Sunday 31 July 2022

Thor - Love And Thunder

From Her To Eternity

Thor - Love And Thunder
Australia/USA  2022
Directed by Taika Waititi
UK Cinema Release Print.

Warning: Electrifying spoilers within.

Right then. This is going to be a fairly short review, I think. Not because I didn’t like Thor - Love And Thunder... on the contrary, I loved it... but because it’s really hard, sometimes, to come up with things to say when the movie you’ve just watched is damn near perfect in every way. Now I know I’m in the minority here, judging by talk on the internet... and I know a lot of people didn’t like Eternals either (another truly great Marvel movie, which I reviewed here). I do find a lot of Marvel films a bit hit and miss, to be honest but, seriously, I think this new Thor may be the best movie from Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as it stands so far. When Marvel get things right... they really get things right.

Okay, so this one is something you can watch without having seen any of the recent Marvel movies after Avengers Endgame. After a brilliant prologue, where we see the origins of the film’s main villain, Gorr The God Butcherer, played by Christian Bale, this one starts off properly as Endgame left things. We have Thor tagging along with the Guardians Of The Galaxy and a wonderful and very strong set up scene which sees Thor inheriting two, giant, screaming space goats. I kept thinking to myself... this is such a strong opening, it’s got to go down hill from here... but no. The movie just keeps going from strength to strength as we have two initial separate story strands starting off... one being Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Kevin (director Taika Waititi back as the comic relief rock creature) leaving the Guardians with the quest of finding the God killer, a trail that leads them back to new Asgard.

Meanwhile, Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (played once again by Natalie Portman) is dying of stage four cancer. While trying to fight this, she is called by the shattered remains of Thor’s old hammer Mjonir, in New Asgard, which reassembles itself and turns her into a female version of Thor. But when she doesn’t have the hammer and she reverts back to her Jane Foster alter ego, she still finds herself dying of cancer. So, everybody suddenly finds themselves back at New Asgard on Earth, ruled over by Valkyrie (once again played by Tessa Thompson) when Gorr attacks but fails to kill them... he does, however, kidnap all the children as bait for Thor and his gang, so he can obtain Thor’s second hammer, Stormbreaker, which will allow him to gain access to the character of Eternity. Now, Eternity looks pretty much like he did in the comics but, Marvel are mixing thing up again since he was not originally a Thor character but a character from the original Doctor Strange strip... Eternity making his debut there in Strange Tales Issue 138.

And there you have it. There’s lots of good stuff happening in this and it’s mostly, pretty much, played as high comedy again, with even Matt Damon and Sam Neill returning as the Asgardian actors portraying Loki and Odin. That being said, there’s a warm beating heart at the film’s centre in the rekindled relationship building between Thor and Jane but, even a moment of high tragedy near the end of the movie, is still seen as pretty much upbeat the way it’s played here by the director. Although it’s simultaneously quite brutal and pulls the rug from under audience members like myself, who can see the solution to the big problem at the heart of the movie being put together piece by piece, only to have it taken away at the eleventh hour (but stay for the second of the post credits scenes to give a little more closure to the fate of one of the characters, for sure).

Another high comedy moment is when Thor and co go to Omnipotence City (where all the Gods hang out and plan for their big orgy)... in order to raise an army. I’m not exactly a fan of Russel Crowe but he does a pretty good, comical version of Zeus for this film, it has to be said.

And, yeah, that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say on this one, for the reasons explained in my opening paragraph (Katrin, if you’re reading this one backwards again, please jump to the beginning for closure on this sentence). Thor - Love And Thunder, like the previous Thor movie Ragnarok, wallows in its own levity and tears down the comic book gatekeepers of this world while still respecting the material on which it is based and managing to be completely entertaining in the process. It’s not hyperbole when I say that this is probably the best stand alone Thor movie yet... and I love the bit at the end which says, Thor will return... like he’s James Bond or Fu Manchu. Nice movie, not deserving of the critical drubbing it’s gotten in any way shape or form (indeed, I saw it at a screening with a fairly small audience but there was a round of applause when the credits started to role). Don't miss this one.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent

The Discreet Charm
Of Being Nic Cage

The Unbearable Weight
Of Massive Talent

USA 2022
Directed by Tom Gormican

Warning: Unbearable amount of massive spoilerage.

You know, despite my initial, allergic reactions to the actor in the 1980s and 1990s (well, apart from his essential performance in Wild At Heart, obviously), I‘ve grown to appreciate and enjoy the work of Nicolas Cage much more over the last 15 years or so and he’s definitely been on fire for the last few years, with outrageously flamboyant roles in stuff like Mandy (reviewed here), Colour Out Of Space (reviewed here) and Willy’s Wonderland (reviewed here) coming out alongside movies like Pig (reviewed here), undoubtedly one of the greatest movies of recent years. Even so, when a movie paraphrases the title of a famous Milan Kundera novel (and subsequent movie adaptation) like The Unbearable Lightness Of Being and promotes Nicolas Cage playing a version of himself, even I am going to get warning signs that maybe this might not be such a great idea.

That being said, though, I’d have to say that The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent is something of a minor masterpiece of modern, self referential cinema and I was really surprised that they managed to get to something both as polished and as witty as this into cinemas.

The plot sees Nicolas Cage on the rocks in terms of getting decent new roles and having problems with his daughter (due to his ego mainly) and his ex-wife. Then he gets a call and he goes to Spain to be at the birthday of ‘super fan’ Javi, played by Pedro Pascal... a gig which he takes for the money but, surprisingly, he hits it off with him and the two develop a bond. However, the CIA assume that Javi, who is perceived as the local drug cartel kingpin, has kidnapped the local president’s daughter and so they employ Cage to try and help them rescue her and stop Javi. Things aren’t quite as simple though and various humorous shenanigans follow as the reality of the situation is made clear and it’s finally down to Cage, his ex-wife and Javi to rescue both the president’s daughter and Cage’s own daughter, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, from the real kingpin.

And it’s great.

It’s got a nice sense of pacing and atmosphere in different sections of the movie too, where it goes from a comedic look at the nature of art and the way it affects the players behind and in front of the screen in Holllywoodland, switching to a male bonding comedy before going into full on action comedy mode for the last half hour.

And it’s full of cool moments (such as when Cage is in conversation or even assaulted by himself in a younger guise in his imagination, at various points) to great throwaway lines such as the fact his daughter thought Humphrey Bogart was a porn star. There’s even a crazy LSD sequence where Cage and Pascal do the old comedy warhorse of two people trying to escape and get over a wall when, in reality, they could have just quickly walked around it... and they actually get away with it and pull it off because the two actors have great on-screen chemistry. Which is nice... yeah, these two should do another couple of movies together.

My favourite moment is when Cage asks Javi what his three favourite films are and he comes up with Face Off (not one of my favourites), The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari (should be one of everyone’s favourites, surely?) and, the movie which forever changed his life and made him want to be a better person... Paddington 2 (reviewed here). And right there, is why this film is so brilliant, as Cage ridicules him but then is made to watch it and realises that it’s a truly great movie... the big comedy sparks which, although blatantly ridiculous, also hide a pearl of truth within the idea. Because, after all, Paddington 2 is a pretty moving movie (perhaps not quite as cool as the first one but it’s a close call, for sure).

However, comedy acting, intelligent dialogue and sheer entertainment value aside, the film is also amazingly well put together. The director does that thing where he uses sets and various things to reflect a verticality to split the shots into delineated sections but, also combines that with a camera point of view that kind of moves you towards that kind of composition. So you approach something from the side and then suddenly you are in a perfectly beautiful looking, symmetrical shot set up. He even has the vehicle that Cage and Javi are driving at one point as an open top car with big vertical sides leading to where a canopy might go over, so he can even expand that vertical aesthetic into the high speed car chase scenes too... it’s blindingly good stuff, I have to say.

I know Cage turned this movie down a good three or four times before finally being persuaded to accept playing himself in The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent and I can certainly see why he would have been reluctant to send himself up... or rather the perceived and totally false, off screen hyper-personae which he represents to many of his fans (I’m sure)... but I’m really glad Cage finally caved on that decision because I think this one is about as well handled a version of that exploration as there could be and, yeah, it’s overwhelmingly entertaining throughout its full running time, even if you are somewhat ahead of the plot on occasion (don’t expect too many surprises... it’s not that kind of film). I’m definitely glad I saw this and will certainly revisit it at some point.

