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October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

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Dangerous Crossing (Joseph M. Newman - 1953)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:15 AM

October 30, 2013

Confessions of an Opium Eater

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Albert Zugsmith - 1962
Warner Archives DVD

Not a horror film, but this film does star Vincent Price, and there is a nightmare scene where bats and skulls appear.

While I had vague memories of the film passing through one of my neighborhood theaters in Evanston, Illinois, my interest was piqued when it was mentioned in Raymond Durgnat's monograph on Georges Franju. This was some time in the early Seventies, when I was studying cinema at New York University. I wrote a letter to Albert Zugsmith that eventually found its way to him. Astonishingly, Zugsmith wrote back to me. Sadly, I have long misplaced that letter.

Even when he was solely the producer, the films associated with Albert Zugsmith have either taken place in fantasy realms or have teetered in a nightmare reality. There is thematic continuity to be found in The Incredible Shrinking Man, Written on the Wind, Tarnished Angels and Touch of Evil with their trapped protagonists who often find that it's better to embrace rather than fight one's fate. While Confessions of an Opium Eater doesn't have anywhere near the kind of critical standing as Zugsmith's films as a producer, there are astonishing moments to be found. The film is inspired by the 1822 book, Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey, but takes place in an imagined early Twentieth century San Francisco.

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Opium isn't eaten. As Gilbert De Quincey, descendent of Thomas De Quincey, Vincent Price takes a couple of puffs before finding himself in dreamland. For a low budget Hollywood film, Confessions is more experimental than most, veering from a straight narrative, with Price caught in a slow motion chase through a depopulated street, with only a few sound effects and no dialogue. The entire film is almost like Alice in Wonderland where Price finds himself stepping though a variety of hidden rooms, elevators and sewers, a Chinatown maze where the only escape seems to be death. Aided by frequent Robert Aldrich collaborator Joseph Biroc as cinematographer, and Jean Renoir associate Eugene Lourie doing the set designs, Confession looks as good as possible. Fog also helps when you have to disguise that there's not much of a set.

The film may have played on then popular notions about the Chinese and Chinatown, although in some ways Zugsmith's film isn't too much different from John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China. There are anachronisms, especially when the slave girls who are to be auctioned as wives perform dances belonging to early Sixties Las Vegas. Too Zugsmith's credit, the bulk of supporting roles were taken by Asian-American actors, with Richard Loo and Philip Ahn as the most recognizable of names. The one significant performance in "yellow face" is by Yvonne Moray, a former munchkin, quite delightful here as a former wife found caged by Price, who acts as his more informative and energetic ally.

Even when discussions about the thin line between love and hate, and dreams and reality may seem hackneyed, what is hardly a cliche is to see Vincent Price as some kind of action hero. The pretentious first person narration, a reminder of the film's literary roots, adds to the goofy charm.

Confessions can now be seen more easily with the recent DVD release. For a deeper look, there are pieces by C. Jerry Kutner and Sean Nortz.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:39 AM

October 28, 2013

Long Weekend

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Thai teaser poster

Thongsook 13
Taweewat Wantha - 2013
Vicol Entertainment Region 3 DVD

For those who've been following this blog since my time in Chiang Mai, you know that Taweewat is one of my favorite Thai filmmakers. I was convinced by one of the guys working at my favorite legal DVD store to check out SARS War, a zombie horror-comedy that threw in a gigantic man eating snake, a flying vampire baby, while chucking out any sense of propriety or good taste. It's the only film by Taweewat available as a Region 1 DVD, and film I wrote about for someone else's website. I was able to see Taweewat's second film, the equally hilarious The Sperm, on the big screen in Chiang Mai, where I was the only one in the audience.

Thongsook, a young boy, and Nam. a young girl, are two elementary school kids who meet in the infirmary. Thongsook is recovering from a bloody nose from a fight. Nam has an unnamed illness. Thongsook overhears that it is Nam's birthday. Nam won't have any birthday party, but will be watching a television show devoted to the paranormal. Shows like that frighten Thongsook. Proving he's not chicken, he asks his new friend if she would like to see a real ghost. Of course she would. Thongsook removes the special Buddhist amulet he wears, and Nam gets the fright of her life.

