Tuesday 28 February 2023

The Resurrectionist

Resurrection Shuffle

The Resurrectionist -
The Lost Work of
Dr. Spencer Black

by E R Hudspeth
Quirk Books
ISBN: 9781594746161

Subtitled The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black, E. R. Hudspeth’s book The Resurrectionist is a tale of the fictional 19th century doctor of the title, who specialised in treating mutated humans but who evolves, in the short biography of his, taking up in the first 60 or so pages of this book, into someone who believes that the mythological creatures of man’s past once all existed and that human beings are the natural next stage of various evolutional processes, to get them to their current form. Initially finding no proper evidence to back up to what he comes to believe, he goes absolutely into mad scientist mode and spends his time making various mythological creatures from humans and other animals, patchworking them together to show how the species would have looked in their days on the planet.

It’s a nice little biography done in the best ‘weird fiction’ style... think Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley and H. P. Lovecraft joining forces... and the sinister path of this once respected medical practitioner, forced to pontificate on his theories from travelling side show carnivals (there’s at least one veiled reference to Tod Browning’s Freaks) is quite entertaining and, in terms of the final fate of the character... along with his wife, brother and son... is left much to the imagination of the reader.

The other two thirds or so of the book are a representational printing on the good doctor’s ‘only two copies ever published’ treatise on the matter - The Codex Extinct Animalia - and is mostly pictorial, concentrating on quite wonderful medical diagrams of all the creatures the good doctor manufactured... or indeed discovered or bought from private collectors of such mythological specimens, depending on your interpretation of the ‘biographical’ section of the book. Indeed, I believe the author, E. R. Hudspeth is a working medical illustrator himself so, as you can imagine, his drawings of the inner workings such as the muscles, the skeleture of various key creatures like a mermaid, a pegasus, a centaur, a minotaur etc, are all quite wonderful and certainly worth the price of admission.

Which is why this is, alas, such a short review... there’s a lot of substance to the book but the highlight, which takes up the majority of the page count, is indeed the selection of beautiful medical illustrations of those creatures that the doctor hopes can jog the sense memory so that the human tissue and bone, as it is now, can be stimulated to “unlock the body’s natural legacy of its ancestral past”. I’ve wanted this book for a while now so was delighted to receive one as a Christmas present this year. However, since the book’s first publication, almost eight years ago, something must have happened behind the scenes somewhere. In the back of the book is a web link listed to take the reader who has purchased the tome in question to link to further ‘archival documentation’ and even filmed footage, to further enrich Dr. Spencer Black’s back story. Alas, the link is no longer active so I guess I’ll never know if what I took on board reading between the lines of the biographer is anywhere near to unlocking the final enigma of the man in question.

So that’s a shame but, still, I appreciated The Resurrectionist for what it is and I definitely had a fascinating time with it. Certainly a big recommendation from me if you are into uncanny tales set in the late nineteenth century or admire a good looking medical illustration for sure. This beautiful hardback edition is certainly worth picking up.

Monday 27 February 2023

The Masturbating Gunman

Fantom Seed Slinger

The Masturbating Gunman
aka Masked Avenger Versus
Ultra-Villain in the Lair
of the Naked Bikini

Directed by Mark Savage
Australia 2000
Severin Blu Ray Zone 1

Warning: Spoilers... because, wow!

The Masturbating Gunman (known bizarrely in some territories by a much less appropriate title, as Masked Avenger Versus Ultra-Villain In the Lair Of The Naked Bikini) is a micro-budget film by Mark Savage. It’s actually a lot of fun and straddles the line between softcore comedy action with just a dash of added nunsploitation... pretty well. It’s also, it has to be said, truly ridiculous and a film which you really have to suspend your disbelief in order to enjoy it properly, for what it is.

It starts off with the truly unstrustworthy statement that the film is ‘based on a true story’ and follows this with a quote from a fictional person which certainly flags up one of the director’s influences... “If you don’t stop, you’ll go blind. - Hiroshima Nikkatsu” and so the Nikkatsu name firmly establishes that the director wants to make an action thriller and, this is certainly an off beat one, with a plot the likes of Seijun Suzuki might contemplate. However, instead of the rice sniffing hero of Suzuki’s Branded To Kill we have Robin Brenna as the panty sniffing private detective who, when on a case, dons the black leather gimp mask that transforms him into the title character... The Masturbating Gunman. He and his lame assistant take on missing person/abduction cases and he uses the panties of the missing person to completely profile the missing gals and then track them throughout the country via his keen sense of smell.

During a scene early on in the film, we see him track down a girl and rescue her from a bunch of kidnappers on a beach, in an action sequence which serves to set the tone of the movie while also introducing us to the gunman’s other personality quirk, which is a huge flaw in his chosen profession. Whenever he sees a beautiful woman and is turned on by her, he has to stop whatever he’s doing and masturbate to her until he’s finished. Something we also see at the start of the film when he hires a sex worker to look at him while he jerks off... and huge gouts of semen cover his masked face, in a scene with a preamble much reminiscent of the way Sergio Leone might stage a showdown in one of his spaghetti westerns.

So in the action sequence in question, we see him take out two gunmen and then, reaching into the gaping wound of one bad guy, he pulls out his intestine and uses it as a whip to disarm the main man. Alas, a bikini clad woman is also on hand and he has to stop what he’s doing, fall on the floor and masturbate. He manages to finish just before the bad guy hits him on the head with a rock and saves the day.

After this set up, we meet the main villain, Helmut Gunta, played by Peter Beitans, a ruthless but bizarre criminal who has just got out of jail and orders his hired goons to find him a virgin so he can father the ultimate God-like child as an heir to his villainous organisation. Where his goons make a mistake is in kidnapping a nun from the local church (played by Nene Powell) who happens to be the sister of... you guessed it... The Masturbating Gunman. Luckily, she realises what’s happening and leaves her panties behind outside the church, for her brother to find.

And the film is totally silly, over the top and, a little strained on occasion in terms of how it’s edited (I suspect not quite everything got shot) but, for a micro-budget feature, it’s actually pretty impressive with all the actors playing it straight faced and totally going for it... which is hard when the script is full of lines like “They say he must jerk before he does his work” or “Only a gay man would jerk off to a woman with a moustache”.

Spoilers now though so, if you don’t want to know how strange this film gets (and how much you have to cross your fingers and go with it due to the sheer ridiculousness of the content), then read no further. After a lengthy action scene near the end of the movie, the villain has laid on a series of stripping woman, each one slowing the hero down a little more while he has to masturbate to each on in turn until, by the time he’s ‘well spent’ after the last one, he is in the clutches of the enemy. However, his nun sister opens her legs to inspire him and he jerks a fresh load of come into his enemies faces, incapacitating many of them.

However, this is still not enough but then the deux ex machina comes from a place where, I didn’t see coming (if you’ll pardon the expression) even from the set up. That is to say, there’s a scene earlier in the picture where, behind the main villains back... the nun sleeps with every one of the thugs and steals their guns while she does so, leaving the villain’s army without any guns at a crucial time. It pays off later when her brother has accidentally pulled his cock off from too much wanking and has no more of his deadly weapon left because, when all hope seems lost, she starts masturbating and ejaculates around 15 automatic weapons from inside her vagina where she has hidden them, allowing her brother to grab one and save the day.

So yeah, like I said, did not see that one coming.

My main problem at the start of the movie was the cheap sounding synthesiser score by Bryony Marks... which I can tell you now is not the way to score a masturbation scene shot like a Leone western. However, the score does actually work quite well in context of other things with a couple of nice leitmotifs and it does reasonably well as a solid piece of musical glue to hang the story onto... so I would say give it a chance because that score’s got more legs than you may, at first, realise.

