Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Vertigo/DePalma - IV

Part IV

...Another notable cinematographic trait from Vertigo [that DePalma utilized in his own films] was Novak's flashback whilst sitting alone in her bedroom. Here, the camera has framed the actress perfectly as she proceeds to write a note detailing her involvement in what we thought was her double's suicide up until now – where she admits, via her own voice-over and visualized for us (the audience) through a lengthy flashback of the bell tower scene, revealing visual information that we had not been privy to when the scene had originally played out earlier, that the “suicide” had been in fact a cover for murderous goings-ons. The mis-en-scene in the hotel room during the flashback brings to mind the excitingly framed flashback sequence from DePalma's The Fury when Amy Irving pauses halfway up an interior stairway and receives a psychic vision of her missing brother. DePalma shows us this vision as a split-screen as Irving remains frozen on the steps for us to witness her reacting to the vision – and while DePalma had played with dual-screen storytelling before in Sisters and The Phantom of the Paradise, he had never displayed it in this tricky and clever manner before – instead of the standard dividing line between the two scenes playing simultaneously, in The Fury, literally half of the backdrop surrounding Irving dissolves away into the vision she's having as the camera turns around her. Here, DePalma has displayed his most brilliant take on the dual-screen technique. The whole flashback trope also teeters over experimental territory, and although DePalma was no stranger to this form on non-linear storytelling, he wouldn't fully experiment with it until his later films, Raising Cain, wherein his seemingly overlapping flashbacks and dream sequences were viewed as too experimental for its time (1991) and DePalma succumbed to the pressure to re-cut his film into its current “theatrical release” version. Since that time, Raising Cain has been recut into a pseudo- “director's” cut where the scenes of real time, flashback, and dream fantasy have been restructured back into a form more closely resembling DePalma's original idea for Raising Cain. (This latter version is now available on a newer home video release). The epitome of DePalma's use of flashbacks had to have been his sophisticated, intricate, and suspenseful reveal of how and why Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise's) team of spies had been set-up and killed in the big-budget blockbuster Mission Impossible. This flashback sequence of DePalma's is particularly fantastic because as the sequence plays out as Tom Cruise's inner thoughts, mixing memory with gap-filling logic and circumstantial accusations, John Voight is sitting across from him simultaneously relaying a series of lies and his own false accusations, speaking while the flashback is occurring. The killing of the Mission Impossible team also happened in the first half hour of this exciting action film, literally and cinematically amping up the heroes-dying-halfway-through idea that had so intrigued Hitchcock in Vertigo and Psycho.

The ultimate experiment in non-linear storytelling for DePalma would happen a few years after Raising Cain and Mission Impossible. It would be the next decade, in fact, in 2002, when DePalma utilized a hugely extravagant flash-forward for the entire second act and continuing halfway through the third act of Femme Fatale, without even letting the audience in on it until the last few minutes of the film. At this point in his career, DePalma knew exactly how experimental he was being, he held no allusions that the climax of Femme Fatale might alienate his theatrical audiences. He was looking forward to the reaction that his film would get when it was released into cinemas.

