Before we launch into the LFF proper, I thought it might be worth mentioning what is quietly becoming one of the most acclaimed ‘must-see’ films of the year, at these for the denizens of the more disgusting horror, exploitation influenced sewer dwelling dregs of cinema. Labelled as ‘wilfully repellent’ I’m not sure I can engineer a cinema visit considering the competing pressures on my schedule, but I just thought I’d share with you anyhow;
A fantastic new acquisition of the year, the best podcast discovery I’ve made for quite some time. You might recognise Gilbert Goddfried as the ‘memorable’ comedian / character actor from movies dating back to Beverley Hill Cop II, but his podcast casts the cultural net wider to conduct interviews with some fascinating characters and examine a broad swathe of Americana, from stand-up comedy to B-Movies, from ancient TV bloopers to pulp comic book controversies. If I said it was the kind of podcast whose theme tune centred on a slide guitar which wouldn’t be out of place during a lurid biker flick title sequence then I think you might get the flavour of proceedings;
Case in point, I’ve barely scratched the surface but have listened to a 90 minute interview with Bruce Dern, and he’s already spilled solid anecdote gold on working with Hitchcock on Family Plot, some early B-movie antics with Roger Corman, general bitching and chewing rhe fat over the studios and movie world colleagues over his fifty year career, all of which is completely devoid of any anxious publicist sanction over slander or defamation orders.. A final piece of pub trivia – which family is the only to have the mother, father and child all be blessed with a Hollywood Star on the Walk of Fame? The Fondas? No. What about the Hustons? A decent guess but no cigar buckaroo. No, it’s the rather more underrated Derns, with Bruce, ex-wife Diane Ladd and daughter Laura being the proud recipient of such pointless trivia. In other news I also finally caught up with a strongly regarded documentary on Brando from last year, and pretty good it was too;
Quite an interesting take to construct the entire piece out of Brando’s own interview clips, vocal reminiscences and radio snippets with a total dearth of talking heads or experts pontificating on his genius – the Apocalypse Now insights are essential. It also doesn’t gloss over his family tragedy which has unsurprising echoes with his own familial abuse. Meanwhile, on rather more upbeat news, its the end of the world soon…..
BFI Southbank – Nicholas Winding-Refn ‘The Act Of Seeing’ Exploitation Poster Book Launch & Farewell Uncle Tom (1971)
Autumn beckons, September is here, so let’s kick things off with quite the sordid little evening over at – where else? – the BFI Southbank. We’ve witnessed Nicholas Winding Refn here before of course, as part of the promotional push on Drive, but the chance to see him again pushing his new book of B movie poster art was accelerated when I realised he was also introducing a members only ultra-rare screening of the notorious slavery picture Farewell Uncle Tom. Being fine connoisseurs of all things cinematically disgusting I’m sure you’ve heard of this movie before, but before we slip into those exploitation shackles some context of his new book The Act Of Seeing is required. Refn has produced the book with his partner in crime Alan Frightfest Jones, and he explained that the inspiration originally arose from his movie memorabilia urges – clearly he’s one of our tribe. A few years ago he purchased $10,000 of exploitation posters from ebay, and since then his appetite in acquiring all sorts of ancillary marketing has broadened, such is his fascination of that most grubby of cinemas children. He enlisted Jones to pull the project together with some research into each of the movies, publishing them together in book form with restored prints of these sometimes time distressed curios, to capture in amber these long lost relics of time gone by. What amused me most was (as Jones explained) that these films are so rare, so underground and obscure that even finding 200 words to talk about some of proven as elusive as a conscience cell in a conservative. The research was much deeper than leafing through the notoriously unreliable imdb but visiting studio archives, rifling through distributors tax records and Refn calling in a few industry favours, just to acquire even barebones details of such immortal classics as Death Bed: The Bed That Eats or Last Orgy Of The Third Reich. As lifelong fans of extreme and underground cinema Jones admits to seeing maybe 25% of the films over his forty year career, Refn perhaps 10%, and to be clear he claimed that he does find genuine artistic merit and beauty in the images, it’s not just some hipster exercise of obsessive cinephilia, a genuine affection for arguably the most neglected hovel of movie history which doesn’t normally grace the pages of ‘serious’ movie periodicals or flag bearing national film institutions.