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The two remain friends growing up. Nam's other friends just see a guy who is socially inept, and full of nervous tics. Nam's friends decide to spend a night at a house in a remote, uninhabited island. Thongsook finds the way through a carelessly tossed aside map. As it turns out, the island was a place where a ceremony for the Devouring Spirits has been held. The last time the ceremony was held, the spirits filled their bellies. Annoyed that Thongsook has chosen to tag along, mostly to be with Nam, two of the boys lock Thongsook up in a metal cell, the site of the ceremony. With his amulet ripped from his neck, Thongsook finds himself alone and unprotected. Friday the 13th is only a couple of days away . . .

It's not like Taweewat has reinvented the Thai ghost story as much as he gives some familiar tropes some fresh energy and a sense of visual panache. The island is made up of twisted, bare trees, some with various religious beads dangling from the branches. The only life on the island seems to be that of the feral black cats observing the human invaders. The film is beautifully photographed, with a lot of emphasis on shadows and partial visibility. When Taweewat chooses to amp up his pyrotechnical side, there is an abundance of flash cutting, used only for some very specific moments. Visually, this is the equivalent to the kind of rock guitar player who can dazzle with some very quick fingered picking, but also knows when strumming the chords is the most effective way to play.

Admittedly, on the surface, Long Weekend is not the kind of film that would garner any kind of critical respect. The plot doesn't seem to far removed from something like Uwe Boll's House of the Dead. Genre conventions are respected. There is neither parody nor an attempt at deconstruction. There is some humor, and Taweewat and his scriptwriting team play with parts of the narrative, so that the viewer is not entirely sure if what is seen is simply within the mind of Nam. My own feeling is that so many Thai ghost stories are casually dismissed by critics and audience who are unfamiliar with Thai culture. The excellent English language subtitles are by Bangkok Post film critic, Kong Rithdee, by the way. Taweewat may be too idiosyncratic to ever get the kind of commercial success he deserves, but one his own terms, he remains a rewarding filmmaker to watch.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:12 AM

October 27, 2013

Coffee Break

Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman in Stoker (Park Chan-wook - 2013)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:17 AM

October 24, 2013

The Italian Horror Blogathon: Slaughter Hotel

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La bestia uccide a sangue freddo / Cold Blooded Beast
Fernando Di Leo - 1971
Shriek Show Region 1 DVD

"This is the work of a psychopathic killer!". Amazingly, this pronouncement comes from the chief shrink at the psychiatric ward where the film takes place. There are some crazy things that happen, first being that a misleading English title was slapped on a story that takes place in a "rest home" for depressed or suicidal woman who just also happen to be wealthy and beautiful. Even crazier is that the people who run this joint allow the patients easy access to a collection of medieval devices such as swords, a crossbow and an iron maiden.

Slaughter Hotel might be charitably described as a giallo for people who don't like getting scared. There's a black cloaked killer wandering around this large chateau, checking out potential victims in their respective bedrooms. There isn't that much suspense. Di Leo's reputation largely rests on his series of police thrillers, and the best scene is when the cops shoot the killer at the end of the film. A white wall is splattered with drops of blood, while the killer is punctured with bullet holes. Di Leo cuts between close ups of the smoking guns and the smoked body. Some filmmakers are at their best treading familiar territory.

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Of course there are expectations when a movie stars Jess Franco repertory players Klaus Kinski and Margaret Lee. Di Leo almost gives Franco a run for his money with the abundant nudity here. The best excuse to see Slaughter Hotel is to bask in the glory that is Rosalba Neri. Whether trying to seduce the gardner, or writhing around naked on her bed, this is the film that should answer the questions pertaining to her most intimate body parts.

Coming up close is Monica Strebel as a nurse with a bedside manner, providing hands on therapy for patient Jane Garrett. Again, I got the feeling that Di Leo and his actresses were awkwardly trying to mimic the kind of action that seems to come naturally in a film by Franco. The pair do a little dance scene together. It's probably just as well that Di Leo never attempted to make a musical.

