Tuesday 31 October 2023

Halloween FrightFest Day 2

Fright Fest Day 2

Eldritch USA,
Lovely Dark And Deep,
Superposition, Hood Witch,
The Last Video Store, Blue Light

Okay, so Day 2 of FrightFest was another, mostly good selection and I think it speaks for the quality of the films shown here this year that I didn’t fall asleep in any of them.

Eldritch USA
Directed by Ryan Smith and Tyler Foreman

The first film of the day and the second of the festival’s quirkier offerings was this tale of sibling rivalry set in the town of Eldritch. Oh... and it’s a full-on zombie musical with some catchy tunes, a lot of horror movie references and some nice performances. There’s also a lot of Lovecraft references thrown in with all the other pop culture shout outs and, yeah, this was a nice way to start off a Saturday morning. I talked to the director briefly after the screening and I’m glad to say that he intends to issue a soundtrack on a proper, physical CD at some point (yay!). My one real problem with this was that around half the references were nicely put in but then were well over explained by the characters... which wasn’t necessary and kinda soured the joke sometimes. The kind of target audience this movie is going to appeal to will not need everything explained to them... they’re mostly in on the joke already. But, still... a really great movie and I hope this one gets some major distribution going on over here in the UK.

Lovely, Dark, And Deep
Directed by Teresa Sutherland

Lovely, Dark, And Deep... a film forever marred by the use of a superfluous Oxford comma in it’s title on the print that played here... was one of the stand out films of the festival for me. Featuring a riveting performance by central lead Georgina Campbell (from last year’s Barbarian... reviewed here) as a forest ranger trying to solve the disappearance of her sister from twenty years before. I got kinda clued in as to the nature of the shenanigans on this one from some early visual and audio clues but it doesn’t matter because the movie looks absolutely spectacular and sounds amazing. Lots of dialogue free sections with some long drawn out sequences set in a nightmarish, parallel dimension (which is probably my less than subtle way of describing the enhanced mental state of some of the ‘victims’ of the film), the movie was like a more polished sidestep from The Blair Witch Project with a generous side helping of Twin Peaks thrown into the mix for good measure. Well worth a look.

Directed by Karoline Lyngbye

This equally gorgeous looking film with standout performances by Marie Bach Hansen (looking like the main female lead of every Bergman film ever)  and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard was very interesting but I also had a huge and disappointing problem with it. Namely that the premise is easy to figure out from the first, implicit shot of the movie... a ninety degree tilt of a landscape reflected in a river... and further reenforced by lots of scenes shot in rooms with big glass windows providing multiple reflections of the two actors. Things kinda went as I expected them to and, though there are some nice discussions to be had as to the fate of the child belonging to the central couple, I felt there are just two many movies around doing this kind of thing just recently for this to be, in any way, surprising or that inventive. Looks amazing though.

Hood Witch
Directed by Saïd Belktibia

Hood Witch tells the story of a modern witch (or is she?), played by exiled actress Golshifteh Farahani, who creates an app which is like a Yellow Pages for access to modern witches and sorcerers but, as a consequence of her success, is just trying to survive and get her and her son away from her country after the ‘howling pitch fork’ brigade wants to do her harm for her apparent murder of a character who she was trying to help. It’s a pretty intense and suspenseful piece with gritty, in your face camerawork and a nice turn from famous French actor Denis Lavant, who it’s nice to see is still working.

The Last Video Store
Directed by Cody Kennedy and Tim Rutherford

Quirky film number three and not to be confused with another film released this year with exactly the same title (yeah, thanks guys), The Last Video Store is a low budget but quite entertaining comedy piece set in, well, the premises mentioned in the title (apart from the film’s prologue) and shows what happens when the VHS equivalent of the Necronomicon is inserted into a bank of video machines and starts transporting deadly characters from those VHS movies into the store, with risk to life and limb for the store owner and his equally trapped customer. It’s a nice piece of fluff with a lot to smile about for those who well remember the style of a lot of those old 1980s, straight-to-video cassettes you would rent out from places like your local off-licence. A bit of fun which was some much needed comedy relief after the intensity of the preceeding three movies.

Blue Light
Directed by Andy Fickman

The last film of the day was the very first screening anywhere, which even the cinematographer had not seen yet, of a piece called Blue Light. The director, Andy Fickman, talked for about ten minutes before this and certainly didn’t outstay his much applauded welcome. This guy is as entertaining as heck and, wouldn’t you know it, the movie was really great. A road movie with an intense last act full of supernaturally charged death on a dark, forest roadway... this one had characters which you cared about but, who were a bit hyper, almost to the point of irritation. Except, you do find yourself investing a lot of emotional weight in them so that, when they start getting lured out of their truck and picked off one by one, it’s quite an effective piece of horror. I also enjoyed the fact that there was no ‘over explanation’ of the central, malevolent force by which the cast of characters inevitably meet their untimely demise.

And that’s a wrap. A nice movie to end the festival on and, after that, the real horror of the night bus home was the next thing to survive (and shout out to the drunk guy who sat himself down next to me for most of it, trying to engage with me between swigs of cider, thusly giving me an anxious hour back to my home town). Yeah... this year’s marathon didn’t kill me so, I guess I’ll be signing up for next year’s again at some point, for sure. 

Happy Halloween!

Monday 30 October 2023

Halloween FrightFest Day 1

Fright Fest Day 1

The Waterhouse,
He Never Left, Maria

And just like that, it was already time for this year’s Halloween edition of FrightFest, which is always my favourite of their two yearly, London based events. Normally that takes the form of a marathon session starting Saturday morning and going on into the small hours of Sunday morning. However, just to make thing worse for us old codgers with no stamina, they expanded it into two days... Friday from 6pm until around 12.30am on Saturday morning followed by Day Two starting 11.30am until 1am Sunday morning. I actually coped with the night buses and only getting four hours of sleep much better than I thought I would and was surprisingly buoyant by the time the last movie had played. And thanks muchly to new film friend @phetheringtonnz who was sitting beside me for eight of the films and who talked movies with me during the intervals.

Okay, so very brief reviews, as usual, for the Halloween edition with Day 2 reviews following tomorrow (at least that’s my plan).