The movie industry denizens of New York back in this gilded age weren’t exactly the most honourable of souls, and the fact that the product was shuffled around projectors on a constant rotation, remarketed and packaged with alternative titles, sometimes even recut into bastardised versions of each other muddied the research waters somewhat. A further complication was that some cinemas and shady operators would illegally draw up their own lurid marque magnets when screening films without permission so they could pocket 100% of the takings, evading the kickback to the sleazy distributor, a further layer of misinformation and misdirection which must have made the research a herculean task of patience and investigation. Did I purchase a copy of the book? No, primarily because a) I’ve just spent a weekend strafing and disposing unwanted clutter so the acquisition of another bulky 700 page book really wasn’t on the cards and b) frankly speaking a lot of the material seems to refer to soft-core and hard-core sex films, which are a little out of my wheelhouse. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude with a search history to prove it, but that’s just not an area of film culture or history I’m particularly aroused by, and although some of the posters were quite frankly hilarious after you’ve seen a dozen or so you’ve probably seen ’em all. The prospect of ejaculating £60 on an impressively arranged and sequenced book that I would aimlessly leaf through a couple of times before collecting dust on a shelf somewhere wouldn’t be the best investment of time, or money, at this stage when I have bigger fish to fry. Still, during the discussion there was also a disclosure of a potential new film project, not from Refn but another, more localised film director who is currently progressing funding for a fictional look at the whole world of Times Square and the exploitation phenomenon in the 1970’s, and although I don’t feel comfortable disclosing whom is behind it at this stage this would be an ideal next project in this filmmakers evolution – it all reminds me of this beautiful rom-com moment….
So let’s move on to tonight’s featured presentation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a screening preceded by such a whirlwind of warnings, including emails and strongly worded website disclaimers that WARNING: THIS FILM IS OFFENSIVE, just to stave off any furiously worded complaints at how Her Royal Majesty’s British Film Institute could possibly screen such despicable depravity. A further warning was emitted by the BFI’s Event Director, explaining that the print, borrowed from Refn’s friends behind the Alamo Drafthouse had some water damage and sonic distress around some of the reel changes, while some of the colour had pinked out –as in this would be a projection that has suffered some loss of colour gradients due to print distress, as opposed to 1960’s softcore Japanese pornography. In true Italian exploitation fashion the film starts with a almost delirious melding of sound of image, as a modern day documentary crew are somehow transported back to the antebellum American South of the 19th century, arriving by helicopter in a expansive cotton field which stretches to the edges of the frame. We are on journey into the heart of darkness, when the slavery trade was wallowing in the deepest depths of cruelty, murder and horrifying inhumanity, the documentations our surrogate witness in a unsettling blurring of fiction and reconstruction. The picture was crafted by the notorious directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, already infamous for the Mondo Cane movie series, allegedly slandering an entire continent with their salacious instincts, architects of offence who really scrapped the barrel with this one.
There was some general discussion of the portrayal of slavery in cinema when QT’s Django was released a couple of years ago, with only a few exploitation films (Mandingo and its 1976 sequel Drum) being identified alongside the small screen phenomenon of Roots, with the highest profile film being Spielberg’s 1997 movie Amistad. For such an important and reverberant subject the paucity of material speaks volumes to me, although I guess a look at one of the most shameful periods of multiple countries history isn’t exactly a box-office blast. So I was braced for impact as it were, and being a desensitised and warped fan of outré cinema I was expecting the worse, so inevitably I didn’t think this was that bad – at least initially. Don’t get me wrong, for the first few reels Farewell Uncle Tom is deeply offensive, its jaw-droppingly disgusting, and in its primitive way compelling brave in pushing its camera into formally uncharted territory. The canvass is human beings essentially being treated like cattle, eating like crazed beasts from troughs, deloused and subjected to medical experiments, suffocating in their own filth in cramped, excretion smeared claustrophobia. As the documentarians continue their on-screen interviews with the fictional inhabitants of the 18th century matters degenerate as it moves into the realms of the sexually abused, the raped and murdered with total impunity, and this is where you can start throwing all the nauseating superlatives around that you wish – brutal, vicious, unconscionable, sadistic – and to reach for the critics cliché dictionary this makes 12 Years A Slave look like Hucklebury Finn. Away from the striking immersive design – the off screen narrators verbally interact with the slaves, with the masters, with the flotsam and jetsam of this broiling hellscape – there is a definitive journey through the film, there is narrative structure and thought, a quality quite alien to the amateur conditions of traditional exploitation born product. Juxtapositions between the supposed civility and refinement of gentrified Southern society which stands in stark contrast with the utter degrading, inhuman barbarity, of church attending Christians exploiting other members of our species with such pitiless barbarity. On a purely visceral level there is also copious male and female nudity, including children, liberal deployment of the ‘n’ word and other racial slurs, and that’s just the opening titles………..