Slaughter Hotel would probably best be appreciated by Di Leo completists more than giallo fans. The DVD includes a short interview where Di Leo even admits that this was not one of his favorite films or that he can make any claim about originality. He does, however, have very kind words about Klaus Kinski. For myself, I doubt I'll ever forget that close up of Rosalba Neri's beautiful, well rounded ass.

There's always room for giallo, and more Italian horror, hosted by Kevin Olson at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:31 AM

October 22, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - The Schedule

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The Denver Film Society had a successful Kickstarter campaign this past Summer, raising enough money for four digital projectors, three of which are housed in the society's Sie three screen theater. It's not only theaters that are forced to go digital or go dark, but film festivals as well, so this allows the Starz Denver Film Festival to continue, with a second year of screening at the Sie Theater as well as the UA Denver Pavilion in downtown Denver.

Who is this Sie named a couple of times? John Sie is the retired founder of Starz Entertainment, based near Denver. Sponsorship of the film festival, and contributions to the film society's theater are part of the connection. As for this year's festival, it's at least part of the reason why the closing night film is At Middleton, distributed by Starz subsidiary Anchor Bay. And for all I know, it could be a pretty good film. Here's the trailer. Star Andy Garcia will be in attendance, The film also has Vera Farmiga, Tom Skerritt and Peter Reigert in the cast. Considering that the other special presentations are Labor Day, Nebraska and August: Osage County, the inclusion of At Middleton makes sense in terms of the relationship between the film society and John and Anna Sie.

Now in its 36th year, and even with the ability to provide digital projection at all screening venues, the festival sometimes seems more vulnerable than venerable. Some of the titles I would have expected are bypassing Denver for the AFI Festival which is rolling out at the same time. This is in contrast to past years where there seems to have been a better number of shared titles.

The entire festival schedule is here.

What I will cover will be only a small fraction of what is presented. Part of the "World Cinema" section includes a selection of fourteen films from The Netherlands, with a new film by the most famous Dutch filmmaker ever, Paul Verhoeven. Some of the entries up for the foreign language Oscar include The Great Beauty and Ilo Ilo. While a good number of the films will, or already have, theatrical release in the U.S., this might be the only chance for those in the Denver area to see the films on the big screen. Keep in mind that the schedule is subject to change with some possible last minute additions, as well a repeat showings of some of the more popular films. My coverage will coincide with the festival schedule.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:25 AM

October 20, 2013

Coffee Break

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Lam Ching Ying, Moon Lee Choi-Fung and Ricky Hui in Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau - 1985)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:40 AM

October 17, 2013


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Lavinia Currier - 2011
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I had forgotten that I had seen Lavinia Currier's previous film, Passion in the Desert, about sixteen years ago. I guess I can describe the film as a love story between a Napoleonic era soldier and a leopard. Oka! might be best described as a love story between an American ethnomusicologist and a pygmy tribe in central Africa. Aside from both films centered on white men in Africa, both share a premise where the men "find themselves" by getting lost. One of these days, I would hope Currier would make an autobiographical film. Consider this brief description from her own life, from a story in the Washington Post: "In one of her more outlandish acts - but certainly not the only one - she hacked off her blond hair with a penknife on the banks of the Nile after catching a river fever, and then wandered the Sahara alone in this afflicted condition - 'feeling quite sick in an otherworldly kind of way,' she says - until she arrived months later, barefoot and in rags, at the Tunisian palace of her scandalized great aunt, the Baroness D'Erlanger.".

While Currier's film is based on the life of Louis Sarno, it really can't be described as biographical in the usual sense. There are several moments of what I can only describe as the cinematic equivalent to magic realism. In an early scene, the character based on Sarno, Larry, hears the call of a tribesman, thought the two men are separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Soon afterward, a burst of butterflies fills Larry's room. In spite of ill health, Larry travels back to Africa to complete his recordings of the music of the Bayaka tribe, in hopes of capturing the sounds of an elusive, and perhaps mythical, instrument.