The Waterhouse
United Kingdom
Directed by Samuel Clemens

So the first movie up was The Waterhouse, which is about three men who turn up at an isolated, spooky house (owned in real life by one of the lead actors... who is indeed spooked by the place himself) as a rendezvous for a multimillion pound art heist. However, things are not as they seem and, even before three ladies are suddenly thrust into the mix with them... things start to go wrong and a supernatural force starts to make itself known.

This was quite a taut and beautifully shot, well performed film which opens strongly when, after the usual establishing shots of one of the three driving to their destination, over the credits, one guy finds himself alone at the place and has to go room to room with his gun drawn, checking each one because something just doesn’t feel right. All this extended sequence played out with no dialogue and it’s a testament to the director and editor that a scene which would have played as standard padding in any 1970s TV cop show felt absolutely intense.

After the film had finished, one of the lead actresses asked the audience to raise their hands as to whether they’d guessed a certain twist before the end and, yeah, like many there I raised mine and had been watching the movie unaware that it was even supposed to be a twist. However, I didn’t get annoyed for being ahead of the game as usual because there’s a truly wonderful reveal in the last few shots of the movie, which I don’t want to even hint at here, which explains exactly why the movie is really called The Waterhouse and, it’s a really great moment. I was not disappointed and hope this movie gets some kind of release in due time.

He Never Left
Directed by James Morris

The second movie was, as far as I was concerned (as was my audience neighbour’s view too, it turned out), the worst movie of this year’s FrightFest. He Never Left is a ‘serial killer’ in a drive-in motel picking off customers where a fugitive from justice is laying low. Colin Cunningham provides a very strong... or at least very enthusiastic... performance as said fugitive, written as a man afflicted with psychotic explosions of anxiety and anger. It’s a shame, then, that the film is really just a bit... well... it’s just a bit meh. Some people, especially those who can watch endless American slasher movies, will find a small place in their heart for this one. Sadly, that description doesn’t apply to me.

Directed by Gabriel Grieco and Nicanor Loreti

All of the films playing at this edition of FrightFest were premiere screenings of some sort... UK, European or even World Premieres. Although Maria, which is one of the three ‘quirky’ movies playing here this year, had already screened at Sitges a short while ago, this is a newer, extended cut of the film and is probably closer to the one that gets a general release, if that happens. And I hope it does because it’s an oddball movie set in the near future about a famous pornographic actress called Maria, played by Daria Panchenko, who gets killed in a car crash but who gets brought back to life in a very overt and deliberate nod to Robocop. She then, after being absent for a while, goes back to her day job without too many people knowing that she’s now a superhuman cyborg who, when she goes into orgasm overload and shuts down on her next porn shoot, starts killing off shady bad guys in her combined thirst for vengeance and justice.

The film plays out, in spirit at least, almost like Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh (as that particular film was originally called before various abbreviated versions of the title replaced it) with a dash of Robo-Geisha thrown in for good measure. I was about half an hour into it and slow on the uptake before I realised that the film, which starts off with some of the opening sentiments from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (reviewed here), has a title that is a nod to the central character in that movie, as played by Brigitte Helm. Some of the gory effects when Maria goes into hard ‘kill mode’ were deliberately obscured by ‘digital distress’ but, because it’s inconsistent in it’s usage, I suspect this might more have been required to obscure any failings of some of the practical effects on a low budget, more than anything else (I could be wrong though). Worth seeing for the castrating machine in Maria’s vagina alone, the detailed mechanics of which you’ll see in the post/mid-credits scene.

So that was Day One of this year’s Halloween FrightFest and, hopefully I’ll put Day Two up tomorrow.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Paganini Horror

Violin Violence

Paganini Horror
Italy 1988 Directed by Luigi Cozzi
88 Films Blu Ray Zone B

I’ll be honest, I was expecting a lot more out of Paganini Horror than what the movie delivers. The reason why is because it has a good pedigree. For starters it’s directed and co-written by Luigi Cozzi who directed both the wonderful Star Crash (reviewed here) and the very entertaining Contamination. Also, Cozzi wrote and co-wrote a number of interesting gialli including one of my favourites, The Killer Must Kill Again (can we have a Blu Ray of that one already please?) and two of Dario Argento’s early films, The Cat O’ Nine Tails (reviewed here) and Four Flies On Grey Velvet (reviewed here).

Secondly, the film was co-written by Dario Argento’s former muse (and mother of Asia Argento), Daria Nicolodi, who co-wrote Suspiria (reviewed here) and also has a major role in Paganini Horror, as the owner of the house in which most of the movie is set.

So, yeah, with that kind of collaboration, what could go wrong? Well lots actually but it’s perhaps not that the film is actually bad, it’s just that it could be almost interchangeable with a lot of Italian horror movies of the time, including the directors own mis-step of a movie (in my opinion), The Black Cat (reviewed here).

The story starts off with a young girl killing her mother by deliberately dropping a hairdryer in her bath tub. It’s actually a very ‘over the top’ electrocution, with big electrical arcs and a woman whose flesh burns amongst all the pyrotechnics (I doubt if a simple accidental, water-based electrocution from such a household item would be quite as spectacular in real life). Jump to the present day and we have a mostly female rock group consisting of lead singer Kate (played by Jasmine Maimone), two guitarists and a drummer named Daniel, working on recording a new song. Their producer says the song is no good and an argument erupts between Kate and her producer. The day’s recording is cancelled and Kate goes home to try and find inspiration.

However, Daniel buys a bizarre scroll from a shady character played by Donald Pleasance (in well ‘over the top’ form) for a stash of cash so Kate can have a song (yeah, great and obvious solution there folks). After undoing the suitcase holding the scroll (with double combination locks of 666), Paganini’s ‘lost song’ is unearthed and he gives it to Kate for her next hit. Within a few minutes of bizarre and over the top exposition, filled with monumental coincidences of good fortune for the sake of brevity... the whole troupe, including the producer, set off for an out of the way haunted house belonging to Daria Nicolodi’s character, to shoot a rock video for the song with a famous horror director. I can’t tell you how ridiculous this two or three minutes of expository dialogue is but they even manage to name check Michael Jackson and compliment him on his video to Thriller.