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Swedish Sensationsfilms



by Daniel Ekeroth
Bazillion Points Books
ISBN: 9780979616365

Daniel Ekeroth’s book Swedish Sensationsfilms is a cool but somewhat puzzling tome, it seems to me. I bought it because Swedish cinema is a large gap in my personal film knowledge, asides from the usual stuff by the likes of Bergman and, of course, Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye), which obviously features prominently in this book. But along the way there were certainly some surprising things in terms of the questions the book gives rise to, once it’s dealt a small overview of the subject, beginning with the formation, in 1911, of Sweden’s National Board Of Film Classification, which was apparently the world’s first state sponsored film censors.

Okay, so for one, I’ve never heard of any Swedish exploitation films (including all the usual suspects) as being termed Sensationsfilms. It seems to me almost something that Ekeroth has made up as a new attempt to catalogue and lump the varying films into one collective genre (indeed, the back cover blurb cites other country’s genres such as Giallo and Ozploitation as an example of the usefulness of such a category. I may be wrong on that count, of course... it may just be a Swedish term for these kinds of movies?

Another thing of slighty head scratching magnitude is the subtitle of the book... “A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers And Kicker Cinema”... I mean what the heck is ‘Kicker’ cinema, right? Well that one certainly, if I’m to believe the author (and I’ve no reason not to... he writes extremely well), is some kind of Swedish term for... if I’m getting this right... a generation of youths who used to like to gather on the streets of Sweden and kick the heck out of phone boxes, stray people and each other. Which, frankly, seems to me a tenuous term or idea on which to base a sub genre of a specific genre I already wasn’t sure about in terms of it’s title but, hey, I don’t really care about that much because, as I said, the book is extremely well written.

It starts off with a short history of the rise of what the writer calles the Swedish Sensationsfilms and then we get another introduction chapter called Christina Lindberg, Exposed, where Lindberg tells of her early days starting out as a photospread model while still in school and then ‘playing hooky’ (or bunking off lessons, as we might say over here... although I sadly never did that myself) so she could shoot her first sexy movie, Maid In Sweden (as it’s best known in the West).

These two sections are then followed by the lengthy section which takes up 95% of the book, which is a page dedicated to all of the ‘Swedish Sensationsfilms’ which this writer has collected together (and I can only assume that this is the total of the films able to be labelled up as such under this generic banner... which is way less than I thought but still a sizeable chunk). It’s in this section that you’ll learn things like the film Kärlekend Spräk (Language of Love) from 1969, by Torgny Wickman, is the movie that Travis Bickle takes Betsy to see as his ‘date movie’ in Scorcese’s Taxi Driver.

Following this, there is a Glossary Of Curious Swedish Culture where certain terms, countries and areas are explained... I especially liked the section on Danmark (or Denmark as it is known over here) where the author informs us that “Danish is basically Swedish, spoken by an extremely drunk person with a hot potato in his mouth.” Yeah, I must admit I did admire the author of this one and some of the eloquent conclusions and turns of phrase he utilised as he mustered judgement on a load of, if I’m judging this right, mostly garbage movies with not much in the way of redeeming features.

After this there’s a Rogue’s Gallery section where various filmmakers of these titles, from both behind and in front of the camera, are given a few paragraphs of information, followed by a brief Acknowledgments section and then a final section called Twenty Sensationsfilms To See Before You Die... which is kinda self explanatory and I’m glad the writer did all the work for us here.

That being said, I was expecting to come away with absolutely shed loads of films I’d not previously heard of to hunt out in some form or another but, sadly, because the writer is fairly negative about a lot of them (not deliberately so, I suspect, in some cases), I only came away with a list of two... Mannekäng I Rött (aka Mannequin In Red, which is supposed to be a Swedish forerunner to the giallo) and Space Invasion In Lapland... neither of which were good enough for the writer to single out in his final section, it has to be said.

However, I have to say that although I haven’t found myself armed with the usual long list of future cinematic conquests, I did find the author’s style of writing hugely entertaining and he obviously knows a lot about his subject (as he happily frittered away his life watching dreck like this). So, yeah, I found Swedish Sensationsfilms to be an invaluable addition, in some ways, to the cinematic bookshelf and if you’ve a hankering to know more about Swedish exploitation cinema then this is maybe a good place to start. Have a look sometime.

Monday 25 July 2022

The Falcon In Hollywood

Nitrate Death Rate

The Falcon In Hollywood
USA 1944
Directed by Gordon Douglas
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1

Well here we have another interesting diversion in the successful Falcon series for RKO pictures. The Falcon In Hollywood is directed by none other than Gordon Douglas, one of those interesting American directors whose name comes up often associated with some quality films such as the second of the Flint movies, the Tony Rome movies, westerns such as the brilliant Rio Conchos (reviewed by me here) and not forgetting the classic giant ant movie THEM!

This one must have been fairly cheap to produce for RKO since, apart from the opening sequence set at the races and a brief interlude set in a deserted sports stadium, the whole of the film is pretty much set on the RKO back lot and, apparently, it still looks pretty much the same now as it did then. In the opening scene of the movie, we are introduced to a new Detective Inspector played by Emory Parnell and his sidekick played by Frank Jenks. I guess neither of these characters were considered strong enough to return to the franchise in a regular fashion as their predecessors had but, Parnell does reappear in another Falcon movie later as another character. They’re on the trail of an ex-con who The Falcon testified against, played by Sheldon Leonard (the ‘giving out wings’ guy from It’s A Wonderful Life) and they look up The Falcon, aka Tom Lawrence (once again played by Tom Conway) to see if he knows where he is.

Following on from a mix up with a couple of women and a bag, The Falcon finds himself travelling to the film studios with an over eager taxi cab driver, reflecting the wartime spirit of ‘jobs for gals’ by being a lady. She also becomes The Falcon’s ‘assistant’ for the movie and is played, quite brilliantly, by the remarkable Veda Ann Borg (I need to find some more of this lady’s movies but, apparently, I’ve already seen her at some point as she starred as Margot Lane in one of the serials about The Shadow). Borg and Conway make quite a team in this and it’s a shame her character didn’t become a regular role in the series after this.

So, anyway, The Falcon discovers a freshly murdered corpse on a set but, when he tries to show it to the studio security, the corpse has disappeared. He finds it again later and shows it to the police but, by then, a valuable ring which was already on the corpse the first time around has gone. So The Falcon becomes embroiled in the case and it’s the usual affair with almost every character in the film having a motive for the murder and then either dying or being put out of the picture before their guilt is proved. It also includes the now clichéd and, sadly, real life set up where someone is shot by an innocent actor because the blanks in her gun have been switched for live ammo.

The film doesn’t suffer from the usual studio conceit of having The Falcon assailed by various ‘real actors and actresses’ cameos to help promote themselves (and I’m sure I would have loved it even more if it had). Instead, it sticks to telling its mystery story with no real references although, in a couple of sequences, a black cat is highlighted (again, making me think of Conway’s role in Cat People and one of its sequels, The Seventh Victim).

And there’s not much more to be said about this one other than, there’s a really nice moment where we are told the characters are off to the ‘miniatures department’. We are then cut to a fairly typical establishing shot of a car parked outside a building but, then, a big hand comes into the frame and picks up the car, clueing us in that this is indeed the department in question. It’s a nice shot and even though I knew they were going to do it, it was literally only a second before it happened that I twigged it, which is nice.

So another short review but these really are fairly short and somewhat formulaic movies so there’s not always a great deal to say about each one. This is only the second of The Falcon movies that doesn’t have a cliffhanger lead in to an untold Falcon adventure and, I’m guessing this is something which would be the new normal for the series (I guess I’ll find out soon). The Falcon In Hollywood is certainly a fun and fast paced mystery adventure and, looking at the ‘more than healthy’ box office receipts, one of the more successful of the franchise. So, lots to recommend it.

Sunday 24 July 2022

Jurassic World Dominion

Dominion Reunion

Jurassic World Dominion
USA/China/Malta 2022
Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Warning: 65 million year old spoilers.