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Larry's life with the Bayaka, and his efforts to record the sounds and music of the tribal area, are cross-cut against a narrative of tribal rivalries, with a member of the Buntu tribe, known as The Mayor, acting as the government strongman. A sub-plot involves a businessman representing a Chinese corporation, and their interests in taking over traditional hunting grounds for in order to harvest timber in the area. The village is home to a lumber mill, representing the industrial exploitation of the area and its people. The ecological and cultural concerns are clearly presented through the images. What might be considered heavy handed is that the Sarno proxy's last name is Whitman.

The title is the pygmy word for listen. Larry's nickname is "Big Ears". Using Sarno's own words, Larry considers the tribal music to be the equivalent to Beethoven. As best as I can tell, the music is genuine. The film's attitude is best expressed when the tribe has a celebratory dance. Another tribe member steps in with a portable tape player. The music from the tape player temporarily dominates the live music of the tribe, until a village elder takes a spear to end what he considers noise. Currier does make a concession to fans of "world music" with a score by Chris Berry.

On the film's website, Sarno emphasizes the fictionalization of his life. In some ways, Oka! seems like a throwback to the days when the only way one could travel to a remote part of the world was through the movies. What is different is the change of attitude from that of older films about white men in Africa. The use of dreams and images of the forest and its animals also recalled for me the art of Henri Rousseau.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:12 AM

October 15, 2013

Horror Stories

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Museoun Iyagi
Min Kyu-dong, Jung Bum-sik, Im Dae-woong, Hong Ji-young, Kim Gok and Kim Sun - 2012
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

A high school girl finds herself bound and gagged. Her kidnapper, a young man not much older than her puts off whatever plan he has made, due to her showing some compliance towards him. Informing her that her telling him the scariest story possible will put him in the mood for some solid sleep, the young woman does her best. The set-up is a variation on Scheherazade, although this framing story take place over the course of one night rather than the fabled one thousand and one. As might be expected from an omnibus film with several directors, the results are not entirely consistent, but the two best episodes have some of the feeling of modern fairy tales.

I wasn't sure what to expect from "Don't Open the Door". Not because of the English language title which will remind some of a slew of movies with titles that began with "Don't", plus that parody trailer in Grindhouse, but because this was the solo work of one of the Jung brothers. Exquisite might not be the kind of word to describe a horror film, but the brothers' Epitaph has moments that are visually as beautiful as might be expected from the more traditionally admired masters. Parents who watch this short might be freaked out by the sight of a teacher who scares her elementary school students with a scary image, which is followed by a musical number in a school bus with the teacher's all too friendly voice suddenly dropping to something lower, possibly malevolent. Even worse, two young children are left alone in an apartment, while mom is out. Fairy tales often seem to involve young children facing, whether witch, wolf or human, some kind of serial killer.

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Based on "Secret Recipe", I hope to see more films by Hong Ji-young. The story is about the rivalry between two sisters, one who is to marry an extremely wealthy man. While the basic plot is reportedly based on a classic Korean folk tale, western viewers will also recognize a variation on story of Bluebeard. The sisters are so dazzled by wealth that no one questions why the groom would have five previous wives. There is a moment when one of the sisters finds herself in a room full of headless mannequins all in wedding dresses. Standing behind one of the mannequins, her head appears disconnected from her body. Was it intentional that this scene also reminded me of one similar in Mario Bava's A Hatchet for the Honeymoon?

The Kim brothers' "Ambulance on the Death Zone" treads some familiar territory. A mother and daughter are taken by ambulance following a car accident. Except that the story takes place during some kind of of zombie apocalypse where the infected have been bitten by rats. The daughter, comatose, has a wound that looks like a bite. The mother is adamant that her daughter is not infected, but the ambulance doctor thinks otherwise. Most of this segment takes place within the confines of the ambulance with tensions mounting between the mother, the doctor, a nurse, and the ambulance driver. As with their feature, White, the Kim brothers are visually inventive even when the story might be short on originality.

The weakest segment is "Endless Flight" by Im Dae-woong. A handcuffed serial killer apparently wasn't checked thoroughly if he's able to sneak a knife on board and kill his two police escorts, three stewardesses, the pilot and the co-pilot. Not only endless, but pointless.