But just as you might be becoming acclimatised, becoming numbed to the parade of choking brutality a new level of Gehenna is unleashed when a new element of the omnipresent culture is exposed. We bear witness to the Caucasian rape gangs, or the greasing up of ‘virgin whores’ for sale at public market, sold as willing orifices for the satisfaction of every depraved whim of the white man’s sexual depravity. If that doesn’t prompt the dry retching then how about the breeding of negros in ‘bitch’ and ‘studs’ paddocks in one plantation worthy of the deepest abyss of the Marquis De Sade, the owner proudly boasting of his chattal’s ability to gestate new product within weeks of her previous birth, before we glimpse one terrified adolescent thrown into the cage of a half syphilitic grunting lunatic – you can shudderingly guess the rest. Not enough for you? Then how about (for me) the final coup de grace, one final atrocity ambling along with a 13 year old girl seducing one of the off-screen narrators, insisting that he deflower her – actually that’s rather a tame phrase, how about ‘break her in’ – rather than abandon her hymen to one of her racial kin, so that she can service her white masters more efficiently in a harrowingly compliant scene which is deliberately shot to implicate the audience in the seduction. This is probably one of the most uncomfortable and disgusting scenes I’ve ever seen, operating right at the cusp of endurance, where even the likes of arch provocateurs Gasper Noe or Von Trier might mutter ‘whoa, wait, c’mon now – hang on a fucking second’….
Of course it’s all true, and we know from academic and historic record that these events or similar occurred, that these horrific structures and ideologies existed, and indeed still occur. The historic distancing tends to engulf these crimes in the oceans of time, which is why the narrative device of the present day documentarians recording these events uncomfortably blurs the lines between fiction and imagination, rendering the film as especially disturbing given their (and by proxy our) slow implication and absorption into the same crimes and peccadillos – it reminded me of the notorious Belgian faux-verite controversy of the 1990’s Man Bites Dog. Like all exploitation it deliberately emphasises the lurid, the voyeuristic and distressing to make its points, but that’s kinda the point of exploitation cinema – the clues in the title. Moreover there is a point to the film in its design and purpose no matter how inelegantly expressed, like a bullwhip thrashing out the ‘decent’ standards of bourgeois civility, as Farewell Uncle Tom finally concludes on something of a call to arms to the Black Panther movement, encouraging the vengeful butcher of whitey and his wife in their comfortable middle class bed. When the film was released in 1971 this was incendiary to say the least, a sequence which apparently provoked genuine riots which caused the authorities to exorcise the film from circulation after only a week. If you don’t happen to be near any grindhouse joints then the film is available in numerous versions on the old faithful YouTube, if you are any way interested in exploitation cinema then this is a must. Coincidently I’ve just purchased Refn’s Pusher trilogy boxed set for the ungainly sum of £6 which is a skull bludgeoning bargain, next up at the BFI we stumble nicely into another paragon of saintly, decent filmmaking, with a special visit from that Baltimore born film director who once filmed a 250lb transvestite eating fresh dog shit on camera. Bon appetit;
Guilt can be a powerful tool. There I was, forlornly idling through recent activity on the menagerie, cursing my lack of recent opportunities to manage all things movie. Then, like a flash of lightning inspiration struck – why not pull an old fashioned double-bill weekend, featuring films unknown and unseen? Well, through the luck of the draw a quick search of the local cinema schedule yielded two potential targets, a duplex of movies whose outline premise and cast were known to me, yet whose overall dimensions remained still vague enough for me not to have even caught a trailer or an outline inking of their relative merits or mistakes. So, as is my idiom on possibly the sunniest day of the year I wearily meandered over to the Cineworld to spend the day hiding from the sun, embarking on a devilish roll of the dice with the next four hours hurled down as the ante on the poker table of life. Now I know what you’re thinking – alert the authorities, he’s out of control, and surely like Icarus such reckless behaviour is bound to cause him to crash down to earth in a humbling, pride-defying heap. Well fret not gentle reader I have this all under control, even if I still haven’t quite found the impetus to visit either of London’s two newest and prestigious cinemas. I do have a programmed agenda for July which should set us back on track with previously viewed and guaranteed material, and part of the reasoning for this exercise was to set myself a speed-writing goal as we get into training for a potential international festival which is looming on the horizon. But for now let’s see what this recent folly has excavated, and as a preview of coming events I wouldn’t call either interrogation a particularly unfruitful activity.
The first to obtain access was Knock Knock, the Eli Roth directed horror thriller starring Keanu Reeves as LA valley dwelling architect Evan Webber. Never knowingly missing the chance to bludgeon a scene into his audiences cranium the first twenty minutes of this film clearly establish that Evan LOVES HIS WIFE and adores HIS TWO CHILDREN, as a one scene requirement to erect backstory is ham-fistedly drawn out to twenty minutes of EXPLAINING JUST HOW MUCH A NICE GUY KEANU IS AND HOW MUCH HE LOVES HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN. After the family retire to the beach for the weekend Evan has to stay home and finish an urgent project, his doorbell ringing at a midnight hour during a particularly ominous rainstorm. Standing there bedraggled yet bewitching are Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), two shall we say feisty young women whom take a liking to Keanu, the seductive sirens swiftly overcoming his futile sexual defences of faithfulness and fidelity. The next morning his mournful regret turns more hellish as Evan realizes that both seductresses are not entirely mentally stable, and he soon finds himself on a rocky road to blackmail, vengeance and a marriage threatening maelstrom of violence, torture and tendentious trysts.