Okay, so I loved the original Jurassic Park trilogy, yes, even the third one, even though they got a little worse with each one. However, if you’ve been reading my reviews long enough, you’ll know that I am not exactly a fan of the modern Jurassic World sequels. That being said, the third part of the sequel trilogy is here, Jurassic World Dominion and, it’s actually not a bad film, certainly the best of the modern trilogy.

And it also serves as something of a reunion because, while Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are back from the previous two, along with the clone daughter of a brilliant scientist they escaped with in the last film (which I’d completely forgotten, since I’d only been able to stomach watching that one the once), played here pretty well by Isabella Sermon... it also reunites the three original protagonists from the very first Jurassic Park movie... played once again by Sam Neil, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, who are all given a lot more to do in this one and form half of the narrative, with both sets of protagonists meeting up for the last half an hour or so.

So, yeah, plotwise we have the film opening strongly with a newsreel, reminding people that the dinos are on the loose since the previous installment and that mankind is trying to live with the dinosaurs sharing our planet. But the clone daughter from the previous movie, along with velociraptor Blue’s young offspring Beta, are kidnapped and taken by an evil company called BioSyn. So Pratt and Howard need to get them back. Meanwhile, swarms of giant locusts who will be responsible for everyone’s extinction on the planet due to the way they are eating various targeted crops, are the concern of Neil, Dern and Goldblum, as they infiltrate Biosyn to get the evidence that these locusts are engineered to control the food chain by the company. And, as I said, the film finds the two sets of protagonists working together at the end as they all go through action set piece after set piece.

And, yeah, it’s really not bad. Especially the first half of the movie, where we get more of a glimpse of how mankind is both living with... and exploiting... their cohabitation with dinosaurs. And, honestly, the dialogue in this one seems a lot better too, with even Chris Pratt coming across as a more interesting version of his recurring character, for once.

There are also lots of nods to the original movie, of course. Dr. Wu is back, played once again by BD Wong but, also, we have a character returning from the original Jurassic Park, the nefarious Dogson (who wanted Nedrys to steal samples and put them in his fake shaving foam can, remember?) but, they’ve gone with a different actor this time (apparently, the original actor is now a convicted sex offender so, yeah, I was wondering why they’d not asked him back). There are also a lot of character beats and references back to the original such as Sam Neil giving a blood thirsty speech about how dinosaurs can kill a person, Laura Dern’s delight and enthusiasm about certain dinosaurs and, in a scene where I thought he really wasn’t going to make it this time, Jeff Goldblum’s character once again using something fiery to distract a huge dinosaur to divert attention from his friends.

Probably my favourite sequence, surprisingly, is one involving Pratt and Howard and a new character played by DeWanda Wise, as the team come together in a brilliant set piece set around an underground dinosaur exploitation meet up (dinosaur fights bet on, dinosaur meat for sale etc) leading to a double chase through the streets as various factions try to survive both bad guys and new dinosaurs trained to go after specific laser tagged individuals (yeah, guess who gets tagged by the villains to be dinosaur food?).

The film mostly tends to work but it is the longest of the franchise  (two and a half hours) and it does kinda drag towards the end... I think the last third really loses a little of its appeal where a lot of old clichés are rolled out, such as humans being saved from attacking dinosaurs by other attacking dinosaurs etc. Michael Giacchino’s music is on hand to keep the glue going although, like his previous Jurassic World scores, I really think he needed to put more of John William’s original themes in this, rather than just the odd, passing reference at key points. The score was serviceable but it isn’t great and I suspect the stand alone listening experience on this one might well be a similar story (but at least it’s getting a CD release so, I guess I’ll soon know).

And, yeah, that’s me pretty much done on Jurassic World Dominion... while it’s not as good as, pretty much any of the films in the original Jurassic Park trilogy, it certainly beats the other two Jurassic World movies hands down and so, if you are into those two, you should certainly have a good time with this one. It does kind of redeem the new trilogy a little by not absolutely sucking (which I think is not a quality that the previous two could claim) and so I’m also happy to recommend this to fans of the original trilogy too. Worth a watch if dinosaur movies are your thing.

Wednesday 20 July 2022

Black Cat (1991)

La Femme Cat

Black Cat
aka Hak Mau
Hong Kong/Canada 1991
Directed by Stephen Shin
88 Films Blu Ray Zone B

It would have been around the mid 1990s that I first saw Black Cat on a widescreen VHS release. I remember liking it a fair bit (turns out my standards were lower then, I think) and so I thought I’d revisit it via the new 88 Films boxed edition restoration (if they’d have boxed it together with the sequels, which I haven’t seen... I would have been more happier but, hey, maybe they wanted to see how the sales of this one did first... but count me in for the Naked Killer movies too, please).

One of the things which puzzled me about the new release is the blurb on the box which says that it was originally intended to be a remake of La Femme Nikita (one of my favourite movies by Luc Besson, known only as Nikita over here in the UK when it was first released... I watched it to death, week after week, at the old Lumiere cinema) from the year before but, when Disney bought out the rights to that film, the director was apparently forced to rethink. Hmm... well you could have fooled me. I remembered it as being a pretty blatant rip off of Nikita at the time I first saw it (one of many but, I could never bring myself to watch the American remakes... I knew the creativity would probably be sucked dry from the original concept) and looking at it now, I can only conclude that, yeah, maybe the director was forced to rethink but, having thought for a bit, maybe thought “Oh heck, I’m going to remake it anyway... up yours Disney.”

At least, that’s what I imagine his thought process was because, apart from having the main character and Anne Parillaud stand in Jade Leung, as character Catherine/Erika - Codename: Black Cat (depending on which personae she is adopting) going on different kinds of missions in the last third of the movie, there are a lot of similarities to Besson’s master work. And I mean a lot.

The set up is a different way for Jade Leung’s Black Cat to get into trouble with the law but, in this, her outright criminal mentality from the source movie is converted into a ‘cornered animal reacting to protect herself to survive’ set of incidents but the outcome is more or less the same. She is recruited by a special government section (actually named as the CIA later in the movie but, honestly, I would be worried about how the CIA was being portrayed here if I was part of that outfit) when she’s escaping her captors in this one. Then she is trained up in a very similar training montage to Nikita and then, after a similar ‘betrayal of a test mission’ by her recruiter, she is put out into the field to perform assassinations... but then becomes involved with a new boyfriend who she tries to protect from her bosses.

And that’s all I’m giving you on the story because, it does have very slight variances from the original material here and there but... not much.

Now, there are some nice shot compositions every now and again where the director and DP will do things like use either colour or large areas of minimalistic dead space within a shot to highlight a character but, for the most part, the film looks competent rather than visually enticing. It’s a ‘work a day’ action film and, on that level at least, it hits spot on. It’s biggest problem, however, because it does tend to ape Nikita right down to some of the costumes, props and various moments taken right from the original - the judo lesson, thrusting the spare gun clip (from pretty much the same gun) into the cleavage of pretty much the same dress etc - is that you can’t help comparing it to Besson’s earlier movie and, well, do that and pretty much anything else is doomed because Nikita is one of those almost perfect films where pretty much everything is done just right (although another partial remake, The Villainess,  which I reviewed here, is not a bad homage). Even the music by Danny Chung, plays like the editor used the Eric Serra score for Nikita to edit to and so, you can clearly hear the temp track coming through loud and clear as almost everything in the score (barring the cheesy romance music) is orchestrated similarly and bears a striking resemblance to that earlier score... like a low rent version of it (and I’m not blaming Chung here, he was obviously told to make it sound like the other score... which he certainly succeeds in doing here).

Now there are a couple of original (in terms of new to this story) concepts injected into this one but they are kind of underused. Black Cat has a chip implanted into her brain which gives her headaches to make her more obedient, so she is reliant on the pills provided by the company to stop the debilitating attacks which hit her very much in a similar manner to the old Sutra headache that Tripitaka used to inflict on the title character of the Monkey TV show in the 1970s. However, it's kind of under explained in terms of the other benefits she’s told it will give her and, yeah, it seems almost incidental to the plot. Similarly, a gun which shoots a bullet of ice which you have to remove from refrigeration five seconds before it’s loaded and fired, so the bullet dissolves in the wound and makes the weapon untraceable, is used only once and, again, it’s kind of incidental.