And that’s me about shot my load on this review, I think. The Masturbating Gunman is a fun slice of exploitation movie which, if you can handle the kind of production values that this kind of micro-budget tends to throw up, should keep most explorers of unusual movie making entertained for an hour and a half. I really enjoyed this one and am pleased Severin saw fit to issue this (although I can’t imagine it getting a release in the UK, is my guess). Definitely worth a look though, I would say and, where else would you see a movie with these two entries in the end credits roll... Cum Wrangler - Julie Stone, Masturbation Consultants - Cast and Crew.

Sunday 26 February 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Modok She Wrote

Ant-Man and
the Wasp: Quantumania

USA 2023 Directed by Peyton  Reed
UK cinema release print

This is going to be a very quick shout out to the new Ant-Man/Wasp movie because, well, it’s basically fine and not the train wreck I had been led to believe by many critics, it has to be said. Ant-Man And The Wasp - Quantumania is actually one of the stronger of the recent Marvel films as far as I’m concerned, easily beating out the likes of Black Panther - Wakanda Forever (reviewed here) and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (reviewed here)... but, you know, I loved Eternals (reviewed here) so, don’t take my word for it.

Once again we have Paul Rudd playing the Scott Lang incarnation of Ant-Man, Evangeline Lily playing the Hope Van Dyne incarnation of The Wasp, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) and Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet Van Dyne (the original Wasp) but, we also have yet another new actress playing the grown up version of Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie (the always watchable Kathryn Newton and... none of the other much loved characters from the previous, stand alone Ant-Man films. There is, however, one returning actor from the first one who is basically a henchman to this movie’s main villain Kang The Conqueror (played by Jonathan Majors). I’m not going to say who the character is but, he’s been refashioned into a version of one of Marvel’s more ridiculous looking villains from the comics and, well, he wasn’t supposed to be the character he was playing in the first movie, truth be told (it’s complicated)... but I won’t say any more of that because, you know, spoilers.

This one is a lot different from the majority of previous movies which had Ant-Man as a character in them. Yes, it’s a superhero movie and features many people doing fantastic, superpowered fighty things but... it has to be said that this one more resembles a Star Wars movie than most anything else and, yeah, it’s certainly not the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to jump into a more space opera style yarn (although, technically, nobody is in space... it’s just the quantum realm). And I’m not knocking it... if anyone is staying true to their comic book roots by going down this road, then certainly Marvel probably have the most right to (and possibly DC but, let’s not make this review a comparison war).

And it’s also fairly well done and, as I said, basically fine. Even cleverly handled in terms of the origins of one of the big deus ex machina moments in the movie, for sure. It’s fairly entertaining and has a lot of humour, as you’d expect from an Ant-Man movie. One thing which did bug me, if you’ll pardon the expression, is that Marvel no longer have the rights to The Micronauts toys and the characters in the comics they wrote about them in the 1970s and 80s. I used to love those (both the comics and the toys) and, certainly, the quantum realm which has already become so essential to the way the MCU goes forward, pretty much started off life as the Microverse as far as I’m concerned. I mean, the spirit of those comics is certainly here in the way it’s been put together but, how great would it have been if Baron Karza and Arcturus Rann were facing off against each other in this one?

Oh, one of the big criticisms I heard levelled at this movie was that some people had difficulty understanding it. I was expecting to be in the same boat but, no, this is not a complicated movie and I am baffled as to what people think needs explaining here. It seems pretty clear to me... just remember the other 30 plus MCU films which came out before this and you should have no trouble following it.

The other complaint I’ve seen about this is that it deals with the Multiverse and therefore nothing has any consequence. Well... again I’m left thinking I saw a different cut of the movie somehow. This film does touch on the multiverse but, so very little of it, maybe a minute or two of post credits scenes, actually takes place in another facet of the multiverse. This movie really isn’t about the multiverse at all.... which we’ve all seen before in at least two Marvel movies and once TV show so, it would be nothing new if it was (even DC are getting into the multiverse act later this year and, again, that’s fine, they’ve earned the right to do that from their comics over the years... the two companies have pretty much different versions of everything the other does anyway). But, no, this one’s firmly set in the quantum realm and although the multiverse is mentioned a lot... it doesn’t really feature too much in the story, for sure... apart from a scene where it’s used to explain the idea of ‘possible alternate versions of oneself in a fairly blatant, visual way.

And that’s me done on this one. Ant-Man And The Wasp - Quantumania is basically an entertaining evening at the cinema, has some great actors, moves at a fairly good pace and has some nice musical glue by the series’ regular composer Christophe Beck (which, once again alas, has not been released on a proper CD at time of writing this). But, yeah, it’s a nice looking movie and I certainly didn’t mind it at all... make of that what you will.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Sword Of Sherwood Forest

Baldry Tales

Sword Of Sherwood Forest
UK 1960 Directed by Terence Fisher
Hammer/Indicator Blu Ray Zone B

Sword of Sherwood Forest is the first of two films presented in beautiful new transfers (and all the usual, hefty trimmings the Indicator label tends to provide for such handsome releases) making up their recent two film boxed edition Robin Hood At Hammer - Two Tales From Sherwood Forest, along with A Challenge For Robin Hood. Actually, Hammer Studios made three films based on the famous English outlaw but, for some reason, their first go round, The Men Of Sherwood Forest from 1954, isn’t included. I can only assume a particular other label (who shall remain nameless here because I’ve no idea if this is the case or not), are clinging onto the rights to the first film and sitting on them, not bothering to do anything with the property themselves. Well, I wish said label would get up and actually sort themselves out with these kinds of titles or, you know, let the rights go to much more deserving labels such as Indicator, Arrow or Eureka Master Of Cinema to do something much better with.

This one, though, surprised me as I absolutely loved it. It’s not particularly dynamic or that great but, it has nice pacing and has Hammer über director Terence Fisher helming the thing. And, of course, this has Richard Greene playing Robin Hood, fresh off of the 144 episodes of the popular British TV show The Adventures Of Robin Hood, in which he also played the title character (Fisher also directed a fair few episodes of this, between films). Since he was already popular in the role, it must have seemed a good bet to put him in a colour film continuing the character’s adventures and it also allows the audience the respite, mostly, of telling the origins of the guy through the classic tale, once again. With the exception of Maid Marian, played here by Sarah Branch, who is introduced to Robin for the first time again here.

The film starts off with some interesting music (more on that in a while) with some titles comprising sketches of various characters and scenarios with strips of colour appearing and overlaying them, in which the credits then appear. It’s a nice enough effect and the imagery, supported by an uncial style typeface, further pushes the sense of period.

This tale sees Robin trying to thwart the Sheriff of Nottingham (played wonderfully well by Peter Cushing, looking way different to usual to the point where I didn’t recognise him for about a minute) who is trying to lay legal claim to a village called Baldry, to turn it into a castle as it is in a good strategic position, in direct contrast to what the wishes of the absent King Richard would be. A squire is shot by the Sheriff’s men because he carries a specific seal to gain audience with the
rather dynamic personification of the Archbishop Of Canterbury (played solidly by Jack Gwillim), to warn him so he can stop this madness. So it’s up to Robin, aided by his merry men (not to mention Marion) to throw a spanner in the works, protect the archbishop and make sure the evil sheriff doesn’t get his way.