Meanwhile... Donald Pleasance is wandering around Venice, climbs to the top of a tower and starts throwing the money off it, repeatedly calling the folding money ‘Little Demons’ as he tosses more and more of it into the streets. Yeah, there’s obviously something not quite right about his character, is there?

Okay, so once the video shoot starts off, a masked figure who, it seems, is the dead spirit of Paganini himself, starts picking off the group and their entourage one by one, handily using a knife blade which pops out of the bottom of his violin on occasion. At this point Nicolodi tells a story that Paganini originally killed his wife and used her intestines to make his violin strings after making a deal with the devil... I’ve not fact checked this myself but, yeah, seems unlikely.*

There are lots more electricity deaths and various stabbings and crushings and, also, a woman who is covered in a fungal mould said to be specific to the kind of wood Paganini’s violins were made from. There’s one nice moment when the blood flying from a stabbed woman hits a light around a vanity mirror and shorts it out, which seems almost a nod to the iconic light bulb moment in Argento’s Tenebrae (reviewed here). There’s also a huge attempt at integrating the idea of ‘the harmony of the spheres’ and a room with a picture of Einstein and a big, bizarrely lit hour glass which seems to be a portal to alternative dimensions. Apparently Cozzi wanted to make more of this concept with a longer cut of the movie, to tie the various, strange proceedings together but, the producer wanted it to play more like a straight horror piece than science fiction... although I think it all comes across in it’s own, muddled way.

The film is definitely trying to be a ‘Suspiria light’, I would say. Various colour washes of bright reds, blues and lime greens etc are used throughout in certain sequences and Vince Tempera provides a kind of progressive rock based score which is typical of Italian horror movies of the time. It’s not as catchy or as listenable as Goblin, for sure but, it’s certainly trying to serve the same function.

There’s a lot wrong with the film too, I reckon. It’s possibly just the audio looping but it’s got some of the worst acting I’ve seen in an Italian horror film for quite some time. And the constant hysteria of the ladies as they spookily explore the house for long periods of time, without even bothering to pick up a weapon such as a heavy guitar for the most part, is quite grating and hard to take.

Some of the deaths have some bad moments too. When one girl is crushed as if by invisible glass in a room while the others look on, her head explodes and the blood splashes on the sheet of Paganini’s music. Except, we’d already seen this sheet of music go up in flames a minute or so before. And then, later, when one woman is stabbed by a character, we see the knife enter her fake flesh in close up with the blood oozing but, when we cut to the long shot, the knife is just sticking out of her black top and nowhere near any visible flesh so... yeah, maybe a quick insert from footage originally intended for elsewhere in the movie, perhaps?

All in all, I’d say Paganini Horror is an entertaining distraction of a movie but it’s not so good as to be that interesting and not nearly bad enough to get sucked into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. I had a certain amount of fun with it for a first time watch but really didn’t find anything to write home about and it’s not something I’d recommend to most people, even fans of mid to late 1980s Italian horror movies, to be honest... which is probably the only target audience this film has. But I was happy enough to see it and 88 Films have put a nicely restored transfer of it out on Blu Ray so, good for them. A fairly good label but not so great a movie, I would say.

*Having now had to time to fact check this... I have learned that it is indeed a rumour which was circulating about him and he also was said to have trapped his wife's soul in said, intestinal violin.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Perversion Story


Perversion Story
aka One On Top Of The Other
aka Una sull'altra
Italy/France/Spain 1969
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Mondo Macabro Blu Ray Zone A/B/C

Warning: Spoilers right from the outset...

Una sull'altra was Lucio Fulci’s first crack at a giallo and it was released in various versions internationally under that title and, also, its English translation, One On Top Of The Other. The name doesn’t do much for me but it’s a ‘typically giallo’ title and I like it much more than his intended title, which is what it has now become better known as and which Mondo Macabro have released it as, in its longest cut... Perversion Story. This one makes even less sense as a title, especially if you are taking the first word to talk about some kind of sexual aberration because that’s really not depicted here at all either. But whatever it’s known as, in whatever territory, it’s still the first of Fulci’s gialli and also, as it happens, a first time watch for me.

My personal response to the films of Lucio Fulci is pretty hit and miss. Zombi (aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, reviewed here) grew on me since my initial viewing but, generally, I am less appreciative of his horror movies than some of the other genres he’s worked in... although I do quite like City Of The Living Dead (reviewed here) and The Beyond (reviewed here). I much prefer his gialli with Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, made a couple of years after this movie, being one of the greats of the genre as far as I’m concerned and... probably my favourite movie from this director (there is a very old review on this site but it's from when I was first starting out and I think I need to write a new one at some point).

This film is very much the kind of giallo which eschews the black leather gloves and multiple murders of some of the post-Bava and soon to be post-Argento explosion of gialli onto the screen... it’s much more in keeping with the style of the mystery meaning of the genre, so comparable to such films as the ones made by the likes of Carrol Baker, Jean-Louis Trintignant and, of course, Jean Sorel who stars in this one opposite two iconic Italian actresses.

The film starts off well with various shots showing off its San Francisco setting and a burst of Riz Ortolani’s jazzy and enthusiastic score. We then find that the sensationalist Dr. George Dumurrier, played by Sorel, is trapped in a loveless marriage. Blimey, how many gialli is this guy going to find himself in where his home life is just falling apart like this? His wife, played by the late, great Marisa Mell, looks completely different to the kind of look I would normally equate her with. And I was supposed to think that... Fulci is very much playing games with the audience as much as Sorel’s main protagonist. Mell is his wife Susan, suffering from very bad asthma and not happy with hubby’s various, secret exploits away from home. One such exploit is the film’s other leading lady, whom Sorel is having an affair with, erotic photographer Jane, played by the great Elsa Martinelli.