What saves this movie for me is the absolutely brilliant, almost feral performance by Jade Leung as the title character. Yes, the temperament of the character does match the one that Anne Parillaud manifested as Nikita but, even so, it’s a great turn provided by Leung here and she really goes for it. Some of it looks like it might have been a tough shoot too so, power to her. I wish the same could be said from some of the small, bit parts played by the American and Canadian actors but, yeah, some of them are just awful.

All in all though, Black Cat is actually quite an entertaining movie, once you stop comparing it to Besson’s version... a nice switch your brain off actioner. Now, I have to say that although 88 Films have done, I’m sure, the absolute best they could with the transfer, something seems off with the print... it’s almost like it was scanned in from an old video transfer but, I know that can’t be the case because this thing was run in 35mm in cinemas. But the film stock did look a little washed out, to my eye, in many of the scenes. However, the packaging of this one, if you get the first edition boxed with perfect bound booklet and lobby cards release, is absolutely first class... nice artwork and a box similar in quality to some of those put out by labels like Severin and Vinegar Syndrome lately so, yeah, overall it’s a cool package. And I hope 88 Films do some more of these films in the near future... as I said earlier, I’d love to see both the two sequels to this movie and the Naked Killer films given similar (or even better) treatment.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

The Black Cat (1989)

Cat Me
If You Can

The Black Cat
aka Edgar Allan Poe’s
The Black Cat

aka Demons 6
Italy 1989
Directed by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
21st Century Film Corporation
Severin Films Blu Ray Zone A

Well this is a complicated mix. I’ve been wanting to see this particular version of The Black Cat for some time because, well, the great Caroline Munro is in it (her second film for Cozzi after Star Crash, which I reviewed here). However, even though she looks great in this film especially, gives a good performance and has gone on record that she has a good deal of affection for this writer/director, it’s certainly not one of her best films. I love these kinds of movies and even love Cozzi movies like Contamination but, this one is a bit of a mess, I reckon (although it’s a miracle it looks as good as it does, considering the budget Cozzi had to work with).

Okay, so I’ll start off by stating that this film has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat (as it proudly proclaims to the contrary on the titles on this print)... absolutely nothing and, to be honest, I don’t know why producers would want their film called that when there are so many movies out there with that title already. Apparently, the notorious Menahem Golan (formerly of Canon Films) asked Cozzi to drop some shots of black cats into the film after he’d delivered the finished product because he’d apparently already sold this film as an adaptation of the Poe story. So, I don’t know who he thinks he’s fooling but there are a few added shots of a black cat here and there and the film within a film, which is being finished by the characters at the start of the movie, is said to be a version of The Black Cat... which it also clearly isn’t, it has to be said.

What it actually is, or at least started life as, is the first crack at a third part of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy, written once again by his ex-wife and long standing writing and acting partner Daria Nicolodi (she had made large contributions to the first two and can even be seen in an early sequence of Suspiria, reviewed here). But Luigi Cozzi is good friends with Argento (I believe he even runs Argento’s shop in Italy) and, after Argento rejected the screenplay to go and do something else, Cozzi didn’t want to do something which might seem like a betrayal... so he rewrote the script so it’s an ‘homage’ to Argento’s Three Mothers movies instead although, it has to be said, homage or not, it still kinda plays out like a direct sequel, it seems to me. At this point, Nicolodi left the production and also dropped out as the lead actress/protagonist, movie star Anne Revanna... to be replaced by Florence Guérin who, actually, does a pretty good job here anyway. Although it’s hard for the actors in this to shine completely because the script is not good... at least that’s what I think.

So, anyway, Anne’s husband Marc (Urbano Barberini) and his writing partner plus his wife (Nora, played by Caroline Munro) have written a script based on the Third Mother in homage to Argento’s Suspiria (all happily referenced in the film). Once a sinister producer, Leonard Levin (played by Brett Halsey) agrees to back the film, things start going wrong and the lead actress cast in the movie, Anne, starts getting dream visitations from the real third mother... and there is loads of jumbled up murder and mayhem ensuing for the rest of the movie. There’s also a kind of cosmic element to the film and Cozzi goes on record on an extra feature on the beautiful new Severin Films Blu Ray restoration of the film, saying that it’s a sci-fi movie dressed up in horror clothing because horror was a lot easier to get green lit back in those days. To me, actually, it almost feels like a close cousin to Lucio Fulci’s Manhattan Baby and, between the two of the movies, there’s not much in it.

Nice things for me were, Caroline Munro’s sexy performance (she’s playing a bad girl here and is not what she at first seems) and the over the top goriness of some of the effects which might make you raise an amused eyebrow. For instance, a professor who is really a good witch, is gotten by the Third Mother by a psychic signal which makes her start bleeding everywhere on her head until her heart explodes and ejects itself from her shattered rib cage. It’s an obviously similar death to some of the ones in Cozzi’s Contamination and also, it's fairly evident that it’s an attempt to both recall and out-do the famous chest burster scene in Ridley Scott’s A  L  I  E  N, except, they never really look all that convincing, it has to be said. Although I do appreciate the effort and feel they have a somewhat satisfying, almost comical feel to them.

The photography and whole atmosphere of the film is nicest, though, when it’s spoofing or paying homage to Suspiria. For instance, when Ann is reading the script for the film, the lighting style is primary greens pitched against reds and, instead of Vince Tempera’s hit and miss score on the soundtrack (but not as miss as those awful needle dropped rock songs which were fashionable at the time), they actually track in Goblin’s main Suspiria theme into these shots too. Which I’m surprised they got permission for but, that’s fine.

The only other thing I’ve really got to say about this... somewhat dull and messy affair... is that there are some beautiful and arresting visual moments in the film but, they never really add up to anything more consistently substantial and so, yeah, nice to look at but it’s not a film I think I would be revisiting often. It’s a shame actually that the producers didn’t think to get Ania Pieroni back to reprise her short cameo as the Third Mother from Dario Argento’s Inferno (reviewed by me here) but, yeah, another missed opportunity, I feel. One last thing though... when Argento did finally make Mother Of Tears (aka The Third Mother) in 2007, it was much more of a successful movie (at least I think so) but it felt less like he was making a film close to the sensibilities of Suspiria and Inferno and more like he was doing a riff, in terms of style, to The Black Cat. Just a thought and I’m sure people would disagree but, that’s what it felt like to me. Mother Of Tears is still a great film though and I wish somebody would put the thing on a definitive Blu Ray edition soon. I definitely need an upgrade.

Monday 18 July 2022

The Black Cat (1966)

A Cat Above
The Rest

The Black Cat
USA 1966 Directed by Harold Hoffman
Hemisphere/Severin Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: Poe faced spoilers.

So the fourth film in Severin’s Blu Ray boxed edition of Hemisphere Horrors is somewhat unusual in that it’s not shot in the Philippines at all. It’s an American movie made by a director who only directed one other feature (under a pseudonym) and that’s a shame because, judging from this thing, he had a lot of potential. It’s yet another film called The Black Cat and also takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name. However, it’s a cat above the rest, if you will, in that it’s actually, apart from the period (it’s been transplanted to contemporary America), a very straight adaptation of the original tale with almost no trimmings or additions to the ideas in Poe’s text.

Which is a really hard thing to do, actually. There have been many adapations of many of Poe’s tales over the years... heck, I even read an entire book published in the early noughties that was devoted to the tidal wave of cinematic Poe adaptations called The Poe Cinema. But even the most famous ones, which I guess would be the ones that Roger Corman directed for AIP in the 1960s, have added maybe 95% of their own ‘padding’ to these, more than twice told tales. And there’s a very good reason for this... Poe’s short stories are usually very short and don’t have time to tell more than a fleeting impression of a tale or, in some cases, an abstract emotional state brought upon by an internal or external influence. If you’re trying to base a movie on one then you almost can’t help but add to it or you are going to end up with a five minute short instead of a main feature.

This film is different. It’s got an admittedly short runtime at 73 minutes but it’s really done the original story ‘straight’ and, managed to take the main germ of an idea and not really stray too much, other than in terms of slightly more visual ways of getting these same ideas across. And that’s no mean feat to actually do this and still, as in this case, make it fairly watchable and interesting.