DePalma's inspired fascination with both cinema and media serves to set up nearly every one of his key films in their opening frames. Sisters opens up with a shot on a broadcast television monitor. This was in 1973, and when DePalma returned to this idea of opening his films with televised monitors two decades later, he'd be nearly relentless with this idea. Raising Cain opens with a shot of a video baby monitor in a parents' bedroom. Mission Impossible with a shot of a live-camera monitor, monitored by a group of spies. DePalma had an obvious field day playing with interweaving video technology where a group of spies is pitted against two other groups of spies in the midst of double-crosses and doubleback twists – this is the very epitome of voyeurism quite literally blown out of proportion. In Snake Eyes, DePalma opens the camera shot on a series of new footage monitors until the camera reveals the live footage in actuality, without cutting. From this, the camera continues to weave expertly without any noticeable visual cuts for nearly the next twenty minutes, emulating Hitchcock's Rope once again as the camera follows a rowdy and rambunctious police detective played by Nicholas Cage and setting up the entire first act of the film, introducing all of the film's key ensemble players. Snake Eyes is DePalma's version of Rope on high-octane steroids. Instead of containing the fluid action to the interior of an apartment, DePalma's single-setting is an entire Las Vegas casino and hotel, his cameras gliding across casino monitors, down hallways, around a boxing ring auditorium and across the ceiling overlooking the insides of a row of hotel suites, all elaborately decorated in individual colour schemes. It's no wonder DePalma needed to hire Nicholas Cage for the role, at that time he might've been the only Hollywood actor up to the challenge of out-scene-ing the scenery. As for DePalma's key thriller trilogy of the 1980s, none of them started out with television monitors, instead, Dressed to Kill begins with an outright dream-fantasy seemingly disconnected to the rest of the film's reality, while Blow Out and Body Double both begin with the making of a b-moive, and both of those movies retain the making of the b-movies as their underlying sub-plots (both to be twisted in irony by the ends of those films). It is finally Femme Fatale (2002) that culminated and somewhat epitomizes DePalma's cinematic and media fetishes together – the opening shot, post-90s-DePalma, is of a television (going all the way back to Sisters), but this time the television is not displaying anything that is happening within the reality of the film, as the opening shots of monitors had done in every single past instance DePalma had utilized this technique – this time, the television is playing, appropriately, a scene form the classic Hollywood film noir Double Indemnity. Watching this film on television, we see as the camera fulls back, is a nude Rebecca Romijn, lying across a hotel bed. This is preamble to a diamond heist that is about to occur during a celebratory night at the Cannes Film Festival. This move fixes DePalma's own cinema with his passion for media and cinema, and these themes continue on through Femme Fatale as our other leading character, Antonio Banders, is introduced as a media photographer. Television, cinema, photography, and mass-marketing advertising all crossover each other with DePalma's trademarks: sex and crime. And like Vertigo, Rebecca Romijn takes over for an uncanny doppelganger (also played by Romijn) when the weaker double commits suicide. Not as much of a remake of Vertigo as Body Double is, DePalma's Femme Fatale regardless freely uses and twists around Hitchcock's plotpoints regarding the heroine and her double. The diamond-heisting Romijn, the stronger, more sexually outward and confident one, even gets involved with the dead double's love interest, just as Novak had done with Stewart in Vertigo. DePalma's Femme Fatale actually plays out like Vertigo from the heroine's point of veiw as opposed to the male point of view, up until the third act where DePalma's experimental intentions are finally revealed, pulling the rug out from under the audience.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Issue #68 - The Absolute Underground Papers

(Original text from Absolute Underground Issue #68 - originally published February, 2016)