While the movie is the type that would have been presented on the Tartan Asia Extreme label years ago, the presentation is classier. Giving Horror Stories a bit of serious context is an overview of omnibus horror films from Artsploitation's Travis Crawford, an essay by University of California Professor Kyu Hyun Kim, and an interview with Jung Bum-sik.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:20 AM

October 13, 2013

Coffee Break

Mike Gwilym, Nicol Williamson and Sarah Miles in Venom (Piers Haggard - 1981)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:37 AM

October 10, 2013


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Kongkiat Komesiri - 2009
MVD Visual Region 1 DVD

It took a while for Slice to appear as an English subtitled DVD. It took a little while longer before I was able to verify that this was the complete version, 99 minutes long, when several listings suggested a shorter, ahem, cut. For those following Thai cinema in all its forms, this was not only critical success, but also one of the more prominent releases of 2009. The top nominee for the 2010 Subhanahongsa Awards, the Thai equivalent to the Oscars, in fourteen out of sixteen categories, Slice won for Best Director, Score and Make-up. Since the bottom fell out of the "Asian Extreme" market, it's good to know that the film found its way stateside on a very obscure DVD label.

In some ways, I'm not surprised that Kongkiat's film might have have trouble finding an audience. The film is by turns perhaps too arty for the gorehounds, while the some of the art house crowd would undoubtedly be disturbed by some very graphic violence. The story is by Wisit Sasanatieng, best known for his Tears of the Black Tiger. Unlike that film or Citizen Dog which played on imagery from classic Thai movies, Slice has moments recalling Dario Argento and Gaspar Noe. Reversing their roles from The Unseeable which Kongkiat wrote, and Wisit directed, both that film and Slice share a common theme about the inability to escape one's past.

Tai is a prisoner, later revealed to be a former cop who has worked for a detective, Chin. Chin has been investigating a series of murders. The victims have been men, with their penises removed. Tai thinks there might be a connection between his recurring nightmare involving a large red suitcase, and the discovery of one of the bodies. The son of a top politician is one of the victims. Tai is released from prison to hunt for the killer, with clues suggesting the person was a childhood friend, one the condition that he solves the mystery by a specific date.

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The narrative alternates between the present day hunt for the serial killer and Tai's memories of growing up in a small rural town, kicked off when he returns in search of the friend in question. The memories are primarily centered on adolescence, when hormones kick in, and boys attempt to deal with their budding sexuality. There is homosexuality, both real and perceived, with Tai coming to grips with his friendship with Nut, a smaller boy tauntingly addressed as "faggot". Joining with a quartet of boys who beat up Nut, Tai eventually foregoes being part of the gang. Tai and Nut run away from their small village after killing Nut's abusive father, only to be caught up with some sleazeballs in the notorious Walking Street area of Pattaya.

There is the recurring use of red throughout the film. The opening shot seems like nothing special, a simple shot horizontally divided between sea and sky, until you not a small dot of red in the ocean, what is revealed to be a large, red suitcase. The killer wears a red hooded cloak. There are also red boots, windows, reflecting light. The red cloak of the killer appears iridescent, especially in a scene of mass murder in a sex club. While red is associated with the devil, the killer is seen standing in front of a large, illuminated ferris wheel, almost like a halo, with the cloak spread out suggesting that the mystery person might be more of an avenging angel.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:16 AM

October 08, 2013

Drug War

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Du zhan
Johnny To - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

There is a seriousness in Drug War that I haven't seen previously from Johnny To. Maybe it is in response to the laws of mainland China, where this film was shot. While the film was made with some of To's usual collaborators like screenwriter Wai Ka-Fai and editior David Richardson behind the camera, and Louis Koo and To mascot Lam Suet in the cast, the playfulness seen in the Hong Kong films is absent. Even when the usually no nonsense cop, Zhang, played by Sun Honglei impersonates a top drug smuggler named Haha due to his constant chortle, there is no reason to laugh.