The film starts with an opening sequence which is in terrible shape, something which Severin warn you about before the film  starts... that just a few of the shots had to be taken from inferior sources or be lost forever. It’s a silhouette of the main protagonist Lou, played by a guy called Robert Frost (no, not that one) in his only film, as he walks by a lake and his voice reads a poem. I’m assuming the poem he reads is one of Poe’s own poems but I couldn’t figure out which one it was (sorry). This, like the rest of the film, is shot in a really stark, contrasty black and white that I associate with that kind of era of American monochromatic cinema. For me, this film has the kind of feel, due to the stock and the kind of atmosphere it has, of films like Herk Hervey’s original Carnival Of Souls or Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers. The feel of something a young Scorcese or even Cassavetes might make.

We then get a credit sequence that absolutely rocks with white type cards with images of a black cat interspersed and splitting the cards with maybe just a half a second of exposure before the next card... so the image of the cat almost goes into the retina at a subliminal level. This is accompanied by some really cool music which, alas, I’ve got no idea how to find. The film has no composer credit on it apart from a rock group performing some songs at a nightclub (technically not in Poe’s original for sure but, used as a stand in for the visual representation of abstract emotions within the text) and the disharmony between various musical choices throughout the film leads me to believe that this must have been a needle drop score culled from a music library. Scores bought by the yard, so to speak. Never mind the quality, hear the width.

These credits also tell us that The Black Cat in the film is played by Pluto. Pluto is, of course, also the name of the cat in both this film and in Poe’s rendition of the tale although, I have to say, the second cat used after Pluto’s death seems to be a totally different feline actor to me.

And the story follows the idea of a rich, playboy type who has a lot of pets and a wife who he ignores. He is presented here as unhinged and Frost does a good job of being obnoxious and also mentally unbalanced, a state of mind which kind of stands in for the peculiar mental state known by Poe and put down in his tale The Imp Of The Perverse. It certainly permeates his original The Black Cat and, frankly, a subtle concept like the mind’s own whim to follow a path of commitment it doesn’t necessarily want to undertake is probably best substituted with an unsound mental grip on reality as it is here.

As in the original story, Lou cuts out the cat’s right eye after it scratches him and begins to obsess about it (a slight inflection added by the writer/director in this version brings in the idea of a cat being a witches’ familiar as a thematic embodiment of his madness). A second scene in a night club, an establishment used earlier to highlight Lou’s frequent neglect of his wife Diana (payed by Robyn Baker in the first of only two films she made... is this movie cursed or what?), shows the live band are all now wearing eye patches on their right eyes and it’s a nice idea for a visual surrogate of the initial guilt Lou feels at his actions.

And, like the short story, Lou ends up hanging Pluto. However, unlike the random fire that follows the next day and leaves the character bankrupt and bereft and acknowledging unnatural forces at work, bringing a kind of karma to the situation... the fire is actually inadvertently caused by Lou’s act of the killing of the cat. In this version, he hangs the cat from a tree with an electrical power cord and, when the cat is hanging, plugs it into a conveniently situated socket, electrocuting the hanged feline. When he’s in bed with his wife a little later, the electricity from the murder of his pet gets out of hand and starts the fire which leads to his financial ruin.

Before he finds another cat as a replacement for Pluto, there is a sequence where Lou is hospitalised for his increasingly aggressive mental condition and it’s revealed he is having shock treatment and insulin injections. There is a scene where Lou is injected with an obviously painful chemical as he writhes and thrashes on the bed and I can only assume that this is a zealous writer/director using this as another, stronger visual metaphor for the guilt that Lou is suffering from his own, nasty actions. It’s a tough call because, in Poe’s tale it’s written in the first person so the audience is not at a distance from the character and can, therefore, feel a little sympathy from the writer in the situation. In this cinematic version, however, it’s hard to call upon any sympathy for the male lead (who nevertheless does a terrific job and, again, I’m surprised this guy never worked again in the business... at least not under the name Robert Frost).

The film continues to follow Poe’s short description of the character’s downfall when, after going after the second cat in the basement, he (not accidentally in this version) splits his wife’s head open with an axe and then walls her up in the basement. Now, this is impressively done here and the stark black and white photography really helps with the impact of the blood as, in a quick cut from motion to aftermath, we see the axe head buried in Robyn Baker’s skull and blood spurting from the wound to splash the wall and, in another aftermath shot with less motion, its path down her face and clothes. It’s a skillfully timed and edited series of shots and I imagine it must have been quite strong stuff for its day. A similarly strong aftermath shot comes earlier in the film, where we see Lou’s blood coated hand with the cats eye sitting in the centre of his palm.

When the FBI come knocking at his door, the story plays out the same as the source and, when he bangs on his new wall to proudly demonstrate to the inspectors how solid his house is, we hear the sound of the wailing cat which he has accidentally walled in with the corpse of his wife and the two FBI men tear down he wall so we are treated to a shot of the cat jumping out to freedom from the top of the wife’s bloody head. One of the few additions to the original tale, which is now over and which, in a way contradicts the existence of the opening poetry shot, is where Lou tries to escape in his car and the two officers give chase. However, at the last minute (as you kind of know is going to happen), Lou swerves when he sees the black cat in the road and crashes his car in a quite violent piece of editing which really makes the crash feel more than it is (I think a toy car was probably used for one of the rapidly edited together shots). Our last shot of Lou is of his mangled and dead body where, we see, his right eye has also been knocked out from the crash.

The Black Cat is low budget and feels like one of those movies where the director was struggling against finances at every turn but still gave it his all and managed to make, well... a really interesting film for sure, if nothing else. If you are a fan of Poe’s tale then this rendition of it is definitely worth checking out because I’m convinced it’s one of the straightest adaptations of a Poe work in existence. I’m really grateful to Severin for putting this one out there as part of their Hemisphere Horrors box because there’s probably no way I would have bothered to pick this one up as a single edition and I would have missed out. Highly recommended for a certain kind of low key horror aficionado, I think.

Sunday 17 July 2022

The Black Cat (1934)


The Black Cat
USA 1934 Directed by Edward G. Ulmer
Universal/Eureka Masters Of  Cinema
Three Films of Bela Lugosi
Blu Ray Set Zone B

While it’s nowhere near the first ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ movie to do so, the 1934 version of The Black Cat certainly continued and upheld the tradition of being almost nothing of consequence to do with Poe’s short tale, despite the opening credits heralding it as being “Suggested by the immortal Edgar Allan Poe classic”... well, you can suggest and you can certainly lead a black cat to milk but, you can’t make it drink. I don’t blame the writers and director here for making something which has barely any relation to the so called source material... they weren’t the first and they surely won’t be the last. You see, if you’ve read Poe’s tales you’ll know that his short stories rarely lend themselves to having any of the kind of substance that would lend well to a cinematic retelling. They’re moody, short slabs of atmosphere and attempting to extract a screen story from them must prove almost impossible for some writers. That being said, one of the Poe inspired versions of The Black Cat put out by Hemisphere in the 1960s (which I’ll review on here this week) is pretty darned close and shows just what can be done with an enthusiastic approach.

This version was the first of eight films to team up Universal’s newest horror superstars, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The film also features a freshly married couple as protagonists, Joan and Peter, played by Julie Bishop and David Manners. Manners himself, of course, already had experience playing the leading, male romantic interest opposite both Lugosi (in Dracula, reviewed here) and Karloff (in The Mummy, reviewed here). After a coach wreck on their wedding night, en route to their honeymoon, the two newly weds find themselves pitched up, along with Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast, in a fine looking mansion built on the grounds of an old fortress where Werdegast and the man who built it, architect Poelzig (played by Karloff), both served in the first war, 15 years prior. The two have a score to settle but the young couple keep them polite before Poelzig makes his play to sacrifice young Joan in a satanic ritual with his friends and add her perfectly preserved body to the ones he keeps in his cellar... along with Werdegast’s dead wife who he killed, while also having married Werdegast’s daughter. Yeah, it’s all very strange since she can only be 15 - 17 years old (as opposed to Karloff’s 47 years at the time) but the 'grudge keeping' Werdegast, who is mostly portrayed in a sympathetic and heroic way here, doesn’t find out any of this until the three of them are forced by circumstance (Joan is injured in the crash) to stay the night.