Sorel has to leave his most recent business/pleasure trip when he finds his wife has been killed. Not only that, she’s taken out a two million dollar insurance policy and he now gets the pay off. So it all looks pretty good for him and Jane... until, that is, an anonymous tip off leads them to a sensational performer/escort working at a strip club. She’s the dead spit of his recently deceased wife... or is she. At this point, I found I was right in believing the movie to be a sideways remake of Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo... not just in the main plot device but also, of course, right down to the San Francisco setting. I say sideways because it turns out the ‘recently deceased’ wife really is the sex worker, planning the demise of George and working in cahoots with his hateful brother and her housekeeper (played by Faith Domergue, of such wonderful fifties science fiction films such as This Island Earth and It Came From Outer Space, reviews of both coming to this blog at some point soonish), to inherit the clinic and be free to go off with the brother. Things get convoluted, George ends up on death row and the movie has a couple of trick endings in terms of the right people being brought to justice... which I suspect wasn’t always the case but, yeah, I’ll talk about parts of the ending in a minute.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on here and although the cinematography is maybe not as creative as a lot of the gialli being made around this period (including Fulci’s later ones), it’s more than competent and it has a nice bright colour palette, enhanced by Ortolani’s wonderful score. There are some nice little flourishes which make for some good eye candy though... well, apart from the natural eye candy of Marisa Mell in her birthday suit, that is. When George and Jane have sex, Fulci cuts in a lot of shots of the couple from underneath where the mattress should be... shot through a red filter or red creased cloth (or both) to simulate the top sheet... presumably the two performers were filmed from under a glass sheet too. Later, when Jane tries to seduce Marisa Mell’s stripper personae to gain information, the floor becomes the thing Fulci is shooting up from... or rather, under it. Which is a nice stylistic choice for certain scenes here.

There are also some nice looking sets and costumes in this. Not least of which is the milieu of The Roaring Twenties strip joint, in which some of the girls wear revealing bras of two black leather gloves holding each breast, the nipples peeking out from the centre. Actually, thinking about it, those bras are pretty much a metaphor, almost, for what the giallo genre was about to become in its most popular form so, yeah, interesting costume choices to say the least.

Just a word now about the ending. The last 20 minutes are a protracted build up to Jean Sorel’s wrongful demise on death row and Fulci milks the suspense in a prolonged series of scenes, as George’s lawyer is still trying to prove his innocence, for all his worth. Then, two things happen which make me think the film has a different ending to the one originally intended. Firstly, the brother and George’s wife are both shot dead in a bar by an ex-client of Marissa Mel’s escort persona. Secondly, the ID of the victims leads to a stay of execution and George is released... but we don’t see that part. The last five minutes is perhaps reminiscent of Psycho, where Simon Oakland famously filled the audience in on what was really happening. A news reporter tells the story of the last moments up to and including the stay of execution and subsequent release of the main character over the space of a few minutes. Then the film ends... we never see Sorel’s character after the point where he is expecting to die. I can only conclude, from this strangely impersonal ending, that the innocent George was originally destined to die in the gas chamber and, perhaps, somewhere closer to release, the producers changed their mind about letting an innocent character go to his death. I don’t know whether the death of the brother and wife were always in there or just inserted to strengthen the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ message at this point but I strongly expect the stay of execution was an addition... and maybe Sorel wasn’t around to do any pick up shots by this point. I guess I’m not going to know the answer to that (or maybe I will when I finally get around to reading Fulci expert Stephen Thrower’s book on the subject but, for now, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it).

All in all, I’d say I had a good time with Perversion Story (aka One On Top Of The Other) and it’s been given a nice transfer from Mondo Macabro here. It’s not near the top in my ranking of Fulci gialli but it’s certainly better than some of the horror films I’ve seen him make and, yeah, I’ll definitely be watching this Vertigo wannabe again at some point. Nice little movie, great score.... glad I picked up the CD which has been spun many times.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

A Black Veil For Lisa

Veil Bait

A Black Veil For Lisa
aka La morte non ha sesso
Italy 1968 Directed by Massimo Dallamano
88 Films Blu Ray Zone B
alternately sourced Italian Version.

Warning: Big story spoilers.

Well now... I have really mixed feelings as I sit down to write this review of my first (two) watches of A Black Veil For Lisa because, although it’s an absolute masterpiece of giallo cinema, it’s also not been presented in a correct version for the international market and I’m very, very angry at finding out the 88 Films super duper limited edition Blu Ray I bought a couple of years ago only has the truncated, rescored, heavily compromised US version of the film on it (and so does the US Olive films release, apparently). So I watched this, admittedly superb transfer of the US print in ignorance and absolutely loved it, followed by Rachael Nisbet’s absolutely great 20 minute talk on the film as an extra (the one stand out thing, it turns out, on the UK Blu Ray which alone is worth the price of admission) but then got completely destroyed when, on reading the booklet, it became clear this was a totally inferior release. Luckily for me, I had an unwatched DVD-R of the Italian DVD release which contains the full length Italian version (donated to me by somebody at some point) but... even that doesn’t tell the whole story because there are no English subtitles on the Italian DVD.

With me so far? So you can watch the Italian version with the English language track but, inevitably, in footage not fond in the US version, the dialogue switches to untranslated Italian. Also, the English track has the heavily ‘rescored by the US people’ music on it, so in order to get a true flavour of the Italian version, I had to keep toggling between the two audio sources so I could hear just how different each film sounded tonally. Not an ideal set up but at least now I feel confident enough to write this review armed with a little more knowledge. And I’ll try to review it side by side simultaneously, to point out the differences and issues I have with it.