Home invasion movies always pivot on an outside force entering and disrupting the domestic equilibrium, usually due to some small moral failure on behalf of our hapless and doomed protagonist, it’s a formula that Roth gleefully flays as he formulates this exploitation picture that would not be adverse to squalidly limp squealing out from to the scuzzy picture houses of 1970’s Times Square or Soho. In fact Roth is on record as saying the film is a loose remake of 1977’s Death Game, it’s certainly got that old fashioned moral quandary of a fundamentally decent chap paying heavily for one moment of weakness or social transgression, and even Roth’s rather clumsy direction can’t blight what elementally remains a gruesomely fascinating premise – hell hath no fury like a woman, or indeed women scorned. You’ve got to hand this one to Keanu though, I can’t imagine many actors accepting a rather risky project which doesn’t project him in a particularly effervescent light, with even a suggestion that the two temptresses could be underage throwing a very uncomfortable pallor of paedophilic potential – how many ‘A’ listers are gonna get even remotely close to that? The uncomfortable aura is replicated in a few scenes where you can almost hear Roth cackling with unbridled glee, but he doesn’t quite have the satiric skill that say a terse provocateur like Verhoeven or Von Trier would invest in the actual chain of cause and effect, with opportunities squandered to really turn the thumb screws while ignoring some plot contrivences like barely concealed cadavers.. All that said I rather enjoyed this, especially for the moments of horrific hilarity, the women’s lunatic cruelty and Keanu’s tortured yells, even assimilating the moments of unintended hilarity from his rather robotic performance – Keanu is many things, a most excellent dude whom is usually entertaining to spend some time with, but a great actor he is not.
Second on the sojourn was Slow West, a film which when I utter the phrase ‘a Sundance festival western’ may get all sorts of genre synapses ricocheting around your sun-poached cerebellum. Quirky, off-beat characters and segregated scene momentum? Quality, studious character actors known for their attraction to offbeat material? Attention demanding compositions and landscape photography aligned with a folktronic and frenetic score? All these things and more reside in the purlieus of writer director John Maclean (of Beta Band fame no less) debut movie, and never has a film screamed ‘this is my debut so I’m going to throw in everything I possibly can’ since Raimi and Campbell haunted the Michigan woods in 1979. Following a trademark Western journey narrative our slightly hapless hero Jay Cavendish (the raccoon eyed Kodi Smit McPhee) is self-exiled from his Scotland home, travelling to the badlands of Missouri to seek his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius) after her and her father fled the thistle drenched homestead due to some serious, unspecified infraction which is slowly revealed as the narrative ambles along. Through chance and fate Jay is befriended by the roguish Silas (Fassbender who also served as producer so he obviously was charmed by the material), a scoundrel who is also seeking Rose for more financially secretive measures, with the $2000 bounty on her head causing his old criminal fraternity led by the perennially filthy Ben Mendelsohn to nip at both their avaricious heels.
I mostly admired Slow West incredulous strain for artistic authenticity, the film veers from pretentious to primitive but there is certainly a valid voice trying to be heard over the clattering horseshoes and starling pistol fire. It’s the kind of film where the two leads stumble across three African dudes deep in the Minnesota’s veldt, crooning some tribal songs to each other, a incongruous mix of setting and scenario which is unremarked upon as Silas and jay continue on their horse opera odyssey. The closest comparison I can draw upon is Jim Jarmusch’s wonderfully melancholy Dead Man although Slow West simply isn’t in the same symbolic stratosphere, with just a dash of the dark humour of the Coens at their most playful the film manages to charm you over with its snake oil scaled elixir of oblique observations and bone crunching violence. Some of the photography of the teeming prairies is breath-taking and actually feels fresh for this long suffering 120 year vintage movie genre, but this is slightly undermined by a hacksaw editing pattern which has all the discipline of a sun-addled squaw, seemingly unable to hold a shot or moment for longer than a few seconds which prompts a lack of confidence in the material. The principals are as good as you’d expect and there are a few genuine laughs along the way, although life is a cheap commodity in these unyielding geographies, a sobering fact that Maclean brings to the foreground with a body count worthy of Stallone or Ahnoldt at their most blood thirsty. The title suggests the generic conventions decelerated to a tick-tock, slowing of time and movement reminiscent of the great 19th century Muybridge wager, a primer on cinema itself as a bastion of truth buried among the flickering hallucination of multiple overlapping images. Slow West is a promising enough debut of a potential new talent, at a brisk pace of 83 minutes it knows not to outstay its welcome, an ode to better things to come for Silas and his hopeful path to redemption.