I was always blown away by the music on this thing since it was tracked in a few years later and reused for the second of the Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, including the striking title music by Heinz Roemheld. The film is a very short 65 minutes but it’s a delight, with the director making use of the wonderful house by using ample vertical lines built into the design of the interiors to contribute to some lovely  shot compositions, compartmentalising his actors in their own, allocated portion of the frame space. Later, in a satanic cult scene, he makes full use of a wonderful diagonal, double cross set of beams to further enhance his beautiful black and white photography.

Everyone does a great job here in terms of performance too, with Lugosi playing slightly off type (for him, he would soon become more associated with villanous roles) although, his heroism is somewhat compromised when his character makes good on his promise to skin Poelzig alive, which we see him doing in silhouette in a sequence which suffered many censor cuts in various countries. There’s also an interesting moment, when Werdegast’s man servant is shot, that we see blood coming out of his mouth... I’m not sure if this was the start of that particular cinematic cliché but blood was in short supply in terms of being show in movies at that time (unless it’s a pre-code thing and I’ve just not seen enough of them... certainly it's an element which was less enhanced in the various Universal classic monster movies of the time).

Poelzig, in an iconic looking role from Karloff with his big widow’s peak and stylised features (it’s this version of Karloff which was used as a caricature on the bag design for the second branch of Forbidden Planet, which opened in London in the 1980s, along with James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Jane Fonda, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, David Bowie and Robby The Robot), was partially based on a famous Austrian architect of the same name and, it would seem, partially based on the famous British satanist Aleister Crowley. Indeed, it’s been reported that this is the first film to feature the idea of satanic cults but, honestly, I don’t think so. Surely satanism must have been mentioned, at the very least, in the 1922 classic Häxan... so maybe ‘first American made movie’ might be a more accurate description.

Either way, although Poelzig as played by Karloff is certainly the more charming of the two starring roles, he’s definitely the more villanous in this one. He must be the villain because, at one point, he is seen playing Bach’s Toccata And Fugue In D Minor on a pipe organ so... he must be bad, right? Whether that choice of instrument and specific piece of music was a cliché at the time this was made is unknown to me... but it’s certainly become one over the years, for sure.

Fans of The Monkees’ amazing cinematic excursion Head will be interested to know that this is where the famous “Supernatural perhaps... baloney, perhaps not.” exchange between Lugosi and Manners takes place. The film is grim but never drags and, frankly, the use of various bits of music which would go on to become staples in the three Flash Gordon serials means that, someone like myself is always going to be tapping their toes as the film plays out anyway. So that’s me done with the 1934 version of The Black Cat, which is a film I can’t help but recommend to those who love the old, black and white horror classics. Edgar Allan Poe might disapprove of being associated with this, since the only shout out to him is Werdegast’s fear of the black cat who wanders around Poelzig’s house, but with great, stylised acting to match the great, stylised sets, good music and perverse things going on in the cellar... what more would you require?

Wednesday 13 July 2022

18 Bronzemen

Savage Kung Fu

18 Bronzemen
aka Shao Lin Si shi ba tong ren
Taiwan/Hong Kong 1976 Directed by Joseph Kuo
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

Okay, so the seventh film in Eureka’s rather invaluable Cinematic Vengeance - Joseph Kuo boxed edition is 18 Bronzemen and, I have to say, I’d been looking forward to this one (although it’s certainly not the best in the box so far). I’d heard about this from a colleague at work many years ago and was interested in hearing the loud clangs as various opponents hit actors painted Bronze... although, to be fair, apart from a few bronze armoured champions, they are supposed to be humans just painted bronze and so, yeah, for the most part the loud clangs when they come into contact with fists and feet makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

This one has an elabourate plot set up which kind of finds its way into the third act of the film, although as a movie it’s a very simple through line with all the story development being shown as reveals, which takes the basic story of three ‘brothers’ training to be Shaolin Warriors somewhat tenuous in terms of understanding the glue which holds these three together. True to IMDB form, putting names to the faces is somewhat hampered in terms of the three main, male protagonists (one of whom also turns out to be a minor antagonist towards the end of the picture)... however, the accompanying booklet helps me out by telling me that two of the three are played by Tien Peng and Carter Wong. The three are training from a young age at a Shaolin temple and the main geezah, who is only the second best at king fu, it would seem, is the one we join from when he’s saved as a baby from being slaughtered along with the rest of his closest family, before his aunt hides him and, after four years, places him under the care of the Shaolin monks in the temple for kung fu training... so he can eventually (20 years later, as it turns out), avenge his parents.

So yeah, the first hour of the thing is pretty much the main protagonists enduring hardships on their training journey so they can eventually pass the tests which involve beating the 36 Chambers (amazingly foreshadowing the title of the Shaw Brothers classic The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, made two years later) and facing the challenges of the 18 Bronzemen before, in the final of some fairly gruelling challenges (which are failed the first attempt and need another two years of training to finally beat), they each move a burning cauldron out of the way of the exit, incidentally branding themselves by doing this, with the twin dragon brands on their inner arms to mark themselves as true Shaolin Warriors.

Then, in a very quick, final half hour, more jigsaw pieces fall into place as the main man accidentally finds his future wife... due to her having the other half of a jade medallion which his father left with him shortly after his birth to lead the way to said wife... and together the two of them, along with ‘3rd Brother’, foil a few assassination attempts before meting out justice and destroying the guy who killed the main man’s father. And it’s a strange tale of three fathers, as it turns out, as each of the main male characters are fulfilling secret tasks unknown only to each of them, handed down by their dads in the past. Oh, and the future wife is once again played by Polly Ling-Feng Shang-Kuan from Dragon Inn (reviewed here) and The Shaolin Kids (reviewed here).

And it’s... certainly not as fun as some of the other films in this set but it is fairly entertaining, it has to be said. Little set pieces like bleeding from the nose and ears as part of the tests to ascertain whether you can successfully stand having your head inside a big bell while it is being chimed are somewhat interesting (and just a little bit horrifying, to be honest) but there’s just enough meat on the bone to keep the film going and enough kung fu action to keep you interested. There are the usual, shouty, ridiculous kung fu moves as various players either use them on their enemies or practice them and there’s a lot of play given to the hidden manual of the Secret Fist moves, which is apparently what eventually allows the main villain and his three look alikes (which is not as well handled in terms of continuity as you might expect, if you’re going to go down that route in the first place) to almost defeat the three surviving protagonists (the two actors and actress mentioned above) and certainly extract a cost from them (one of them dies), once again allowing Kuo to have his surviving characters pondering a somewhat hollow victory and giving the film something of a downer of an ending... which seems to be his preferred method of conclusion, certainly on most of the films included in this boxed edition.

So yeah, 18 Bronzemen is certainly not his worst film and I quite enjoyed it. If I’ve heard of this one then I guess it must have been one of his more famous films and so I’m sure many people rate it a lot higher than I do. It was certainly popular enough that he soon made Return Of The 18 Bronzemen, a sequel (of sorts... I’m hearing there’s a complication to that assumption) and that is the final of his films included in this edition. So I’ll try to catch up to that one sometime very soon.

Tuesday 12 July 2022

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers

Gang Bling

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers
aka Jeunes filles impudiques
France 1973
Directed by Jean Rollin (as Michel Gentil)
Jezebel Films Blu Ray Zone B

Okay so, every so often, between making his beautiful, erotic, surrealistic visions of movies utilising vampires, zombies or other supernatural elements (which weren’t always as successful although, many I’m sure recognise most of them as masterpieces now), Rollin would be forced to supplement his income by making both hardcore and, as is the case here, softcore pornography films under various pseudonyms in order to raise funds for his next personal project. I’d never seen one of his ‘purely for the money’ works before but I couldn’t resist this lovely Blu Ray edition of Schoolgirl Hitchhikers put out by Jezebel FIlms when I was at a film fair a few years ago.

First, a word about the English language title of the movie. There are two leading female protagonists in the movie, Joëlle Coeur as Monica and Gilda Arancio as Jackie. Although one of them is wearing a schoolgirl style skirt at the opening of the movie, I don’t think it’s once suggested in the film that they are, in fact, schoolgirls and they are certainly over age to be considered as such (thankfully). Similarly, although Monica, in her voice over narrative, sets the scene by saying they are on a camping holiday together... the girls are just hiking through the woods to pitch a tent. They don’t once hitchhike throughout the entire movie so... yeah... the English translated title seems a bit off to me.