And it’s a nicely put together movie with, not too much action but it certainly cracks on at a pace and Greene is certainly confident in the role, carrying Robin likeably through the film. And it’s got an excellent cast too, including Niall MacGinnis as Friar Tuck and, no less than the great Nigel Green as Little John. I’ve never understood why the tragically short-lived actor was given big muscular characters like Little John and Hercules (in Jason And The Argonauts, review coming at some point this year, fingers crossed) but, he’s always so likeable and has such a larger than life presence that he manages to get away with roles like this. Incidentally, both Greene and Green went on to play versions of Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu series of movies made in the 1960s (check my main index to access the relevant reviews)... as did Douglas WIlmer, who was in the first Hammer Robin Hood movie, not presented on this set.

And the uncredited cast of the movie I discovered as I watched are just as good. We have Desmond Llewellyn, better known as Q in the majority of the Bond movies, as the squire who is shot at the start of the picture. He doesn’t have more than a couple of lines to speak before dying but it was nice to see him in something other than Bond. Also uncredited is Derren Nesbitt in another short lived role and, as one of the many villains dotted about the movie, regular Hammer actor Oliver Reed.

The film is pretty formulaic and, even though it’s not a faithful iteration of the more well known story, it still has a shooting contest where Robin has to prove how well he can shoot to gain dubious employment by another main villain in the film. This contest includes shooting arrows through the spokes of a fast spinning wheel to hit pumpkins, despite the wheel being stationary in one of the long shots before being shown spinning again in the next close up. It’s all good fun. Where the story certainly breaks tradition, though, is when Oliver Reed’s villain stabs Peter Cushing’s Sheriff Of Nottingham in the back several times, killing him before he gets any kind of chance to properly face off against Robin in the film’s finale battle, which takes place in a Nunnery. No sexy, lesbian nuns are in attendance, however... more’s the pity.

And that’s me just about done on the film but, if it’s a not particularly challenging but light weight and entertaining Robin Hood adventure you are after, then Sword Of Sherwood Forest certainly fits the bill. The boxed edition of this and the other film come with an 80 page booklet containing essays about the films, a double sided poster highlighting the original poster art for each and swathes of extras. One good one which I watched is David Huckvale’s appreciation and musical summary of the key parts of the score, written by a composer I’ve not encountered before called Alun Hoddinott. Apparently this guy was an extremely famous concert hall composer in Wales and Sword Of Sherwood Forest was one if his very rare dalliances with feature film scoring. So, yeah, it’s a great set to be sure and another valuable release from Indicator.

Monday 20 February 2023

Godzilla - The Official Guide To The King Of The Monsters

Ghidorah With Delight

Godzilla - The Official
Guide To The King
Of The Monsters

by Graham Skipper
Welbeck Books
ISBN: 9781787398993

Godzilla - The Official Guide To The King Of The Monsters is a new book published towards the end of 2022, written by Graham Skipper and completely authorised by Toho Studios, who have allowed the publishing company unlimited access to loads of never before seen photos from the films and behind the scenes shots (more on those photos later). And, it’s a book I’m very happy to have but, it has to be said, I also had some small issues with it too. So yeah, it’s good and bad... let’s get to it.

The tome is split into six main sections, book ended by an Introduction and a Closing section thusly... The Showa Era, The Heisei Era, The Millennium Era, The Reiwa Era, The American Era and Godzilla In Other Media. And, as you would imagine, the first five of those are split into mini chapters, each one covering one of the films from their particular era. Each main section is accompanied by a nice illustration but, it seems for every positive thing I have to say to about this book (which is ultimately a nice thing to have), there’s a yang to the yin with something negative about that particular aspect.

Okay, so the first thing I will bring up is the design. It looks fantastic and the front cover of the hardback depicting The Big G himself in silhouette, is textured as rubbery scales. Like someone has gone mad with a spot varnish effect to the point where it’s built up in loads of lumps on the cover... it looks and, yeah, feels fantastic. You could definitely have sex with this book if you so desired (I won’t be kink shaming here). And the design positives continue inside where each film is given a huge title information strip taking up between a quarter and a third of the page, with info like the year, the director, some cast members etc presented as a little block. But the negative of this is, because the title sections take up so much space on the page, the regular body copy text is both tiny (maybe 8pt or even less) and on a blue tinted background, which further makes it harder to read. So yeah, it’s a case of cutting down on the legibility and readability of the thing in favour of saving space (and therefore money) it seems to me.

Positive thing number two is that it’s profusely illustrated with, as claimed, lots of shots which will be new to fans of this particular kaiju. But that’s also its downfall because, almost all of the hundreds of photos included are... you guessed it... just shots of Godzilla and various other monsters such as Mothra, Mechagidzilla, King Ghidora and the like. Which can get pretty dull. I’d much rather see a picture of the title credits singer and the psychedelic club dancers from Godzilla VS Hedorah, for example, than endless shots of giant monster destruction. So, yeah, the novelty of the pictures does wear thin after a while. Even allowing for the fact that there’s a picture of Godzooky on one page (and if you know who that is... watch out mate, you’re showing your age).

Okay, positive thing number three is it covers things I didn’t expect it to. Such as the fact that the Hedorah suit actor got appendicitis while shooting and doctors had to come and operate on him in the studio, while he was still wearing the Hedorah costume, in order to save his life. They cover the translation issues about the title creature's name... giving a pretty convincing reason for the translation change from Gojira to Godzilla, which is apparently used with Toho’s blessing. And they’ve even got a section on Luigi Cozzi’s re-tinted, ‘cut and paste with new footage’ Italian release, affectionately known as Cozilla (a film I’d not even heard of until I purchased a bootleg of it last year... yeah, I’ll watch it and review it eventually people). The downside is, of course, that for all the things it includes, it misses out tenfold, loads of other facts that could have been put in here. And it even leaves out things like, in the section dedicated to the comics... well, probably the most famous comic book incarnation of them all. I mean, how do you write a section on the comic book versions and not include Marvel’s late 1970s series of Godzilla - King Of The Monsters comic.

Similarly, if you have a section on American film appearances but fail to mention that a drawing of the character appears in Kong - Skull Island, which is actually the second entry in the interconnected US Monserverse films based on Godzilla and his kaiju brethren, then I just don’t know what to say. So, yeah, that’s a bit short sighted, especially when the third and fourth films in the series follow on from the Kong movie.

Two more things. One, the writer uses the term “an horrific sight” at one point. Nope, totally wrong and I hate it when ‘toffs’ use this kind of incorrect language. It’s “a horrific sight” with a hard H, thank you very much. What planet do these people come from? Also... I can only hope the writer has updated some of the Wikipedia entries for some of the subjects covered there himself... because I certainly don’t want to mention the term plagiarism here, for sure. Which I’m not.

And I don’t think I have much more to say about this one. Overall I enjoyed Godzilla - The Official Guide To The King Of The Monsters and, certainly I wish I’d had a copy of this to pore over when I was first re-discovering the character many decades ago. It’s a perfect thing for beginners to the world of Godzilla for sure and, even jaded old fans like myself should get something out of it. That being said, it’s not the essential guide it makes itself out to be and, I think a proper book of well over a thousand pages with each of the many films given at least one 40 page chapter of their own, would have been more welcome (and I’m hoping that happens sometime, to be sure). But, yeah, it’s a nice looking beast and many people should have some fun with it, I think.

Sunday 19 February 2023

The Beast Must Die


The Beast Must Die
UK 1974 Directed by Paul Annett
Amicus/Severin Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: You might want to take a spoiler break during this review.