The basic plot is very simple. We have the brilliant John Mills playing Inspector Bulov, head of the narcotics division in Hamburg. He brings to this film the most amazing performance I’ve seen in a giallo and, also, most of the acting by anyone in this film is pretty good. It’s not terrible and stilted like many a giallo (and the acting is not what you watch a giallo for anyway... even actors like David Hammings are usually scuppered by the performances of their co-stars) and it all feels pretty naturalistic. But this is not a typical giallo in other ways too... I’ll get to that in a minute. Anyway, Bulov is married to Lisa, played by Luciana Paluzzi (who most people outside of her own country will recognise from her role as the femme fatale in Thunderball, reviewed here). He thinks she’s unfaithful and, while on the trail of the giallo killer of the movie, Max, played by the jovial Robert Hoffmann, he is constantly worried about her sleeping around, as well as her unproven links to the Italian underworld. At one point half way through, the film takes a serious U-turn and derails the narrative by having Bulov, once he’s caught the killer, hire him to kill his wife instead of bringing him in. And then more shenanigans are afoot until the film reaches it’s... well, I’d like to say inevitable conclusion but, again, both versions of the film have different and contradictory endings too. In the US version, Lisa is found to have been playing Bulov all along and, after he and Max both perish, she is left alone with her gang boss boyfriend. Crime is unpunished (which is not what I’d expect from an American release at this time). In the Italian version, just after this scene, the cops arrive and arrest both Lisa and her partners-in-crime lover and justice is served (not something I would have expected to see in an Italian release of the time).

So that’s the story and truly astonishing acting performances covered but, like I said, who watches a giallo for story and acting. It’s all about stylish shot designs and music for many... and this film has style in abundance. Dallamano does some wonderful stuff with the camera. The US version opens briefly on the funeral of Bulov before flashing back but not so in the Italian one which is more linear. Both then start off with a beautiful shot where the camera pans down in a street to the grid like windows of a pub front, moving right and tracking the many windows until it comes to a specific set of gridded windows, with a man’s head positioned visually in one small square window before it then zooms in on him. 

Then a curious thing happens in the US cut which I assumed, on my first watch through, was an interesting stylistic choice from Dallamano but, it turns out... not. We get a brief shot of Max watching his victim from across the street and then the shot cuts back to the end of the last shot where the camera closes in on the victim in the window... so a nice little visual echo/stutter, or so I thought. Not so though... when I saw the Italian cut, the view across the street were a few more shots and lasted longer and, when it cuts back to the victim, it’s not a repeat shot as in the US version at all. As it turns out, that was just a ham fisted, totally intrusive way of cutting out a few seconds of completely innocent footage by the Americans. One nice thing it does with Max’s character in the Italian one is, just before he kills someone, it focuses on a stylish close up of his upper face bathed in red with the whites of his eyes jumping out visually from the surrounding red, accompanied by a little musical stinger. Alas, this beautiful stylistic flourish is totally absent from the killings in the US print. 

By the way, Max is dressed as a typical giallo killer in these shots (bearing in mind this was just after Bava had made some gialli... The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood And Black Lace... but before they exploded in popularity in the wake of Dario Argento’s directorial debut, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage two year later), wearing the typical hat, black coat, black gloves and carrying a flick knife. In many ways the film is more a polizei in nature (like other films in Dallamano’s canon) but it soon shows it’s true giallo nature in scenes like these and the idea of Bulov hiring the killer for his own purposes. Bulov, as brought to life by future Professor Quatermass John Mills, is not the blundering, ridiculous policeman you find in most gialli, that’s for sure. And the identity of the killer is known almost from the start (as in The Killer Must Kill Again) so that’s atypical too.

Dallamano really likes vertical lines and uses them wherever possible. Max’s demise even comes in a forest punctuated by loads of upright, vertical tree trunks he can hind behind. In some rooms in this movie, though, it’s almost like he’s added vertical patterning on the decor in sections where you wouldn’t expect to find them, just so he can split the actors up into little compartments in the frame. While this is fairly common in a lot of these kinds of films... it almost looks a little too unnatural here, as the office of Bulov’s boss looks like it’s somewhat bizarrely vertically pitched, if you know what I mean. Some nice use of reflections in mirrors in some sequences too.

He also makes good use of space. For instance, he has a shot where Mills’ head is seen up close in profile on the left of a shot while his wife runs off and up stairs in the rest of the deep room behind him. Some wonderful camera movement too, in places. Such as when a camera tracks left down a street to follow a car which turns right into another street as the camera pauses to watch it turn yet another corner, before carrying on left to the other part of the original street to catch a police car careening in and then following it back right to end up in the camera’s original placement. Such great stuff.

And then there’s the score and the protracted, sinister whisperings of ‘Liiiiiiisaaaaa’ on it. Okay, so when I switched back to the Italian language, the score is totally different and, I’m sad to say, seems somewhat less appropriate than the American patch up job (I have the Italian score on order on CD so I’ll be able to listen to it properly at some point soon). Also, the Italian version has a few places where it kind of sounds like it’s plagiarising the James Bond theme... so I can see why the Americans wanted to replace it. However, quite often on the American score (which also sometimes replaces silence on the Italian one... fairly badly), it lapses into something like what Nelson Riddle would have composed for the 1960s Batman TV show so, yeah, also not quite appropriate to the action for sure. So you take you choice... Bond or Batman I guess.

Either way, the scores do nothing to detract from the brilliance of the film in total and I would have to say that, if you can somehow find the magical Holy Grail of a correct Italian print with English subtitles on it (which is now my mission), then I would recommend A Black Veil For Lisa to pretty much all fans of the Italian giallo. It’s a superb film marred heavily by imperfect releases by, I’m guessing, companies that won’t spend the money to do the subtitling. Companies which I am now very angry at but, at least the 88 Films version has the brilliant Rachael Nesbit interview... and that’s definitely a big weighing in factor to purchase, on releases like this.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Death Laid An Egg

Murder Most Fowl

Death Laid An Egg
aka La morte ha fatto l'uovo
Italy/France 1968 Directed by Giulio Questi
Nucleus Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: More or less full story spoilers... not that this film is really about story.

Okay, it’s been a couple of decades since I first saw Death Laid An Egg, so I’m revisiting it now on a nice Limited Slip Case Numbered Edition Blu Ray from Nucleus, in it’s full length cut and with a beautiful new transfer. Yay!

 The film starts off, in the version I watched this time around, with Bruno Maderna’s unusual, strident score over a credits sequence which shows various cells growing in a chicken embryo. We then get in to the main movie, which I’ll lay out very briefly here because, frankly, it’s a very simple story and it’s not the movie’s strength.