This films goes under the guise of pornography and there are a fair few sex scenes and the requisite nudity (of the softcore variety) is ever present but, it has to be said, the film’s somewhat cobbled together plot machinations to bring about sexy variants in the film are often concentrated on more than the actual sex scenes themselves, after around the half way mark.

Okay, so the film starts off with the girls stumbling across a fully furnished, abandoned villa in the forest and they go and check it out. They find a bed in there, strip off and start having sex. Just before the sex there’s a bizarre moment where they both stop to put on new pillow cases on the pillows and, yeah, I couldn’t work out what that was all about. Anyway, the girls go at it in a seductive, slow manner and then Monica seems to have a quite astonishingly distressed sounding orgasm due to almost zero provocation from Jackie (her hands or tongue seem to be nowhere near anything sexual at the time)... which did seem a bit odd to me. The film then also gets a tad boring when the girls get their second wind and I can quite see why that, as Rollin has said in interviews, he didn’t always stick around on the set when the sex scenes were being shot and just left that stuff to the AD.

Anyway, a guy called Fred, played by Rollin regular Willy Braque, turns up downstairs during the night. He’s a small time thief who is somehow using this fully furnished villa as his hideout. Monique discovers him downstairs so, just as you would expect in real life, the two start having sex. Halfway through and for no reason I could fathom, the logs in the fireplace ignite. I couldn’t work out if it was the metaphorical fury of their lovemaking which caused this fiery outburst from the dry wood (which seems unlikely due to the less than frantic pace of the actors in this scene) or whether one or other of them had unexplained superhero mutant powers which caused these logs to accompany them with their fiery fervor. I never found out but the logs do turn up blazing away in other shots too.

Predictably, Jackie then discovers the two and so, of course, she joins in for a threesome. And then the rest of the film plays out as follows...

The girls go off and pitch a tent nearby, the next morning. Then Fred’s female boss and her male associate arrive. They think the girls made off with their jewels which are somehow absent from the safe in the house... so Fred and the other geezah go out to look for the girls, who obviously must have stolen them. They find their tent and drug them unconscious to take back to the villa. Jackie is chained up in a very tame BDSM scene where they beat her with the cane and cut a load of her hair off, among other tortures. Monica seduces the other guy and conks him on the head to escape. She brings back a private detective and his busty secretary to the villa. When the villains arrive back on the scene there is a pitched gun battle. They recover Jackie but Monica is kidnapped and taken to the nearby Chinese pavilion for torture. Except Monica and Fred just have sex again instead, while the boss lady looks on voyeuristically from outside. The next morning, there are more shenanigans at the villa and, after a few changes in who has the upper hand (the villains or the detective and co) and some more, short lived seductions involving Monica and the secretary with different people, a real estate guy drives up and it’s revealed that he took the jewels all along, but they are fake. The bad guys and gals are arrested, while Monica and Jackie traipse off into the forest to frolic their way into more sexy adventures... the end.

Okay... so there’s maybe a bit more plot than usual for a softcore porn film but, honestly, I just think Rollin probably got bored. There are lots of things about the movie that do point to a master at work however. Such as the symmetry of the shots at the start (and, of course, it’s a duet of young lady female protagonists again... just like in pretty much all his work) and the way he is almost more interested in filming the architecture of the villa and the placement of the girls within it, rather than focusing on the sexier aspects of their characters.

The sequence in the ‘Chinese pavilion’ consists of a small chamber which has all different coloured glass panes around it and when the boss lady watches Fred and Monique have sex, their reclining bodies are split between two glass panels by an upright vertical frame which renders them both red and yellow within the same shot. The hue of the glass is also strong enough to completely change the colour of the lady’s striking, purple dress.

I also noticed that there are a lot more master shots and long shots used in the majority of the sex scenes... barring the first one. So less interest to cutting in to close up details and longer takes than you might expect from some porn films.

However, Rollin also hasn’t lost that preoccupation on the broader strokes of his compositions at the risk of losing focus of the details of a shot. For instance, when Jackie is chained in the house and menaced by the villains of the piece, there’s one cut to a close up where both the background details of the room have changed somewhat (I think it’s an insert shot filmed somewhere completely different) and her chains have somehow, temporarily transformed themselves into sturdy rope instead. I wonder if this is the remnants of another scene planned but left mostly unshot, within the body of the film.

All in all, though, I have to say I rather enjoyed Schoolgirl Hitchhikers for what it was. It’s a bit of tongue in cheek fun, it has to be said and, as a bonus... and presumably because he possibly couldn’t find a spare actor on the day... in the brief scenes with the estate agent, Jean Rollin himself turns up as that character. I can’t remember if I’ve seen him turn up in one of his films before but I have to say that, the film is filled with a couple of good actors and actresses and also a load of terrible ones and, it has to be said, Rollin’s performance here definitely singles him out as a terrible actor, it would seem. And that’s all I’ve got for you on this one. There are a few friends who I think I might recommend this to but it’s definitely a film where the audience has to be in the right frame of mind nowadays to humour the intentions of the cast and crew, it seems to me. However, I could think of a lot worse ways of raising money for your next ‘proper’ film, for sure.

Monday 11 July 2022

Doctor Who - Planet Of The Daleks

Me And My Thal

Doctor Who
Planet Of The Daleks

Airdate: 7th April - 12th May 1973
BBC 1 - Region 0 Blu Ray Six Episodes

So this isn’t a bad story in the Series Ten Doctor Who Blu Ray boxed edition. Following on from the last episode of Frontier In Space (reviewed here), Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning) has dragged The Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee) back into the TARDIS as he had been shot by The Master (in Roger Delgado’s swan song in that role). After instructing the Timelords to pilot the TARDIS to ‘follow the Daleks’, who were at the periphery of the last dastardly plot, he slips into a coma and the TARDIS lands on the planet Spiridon. Jo goes out to find help and gets embroiled with a group of Thals who have come on a suicide mission from Skaro (planet of the Thals and Dals... as they once were, although the Dals were later revised to being Kaleds) to try and find the new Dalek base on Spiridon and... well, do something to stop them. Meanwhile the TARDIS is covered in fungus but The Doctor recovers (due presumably to his Timelord biology) and, when he goes looking for Jo, he also gets embroiled with another part of the same group of Thals.

Jo, who is near death due to being sprayed with fungus, is rescued by one of the natives of Spiridon called... um... a Spiridon... and nursed back to health. The Spiridons are completely invisible, by the way, except when they are wearing their trademark, huge purple fur coat thingies. The Spiridon who rescues Jo is, naturally, the only Spiridon on the planet who is not helping the Daleks, who are keeping a huge army in cold storage, ready to unleash on that part of the galaxy. It’s soon up to Jo and The Doctor (who has been a legendary and mythical figure in Thal history, since the impression he made on them in the very first 1963 Dalek story) to infiltrate and stop the Dalek’s master plan... which also involves releasing a bacteria onto the planet to kill all life there before unleashing their army.

And, although it feels like it’s been padded just like an old 1930s - 1950s theatrical serial, the story is entertaining enough and, while not as good as the previous one, certainly doesn’t get boring at all.

One of the nice things which seems to be endemic in the DNA of the writing of the show at this time is that the story never feels hampered by the special effects. Occasionally those effects are very good but, for quite a lot of the time, they do also look characteristically cheap and awful, it has to be said. But, the writers never really let that get in the way. There seems to be a real ‘make do and mend’ attitude to the way in which the stories are crafted to the final visual production and, it never fails to amaze me how many things the special effects team try and tackle, knowing that it won’t look too great a lot of the time. For instance, there’s one scene where The Doctor and some Thals are trapped by the Daleks in a room with a big ventilation shaft leading to the surface. The Doctor organises a big bit of cloth and they heat up the air under it and the whole lot of them hold onto the corners and float up to the surface of the planet through the vent. To say this looks convincing would be less than the truth but, you know, it’s a fun solution and they did their best with the materials and budgets they had, for sure.