Cult Epics, Barrel, and German Arthouse Horror

Over the last few months, the independent retrospective genre label Cult Epics has released some of Germany's best and unflinching horror films onto Blu-ray – starting with Jorg Buttgereit's NekRomantik, the limited-numbered Blu-ray disc also included the impossible-to-find-in-English short film Hot Love, which if you can believe it, is actually more twisted than the necrophelic shenanigans of the director's first feature film. For a while in the early 2000s, one could purchase a European Hot Love DVD from the online retailer, which is sadly long out of business. This online retailer was the first place I was able to find a reasonably priced DVD copy of Jess Franco's Exorcism (the one released by Synapse Films) and they had for sale many great out-of-print or unavailable (on this side of the water) genre films on DVD and VHS. Around this time, there was another distribution company called Barrel Entertainment. In the early 2000s Barrel was shaping up to become the niche of niche genre DVD distributors; releasing some brilliant cult oddities into the new and exciting retail market of DVD. Indeed, they were the first distributor to bring Jorg Buttgereit's films to North American audiences via home video – NekRomantic, NekRomantik 2, and Schramm all received glorious special edition DVD releases, as well as some stellar, nearly forgotten, independent films like Roger Watkins' bloody experimental 1970s horror Last House on Dead End Street and Leif Jonker's slightly awkward but exciting 16mm vampire gore-a-thon Darkness. In 2005, Barrel Entertainment announced that they were about to release a hugely anticipated first North American release of Gerald Kargl's German serial killer masterpiece Angst as a special edition DVD... And then suddenly (or gradually, depending on your point of view), the release became bogged down in constant delays. Nobody really knew what was happening over at Barrel Entertainment, as a small independent DVD distributor it was not uncommon for their DVD releases to experience some minor delays when it came to their projected release dates, as packed as they were with new special features and fantastic film transfers, but in the case of the ultimately doomed Angst release, these delays stretched out to nearly two years before Barrel's antsy fans were starting to give up hope of ever seeing this German arthouse horror film released in Canada and the U.S. And sadly, it had been right to give up on the continual waiting – the release never happened. What none of us fans knew was that Barrel Entertainment was going through some strenuous financial hardship, mostly due to director Roger Watkins' suing them over a spat he had with their special features on the Last House on Dead End Street double-DVD release. Ironic, seeing as the whole reason Roger Watkins' film had been available for years on VHS and had developed a cult following without his knowledge was because the original distribution company had quite literally stolen the film from him. Now here was a legitimate distribution company finally putting due care and attention into a new release and special edition DVD of Watkins' film, and he ends up getting in a snit and suing them. This lawsuit was sadly the nail in the coffin for Barrel Entertainment, a company far too small to deal with any costly lawsuit. But as half-cocked as this lawsuit may have been, it was nevertheless truly sad and unfortunate to learn of director Roger Watkins' passing in relative obscurity in 2007 – something that left a bit of enigma in its wake*. As for Barrel Entertainment, their last release was in 2006, and they were not only working on Angst at that time, but also the first-ever North American release of Jorg Buttgereit's masterpiece Der Todesking. Barrel Entertainment official folded in 2007, the same year as Roger Watkins' death.

During the exciting dawn of genre DVD distribution, Cult Epics had also been releasing cult and then-obscure international films onto special edition DVDs, most notably the double-disc version of Abel Ferrara's Driller Killer and the triple-disc release of Walerian Worowczyk's The Beast (La Bete). Nowadays, with Barrel Entertainment nearly a decade gone (gone three years longer than they'd been in business for), Cult Epics has managed to finally pick up where Barrel had to leave off. After presenting NekRomantic and Hot Love in a newly-restored high definition transfer, Cult Epics has moved ahead to give us his gender-flipped follow-up NekRomantic 2 and his aforementioned masterpiece Der Todesking on a Blu-ray that also included the feature-length Buttgereit documentary Corpse Fucking Art; and most recently, a hi-def (and English-subtitled) version of Gerald Kargl's Angst.

I, like most people in North America, got to experience Angst for the first time thanks to Cult Epics' commercial Blu-ray release. To say this film is stunning would be an astounding understatement. It brought to mind another largely unheard-of German arthouse horror film released earlier in 2015 by Mondo Macabro; the fanatic killer thriller The Fan. Both of these highly stylish German horror films were produced in the early-to-mid 80s, and both are amazingly groundbreaking in their depth and explorations as psychological horror cinema. Both of these Blu-rays (as well as the Blu-rays of Jorg Buttgereit) are currently widely available to purchase online in North America, and I would highly recommend a purchase or two in support of these amazing independent distribution companies who are passionate enough to bring these cult films to North American audiences – because who knows how long this might last in our volatile, and dying, environment of home video distribution.

Roger Watkins' 1977 indie arthouse horror film has left behind a seared imprint on my mind since I first borrowed the Barrel DVD from a good friend of mine back in 2004. I think the DVD itself had been released a year or two earlier. In 2009, with Barrel's DVD woefully long out-of-print, I was able to find a different DVD copy quite easily (and cheaply) in the UK through a different distribution company. Watching that film for the second time, I was no less impressed than on the first viewing. There was something so rebellious, so fucking art, so bloody horrific in its low-budget drug-addled production values... It was actually kind of profound in a way. It was then that I began to wonder about the man behind the film – Roger Watkins. So I did what any slave to the immediacy of the internet would do... I Googled him; and discovered forthwith that he'd died in 2007. But this was just the beginning of my curiosity; it quickly piqued higher when I stumbled upon a comment thread following an obituary published online by (the comment section has since been deleted and disabled as of 2011) – here reprinted verbatim:

  • Elizabeth Watkins: "I am Roger's oldest daughter and I want to thank you for posting this article and paying tribute to him. I really miss him. He was the smartest guy I've ever met..."
  • Jo C. Schwarz: "Elizabeth, I am an old friend of your dad. I am sadden by the news of his passing. Roger was the smartest man I have ever met myself. His wit and charm will sorely be missed. He often talk about how smart you were as well."
  • Bob Arturi: "Elizabeth I had the pleasure of working with your dad at Bill Kolb Ford in Blauvelt, New York. He was one of the wittiest, smartest people I ever met. I lost contact with him for a while after he left the business, but found him a little later at another dealership. He then totally left the business to move upstate and I didn't have the opportunity to speak with him before he passed away. I can't say enough good things about him, his sense of humor, our long conversations about his life in the cinema world, and of course his tales of his family. He will always be in my thoughts."
  • Barry Koch: "Elizabeth, Your Dad roomed at my house for a while back in the late 1980s. He was a brilliant, creative, and maddeningly mercurial human being... and remains unforgettable to those who knew him in to any degree. Despite the tempests that seemed to swirl about his restless mind, he always spoke lovingly of "his girls", you and your sister.
  • pedobear: "I loved roger too we hung out together looking for young girls. i will miss you. Pedophilia died with you. R.I.H"
  • anonymous: "Pedobear, It is very important that I speak with you. You hold the key to a very important puzzle. Please, please, please email me at this address. [Email withheld] I will make it worth your while."


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vertigo/DePalma - III

Part III

Media itself has played very integral roles in DePalma's most successful thrillers. Without exception in every one of DePlama's key films media has been organically integrated into the themes and plots of these thrillers. Of course, DePalma's use of media in these movies are a technological and societal development of voyeurism, something that Hitchcock also utilized to highly effective extents in Vertigo, Psycho, and of course, Rear Window. With Hitchcock's films, it was telescopes, windows and peepholes. DePalma turns a technological twist to all of this, as with the opening to his film Sisters, where he simultaneously engages his fiction characters and the audience themselves in an act of voyeurism through a filmed television screen which is broadcasting a clip of a new reality-game show that has its own basis in voyeurism – Margot Kidder is pretending to be a blind woman who has accidentally walked into the men's changing room at a gym, and proceeds to undress in front of one of the male clients. The idea of the fictitious game show is “What would he do?”, to which the studio audience and contestants (inside the film) have to take a guess in order to win the game show prize. And while this is all happening, DePalma is also slyly critiquing the whole idea of television media as just another, albeit accepted and even celebrated, form of voyeurism. An extension of Hitchcock's peephole-voyeurism that all of television-watching society condemns – and so DePalma is pointing out our, his film's audience's (and accepted society's), own hypocrisy when it comes to where the line is drawn with our sometimes vampiric voyeuristic tendencies. Media as a plot device then comes around again, this time in the forms of cameras and photography, in Dressed to Kill, where the young hero played by Keith Gordon sets up a hidden automatic time-lapse camera outside of his mother's psychiatrist's office so that he might capture evidence incriminating the psychiatrist in his mother's (Angie Dickinson's) murder. Camera and photography come around again in Femme Fatale, where a crucial photograph taken of a woman-in-hiding throws her fairy-tale world into turmoil when the photograph becomes a printed-media advertising sensation and is plastered all over Europe. In Blow Out, photography is present in the deepening complexity of the plot, but this film is more about the media utilized in the making of b-movies, specifically, recorded sound. In Blow Out it is John Travolta's sound recording that is, in effect, the first witness to a conspiratorial murder, but when Travolta teams up with the good-hearted prostitute Nancy Allen to utilize sound recordings and hidden microphones to solve the murder and capture the villain (John Lithgow), things go spinning out of control and Trovolta winds up completely lost and adrift in his personal world of sound, which throughout the film has become his own personal circle of hell. A precursor to Body Double, DePalma's Blow Out also perversely toys around with the heroine's “doubles”, as villain John Lithgow, needing to be rid of Allen's character as she was also a witness to the key murder in this story, decides to create an alibi for her impending murder by first murdering several other prostitutes who bear an uncanny likeness to Nancy Allen's character. This way, Allen's character's murder would look like a random one in a line of serial killings that had been plaguing the city. Here, then, we also begin to get a mix of slasher-film aesthetics in a film where Travolta is first seen sound-editing a b-movie slasher film; and also DePalma's increasingly flirtatious tango with the misogynistic controversy, something that celebrated writer Harlan Ellison had some very opinionated things to say about within the introduction of a paperback re-print of his book “Shatterday” in 1981.