We have a married couple... Marco played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anna played by Gina Lollobrigida. The two run a chicken factory where a scientist is doing experiments on some of the eggs to try and produce boneless chickens... at one point in the movie and much to Marco’s disgust, he succeeds in breeding headless, wingless chickens. Staying with Marco and Anna is Marco’s cousin Gabrielle, played by Ewa Aulin, who is having a secret affair with him. Marco, unknown to pretty much everyone, likes to hire prostitutes in a nearby hotel and stage fake, brutal murders with them... his personal kink. Meanwhile, Gabrielle is plotting with a new PR man at the company to bring down Marco and Anna so Gabrielle can inherit the family wealth. They murder Anna towards the end of the movie but Marco, finding the corpse and thinking he will be blamed (which is the plan all along), takes it to the factory to dispose of it in a pulveriser (something which his poor doggy fell into earlier in the picture). However, he forgets he sabotaged the machinery so Ann would fall in when he planned his own murder of her so, instead of disposing of the body, he accidentally falls into the machine and dies. But with the body of Anna found on the premises where Gabrielle and the PR man are... they are rightly blamed for the murder after all. The end... so yeah...

One murder. Hardly any dwelling on the plot and a strange sub-plot element of an old friend of Marco’s, suffering from mental trauma is also thrown into the mix... the first thing which strikes me about this film is that, for a ‘rediscovered giallo’, well, this really isn’t a giallo. This has only one actual murder and few, if any, of the tropes which the giallo was defined by. Bava had made a few proper gialli before this but the genre hadn’t exploded in popularity yet and wouldn’t for another year, until Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage was released into cinemas (reviewed here).

However, stylistically, it’s really quite special and does it’s own thing. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Questi’s Django Kill! but this film is a different story. It’s almost an expressionist film in some ways and the plot and story has very little interest. It’s all about the collision between stylish visuals and sound... perhaps one of the things which actually could be said to be something in common with a giallo but, this is also really its own thing here.

The composition on a lot of the shots, especially the interior scenes, are all based on blocks. In some scenes they are big upright verticals split with horizontal rectangles and then diagonals coming in from the top or bottom of a shot to bring in a kind of exaggerated single point perspective... which looks as fantastic as it sounds. Then, all of a sudden, the director will cut to a scene where we are in, say, the big area where the chickens are being fed, which is a big silo utilising an abundance of diagonal struts delineating actors in their specific space on screen and moving around and through them as various diagonals overlap visually in the frame. It’s pretty much good eye candy (which, yeah, is basically what gialli are all about for me... although just this element alone doesn’t make a giallo, it’s just good direction and cinematography).

The camera movement is also quite special and, in a lot of sequences through the movie, he will have shots moving at similar speeds where the camera is dollying or panning left and then cut it to a shot panning in the other direction and repeat this a few times... so the montages of moving camera elements can be quite unsettling at times. This is taken to a nice ‘coda’ moment where that aesthetic is followed in just a single shot, where a man paces back and forth in front of the camera but the camera is panning back and forth at the same speed in the opposite directions to the ones the man is walking in. It certainly put a lot of speed in a shot and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody pacing, filmed in quite this way but, that initial shot almost informs the way the shots are cut together at odds throughout the picture.

Another amazing thing he does, in one sequence where Marco and a friend go for a walk... is just to have their voices on the soundtrack as we are presented with a montage of shots of various people walking in the streets... however, the shots are quite out of focus and it’s more an impression of people rather than anybody you could pick out. And then, suddenly, we are presented with a more traditional shot of the two men walking in close up, carrying on their conversation in sharp focus but, again, with all the people moving around them in the street seen in exactly the same level of blurriness as the prior shots... a wonderful effect which both brings you back to the characters while allowing you to suddenly accept the prevalence of the out of focus street. Wonderful.

And then we have what I can only think to call the ‘crash montages’. There are a few moments in the movie where the already aggressive editing style skyrockets into overload and the audience is bombarded with short, sharp edits all splashed together in a hard to follow and disorienting manner. The first time I really noticed this was when Marco is driving and we are suddenly smashed into loads of quick close ups of advertising signs... while Maderna’s crazy scoring strives to punctuate every little quick edit to heighten the sense of visual agitation. Another similar scene suddenly assails us when Marco and Gabrielle are having a conversation in their vehicle about a car accident in Marco’s past and we are suddenly hit with an unhinged motion montage of various shots of the car accident played out to punctuate the memory in a kind of extended, hyper-real visual echo of the incident. It’s astonishing stuff and is the kind of sequence which leads me to the idea that this film is pure expressionism, along with the film’s focus on Marco’s growing paranoia that... “something’ is going on” and the almost bláse attitude to the machinations of the plot, such as it is.

And that’s what I got out of my revisit to the hugely entertaining Death Laid An Egg. It’s very poppy, trippy and a joy to watch as the director has fun playing with the visual language of cinema at the expense, perhaps, of the weight of the story but, honestly, who cares about the story aspect of a movie (I’ve never really understood this propensity of modern Hollywood directors to pander and honour the story... often to the expense, in my mind, of the real art of the moving image). Questi doesn’t seem to have a problem with it here and, fortunately, with great actors like Trintignant and Lollobrigida, he really doesn’t need to either. This film is always going to be a definite recommendation from me and I hope the various boutique labels keep releasing and rescuing beautiful Italian movies like this. Grab it while you can.

Monday 23 October 2023

The Sweet Body Of Deborah

Resurrection Shuffle

The Sweet Body Of Deborah
aka Il dolce corpo di Deborah
Italy/France 1968
Directed by Romolo Guerrieri
DemCan Films

Warning: Strong spoilers right from the outset.

I suspect a lot of people would dismiss The Sweet Body Of Deborah as something which isn’t really a giallo these days. After all, many of the visual tropes that are associated with the genre... the black gloved, black hatted killer lurking in the shadows, the string of violent killings etc, are not on display in this movie. Heck, of the four deaths in the movie... well, there’s actually only one, when justice is served (although it seems like there are four... I’ll come back to that in a little while). There isn’t even a good old J&B sighting either. However, I can certainly see why this is considered a giallo because the ‘gaslighting’ style conspiracy between various ‘people you least expect’ in the film is almost a cookie cutter template for some of the more famous gialli from a few years later. The ones I’m thinking about could almost all be re-workings of the same ideas inherent in the plot of this film and directors like Sergio Martino certainly seemed to dip their toes into this kind of convoluted but domestic plot line in his films. Which is no surprise when you look at the credits of The Sweet Body Of Deborah and see that young Sergio was one of the producers and his brother, Luciano Martino (who also wrote a few gialli in his time) was one of the co-writers of this film. So, yeah, I’d certainly go with the consensus on this one that it’s a giallo... even if the German DVD cover of this one proclaims it a Krimi (which it also could be, in a way, I suppose).