With his baritone voice, almost deadpan in expression, there's the immediate sense that Zhang is not a guy you want to fuck around with. Yet that's what captured drug dealer Timmy tries to do. As Timmy, we first see Timmy frothing from the mouth, driving erratically until he crashes into a restaurant. At about the same time, a bus carrying several people serving as drug mules are caught. There is also a truck filled with the stuff needed to manufacture meth, driven by a drug addled pair. Timmy attempts to spare himself a certain death sentence by providing Zhang with information on the top drug dealers in northeastern China. Part of the sting operation in place involves Zhang impersonating the smuggler Haha, with the equally serious policewoman, Yang Xiaobei, playing his wife.

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Much of the first hour and a half is of culling information through observation. Images from traffic surveillance cameras, tiny video cameras, and binoculars are used. Both sides use hidden radio communications. For Zhang and Timmy, their lives depend on subterfuge - Zhang's pretending to be a high level gangster, and Timmy's new identity as police informant.

There is a culturally specific scene worth noting. Timmy gets together with two deaf-mute brothers who operate one of his two drug factories. He mentions how his wife and her brothers had been killed in an explosion in the other factory. Realizing that they do not have incense to burn in an impromptu memorial ceremony, money is burned instead.

One of the more intense scenes is of Zhang as Haha, goaded into snorting cocaine in order to get in the good graces of a leading crime boss. The real Haha has been seen boasting that while he sells drugs, he never indulges himself of the product. Zhang, as Haha, repeats his words verbatim, only to find that he cannot progress unless he takes a line, which becomes two lines, of the drug. What makes the scene interesting is how Zhang is first seen sniffing at a passed out Timmy in the beginning of the film, as well as covering his nose when he inspects Timmy's meth factory following the explosion. Part of Zhang's detection is through his sense of smell.

The cat and mouse games give way to a climatic shoot out. While it is as bloody as anything seen in previous To films, there isn't the sense of bravura, such as might be seen in Exiled. This is more straightforward as cops and criminals shoot each other. Without giving too much away, there is an incredible image when Timmy finds that there is no way he can escape Zhang. Timmy desperately clings to the illusion that he will be granted freedom, even at the moment of his inevitable fate.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:52 AM

October 06, 2013

Coffee Break

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Belen Rueda in Julia's Eyes (Guillem Morales - 2010)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:17 AM

October 03, 2013


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Robert Hartford-Davis - 1968
Grindhouse Releasing BD Regions ABC/DVD Region 0 Combo

I'm glad I chose to see Corruption with the commentary track. David Miller, biographer of Peter Cushing, and Jonathan Rigby, author of several books about horror films, discuss the making of the film, along with anecdotes about the actors. As it turns out, I'm not the only one who thinks of Robert Hartford-Davis' film as something of a blend of Eyes without a Face and Blow-Up. The connection of these two films was also perceived by some critics at the time of the initial release. Franju's film inspired several films about doctors trying to save the face of a beautiful, beloved female, at the expense of sacrificing several other beautiful females. Part of Corruption takes place at the party hosted by a fashion photographer in "Swinging" London, at that time the cultural center of the world, or so it appeared to many of us at that time.

At the behest of his model fiancee, Lynn, the much older surgeon, Sir John Rowan, agrees to come to a party hosted by photographer, Mike Orme. As the surgeon, Peter Cushing tries to be amiable, but looks out of place, and is clearly uncomfortable amid the loud music and louder people. And I could be reading something unintended here but I felt that Cushing was reflecting some of the feelings of Hartford-Davis and his screenwriters, brothers Donald and Derek Ford. The director, 44 years old at the time, and the writers, no more than ten years younger, began their filmmaking careers together just four years previously, making contemporary stories that at the time pushed the envelope regarding depictions of sex and sexuality. What Rigby and Miller don't mention is that Corruption was filmed at the time when The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album was the soundtrack for that summer. The filmmaking team may well have cast a jaundiced eye at a time when film, fashion and music from just a couple of years previously had suddenly become old and out of date.