Voyeurism went from the telescope and directly to the then-cutting-edge media technology of the videotape industry in Body Double. While windows still remained a key element through witch our characters' voyeurism could be accomplished in Body Double, Vertigo, and obviously Rear Window, it was the mass acceptance of videotape technology that gave a welcome twist to Body Double; when hero Craig Wasson peruses the video rental shelves in the Hollywood videostore, launching his amateur investigation into the murder of Deborah Shelton, it's a curiously electrifying scene as we're waiting to see what could possibly come of this. When he finds the VHS videotape featuring the porn star (played by Melanie Griffith) who's erotic-dance routine eerily echoed the murder victim's window-dance, he's able to find, through the production credits, a thin track to follow in possibly finding Melanie Griffith's character, and hence, the possible key to solving a murder. Wasson not only finds Griffith and the key to solving the puzzle, but also manages to find far more danger than he was prepared for. At the end of Body Double, DePalma returns us to the scene of the b-movie production, with film cameras rolling and body doubles put into place for the leading b-movie actress, and this all intentionally circles back to the opening erotic-fantasy sequence in Dressed to Kill (1980) comically triggering memories of Angie Dickinson's shower scene and the practical use of her body double – and so then DePalma has created a mini meta-world of circling media and voyeurism by cleverly utilizing b-movie production, camera, sound, VHS tapes, slasher films, and body-doubles throughout his key thriller trilogy. In all of this, DePalma's inherent good-humour about films and filmmaking are completely in evidence by the time Body Double's end credits begin to roll up over the body double's funny shower scene.

Media also rears its head, again integral to the plots, in DePalma's later films, both of the throwback thriller with which he's gained his fame from, as well as his Hollywood studio summer blockbuster. In Raising Cain, the leading married couple (John Lithgow and Lolita Davidovich) have set up video baby-monitors which become both a storytelling and a camerawork element of that film; and in Mission Impossible, the whole plotpoint regarding media files stored on a hard-disc eventually becomes one of the biggest, most elaborately sought-after-and-captured MacGuffins in spy-movie history, once again providing a grinning example of DePalma's sly, cinematic humour. Funnily, both of these DePalma films also relied heavily on flashback storytelling, something that he'd avoided in his key thriller trilogy (Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double) – a slight exception being Travolta's character back-story in Blow Out – but that flashback did not have any bearing on the exposition of the solving of the mystery in the movie, unlike Raising Cain, Mission Impossible, and unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, wherein each of these films the cinematic flashbacks actually explained the entire mystery.
Sisters (1973) actually cleverly weaved the cinematic flashback trope with DePalma's interest in media technology by providing a construct for the movie's flashback sequence through warped memory (echoing Stewart's dream sequence imagery in Vertigo) and recorded laboratory research as projected through black-and-white 16mm documentary film footage. From there, DePalma drew far more specific flashback inspiration from Hitchcock's Vertigo in both storytelling and framing mis-en-scene technique, twisting it for his own exhilarating cinematic means, in his 1978 film The Fury. Following The Fury, from 1980-1984 DePalma dropped the on-screen flashback storytelling trope in favour of expositional-dialogue as had been used during the conclusion of Hitchcock's Psycho. Dressed to Kill, in particular, was more of a remake of Psycho just as Body Double was a remake of Vertigo. Listening to the summing-up-the-entire-mystery dialogue at the end of DePalma's Dressed to Kill, we can't help but think of the conclusion of Psycho, which then causes us to reflect on the whole of DePalma's film and the fact that each scene is really an updating of Hitchcock's film within the expanded boundaries of sexualism, realism, and secret hypocritical voyeurism/coveting of “professional” people in society of the 1980s.