Okay, the story such as it is, is all set in the honeymoon of newlyweds Deborah (played by Caroll Baker, probably the most prominent of the imported ‘American giallo queens’) and Marcel (played by Jean Sorel, who has been in a fair few of these himself). They spend their time between Switzerland and France as they holiday but, their first night in Geneva is marred by the discovery that Marcel’s ex-lover committed suicide the year before and many of his friends... including one played by, um, ‘giallo king’ Luigi Pistilli... blame him for her death. And then some gaslighting starts going on as traces of his ex-lover involving piano music, lipstick smeared cigarettes and other ‘out of place’ elements alongside threatening phone calls, follow Deborah and Marcel on their honeymoon... leading to the uncovering of a conspiracy and also the presence of yet another ‘suspect’, something the standard giallo always has in abundance. In this one it’s the swarthy ‘neighbour’ next to a rented villa, played by another giallo king, George Hilton.

The film is nicely shot with the director using various parts of the screen to highlight different characters in different split sections of the frame and the editing is pretty good in this one too... although the initial scenes of the two lovers driving into Geneva is a little bit scrappy in both framing and cutting, it has to be said. There’s some nice editing and coverage in a nightclub in this too, where large black and white comic book panels of characters like Barbarella, Batman and Galactus adorn the walls and bursts of comic strip onomatopoeia are flash cut in between shots, it's kinda interesting... and I think shows a culture willing to embrace that form of entertainment way before the English speaking countries started to recently lionise its own rich, comic book inheritance. 

 It’s all glued together nicely by Nora Orlandi’s somewhat syrupy score and it’s that element that got me watching the picture in the first place. She also scored my favourite giallo, The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (reviewed by me here)... which, of course, could also be a close relation to this film in terms of certain plot elements... that one IS directed by Sergio Martino.

The convoluted twisting of this thing is not something I can totally experience with the same kind of rawness that the first audiences to this film experienced. After all, I’ve seen the legacy of this movie offering similar or even more convoluted alliances of double crossing villains so, yeah, I was always going to be suspicious of various main characters here. So when the ‘assumed deceased’ character of Suzanne (played by another genre favourite, Evelyn Stewart) turns up alive and well... and plotting bad things for her successor, Deborah... well, yeah, I can’t say it was an unexpected plot twist. Indeed, I suspected each and every death in this film... except for the very last one, where one of the three main antagonists (not counting two possible counter-antagonists) is shot dead in the presence of the police... to be a possible fake and, yeah, that’s pretty much how it played out... 

Suzanne’s suicide, never seen and only lied about by others, is a facade to facilitate the preliminary gaslighting. Luigi Pistilli’s death is deliberately staged for the deception of another character and, when one murder is actually set in motion, as the title character is tranquilised and has her wrists slashed to bleed out under the guise of a suicide... well, George Hilton’s ‘knight in shining armour’ character comes through and rescues/hospitalises her before any damage is done. So yeah, like I said, not a typical giallo in some ways but, people who know many of the gialli which started dribbling out two years after this film, when Dario Argento popularised the genre beyond expectations, should see a marked similarity for sure.

And that’s really all I’ve got to say about The Sweet Body Of Deborah other than, I can see that it’s much more in keeping with the literary conventions of the Italian giallo than perhaps predecessors such as Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (reviewed here) and Blood And Black Lace (reviewed here). I think films such as this, A Black Veil For Lisa from the same year (review coming this week to this very blog) and a fair few others are kind of a partial ingredient... a missing link if you like... between what Bava and Argento were peddling to an unsuspecting public and what that product evolved into after that, during the 1970s. So, at the very least in terms of lineage, if you’re a giallo watcher then you should probably check this one out.

Sunday 22 October 2023


Four Play

Directed by
Ernesto Gastaldi & Vittorio Salerno
Italy 1965
Severin Films US Blu Ray

Warning: Some very small spoilers here.

Directed by Ernesto Gastaldi & Vittorio Salerno under Americanised names (as many Italian films of the period were), Libido is an early example of the Italian giallo, released just two years after Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (reviewed here and generally thought of to be the first giallo movie... although those kind of claims are always a bit iffy, depending on your definition). This one was released a couple of years ago in a wonderful transfer from Severin films and, yeah, it does look stunning.

The film starts off with protagonist Paul, as a child, playing with a kind of music box style Jiminy Cricket toy (I’m guessing Disney didn’t sue or this film would probably be more well known). He lives in a huge house, almost a castle, with his father... who turns out to be a sex maniac killer. Alerted by screams, the child rushes upstairs to see a woman tied to a bed in a room full of angled mirrors, being killed by his sex maniac parent. The camera lovingly dollys around multiple shots of the lady in her struggles as the credits play out over these titles, with a beautiful Carlo Rustichelli score swelling up (which is, alas, not available on any commercial recordings... come on people, seriously? Where’s a CD please?).

The film then jumps 20 years with Paul now in his late 20s and played by Giancarlo Giannini in his debut film (his IMDB listing on his own page starts a year after this film and doesn’t mention it at time of writing, for some reason)... some of my readers may remember him best as a much older actor in the Daniel Craig Bond films Casino Royale (reviewed here) and Quantum Of Solace (reviewed here). He is recovering from the trauma of his childhood and is returning to his ancestral home after 20 years with his guardian, played by none other than Luciano Pigozzi, ‘the Italian Peter Lorre’. They also bring their respective wives played by Dominique Boschero and Mara Maryl. And, as they stay there to check out the place with an eye to selling it once Paul comes into his inheritance a month later, it’s established that the body of Paul’s father was ‘never found’ (a red herring if ever I heard one) and someone is making nightly visitations to the place wearing his father’s boots, smoking his skull pipe and playing with the somewhat triggering Jiminy Cricket toy while sitting in a rocking chair (or is he?). Of course, always disappearing before the increasingly agitated Paul can get a good look at him.