Presented without commentary, as there is nothing that a puny mortal such as I could ever add to the mind-blowing awesomeness that is……..Kung Fury;
I think I’ve been going a little too easy on you of late gentle reader, we’ve been dealing with material that’s far too tame, family friendly and respectable throughout the accursed PG-13 blockbuster season. I think it just might be time to drag this blog down kicking and screaming into the gutter once again, a fiendish stumble through the atrocity strewn avenues and blood-choked cellars of exploitation and horror cinema, a gruelling ordeal which has been partially inspired by a change of editorship over at Sound On Sight. After I got chatting to the new incumbent she strongly recommended that I read this completely fantastic book of film criticism and appreciation House Of Psychotic Women, it’s based on the alternate title of cult classic House Of Doom AKA Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll by author, film programmer and cinema junky Kier La-Janisse whom projects us trough a twin track of her own psychologically scarred upbringing, her violent and delinquent adolescence and early adulthood, and how her life has been saved and refracted back through the solace and comfort of the movies. As you may guess it’s a very personal tale with fairly grim details of her adoption and subsequent psychological issues with abandonment, her adoptive mothers alcoholism, her flailing mental conditions and procession of violent boyfriends. Exposure to these factors during her upbringing has possibly instructing La-Janisse’s own neurotic wounds and fired her flirtation with narcotics and early dabblings with a criminal lifestyle, a memoir cum film exultation which unfolds to the backdrop of a wintry Wisconsin Canada of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s fucking amazing and one of the best film texts I’ve devoured in years.
Paying lip service to the obvious and overtly studied – Hitchcock movies (Marnie & Rebecca) and Polanski pictures (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby) – the study also roams through texts as diverse as Black Narcissus and Carrie, from Black Swan to The Piano Teacher, before becoming enmeshed in thick cult movie thickets with early barely released giallo like All The Colours of The Dark and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, with nightmare oddities like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, before plunging into the really challenging material such as Martyrs and Manhôru no naka no ningyo send witnesses shrieking to a nunnery in coven devoted sacrifice. Anyone who cites Possession as one of the greatest films ever made and can write so appealingly and defensively of the notoriously twisted Kim-Ki-Duk (seriously, this guy is out there with Gasper Noe at the outermost pinnacles of screen taboo and controversy with his movies) is quite frankly marriage material in my book, and I find the whole concept and institution of marriage laughably medieval. It’s also brilliantly insightful to get a woman’s perspective on such alleged misogynistic tropes as the rape/revenge movie, slasher movies, or in more general terms female representation and agency in the cinema, as anyone has conducted any cursory reading around film feminist theory or psychoanalytical film studies will have whole new avenues of reaction and interpretation opening to them like Sharon Stone’s legs in Basic Instinct. Kier more or less makes the case that presenting these horrific elements of human behaviour shine a light on society ills and provide a valid solace of relief for individuals (I don’t want to use the word ‘survivor’ or sufferer’ as it sounds demeaning and patronising) such as herself, before demolishing that age-old movie adage – presenting something terrible, something uncomfortable or distressing in a movie is not the fucking same as endorsing or celebrating such behaviour. It’s cinema as catharsis, a celluloid psychologist couch.
The writing is intellectually dexterous and brilliantly observed, it doesn’t perch on that arch academic prose which can make consumption of complex ideas so difficult, in fact I couldn’t snare a single utterance of diagetic hegemony or patriarchal post-structuralism in the whole book. She’s also not as narcissistic or self-indulgent as the books premise suggests, the memoir and the movie material intertwines quite organically with Kier’s life story in a singularly unromantic and unflinching detail, although if you find the notion of an author weaving in her distressing experience of witnessing her mothers rape with a discussion of the 1981 paranormal abuse movie The Entity then you might find this a little shall we say, challenging. She’s also unafraid to obliterate established critical orthodoxy, giving short thrift to the notorious likes of I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left in favour of (to her mind) truly transgressive and valid work – Ferrera’s Ms. 45 or Defenceless: A Blood Symphony. Quite frankly the book has fired up my waning passion for the medium throughout the increasingly mediocre and homogeneric summer period, especially it’s most excellent glossary of films which represent the frenzied subject matter. With over 200 entries it’s an incredible collection of movies, most importantly it contains alternate titles of texts in different release markets and languages which is critical to tracking some of these rarities down, although just a cursory scan of some of the giallo and exploitation themed material reveals that many of the films are not widely available. This means more obstacles for us similarly minded acolytes and a potential authorisation to go to extreme measure to source and hunt down of this movies, and that makes me harder than a diamond dildo. So since we haven’t compiled a list post for aeons here’s an impotently brief collection of some of the films I’ve butchered over the past few weeks, mixed in there are a few pictures which I haven’t seen yet which sound atrociously alluring, as you may have guessed much of this will be extremely NSFW and consider yourself defiantly warned if you have a weak cinematic constitution;
Possession (1981) – I’ve mentioned this before as one of this rare beasts, a film which Id heard about for years but never seen due to screening issues, now released in glorious Blu- Ray and restored to the directors original vision after philistine producers cut to appeal to a larger market. One of the finest accomplishments of the book is to champion director Andrzej Zulawski largely overlooked oeuvre, he does strike me as criminally unappreciated figure whom if I was being lazy I’d equate as a Polish Lars Von Trier, with a thick veneer of madness, psychosis and insanity running through his uncompromising work. I’ve now set myself the task of watching The Third Part Of The Night (‘set in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II a young man, Michal (Leszek Teleszynski), escapes the massacre of his family, and his subsequent guilt and experiences are shown through multi-layered symbolism and apocalyptic imagery’) and somehow getting a copy of Devil in my shivering paws, I’d sell my soul to consume a genuinely terrifying film given the quality of the output these days……
Three W0men (1975)- I’ve seen this once and I kinda selected this to prove that the writing isn’t all concerned with the horrific and violent, it’s more the psychological and mysterious themes and modules which reverberate throughout the book. In one of those serendipitous accidents I’d been actively seeking out a copy of Altman’s movie from 1975, I saw it once on a late night ITV or Channel 4 viewing (I forgot which) but it hasn’t been released on DVD in the UK. I remember a particularly dream-like, unreal quality to the film, and for some reason it’s been picked up for discussion on a number of podcasts and movie sites I frequent, so I figured it was time for a revisit.