As a remake, Body Double also included a circling-camera shot lifted directly from Vertigo, the shot was also exhilaratingly employed in Blow Out – circling John Travolta in Blow Out's most celebrated camera shot as he discovers, tape by tape, that every sound recording in his sound studio has been systematically erased. The circling camera shot is used to maximum effectiveness during the beach scene where Deborah Shelton and Craig Wasson finally interact without telescopes, windows, or lingerie-store changing rooms between them. As the unlikely couple kisses, giving into desire, this is a more lustful and technically updated version of the same take from Vertigo where James Stewart and Kim Novak finally begin connecting. While DePalma's take emotionally mixes love, lust, obsession, and anxiety in Body Double, his take on this same twirling camerawork in Blow Out strictly served to masterfully induce deepening anxiety. DePalma, if anything, is a master of camera movements, to the point that when he was ready to go into production for Femme Fatale (2002) he would require camera rigs that would need to be invented specifically for his film. His virtuoso camerawork, mixed with the heightened sexuality of his content (and context), is what makes his work stand out and stand apart. He is a technically more proficient filmmaker than Hitchcock, but without Hitchcock's experiments in cinematography, from the opening sequence in Psycho to the ongoing takes in Rope (which also required specialized equipment and operators at that time) to the inventive camerawork that permeates nearly every frame of Vertigo, DePalma might not have had such a critical base from which to launch from.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Bizarre Gialli – a few out-of-the-box Italian giallo films worth a look

Initially, I was arguing with myself whether to even write this retrospective of a handful of lesser-known gialli or not – but after taking Arrow's (fairly) recent release of Sergio Martino's The Suspicious Death of a Minor for a spin, I thought ultimately it might actually be worthwhile to say at least a few words about the under-the-radar works present in this lush cinematic genre...

When the thought had first hit me to write something about the (slightly?) more obscure films from the giallo canon, it was months before I'd even heard of Arrow's release. Years ago, Severin Films had put out a couple of sleazy, experimental, and somewhat hallucinogenic giallo films on DVD, In the Folds of the Flesh and The Sister of Ursula. The latter one Severin had boasted as a sleazy exploitation giallo, but actually, it's a very entertaining chamber-style giallo. A “chamber” giallo would be an Itlaian thriller that takes place mostly in an apartment where the paranoia within the film's limited amount of characters builds through a series of sexual encounters, misunderstandings, and double-crosses, until everything climaxes in bloody murder and abject fear. The Sister of Ursula dances us through these giallo numbers with the rough edges of a slightly more low-budget production, which it tries to cover up with more sex and nudity than your more familiar giallo stylings. It's actually quite entertaining and the photography through the abandoned hotel/resort that serves as the backdrop for this giallo is visually engaging, as is the entire cast as they work their way through this bodycount/mystery. The Sister of Ursula also stars Barbara Magnolfi, recognizable from Dario Argento's Suspiria.

Barbara Magnofi also appears in Sergio Martino's The Suspicious Death of a Minor, as one of the titular dead minor's prostitute acquaintances, and someone who is also wrapped up in the drug and political conspiracy that pushes lead investigator Claudio Cassinelli into solving the titular crime. Interestingly, this film looked to me like a very early one of Sergio Martino's films, mixing all the expected elements of the giallo genre with the Italian poliziotteschi genre that became popularized following Don Siegel's Dirty Harry – to the point where the music score actually varies and sways from the traditional-sounding giallo soundtrack to the poliziotteschi one. I discovered, after watching this film, that this was actually the last of Sergio Martino's six filmed gialli, and while his previous films The Strange Vice of Mrs. Whard, All the Colors of the Dark, Your Vice is a Locked Room and only I have the Key, and Torso might be the crowning achievements of Martino's career, there is a good spot for his genre and cinematographic mash-up of Italian sub-genres that is The Suspicious Death of a Minor.