Not to be confused with other movies and TV shows with, you know, the exact same title... The Beast Must Die is one of Amicus studio’s last proper horror movies, based on a short story by famous Star Trek novelisation and sci-fi writer James Blish. This one mixes the ideas of a typically English country house ‘whodunnit’ mystery with the added element of lycanthropy and, in the case of this movie adaptation, a nod to the very quick influence of the blaxploitation cinema of the time, in the form of main protagonist Tom, played by Calvin Lockhart and his wife Caroline, played by Marlene Clark.

Joining them are a whole host of actors, many of those who would not find themselves out of place in a stuffy, British, Agatha Christie style, ‘slowly whittled away guests’ kind of movie... such as Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, Tom Chadbon (who I best remember as Duggan from the City Of Death storyline in the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who), a young Michael Gambon and, working the security until he suffers a gory demise halfway through the movie, Anton Diffring.

We also have Valentine ‘The Man In Black’ Dyall as the narrator you hear at the start of the film and then again, about ten minutes or so before the end. In the opening sequence he reads out the appearing messages which, frankly, the audience can read way quicker than him (Posing the question... why do both? Just pick either a voice or typography), telling the audience that they are the detective. We have a certain amount of time to follow the clues, such as they aren’t, and work out not so much whodunnit but... who is the werewolf.

And then we go into a long, ploddy opening sequence where Calvin Lockhart is being hunted by Anton Diffring, trying to infiltrate a country home while the latter uses state of the art security mechanisms he has on the grounds and surrounding forest, to have his small army locate Lockhart. I have to say, the musical score here, provided by Douglas Gamley, is working as hard here as it does the rest of the movie to try and add pace to visuals which are, despite being nicely composed and clean looking, lacking any kind of oomph to them and threaten to just get into dullsville territory really quickly. Indeed, my big criticism of the whole movie is that the pacing is way too dull but, that being said, it’s still somehow a quite fun and watchable movie.

Due, I suppose, to the slight undertones of blaxploitation, Gamley’s score is a full on funky stew of wah wah guitar and cool beats but, it has to be said, it sounds more like what Laurie Johnson might have provided for an episode of The New Avengers... if the plot of an episode of that show had involved lots of porn scenes of Joanna Lumley and Patrick MacNee getting loved up for the duration. In other words, it kinds of works contrary to the style of the film but sounds great and, yes, it’s a damn shame the soundtrack to this one has never been released commercially on CD... I’d be first in line to grab one.

Anyway, the whole opening turns out to be a trick to fool the audience, when it turns out it’s Lockhart testing his new security advisor and system. But why does he need such state-of-the-art security you might ask? Well, because he’s a world famous, super rich hunter and all the guests he’s invited for a long weekend (the three nights when the moon is full) have been around violent death of some sort. So he naturally assumes one of them is a werewolf (of course, who wouldn’t, right?) and in best Zaroff style, he wants to hunt the biggest game of all. Only this time man is not just the biggest game... man turns into a wolf, apparently.

And what a werewolf! Or should I say, where wolf?

Okay, so it really is an Alsatian dog (or German Shepherd as they used to be called before the war) dressed up to make it look more wolfy... it just looks a bit more like it’s wearing a shaggy, Shakespearean ruff, to be honest. And don’t talk to me about the transformation scenes... which are completely inconsistent with each other.

All this aside though, there were a couple of things that saved this for me. One is that the cast are all immensely watchable in this... despite Peter Cushing's ‘archaeologist/werewolf expert’ character having an absurd pseudo-Swedish accent that seems to rob him of all his inherent dignity. It’s nice seeing this lot bouncing off each other and, often, over acting somewhat... each one holding their own against the others.

Secondly, there’s the revelation after... the Werewolf Break. Okay, so around ten minutes before the end, the film stops and we see a ticking clock counting down thirty seconds, superimposed over footage of each suspect’s face as Valentine Dyall invites us to reveal who we think the werewolf is. Presumably to whoever was sitting next to us in the cinema... did anyone get into a dating situation as a result of this film? And then, after... a werewolf is revealed. And it wasn’t who I thought it would be but, rather than be surprised, I was immediately incensed and blurting out why that person couldn’t possibly be the werewolf... when they were seen actively trying to repel it earlier in the movie. And then I realised... oh wait a minute, that means... and yes, there is a second (and also a third but that’s a different issue) werewolf revealed who makes, maybe a little more sense. And I still hadn’t got it right and that’s just fine for me. The few films I see where I can’t accurately predict the ending from early on always win big score points from me and... such is the case with this beast of a movie.

So there you go. The Beast Must Die is a slow and dull affair which still manages to generate a sense of fun and watchability and I certainly am glad I invested in this lovely Blu Ray transfer of the film from Severin. I can easily see myself watching this again at some point and it’s a perfect ‘middle of the evening’ movie for an all nighter with a crowd of friends, for sure. Yes, having one of the guests playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano at one point is possibly a little over the top in terms of reminding the audience it’s a werewolf movie when Lockhart’s character already does that literally every five minutes but, I dunno, I forgive it all this because it’s a bit of a low key romp and something I would definitely recommend to a certain section of my friends... although it’s certainly not for all of them and I suspect modern teenage audiences may find the pacing a bit of a turn off, truth be told.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Zorro’s Black Whip


Whipping Yarns

Zorro’s Black Whip
Directed by Spencer Gordon
and Wallace Grissell
Republic Pictures
Elstree Studios DVD Region 2
Double volume, six episodes on each.

Warning: Some spoilers.

Zorro’s Black Whip is a 1944 Western theatrical serial put out by Republic Pictures, one of their many chapter plays of this period. Although male co-star and surrogate damsel in distress George G Lewis somehow gets top billing as government agent Vic Gordon, the star of the show here is Linda Sterling who plays Barbara Meredith... who, after her brother, the crime fighting ‘Black Whip’ is shot and killed in the first episode, takes up his mantle to continue the legend of... The Black Whip.

Not Zorro’s Black Whip though... as the title would misleadingly have you believe...

Okay, here’s the thing. Zorro’s Black Whip and its crime fighting leading lady has absolutely nothing to do with Zorro in any way, shape or form whatsoever. It’s not set in Spain (the setting is the Old West), there’s no sword play and Zorro is not mentioned one single time throughout the whole serial. Except in the opening credits of each chapter where, in addition to his name bizarrely being on the title, he is also credited as a character to his original creator. But the actual character of The Black Whip in the story has nothing to do with Zorro except... okay, she kinda dresses like him with the black outfit, hat and mask (plus the whip, obviously).

So I don’t know what’s really going on here. It could have been that the producers were too frightened by the similarity of the dress of the character (which probably was just an old recycled Zorro costume) that they thought they should probably give the creator a credit and royalties rather than have to duck a legal fee. Or, perhaps, they were playing the old bandwagon game and riding the coat tails of the popular character. Certainly, you see this done time and time again in the history of cinema, with the Italians being especially good at providing ‘inspired’ rip off non-sequels under the guise of actually being sequels... such as the gazillions of Django movies made with very few of them actually being sequels and not all of them featuring a character with the name Django... for example. I don’t remember seeing it done in the US of A like this though but, perhaps I’m less familiar with the period so, yeah, there were The Creeper movies, I guess, inspired by Rondo Hatton’s ill fated character in a Sherlock Holmes movie (more on that when I put the review of that movie up on this site... hopefully this year, folks). If you know of any other USA knock offs cashing in on famous characters in their titles without actually including that same character, please drop me the info on the comments section below this review.