Lets’ Scare Jessica To Death (1980) – I can’t believe I’ve never seen this, it’s a minor horror cult classic with shades of the same atmosphere of Carnival Of Souls or Picnic At Hanging Rock. It’s obviously dirt-cheap and poorly performed in places, but these failures are overshadowed by the creepy sense of a waking nightmare, terminating with unexpected climax which made me go ‘ooowww’ and tighten my shawl around my shivering shoulders. One of the recent Paranormal Activity sequels lifted various elements of the finale which is a tribute of sorts I guess……
The Piano Teacher (2001) – If you thought Haneke was tough and uncompromising in Funny Games or Amour (a film I was deeply, deeply moved and impressed with but will never fucking watch again after that tremulous LFF screening) then you ain’t screamed nothing yet, as this is one of the most unflinching and brutal explorations of feminine self-destruction I’ve ever seen. Isabelle Huppert proves without question that she is one of the greatest actresses of her generation with her portrayal of an emotionally obliterated soul, a horrifically repressed music teacher who falls into a deeply abusive and sexually violent relationship with a much younger man – at her instruction. It’s a very tough watch but worth the agony for Huppert’s steely resolve, one of the most criminally overlooked performances of the last decade.
The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1971) – This film has fascinated me for years purely due to its garish video cover and it’s grim atonement on the first list of the notorious UK Video Nasties list, alas after finally netting this slippery customer its actually a fairly terrible exploitation quilt of female revenge, incest, and sickle wielding succubi.
L’ Interior (2004) – I’ve been meaning to deliver this film to you for quite a while, I think I’ve mentioned it on here before in passing, so now my excuse to dissect a few more details. A heavily pregnant woman, alone and trapped in her remote domicile faces a terrifying assault from a figure or figures unknown, to say more would contract heavily into spoiler territory and that would abort half the placenta packed fun. I’ll just state that this is one of the cruellest and most uncompromising of the so-called new wave of brutal films of the 2000’s which is up there with Martyrs as far as I’m concerned, there will be yelling, there will be screaming, there will cursing and pleading for death – and that’s just the trailer.
Bad Guy (2001) – One of the most terrifying factors of Kim-Ki-Duk’s career is how the man who could conduct the Buddhist rhapsody of Spring,_Summer,_Fall,_Winter…_and_Spring could subsequently proceed do make some of the most transgressive and outré films of world cinema of the past decade, operating in the darkest possible recess of the human condition. I saw his latest film Moebius (which finally gets its limited UK release this month) at TiFF last year and I was so petrified I couldn’t even bring myself to craft a review, such was its unique, bludgeoning effect. OK, I’m exaggerating a little (d’ya think?) but his films are punishment of a very cruel and unusual nature, but there is evidence of pulsing purpose around a staged theatricality which immediately invites comparisons to Strindberg and Beckett, alongside a wider questioning of cinematic representations in relation to reality, our species fathomless capacity for cruelty and violence, a provoked reaction aligned with real atrocities. I’ve not seen Bad Guy bit it sounds like a real hoot, having seen both The Isle and Pieta recently its a wonder I don’t get arrested for adding all three to my rental list at the same time….
Dans Ma Peau (2002) – Back to France for director / actor Marina de Van’s debut. The film charts the slow, imperceptible spiral into madness of high-flying PR agent Esther who accidentally cuts herself on the leg during a drunken escapade, before the realisation of her bodies fragile shell leads to a frenzied fascination of what might be more than skin deep. Coincidentally I tracked this down earlier in the year and just to be lazy you could cite this as a Francais Cronenberg cut, with a slightly more mysterious and inquisitive viewpoint than David’s social anxieties. De Van followed this up with the Sophie Marceau & Monica Bellucci starring Ne Te Retourne Pas which also hosts similar concerns with the body and decay, I’ve not seen that so once again this exercise is reaping potential dividends.