There are a couple of silly plot points that bother me though. For instance, the ‘weird science’ of the planet is such that water doesn’t freeze and turn into ice but, when it gets well below zero, instead turns into molten ice water. So, of course the way The Doctor and the Thals kill a couple of Daleks is to drag them into one of these natural, extreme cold molten ice pools. The Daleks die instantly because, we are told, they are extremely susceptible to cold.  However, The Doctor’s big plan is to flood the sleeping Dalek army with the icy water flow to kill them all. Ahem... this is the same Dalek army which have been frozen and placed into suspended animation to wake up later. So... they didn’t automatically die like the others when they were chilled out then? Kinda makes no sense, does it? Also, I’m pretty sure the miniatures used for the sequences where the army starts to thaw out before being flooded with thick, icy water are repainted versions of those old, little Dalek rollykins you used to be able to buy in the shops, mounted on magnets... or possibly even the old Marx branded miniature Daleks. Either way, they look noticeably different from their full size counterparts.

The other thing that bothers me is the part of the Dalek plan to kill everything on the surface. Honestly, the Spiridons are already a slave labour force for them and the only other people on the planet are a few Thals. Why in heck would you need to destroy all life there? This really doesn’t make much sense for a race who are supposed to be amongst the most intelligent, albeit evil and diabolically deadly, species in the galaxy. Mind you, constantly repeating phrases like “You will be exterminated!” and “We are defeated.” at the top of their Stephen Hawking-like voices doesn’t sound much like a highly evolved race of creatures to me either, truth be told.

Once again, the insides of a Dalek are scooped out so a human can fit in and masquerade as one. This is something which was not new to the show, in fact William Hartnell and Peter Cushing’s versions of The Doctor were encouraging that right from the very first Dalek story and its big screen adaptation but... bearing in mind the amount of blue prints and diagrams which have been published over the decades showing you just what is inside a Dalek (in the fictional Whoniverse), I still am amazed that there is any room left to fit a person inside it. With all that inner machinery there really is only room for the very small Kaled creature inside it, it seems to me.

Anyway, Planet Of The Daleks is not a great story but, even as perhaps the least interesting story of 1973, it’s still pretty entertaining and never really gets dull, as some of the modern variations of the show sometimes do. The next story in the box is the classic story The Green Death, which was the final story in the main show of Jo Grant and which I reviewed in its DVD incarnation here. The whole series has six discs loaded with extras and, on the last disc, the full two part story The Death Of The Doctor from the spin off show The Sarah Jane Adventures is included, which would, decades later, return Katy Manning back to the role of Jo Grant, for which she was best known. That story also includes Matt Smith as The Doctor and, of course, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. If you are a lover of Pertwee’s much loved stab at The Doctor, then I would, in conclusion, highly recommend this Series 10 box set.

Sunday 10 July 2022

The Sadness

It’s A Sad,
Sad, Sad,
Sad World

The Sadness
aka Ku Bei
Taiwan 2021
Directed by Rob Jabbaz
Machi Xcelsior Studios

Let me say upfront that, The Sadness was filmed using both crypto currency (I still don’t understand that stuff) and the proceeds from the producer’s cam girl business. So, yeah, kinda old school alternate funding methods which might suggest a grittier, grainier product but, I have to say the whole film in terms of the shooting of it looks pretty spectacular and clean (the kind of clean I’d associate with someone like Hal Hartley or Wes Anderson). Even the hand held shaky cam moments in this look positively polished in regards to not pulling the audience out of the movie due to any overt stylistic expressions... at least as far as camera movement goes, at any rate.

However, in terms of the content of those frames, clean is not a word I would readily jump to when describing The Sadness. Once past the basic set up, it’s possibly one of the all time goriest films which I’ve seen in a long time... right up there with movies like, for example, Ichi The Killer... which was even cut on it’s Cat 3 video release... I know because I’d seen it uncut at its only unaltered UK screening at the London Film Festival and had to track down a Dutch DVD of it in the end, to get the full thing. Apparently, the same fate has been meted out to the physical home video release of The Sadness in its own country, where it’s not been released uncut... only at cinemas.

The set up tells of a country who have had their fill of lock downs since the coming of the Coronavirus and so, when a health official is trying to warn the public about a new virus... the Alvin virus... people don’t believe him. It’s all a part of the slow background build as we meet loving young couple Kat (Regina Lei) and Jim (Berant Zhu). They wake up and get into a slight disagreement about holiday plans... then Jim gets on his motor scooter and drops her at the station to go to work. And, as soon as they part ways, the Alvin virus hits and makes itself known in no uncertain terms, as the illness blackens the eyeballs of every infected victim, gives them a disturbing rictus grin and turns them into violent, crazed psychopaths wanting to violently kill, torture and rape anybody and everybody around them, indiscriminately... the act of which also infects the victims (if they’re not already infected) and it very quickly decimates the city... indeed, the country.

So, yeah, an obvious nod to George A. Romero’s The Crazies with the sexual undertone to the killings being an obvious ‘difference’ to maybe differentiate somewhat from both the Romero film and it’s subsequent remake (I’ve not seen the remake but the original Romero is not one I really took to when I first saw it). This one, once the craziness hits, is quite intense and almost continuous gory carnage with the director doing two things to not overload the audience too much and therefore let things get dull.

Firstly, he picks out a few ‘character’ victims and antagonists to repeatedly come back to... giving the audience someone to identify with or be scared of. Secondly, it’s obviously a story that’s mainly focused on Kat and Jim and how they are somehow going to find each other to come together again over the length of the movie (with a fairly predictable outcome, it has to be said)... so he gives both protagonists moments of calm amid the carnage where they are just wandering or existing at the periphery of the events, before taking them back into each new gory set piece.

And what set pieces. It’s fast and ferocious and, honestly, feels very dangerous. There’s an occular destruction moment on board a brilliantly executed  blood bath on a tube train carriage that Kat is riding, initially oblivious that there is any virus in the air, that I totally didn’t see coming due to the way it’s shot and edited... where a recurring, creepy old businessman puts his umbrella through a woman’s eyeball. It’s pretty grim and surprising stuff and, very early on, the director uses the trick of showing that one of the main protagonists is not safe from injury so, yeah, the atmosphere is thick with suspense.

That being said, one of the sequences (which reminded me of a scene that maybe inspired it, in the The Big Nowhere, the unfilmed second novel of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet) where the same creepy guy catches up with the same victim in a hospital and proceeds to vent his virus inspired sexual urges through repeatedly penetrating her eyeball socket with his penis, is kept curiously out of shot. Which seems strange at this point when the audience has already been exposed to a catalogue of fairly imaginative and grotesque violence... although saying that, the way it’s not shown in this sequence means you almost feel it more, as your imagination starts to fill in the gaps.

Another thing the director does, which is quite nice, is to give the same antagonist a moment where, for all intents and purposes, he breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience as he approaches the camera, axe slung over his shoulder. As it turns out, he’s really talking towards where he assumes the general direction of the fleeing Kat is but, it’s obviously a deliberate moment where the director wants to pop the audience from possible passive disengagement from the violent assault into another level within the frames, so to speak. The director also has a few other tricks up his sleeve such as using a shower curtain to both hide a very grim moment while doubling as an aid to Kat hiding her next move from a potential threat... I could go on about certain aspects of this film in relation to this kind of story telling cunning but, the review would have keep going for a while.

And, of course, the film is fully conscious of the satirical slant of the way in which the authorities are handling (or rather, not surviving) the outbreak, in light of the coronavirus pandemic within which the film was shot (the station and hospital you see in the movie had to be constructed within a studio set, apparently, due to not being able to film in these kinds of locations during the recent outbreak). Absolutely nobody believes anything the doctors are saying about the virus before it hits and everybody in the film seems aware that each new virus outbreak will now be a ‘politicised event’ and utilised by an untrustworthy government who don’t want to instigate another lock down in an election year. Which is, I suspect, pretty much where we are now with things in the UK, even as we are assaulted by a fifth wave which nobody in power wants to acknowledge, while millions are infected (including me, due to our own slack and nefarious government).

And that’s me about done on The Sadness. If you are a fan of zombie movies (which this really isn’t an example of at all, although there is some common DNA in presentation) or viral people turning into rage fuelled aggressors (such as The Crazies or Mom And Dad, reviewed here) then you are probably going to really like this movie. I’m not sure I can say I’m totally sold on the repeat value of this one but, it was kinda fun and it’s technically well put together, especially considering there’s apparently hardly any CGI in the movie and it’s mostly done as practical effects work... outstanding. And not really a horror film either... more science fiction but, I suspect it would play well with a horror crowd, for sure. Worth a look.