The story is about a corrupt governor in the sleepy town of Idaho, where they are about to have elections to find out if the people want to make it a state of the union... which goes against this particular high up and less than outstanding citizen’s plans. So he has his thugs go after anything which will swing the vote in the favour of becoming a state and it’s up to The Black Whip to stop all the trouble and give the people a chance to choose for themselves, to go forward into democracy... blazing away for justice with her guns and her trusty whip. Not to mention her horse who, in the denouement of the final episode, saves her life by stomping her main antagonist to death.

Okay, so, that established, this one is a typical Republic serial but with a female lead... kinda. She does fine in the action scenes but George G. Lewis gets a huge hunk of screen time too, mostly so he can be set up to be knocked unconscious or held prisoner in order for Linda Sterling to suit up and rescue him a little later. It’s fast and furious in the way that only the cheaply made Republic serials could be. Universal, Columbia and Fox all have their little identifying features which mark them out as serials coming from a particular stable and, with Republic, it was minimum of plot and characterisation and plenty of action. When I started watching this one with my dad and it was clear the first of many fist fights was about to take place, I reminded him that this was a Republic serial so, everything you see in the room of the fight... every piece of furniture or prop... was going to get broken over someone’s head or flung around and, sure enough, within a few minutes, the room was a total wreck. I’d hate to be the cleaner for a character who lived inside a Republic branded serial, for sure.

And yeah, by this point in Republic’s output, they’d got it down to a fine art... there’s ample chasing, fist fighting and shooting here. In fact, these guns they’re using are less like six shooters and more like one hundred and thirty six shooters. Don’t start counting the bullets because they hardly ever run out of shots... except when it’s dramatically pertinent for them to do so, in order for somebody to be captured by the opposition. Also, these people including the title character, are waving their pistols off dramatically and firing more into the air than anything else, it seems to me. Although, there are some wonderful stunts such as one early on where The Black Whip rolls herself down the slope of a cabin roof, arms by her sides and then lands on her horse and rides it off... nice stuff.

The dialogue is particularly stripped down on this one. Barbara Meredith’s real job is to run the town newspaper, which she does with the aid of her press room guy, Lucien Littlefield as the aptly named ‘Tenpoint’ Jackson. There’s a few comedy scenes with him doing a cut rate Gabby Hayes style comedy scene here and there but, it’s all about the action with just a few lines of dialogue to explain what’s happening, delivered by various characters, before the next action scene is upon us. It gets to the point in the final episode where The Black Whip knows that the masked villain has a welt from her whip on his wrist... so all she and Vic Gordon have to do is go back to town to the committee and see which one of them has the wound which will reveal who the enemy ring leader is. However, rather than have the usual reveal scene, we then just get a newspaper headline summarising that the villain’s identity was uncovered but he escaped, all in order to make way very quickly for the final gun battle where the heroine tracks him down again.

All in all, though, the serial delivers mostly what you’re expecting from it (except Zorro, obviously) and I have to say that Zorro’s Black Whip is a pretty entertaining entry in the pantheon of Republic serials of the time... if you’re not expecting more than lots of punching, shooting and galloping, that is. Eagle eyed viewers will spot one of the committee members in a few episodes being played by none other than John Hamilton, who would of course go on to play Perry White opposite George Reeves in The Adventures Of Superman TV show in the 1950s.

Monday 13 February 2023

Moon Over Soho

Chimeras At Midnight

Moon Over Soho
by Ben Aaronovitch
ISBN: 9780575097629

Moon Over Soho is the second novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s, so far quite brilliant, Rivers Of London series of novels (I reviewed the first installment right here). This one... which continues to revolve around police ‘apprentice to magic’ Peter Grant, who is to be the second of the Metropolitan police’s unofficial magic bureau  (after his guv’nor, Nightingale), based at ‘The Folly’... picks up on the action pretty soon where the last one left off. It’s actually, I have to say, not quite as twisty and turny as the first novel in the series and it’s fairly easy to get a jump on exactly just where the ‘mystery’ of this one is going. That being said, it’s still quite brilliant and is both witty and unusual.

This one deals with a mysterious killer using her ‘vagina dentata’ to bite the cocks off of men off as a method of killing and, also, a group of what Peter terms, ‘jazz vampires’. Not to mention some chimera and... well... lets call them cat people, to start off with. And, like the first (and presumably all) of these novels, it’s all set in and around areas of England’s capital which will be easily recognisable to most Londoners, especially those who have been alive long enough to know the places that have since vanished since Aaronovitch immortalised them here. Yeah, so there are a few places mentioned here which bought pangs of nostalgia and loss as I was reading about them... which is a shame.

So the branch of Valerie Patisserie, mentioned here as being the favourite place to source food from by one of the sexier characters is, I think, fairly recently gone. And the wonderful Ed’s Diner just off Cambridge Circus, my favourite place to eat in London, has now been gone a fair few years too, it’s sad to say. Similarly, a wonderfully exciting foot chase/fight sequence which takes place in The Trocadero in Piccadilly is another thing which, sadly for everyone who remembers the place, is long gone.

That being said, it’s nice to also read about events taking place in areas of Soho still very much around, such as The Groucho Club and, of course, my current favourite pub where a few friends and I meet for Christmas and birthday drinks every year, The Spice Of Life... where the first murder of the book takes place.

And it’s a nice mix of various elements but with a serious undertone to it, in that Peter’s ex-partner/friend Lesley, who still hasn’t recovered properly from her face falling off near the end of the last book, is having to live with the consequences of her inadvertent part of that last adventure. Gravitas aside though, it also has the required number of eclectic pop culture references although, I noticed this time that there seemed to be more literary ones than film references... such as Peter’s reference to The Strip Club Of Dr. Moreau or a startlingly clear but cleverly copyright free (it seems to me) reference to the fiendish devil Dr. Fu Manchu, which actually gives a small part of the origin of The Folly’s housekeeper, the vampire Molly. There’s also a ‘not so veiled’ set of references to Hogwarts, the school in the Harry Potter books which it is inevitable that people would make comparisons to, in terms of this series (myself included).

This one has got three things the first book didn’t really have... firstly, there seems to me to be a lot more emphasis on action rather than mystery. Not complaining, just a different style of story and I’m sure Aaronovitch adjusts the tone accordingly with each novel in the series (which I intend to read completely before long). Secondly, there’s a lot more sex in this... not graphic really, just a heck of a lot more of it but, this is also one of the things that gives the game away and which I suspect is unique to this novel. Without giving any spoilers, the sex certainly serves a story element which, sadly, put me well on track with a big part of the mystery long before, I suspect, I was supposed to cotton on to it.

Thirdly, this one doesn’t give you all the answers. There are things left unsaid and the main villain of the piece escapes justice at the end. One assumes that the writer is setting up a ‘Moriarty’ style arch-nemesis for Peter and Nightingale by the finish of this one. Nightingale has also not yet recovered from being shot near the end of the last book and it will be interesting to see if the action moves on year by year in the novels, since the London landscape being written about changes so much, making it practically a necessity to move the time setting on a fair dollop each novel, I would have thought.

Also, of course, there's also Aaronovitch’s magical way with words to describe certain things, my two favourite examples in this tome being “For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.” and also Peter’s wonderful description of the art of the burlesque dancer as “paying women to take off their clothes in an ironic, postmodern way...” which had me chuckling a bit, I can tell you.

And yeah, all this plus talking severed heads, a much larger and redeeming role for Peter’s dad (which, given the central plot all revolves around jazz, makes sense) and some more, brilliant ‘off beat’ characters that you know are just going to have to return in future novels in the series. Moon Over Soho is another terrific best seller in the Rivers Of London series (although, not a jumping on point, I think you need to read these in order) and I can’t wait to read the next one along.