Gently Before She Dies (1972) – God-damn if those Italians didn’t know how to luridly title their lurid movies? Although the US release title seems lifted from standard noir trappings Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key stars giallo queen Edwige Fenech as the promiscuous niece of Irina (Anita Strinberg), an anorexic shell who has shacked up in a crumbling, decrepit mansion with failed writer and alcoholic degenerate Oliverio (Luigi Pistilli). Soon the bodies start to stack up faster than the philandering sexual relations, with a shrieking conclusion fit for a film whose premise was partially channelled from Poe’s mewing classic The Black Cat.
The Whip & The Body (1963) – So let’s close, fittingly enough, with a frenzy of gothic housed S&M, wielded by the hands of macabre maestro Mario Bava. I’ve never seen or had even heard of this prior reading the book, maybe the thought of Christopher Lee as some sadist nobleman scarred me for life. having revisited Corman’s Poe cycle recently this looks like lacerating aperitif. There are dozens more movies this book has led me to discover or revisit, I could easily double the size of this list and still not scratch the surface, but let me refer you to De Palma’s Sisters (recently re-issued on Blu by Arrow in a lovely package), the hilarious looking Slaughter Hotel, the (WARNING GRAPHIC) nasty looking They Call Her One Eye (a Tarantino favourite, and you can see why), the ghoulishly stale Nekromantic, UK giallo influenced Madhouse and the delinquent Christiane F if you’re still a glutton for punishment.
OK, enough of the worthy and heartwarming pre-award accolades, given that the UK is being saturated with the worst weather since the 18th century it’s a fine time to wallow in some NSFW filth;
SURGEON GENERALS WARNING – Ingredients may contain Sybil Danning, Biker Carnage, Ghetto-Petting, Sid Haig, Thai-Fu, Kevin McCarthy, Unapologetic Sexism, Henry Silva, Euro-Horse, Prison Cannabalism, Goblin Satanism, Dixie-Sleaze, Bronx Sadism, Tomisaburō Wakayama, Marijuana Terror, Pimp Bondage, Paul Bartel, Co-Ed Stalking, Pam Grier, Negro-Fear, Linda Blair, empowering Lesbian Avengers and Beach Party Trash Bangs. Oh, and McBain Walken…..
Yes I know I’ve not seen the sequel, and I know that since the original was a major disappointment we really shouldn’t expect anything from Machete Kills but this faux-trailer to Episode III did make me smirk;
Let’s take a quick break between the reviews as the next assault is going to be quite a lengthy effort, suffice to say Spring Breakers is one of the films of the year, an instant cult classic in the vein of Drive or Monsters that I’ve also attempted to devote an appropriate level of detail, for prosperity’s sake of course. Whilst I get myself all worked up over that lets take a quick look at other developments, first of all this has been doing the rounds and is quite an amusing read, I’m all for the spearing of sacred cows and welcome any alternative to the tedious retreading of hagiographic wisdom, but it does help if you get your damn facts straight. Not wishing to sound patronising or anything (which always makes me think of people who start sentences with ‘I’m not racist or anything but….’) but you can almost picture these twentysomething young whippersnappers, fresh faced out of film / journalism school, their tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks as they enthusiastically sharpen their critical pencils and muse over making a name for themselves via whipping up some controversy by claiming that ‘Citizen Kane? Citizen Lame more like’, or ‘The Godfather?’ that’s like a really rubbish soap opera, yeah? And it’s all in the dark, you can’t even see what’s happening’… I mean c’mon, how you can possibly electronically show your face after claiming that The Third Man is a ‘far superior Welles film’, when of course it wasn’t a bloody Welles film, he’s in three scenes, one of which with dialogue which admittedly is a stone cold classic sequence, yet the controversy rages still on whether he ever wrote or ad-libbed his speech. OK, OK, I’m deliberately being combative, I have no idea about most of these people’s ages or credentials other than recognising some of the sites they contribute to, and seriously I’d quite like to read more expansive reasons for their dislikes (some of which I fully agree with, Jules Et Jim? Most of Fellini? I also fucking loathe Moulin Rogue! with the intensity of a trillion suns so I’m an instant supporter of Jonathan Lack) but this Drew Hunt chap? Sterilisation* springs to mind, to protect the future gene pool. Now, here are some lesbians;
So then rest in peace Jess Franco, one of the worst directors ever to pollute the movie screens. Now I don’t necessarily mean that in a derogatory way, like Ed Wood the man has many devoted supporters as of course sometimes things that are very bad can be thoroughly entertaining, then again having sat through both Oasis Of The Zombies and more recently his bloody awful Dracula picture I’m afraid I’m not one of ’em. But he is quite a titanic figure on the exploitation fan front, as Kim Newman quite succinctly put it ‘RIP Jess Franco, maker of 200 movies, some of which he hadn’t even seen’. Next, NSFW beware, here is the legendary John Holmes documentary which inspired P.T. Anderson to make Boogie Nights, including his commentary – I haven’t watched it yet but I’m told the similarities are quite revealing, if you’ll excuse the pun;
Sometimes I think I think about movies too much, just this morning during the commute I was idly flirting with the notion of a film festival curated by title alone, showing Trance, Vertigo, Sleeper, Dazed & Confused etc. if you catch my drift – can anyone think of any others? Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off to the BFI for part three of my recent cinematic odyssey, before a brief respite of a few days when I see by the marketing blitzkrieg swamping London that Oblivion has crept up for next weekend, then the Evil Dead remake should hit and then there’s Iron Man 3 and then we’re into May and my BFI tickets have just been confirmed for that month and oh god will this ever end…..