Following The Sister of Ursula, I had watched, as a personal double-feature, the Severin Films release of In the Folds of the Flesh, which took me a lengthy amount of time to finally purchase due to the lukewarm reviews the DVD had received online upon its initial release. But shame on me for waiting so long, In the Folds of the Flesh is actually a humourous, sarcastic, sexy, not-quite-mainstream giallo that stat off with wild, unnecessary, hallucinogenic hooks that looks like director Sergio Bergonzelli is trying to give us the Jean-Luc Goddard of giallo cinema – before it segues into a (also chamber-like scenario) take on Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac, simply elevating this psychosexual romp in paranoia and conspiracy.

Once experiencing these two Severin Films DVDs – The Sister of Ursula and In the Folds of the Flesh, I found myself energized and ready for one more off-the-beaten-path giallo. I turned to Ruggero Deodato, director of Cannibal Holocaust and Cut and Run, who had made the tip-top of Italian jungle gut-muncher horror films, yet had not been at all prolific in the giallo genre. Again hearkening back to Roman Polanski for inspiration, Deodato's Waves of Lust, put out by Raro Video on DVD, concerns a pair of lovers who set out to destroy an upper-class couple whom they not only view as manipulative and opportunistic, but also believe have something to do with their friend's death and that the world would be better without, and so a very simple, yet very engaging, revenge scenario ensues, turning what is billed as an erotic romp-style drama into total giallo territory, with wonderful success. Waves of Lust is certainly more exploitive than it is mysterious, but this detracts from Deodato's film not in the least. The paranoiac drama between the two couples provides the needed thrust for the oncoming sexual and violent shenanigans in the film, which turns out a wonderfully satisfying ending. While this might be the most obscure of the four films retrospectively viewed here, it's probably the most solid and memorable of them all. Just like Sergio Martino, director Ruggero Deodato made films for commercial genre cinema in Italy in the 19070sand 1980s, and these films are massively appealing. 

Friday, May 04, 2018

#FF – Franco Friday (part 2)

Okay, so I do love the film writings of Roger Ebert. I love his book “Your Movie Sucks” and some of his film reviews – specifically for Eyes Wide Shut, Blow-Up, and 2010: The Year We Made Contact, helped me to understand the multiple sub-levels of cinema and its beautiful language, and how that language is used to communicate, and at times, to mess with an audience. But I was, admittedly, slightly dismayed when I inadvertently came across a review Roger Ebert had written on Umberto Lenzi's 60s giallo-thriller Paranoia, in which he describes Lenzi's film as the “second worst film” he'd seen that year – the film in first place for worst of the year...? Jess Franco's Succubus. Okay, also admittedly, I could see where Ebert might have been coming from at that point in time, and at that place in the cinema culture of Chicago's movie theatres... Ebert had stated that Only the haunting memory of 'Succubus' prevents me from naming 'Paranoia' the worst movie of the year... 'Succubus' was a flat-out bomb. It left you stunned and reeling. There was literally nothing of worth in it. Even the girl was ugly. The color looked like it had been scraped off the bottom of an old garbage boat. The acting resembled a catatonic state. The script (ha!) had the flair of a baggage tag. It was possibly the worst movie of all time. So no wonder it's in its fifth week in neighborhood theaters, after rolling up record grosses in its first run. No matter what the censor board thinks, the Chicago proletariat knows what it likes.”

I would think that given some time to reflect back on this review (impossible now), that the usually intelligent and insightful critic would cringe at his remarks on the “ugly girl” starring in Succubus, who happened to be the androgynous and striking beauty Janine Reynaud (Two Undercover Angels; Kiss Me, Monster!). Also, clearly lost on the cinematically critical mind of a young Roger Ebert in the 1960s was the whole idea and cinematic concepts of European arthouse genre cinema; which is striking unto itself, although I'm admittedly reflecting on this with the distance of decades of swimming and rippling changes in cultural and artistic representations and acceptances that have come between the now and the original American release of one of Jess Franco's artistic masterpieces.