Certainly, two of the hippie thugs that terrorize Lynn and John look like Sgt. Pepper extras - Phillip Manikum, dandyish with his black cape and white "Nehru" suit, and David Lodge in his all purpose uniform. In his interview, Billy Murray explains that he insisted on wearing his own clothes, so you have one guy who actually dresses like a lot of young men in the late Sixties.

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That the hippies prove to be as venal as everyone else is indicative of this caustic view of the "Summer of Love". Almost everyone in Corruption is revealed to be out for themselves. Even Sir John's initial altruism in saving the face he may have accidentally burned, turns into moral quicksand with murder to satisfy Lynn's vanity. Lynn's demand for more injections of the serum created from women's pituitary glands may temporarily restore the damaged portion of her face, yet she remains oblivious to notion that her time as a top model has passed. The film's original ending, fittingly nihilistic, was an appropriate way to end a story where everyone is out of control.

In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby remarked on how Peter Cushing "brings a certain seedy grandeur " as the doctor. Most of the reviews of Corruption were generally dismissive. And while Corruption might not get the kind of critical reevaluation afforded Michael Powell, the Grindhouse Releasing treatment, with the two different versions of the film, commentary track, and loads of extras, almost made me feel like I was watching the Peeping Tom of 1968. This comparison with Powell is from a critical standpoint, as Hartford-Davis could at least boast of commercial vindication. Certainly no one at that time would have thought that Robert Hartford-Davis would be the subject of an academic paper.

The Blu-ray has both the version of Corruption released in English speaking countries, and the "international" version which contains a different version of the first murder of a prostitute, as well as a brief shot included in another murder scene set on a train. The violence is more explicit, with the scene of the prostitute features her topless before becoming headless. Rowan's tentativeness about what he is about to do as presented in the English version is replaced by a situation where it is kill or be killed. It should be noted that Corruption could well be Hartford-Davis' most personal film, having created the story that the Ford brothers turned into a screenplay, and personally financing the production with producer-cinematographer Peter Newbrook prior to securing a distribution deal. I can only add that as the story and characters became more unhinged, I was laughing my head off.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:45 AM

October 01, 2013

Adam Chaplin

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Emanuele De Santi - 2011
Autonomy Pictures Region 0 DVD

In some ways, Adam Chaplin is close in spirit to films like the original Robocop or Darkman both thematically and visually. These are films about men who should have been left for dead, but re-emerge as physically modified, and not quite human. The three films cited here also take on a comic book aesthetic that is usually not seen in movies adapted from comic books.

As a work of dystopian horror, there may have been many sources of inspiration - possibly Chris Marker's La Jetee, as well as splatter masters like Stuart Gordon, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg, the Sushi Typhoon band of Japanese filmmakers, and even Nick Zedd. My point is not not merely name drop, but to try and locate this film within a certain kind of tradition of transgressive film that operates at least in part with artistic motivation, and not only to gross out the viewer.

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The story, as such, is about the title character seeking to kill the men who killed his wife. We see her death at the hands of a man whose black mask partially obscures what is certain to be a maimed face. The wife is burned to death for not paying money owed. Adam Chaplin walks through wreckage of a city called Heaven Valley. With incredibly rapid fists, Chaplin pummels the faces of his enemies. Egging him on his quest is some strange growth, an extra head that pops out to command him. The chief villain, the guy with the mask, keeps himself alive with a drug called Necrocril 3, a drug that also causes his body to be a distorted mass of nerves and muscles. There is some kind of symbolism involved with an upside cross, but it's explained or in any way dwelled upon.

Sure, there is going to be audience for a film featuring extreme violence, one that advertises the sheer bloodiness of this project. Again, what is most interesting to me is the effort De Santi put into trying to make a film that looks like the live action version of a comic book. One of the more interesting supplements is about the fake blood created for the film. De Santi not only wrote and directed, but played the title role, and composed the soundtrack. Giulio De Santi served as producer and also acted in this film, virtually no budget save for the what was put in to create the special effects. That Adam Chaplin somehow burst from local sales out of Italy to a number of international distribution deals has allowed Giulio De Santis to make a new film, with a bigger budget, and in English, Taeter City, released last year.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:42 AM