*This is a joke of course. A simple hanging would be cheaper……
I might be two years behind the curve but I finally tracked down Machete Maidens Unleashed over the weekend, from the same stable as the furiously arranged Not Quite Hollywood the documentary charts the lurid, titillating and morally questionable cycle of B movies that American producers shot in the Philippines between the late Sixties to early Eighties, basking in the freedom of mediocre labour costs, sultry locations, non-existent Health & Safety concerns and a hungry workforce of actors and technicians willing to craft the most ridiculously prurient material if it gave them a start in the industry. This was absolutely hilarious, I’d heard of many of these films before but they have never been easy to track down, at least until the recent wonders of genre resurrection and the quiet explosion of specialist DVD production companies, my on-line rental queues are looking rather more decrepit as a result. This is seriously what cult film fandom is all about, these horrendously inept, exploitative gems being utterly impossible to be made today, featuring the essential components of the three ‘B’s – ‘blood, breasts and beasts’ with trailers that will genuinely have you starting slack-jawed in disgusted amusement or doubling over in humour induced shivers, I cannot believe some of this stuff got made;
The documentary takes the usual example of interviews with leading players – directors such as Eddie Romero, Jack Hill, Joe Viola, Brian Trenchard Smith and Gerardo de Leon, commentators such as Joe Dante and John Landis, plus of course Corman himself alongside ‘star’ talent such as grindhouse favourites Sid Haig, Pam Grier, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum – well their sons anyway – and lesser known stars such as Leigh Cristian, Judy Brown, Marlene Clark and Margaret Markov. In a brilliant melange of production anecdotes, industry gossip, libelous recollections and credulity stretching capers the interviews are interspersed with unforgivably searing images and sequences from the films themselves, and this is where the real fun quite literally kicks-in.So here is my final mini-retrospective season of the year, let’s look at what (Warning seriously, I mean seriously NSFW material) we have on the menu eh?
I’ve recently been on a 1930’s and 1940’s Universal horror expedition, seeking out the numerous sequels to the Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolfman classics, this seems like an appropriate avenue of exploration to complement those reserved chills, with slightly more adult certificate XXX censor baiting material;
Ah, the age old story of predatory sex-starved ladies who transmogrify into ravenous beasts with a bloodthirsty appetite for male flesh – we’ve all been there, right guys? Well, and some of your girls for that matter, at least the genre took the time to celebrate multi-cultural diversity from time to time…..
This horror movie was one of the first movies in the cycle, released in 1968 the genre eventually mutated into action and martial art movies and away from the trappings of terror, although the scripts and acting were still enough to induce blood curdling screams, Beast Of Blood also looks like frenzied fun. The genre took a slight detour first to that most filthy of sub-genres, the ‘Women in Prison’ pictures which aren’t in the least bit exploitative of course;
At one point John Landis calls out the nonsense academic critiques pushed at these films, portraying them as some sort of feminist statement with big breasted women getting naked, raped and tortured but turning the tables on their aggressors in the final reels, dual wielding machine guns and massacring their patriarchal oppressors in a bloodbath of lethally unmerciful violence. I’m inclined to agree with him that although these films emerged as the feminist movement was gaining traction in the developed world the producers quite honestly could not give a damn about female emancipation, they cared about one thing – money – and served the most prurient aspects of the audience in order to shift as many tickets as possible.
The screens first erotic kung-fu classic eh? I’ll naturally be checking that out for (coughs) research purposes. Let’s finish on something of a ‘high’, the full trailer to a jaw dropping classic, you will not believe your eyes when you’ve seen this absolutely genuine spy movie starring Weng Weng, although the trailer below looks like a mash-up of the genuine article, fuck Skyfall as here is the real (pauses, raises eyebrow) licence to thrill;