Sunday 12 February 2023

Invasion From Inner Earth

Cabin Fever

Invasion From Inner Earth
USA 1974 Directed by Bill Rebane
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

 Warning: Spoilers on this one. You probably won't want to watch it anyway

Okay, so the second film in the  Blu Ray box set from Arrow called Weird Wisconsin - The Bill Rebane Collection is Invasion From Inner Earth. It’s a small, microbudget film, made in Wisconsin and set in Canada (from what I can make out). Alien beings have taken over the Earth and, there’s not much made clear about them (although there is conjecture at one point from one of the more likeable characters that they are martians living inside the Earth just resurfacing, at one point). They manifest themselves very occasionally as a flying saucer, an echoey voice on a radio or, most often, as either a red gas or a red light. Anyway, most major cities have been wiped out by the aliens but this is news to a bunch of young pilots who have been staying at a log cabin in the wilderness for a few days. They fly back to their airfield, some miles away and, as they do, the opening credits finally kick in.

Okay... so I’ll say up front before I get to the rest of it that there is no music credit for this film and on the IMDB, Rebane is listed as music editor. Some of the music here is obviously library music. But the main title music... well, it could be library music I suppose. What it actually is, is a very bad cover version of Ennio Morricone’s opening title music for The Good, The Bad And The Ugly... sounding very much like somebody, perhaps Bill Rebane himself, is performing it on a very cheap Casio keyboard. There are maybe two notes changed in the melody but certainly not enough to distinguish it from the original theme in any way whatsoever and I find it hard to believe that there was never a law suit about this piece of music. I mean, you have to hear this to believe it... wow. It’s like somebody tried to make the famous music sound as bland as they possibly could... and succeeded admirably. Incidentally, the direction credit on this is simply, Directed by ITO. Ito was Bill Rebane’s name in Latvia before he came to the US and changed it to William.

Okay, so after this bonkers musical detour, the plane with the pilots land at the airfield but everybody else is dead by the time they hit the ground. They even see a plane crash when its engine cuts out. As they explore the airfield and the nearby lodge, two of the pilots encounter a red spotlight randomly probing walls etc. Anyway, they all get back on their plane and go to stay back at the log cabin from whence they come.

Pretty much 95% of the movie takes place in that cabin, as the five people (four men and one woman) speculate as to just what the heck is going on and why they can’t get anyone other than an obvious, alien voice on the radio. And that’s pretty much it for most of the film. You get the occasional taste of what’s happening in the outside world, including ‘the last radio DJ’ who seems to be broadcasting to nobody... but pretty much this carries on the trend in Rebane’s movies for any action happening off screen, for the most part. Even the airplane crash near the start is off camera... we just hear a noise as it crashes and then, a little later, two of the team come upon it in the form of... I don’t know... like an elabourate bonfire but certainly not looking like a plane crash.

This film also carries on with that little thing I noticed on Monster-A-Go-Go (reviewed here) where two or more of the characters have a certain underlying hostility in their interactions. It’s like the director prefers when some of his characters just don’t get on. I guess it makes for dramatic dialogue, perhaps. The most cranky of the five tries to escape in the plane when supplies run out but a red alien light explodes his vehicle mid air. Then one of them tries to escape in a handy snowmobile but, when he encounters a red gas, he suddenly vanishes from existence. A similar thing happens to one of the three remaining friends when they try and hike out a couple of days to the nearest town in the treacherous, snowy waste. At the end, one man and woman get to the nearest, deserted town and then... well... they disappear and are transformed into two, half naked children who are walking in green fields. And that’s the end and... nope, no clue. I guess maybe they are the new Adam and Eve or... yeah, I don’t really know what’s going on here to be honest. The lack of clarity, cheap production values and suspicions that not all the footage required was actually shot, contributes to an ending which is far from satisfactory or, really, in any way penetrable.

All that being said, though, I liked the movie, in a ‘spectator sport’ kind of way. It felt easy and comfortable. Nothing much happens and it’s genuinely too ridiculous to really cause either offence, outrage or pretty much any other feeling than, perhaps, the feeling of being slowly anaesthetised as the film drags on. It felt like an easy place to inhabit as an audience member and I certainly didn’t hate it so... yeah... that’s my takeaway from Invasion From Inner Earth. I can’t say I’d particularly recommend it to anyone ever but, like Douglas Adams’ description of Earth in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, I would say it’s... mostly harmless.

Tuesday 7 February 2023

The White Reindeer

Reindeer Dames

The White Reindeer
aka Valkoinen peura
Finland 1952
Directed by Erik Blomberg
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Some spoilerage included.

Subtitled on its introductory credits as A Story From Lapland, The White Reindeer is the first feature length movie directed and shot by former documentary short filmmaker Erik Blomberg. It also stars and was co-written by his wife Mirjami Kuosmanen, who plays the central protagonist/antagonist Pirita.

The film starts with a short and curious introduction where a sung legend of The White Reindeer is undercut by some footage of a random family denoting the early infancy of the title character (in actual fact), a song which effectively gives huge pointers (if not spoilers) to the following drama. We then, after this sequence, discover Pirita as she competes in a reindeer sled race and ends up as one of the two leaders with a man (played by Kalervo Nissilä) who stops his race to help her when her sled crashes. The two immediately fall in love and in the next scene we are already into the man asking Pirita’s parents for her hand in marriage and then, very quickly, by a kind of marriage ceremony, of sorts, which binds them together as man and wife. Her husband is a reindeer herder and the entire film is set in this small community of reindeer farmers.

However, when her husband gives her a baby white reindeer before he goes away with the herd for a couple of weeks to... well, to do whatever it is that reindeer farmers do... Pirita gets anxious he is already falling out of love with her. So she goes to see the local wizard who creates a written love potion for her. He tells her that, in order for her charm to work and make her irresistible to all the reindeer herders, she will have to sacrifice the first living thing which she meets on the way home. He accuses her of witchcraft however... and rightly so.. when her magic powers make his magical stone dance around by itself. And, it’s true... fortune is not her friend because, after she sacrifices the first thing she meets, the baby white deer she was given, to a local stone deer God (which looks kinda terrifying, actually), she turns into what I can best describe as a constantly shape shifting (and back to human form) being when she sometimes is just herself, sometimes The White Reindeer and, also often, a fanged vampire-like woman. In either identity, when she’s not taking advantage of the powers bestowed on her by the stone reindeer, she’s fearing for her own safety and alienating herself more from the local community. At some point, one wonders when any of the herders will realise that a spate of killings in a place they call Evil Valley might prompt them to just not go there anymore but, no, it’s certainly a movie which takes place in that fantastical realm where common sense is banished for long periods.

That’s all I want to say about the story but it’s a fantastic movie. Gorgeous, black and white cinematography in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio looks surprisingly breathtaking and big complements to Eureka Master Of Cinema for putting out what looks like a transfer of an amazingly clear print that, cliché or not, honestly makes it look like the movie was only shot last week (this is the same love and attention to releasing brilliant films that should be bestowed on the old US movie serials of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, I think... before it gets too late people!).

The film has a decidedly eerie aspect to it too. Starting off with almost a ‘meet cute’ kind of romantic comedy set up, the film suddenly turns on a dime into something far more sinister halfway through the scene where Pirita goes to visit the local mystic man for assistance. There’s also not a huge amount of dialogue in the movie, with vast stretches almost playing out like a silent film and, with some amazing actors (many of them not professional actors at all). Kalervo Nissilä and his fellow herdsmen are all very good in this but Kalervo Nissilä is astonishing, the lack of dialogue in certain scenes lending an almost ‘silent screen Goddess’ aspect to her character. This coupled with the powerful score by Einar Englund and an almost documentary authenticity to the various reindeer herding scenes really make this debut feature an astonishing ride. It also has a scene which reminds me of only one other I can readily think of when I watched this and I wonder if a certain, famous Italian giallo director saw this one as a boy...

