out of the supernatural aspects the comfort of the concrete, one is never too far from the thought that poor Julia is simply delusional, caught up in the fancies of others, spinning from what meagre material she finds a web all the more dangerous for being insubstantial. Well maintained but precarious, patchy. There's a lot of potential for serious study here that goes wasting, guilt, paranoia, oppressions of family living, persistence of evil and cold calculations of darkness, while generally speaking brevity is a boon to this sort of genre cinema here an expanded treatment would be ideal, and for the characters, the straightforward drama too.

Luckily Mia Farrow's central performance is excellent, porcelain beauty that seems to silent speak of inner cold, hurt emptiness, bewildered longing. She holds everything together with clammy compulsion and quiet moments of deep sadness, in fact her turn is one of the few such that actually moved me somewhat. Tom Conti provides good support and contrast as an affable, concerned friend, though Keir Dullea is a tad wasted as the low key antagonist husband The scare scenes are often rather fine too, simple stuff but intense and unnverving (there's one pretty sweet jump scare here), building to a powerful climax. So it all works, even if it could have been... more. Strong 7/10 I guess.

Something Creeping In The Dark (1971) Mario Colucci

Dwelling in the strangelands of mingled giallo and supernatural, Something Creeping in the Dark may not rise to obscure gem status but is definitely worth more interest than it currently claims, and much deserving of remastered DVD release rather than its current availability through bootlegs or the internet. An assembly of strangers seek refuge from a storm in a mysterious house, well to do squabbling married couple (genre veteran Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Lucia Bose of surrealist classic Arcana), doctor and his comely nurse, killer (handsome devil Farley Granger rocking a leather jacket) and the two detectives in charge of bringing him in. Piqued by the story of the houses former owner they perform a seance, and when this is interrupted the night commences to go rather awry...

Writer/director Mario Colucci wisely keeps this one offbeat and mostly on the down low, revelling in location and mood rather than action. The approach does wear a bit thin by the end but the first two thirds are so are fine stuff. The house is a treat of elegant oddity, luxurious red drapes, exotic gew-gaws spread about the walls, a strange abundance of clocks, and the direction, editing and score do it its due, the long, slow fluid camera, the rhythms of zoom and cutting, subdued yet richly ominous score all coming together with house for evocative near perfection of long uneasy night in strange place, fascinating frozen time and ambiguity.

Things perhaps are a little too oblique, while the characters are of interest little is known about any so their relationships and interactions are a little lacking in suspense and ultimate impact. There are a number of scenes of swift, jolting violence but nothing graphic, and the film has little blood and no gore to speak of. Nudity is also limited to one character, and though all this is in keeping with the films leaning towards earlier psychedelic/Pop Art inspired genre outings like The Witch in Love or Femina Ridens, the carnal tanglings and sinister mood really needed a less restrained expression. The end is a disappointment too, an abrupt, predictable gotcha of a thing that would pass muster in a short film but not after nearly ninety minutes. But this is still good stuff on the whole for the old fashioned, but European minded not starched. Suited perhaps best to late Friday nights sipping wine, from me then a 7/10.