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...