Probably my favourite sequence in any Dario Argento movie takes place in his Suspiria sequel Inferno (reviewed by me here). In a music class, the main male lead of the film is bewitched in by the siren-like Mater Lachrymarum, aka The Mother Of Tears, where close ups of her face and the sheer force of her watchful presence transform the screen with a small sequence which gets under the skin and intrudes on both the character’s mind and also, I suspect, much of the audience. Well, The White Reindeer has a very similar scene where, at a wedding during the second half of the film, she is making her unearthly presence known to the groom who is in the process of getting married at the front of a church, from a pew a little behind the proceedings. It’s a marvellous scene and, for my money, worth the price of admission alone.

As are the extras which include, amongst a few things, a booklet essay by the always interesting Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and a commentary track (which I haven’t listened to yet) by Kat Ellinger. There is also one of the director’s early documentary shorts about reindeer farming which explains the process and which could almost have been lifted and placed into the film as is, it seemed to me. So, yeah, it’s a nice package for sure and I’d have to say that The White Reindeer is a fascinating slice of Finnish folk horror which would not have looked out of place in Severin’s wonderful All The Haunts Be Ours boxed set from last year. Well worth looking out for and, though I’d never even heard of this film until a couple of years ago when Eureka put it out, well... I’d have to say it’s a wonderful discovery for me, at any rate.

Monday 6 February 2023

The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber - Weimar Berlin’s Priestess Of Depravity


Anita Shade Of Pale!

The Seven Addictions
and Five Professions of
Anita Berber - Weimar Berlin’s
Priestess Of Depravity

by Mel Gordon
Feral House
ISBN: 9781932595123

The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber-Weimar Berlin’s Priestess Of Depravity is by the same writer, Mel Gordon, who penned an absolutely brilliant book called Theatre of Fear & Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897-1962, which I reviewed here This book about a once famous and iconic... well certainly not a stripper but a dark and erotic dancer... is in some ways a little disappointing.

The book starts off with Anita Berber dying in 1928 from pulmonary tuberculosis. After a brief set up of her death and the reception from a jaded country that had all but forgotten her notorious and iconic presence in Weimar Berlin, during a time called the Inflation, we flash back to her earlier life. The writer sets the stage for someone like Anita... in turn an expressionist poet, iconic fashion model, naked dancer and silent movie actress, against the morally bankrupt backdrop of a country in recession, where the completely devalued German economy of the time was such that the price of a British cigarette was the equivalent of the price of a grand piano only a year before (sounds like the state of the UK under the current government might well be heading towards the same state, by the sound of it... so, a cautionary tale, perhaps).

The book shares small events and also the content of some of her erotic dances, such as the ones she performed with one of her less than upright husbands, Baron Von Droste.. the Dances of Depravity, Horror and Ecstacy... with sequences entitled Pritzel Figurines, Byzantine Whip Dance, Cocaine, Martyr, Suicide, Vision, Egyptian Prince, Morphine, Lunatic Asylum, Astarte and  Night Of The Borgias. These are all recounted in seven main sections of the book... The Madonna From Dresden (1899-1918), Dance In The New Nineveh (1919-1928), Berlin’s Naked Goddess (1919-1922), Repertoire Of The Damned (1922-1923), Exit Baron Von Droste (1923-1927), A Carrion Soul (1923-1928) and Rites Of Mourning. Following these are a few poems and more notes on the contents of some of the dances.

The biggest problem in this book, well illustrated with photos (from various sources), is that the writer doesn’t seem to have nearly enough detailed information about the woman’s life as you would perhaps need for a proper biography (which would perhaps explain why the leading between the lines of type is so huge... I mean I like a lot of leading myself but this seems to be double the amount you could comfortably get away with). Also, explaining why he keeps deviating and telling dollops of information about other people Anita might have known rather than concentrate solely on her experiences some of the time. And I don’t blame the writer for the lack of information here... it seems clear to me that there probably isn’t a lot of it to be had... which is a pity because, from the stories the writer does share, she certainly seems to be what people, in the modern parlance, would describe as ‘a character’.

For instance, on meeting a family she was drawn to, once the man went away for a while to look for work, Anita seduced both the mother and 15 year old daughter and turned them into her personal sex slaves, often simultaneously and not gently. Another story tells of her fondness for turning up to hotels and restaurants naked but for a fur coat and her pet orangutan concealed inside, clinging to her shoulders, in order to give the right shock value when she asked waiters to help her off with her coat. Alas, this practice stopped one day when she felt the cold, lifeless hands of the orangutan clinging to her, having suffocated under her furs... something which left her heartbroken. And, furthermore, she was certainly no shrinking violet... often she would show dissatisfaction with hecklers at her nightclub acts by urinating on their tables or breaking bottles over their heads.

Ultimately, there is just enough content and certainly some interesting illustrations to be able to hold this thing together as a slim book, double spacing not withstanding. There are even a few colour plates such as a truly gorgeous print of a painting Otto Dix did of the red headed Anita in a red variant of her Cocaine dance dress (it’s even been featured recently as part of a set of German stamps, from what I understand). I can completely sympathise with the author’s intent to put what he could into a tome of this size because, well, the worrying alternative is that people like Anita Berber are in danger of being forgotten to time, much like she was at the end of the Weimar period. And I was, certainly, entertained as much as I was informed by many of the stories within, it has to be said. All in all, if you like hearing about people revelling in their own decadence while trying to fend off a inevitable death in the face of poverty and sometimes persecution, then you might want to give The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber -Weimar Berlin’s Priestess Of Depravity a go some time. While not completely satisfied with the written content, I certainly do find it a valuable resource and I shall certainly be looking to purchase a few others of this writer’s books at some point down the line, for sure.

Sunday 5 February 2023

Mr. Vampire

Jumpire State

Mr. Vampire
aka Geung see sin sang
Hong Kong 1985 Directed by Ricky Lau
Golden Harvest/
Eureka Masters Of Cinema
Blu Ray Zone B

I’ve been wanting to see Mr. Vampire for a while now. Firstly because a friend of mine has been recommending I should watch it since Eureka Masters Of Cinema released it a couple of years ago. Secondly because the main vampire elder in the film appears as a major threat to the main protagonist in Kim Newman’s first Anno Dracula novel, originally appearing as a character in that tome in a chapter called Mr. Vampire (a review of Anno Dracula and various sequels should be appearing on the blog sometime this year, if all goes well). Thirdly, it gets huge accolades and 9 star reviews from people and was successful enough to spawn, not only a number of sequels but also a remake followed by more sequels to that. So, yeah, this film is certainly thought of as something of a classic.

Hmmm... not quite sure why but, it’s certainly an entertaining picture, if not a great one.

The film stars Ching-Ying Lam as Master Gau. Lam would appear in a few of the sequels and remakes, sometimes playing this character and, sometimes not, from what I can make out. He is the head of a local mortuary but when he and his ‘hilarious’ aides try to rebury an old coffin after twenty years, on the instructions passed onto the son, now head of a local family, it turns out there’s an elder vampire in there (presumably the Mr. Vampire of the title?) who breaks free from his coffin and starts attacking people. One of Gau’s crazy little helpers gets half vamped up at some point and a lot of the second half of the movie is about trying to stop him turning completely and also curing the other helper of a ghostly enchantment. Oh... that’s right... if this isn’t enough, there seems to be a ghost lady who is in love with the other helper and has enchanted him with a night of ghost sex.

And, yeah... it’s a comedy but, it’s of the slapstick variety mainly so it’s not the kind of thing I would usually laugh at. People who have seen this movie always seem to mention about the ‘hopping’ vampires (and assorted corpses who I think are technically zombies, compared to the main vampires in the movie) but I wouldn’t say they are specifically hopping. More like jumping in little jumps to get to their destination. And, this action doesn’t seem consistent throughout the film, it has to be said. For example, in the final battle with the elder vampire (which also includes some help from the ghost gal), the vampire no longer jumps and just walks around normally for, well, no apparent reason. Or at least as much lack of reason as to why he would jump around everywhere in the first place, to be honest.

The film looks fine, has nice colours and some agreeable comedy acting, especially from Lam’s ‘straight man’ Van Helsing style role as Master Gau. There’s also some pretty good and athletic fight choreography (plus wire work) which is quite well choreographed and, whatever else you might say about the movie, it’s certainly not dull. As is more normal in the Hong Kong cinema scene as opposed to, say, America... there are a lot of actors and actresses who seem to be doing their own stunts in this one and it all looks good.

One curio is the fact that, when she needs to, the ghost lady has a detachable, flying head. Certainly not the first use of this particular trope, for sure but, to tell the truth, I’m more used to this ‘head flying around and trying to kick your ass’ style shenanigans in Indonesian movies rather than in films from anywhere else. Still, always a nice thing to see so I’m certainly not knocking it.

So, yeah, a short review then, of Mr. Vampire, in which I can conclude, since my dad made me pause it whenever he had to go out of the room, that it’s certainly got something going for it and it’s quite watchable, if not the absolute classic that I’d been set up to be expecting. Definitely worth a watch if you are into these kinds of martial arts comedies but, perhaps, best left alone if the lack of subtlety on such things is not to your taste. I’m pretty much on the fence about this one but suspect I will be watching it more than once in my lifetime.

Thursday 2 February 2023

The Sacred Spirit

Eye Society

The Sacred Spirit
Spain/France/Turkey 2021
Directed by Chema García Ibarra
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Full on spoilers so I can discuss this one properly.

Written and directed by Chema García Ibarra, The Sacred Spirit is his first feature length movie following on from a number of shorts. I asked for this one for Christmas because Arrow have given it a nice double Blu Ray release, including many of the director’s shorts and because, from the way it’s been marketed, I assumed it was a science fiction movie of some kind. So imagine my surprise when, after tearing off the wrapping paper, the consumer advice next to the 15 rating provided by the BBFC read, “Contains child sex abuse references”. Yeah, right... because nothing sums up the season’s greetings better than child sex abuse references, I guess. Actually, having now seen the film I’m glad I got this because it is absolutely riveting stuff although, I’m now not sure why the BBFC have classified this as anything other than a U or PG, since there is no visual imagery in this which could be in any way offensive to anyone. Are the BBFC now censoring things because of ‘a sense of gravitas’ maybe? Who knows what gets into their weird minds but, yeah, this is a really interesting film, for sure.

The film looks at central protagonist José Manuel, played by Nacho Fernández, who is part of the Ovni-Levante Association of UFOlogy, who meet weekly. Those meetings are hosted by José’s elderly alien abductee friend, who has been running the group. Simultaneous to this is the parallel tale of José’s sister Charo, played by Joanna Valverde. One of her twin, 10 year old daughters has gone missing and she is trying to cope with the situation. Then, when the president of the UFO group dies and leaves the documentation of the group to José, to continue the meetings (literally one box file with a few artefacts... including a mysterious key), things start to come to light. As the story progresses we learn that José’s bar, Bar Charley, filled with iconic Egyptian iconography matching the UFO and occult interests of José, has been where the long since gone twin daughter has been kept. Similarly, as José grooms the other daughter for going off with a new character with throat cancer, who talks to José through a voice box and claims to be channeling the dead UFO group president, it becomes clear... to the audience at least... that the late head of the group and his business partners were abducting children.

Now, I’m sure some people will see José as responsible for the evil things done to the kids... which turns out to be harvesting their corneas for the mafia to sell to people in need of these, after they’ve been sexually molested and used for child porn by the former ‘abductee’ and his associate but, if you look at this film carefully, while it’s certainly true that José is aiding and abetting this infernal practice, there’s a lot pointing towards the fact that he may be just as much a victim of these people as the girls he has prepared for them.

As we go through the ritualistic minutia of José’s UFO and paranormal obsession... the film is full of occult references and symbolism, with José’s dementia ridden mother herself once a powerful clairvoyant (with all evidence pointing towards her still possessing those talents)... it becomes clear from things he has to ask the ‘reincarnated/channelled abductee’ as part of their preparation that he genuinely believes he is helping people prepare the ‘special children’ to be subjected to an ancient ritual and be reincarnated as a sphinx-like creature who will make all their lives better. So, while not innocent of the crime of abduction... and I’m sure people will have differing views on this... he seems innocent, or rather oblivious, of the real use that these children are being put to.

And it’s not a film which makes its point and story beats in a straight forward, in your face way, for sure (otherwise it might well have deserved that ridiculous 15 certificate rating the BBFC have saddled it with) but rather through the use of what is not said as much as anything. There are random incidents which interrupt the narrative (such as explosions in the distance, distracting conversations) and it’s often through what’s not made clear that story indications are driven.

This follows through on the visual compositions too which, with an almost overdose of eye symbolism leading the idea of voyeurism or surveillance as a visual metaphor... not to mention tying into the whole Egyptian symbology... also helps focus on the suggestion that there is more going on than what might at first appear on the surface. Indeed, the director does tend to dislocate the viewer from expected modes of visual engagement on occasion. So he’ll throw a big object up in front of the camera which will be moving (or in the case of the last shot of the film, growing/expanding) to either conceal visual information or reveal fresh details as the specific shot plays out. Or he might put so much visual layering on the majority of the screen that the audience is forced to concentrate on a small area of the screen to catch the main action... such as in a long shot where José goes to the kitchen, represented as a vertical slab of doorway in the centre of the screen down a long corridor, while the second daughter is being ‘interviewed’ in another room of the house.

It’s all interesting stuff and, I suspect, it is this indirect way of communicating the bigger story beats, rather than bringing it all out onto the surface at once (like a lot of modern cinema does in the English speaking world), which makes the grim subject matter all the more palpable and just generally more disturbing... way more than it might have been captured as by a lesser writer/director. So good for him.

So yeah, I’d have to say that, while the subject matter of The Sacred Spirit is less than palatable for most people, I would have thought, the film is certainly an important and slow burn presentation of these story beats and, because of the interesting visual style, also a pleasure to watch (if you can divorce yourself from the problematic content lurking below the surface).

Arrow’s new two disc presentation of the film is brilliant with a load of the director’s short films presented on the second disc (I’ve watched the first three so far and they’re very funny, absurdist, low budget masterpieces) and with a first disc that includes a full raft of extras, including an excellent visual essay by the great Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on the Eye Of Horus and the use of the eyeball and surveillance elements dotted throughout the visual landscape of the film. So, yeah, despite being taken by surprise in terms of the underlying content of the picture, I was really pleased with this one and would certainly recommend it to people. Grab the two disc edition with the extra disc and the booklet from Arrow while you still can, would be my advice.