And that’s as much as I’ll tell you of the story other than... I think I must have seen too many of these things. I correctly guessed exactly who was behind the ‘conspiracy’ to gaslight Paul very early on with a shot which deliberately withheld the identity of one character visiting another. So when another conspiracy was pushed later on in the film... I didn’t believe a word of it and I was right to stick to my guns. Although I was also very disappointed in that aspect of the film, for sure... I’d much rather be surprised at the end.

The film is shot in black and white but with rather more mid-range greys than I’m used to in these... which certainly doesn’t deter from the crisp look and the design of the shots. It’s essentially just four people in a big house and grounds sneaking around somewhat silently, with some superb cinematography. As such, it did at times remind me of the atmospheres created in those old Edgar Allan Poe movies that Roger Corman used to direct for AIP.* When Paul takes out his sports car in pursuit of a red herring, the pacing speeds up and the jerky hand held camera used on these shots seems almost at odds with the rest of the movie. There is actually a fifth member of the cast who walks past Paul in one shot at the tail end of that sequence but, even the IMDB doesn’t mention a fifth cast member so I’m assuming this was a cameo by one of the crew... perhaps one of the directors or a producer.

All in all... although I was somewhat let down at how easy the real ‘mystery’ of the movie was to solve, it kinda makes up for it with a nice ‘four way denouement’ which is impressive in its bleak outlook and, I’d have to say I really enjoyed Libido, despite the story. But who watches a giallo for the story anyway, after all? And, surprisingly for an Italian giallo, the acting in this one was superb, especially a rather intense turn by Giannini and a wonderfully ‘dumber than dumb’ blonde performance by Maryl (which was, alas, also a ‘tip off’ to one of the film’s ‘not so hidden’ secrets). It’s everything you’d want from what the giallo would progress into in a few years’ time, with some beautiful mise-en-scène and a wonderful score by Rustichelli. Definitely one to watch if you have an interest in the early works in the genre.

*For the one reader I know who will moan at me for not qualifying that very famous company name it’s... American International Pictures.

Tuesday 17 October 2023


Scala Me Blood Red

Scala!!! Or, the Incredibly
Strange Rise and Fall of
the World's Wildest Cinema
and How It Influenced a
Mixed-up Generation of
Weirdos and Misfits

Directed by Jane Giles and Ali Catterall
UK Fifty Foot Woman 2023
London Film Festival screening,
15th October 2023

My third and final film of this year’s London Film Festival was the documentary movie I was most looking forward to. Scala!!! Or, the Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World's Wildest Cinema and How It Influenced a Mixed-up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits, to give it its full title, is co-directed by Jane Giles (who used to work at the famous... no, infamous... Scala cinema at King’s Cross) and is based on her fantastic book Scala Cinema 1978-1993, which she published back in 2018 and which I reviewed here. I suspect some of the information in the movie, which is much more a look at the classic venue from the audience’s point of view, could also be gleaned from the booklet sold at the early Scalarama revivals around ten or so years ago too.

As such, in terms of the various stories and anecdotes which actually made it into this movie, I think I knew most, if not all of them. But that’s absolutely fine because, a) many people won’t know them and b) it’s just so great to hear them from the actual people who were there at the time and to see what they look like. In the introduction to the movie (both Giles and her co-director Ali were at the screening to introduce and indulge in an informative Q&A session afterwards), it was stressed that this wasn’t intended to be a dry, talking heads style documentary and, okay... it is kind of talking heads oriented but, it’s certainly not a dry one and it’s full of wonderful clips from both some of the films shown at the venue, historic footage from the times and even an animation, in one anecdotal story, of a mushroom fuelled stint behind the ticket counter.

So, if nothing else (but it IS everything else too), it’s a nicely put together, good looking piece. It obviously mentions the influence of the whole Scala experience on the audiences of the time, rightly pointing out how it helped shape a generation of film makers, musicians, artists and activists. So, of course, since the cinema is so fondly remembered by the people at ground zero, as it were, the documentary is full of interesting and somewhat famous people such as Alan Jones, Kim Newman, Peter Strickland, David McGillivray, Beeban Kidron, John Waters and Ben Wheatley... to name just a few... along with the various staff who worked and passed through there, talking about various incidents in the Scala’s past. So yes, you will get to briefly meet the Scala cats, you will hear about the guy who died of a heart attack during a screening, the guy who killed himself jumping from the toilet window (in a surprisingly moving account, actually), the guy with the prosthetic limb and the huge pile of left over, sticky latex gloves after the ‘all-girl night’ found in the morning.

The film has a driven, almost chaotic approach in its editing and its musical score, which gives it some pace and ensures that, even if you’ve heard it all before, you are nothing less than entertained all the way through. I was also very lucky to be in attendance at the Q&A session after the screening where I did actually hear about some stuff I didn’t know. Like the old lady, “audience regular” who features prominently in one piece of archive footage and who liked the films with chainsaw killers and cars driving fast over hills. When the directors tracked her down for this documentary, they managed to get in contact with her son (who it later transpired was actually her grandson) to find that she was in the hospital with Alzheimers. By the time editing on this film was finished, she’d passed away at the age of 102. The only three people at her funeral were her grandson and the two directors of this movie... which is a lovely story in some ways but reminds me of my own mortality and the fact that, the longer you live, the less people you have left to share life with, as they die around you.

And that’s me done on Scala!!! Or, the Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World's Wildest Cinema and How It Influenced a Mixed-up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits which, incidentally, also covers the time when the Scala was located in Tottenham Street, before it restarted in the more famous King’s Cross venue. I will try and see this one again when it gets released in cinemas here in the UK (on January 5th 2024 apparently) and I might also go to part of the Scala season at the BFI which is, presumably, going to coincide with that release. I’m also eagerly awaiting a Blu Ray so I hope it gets a good physical release on the BFI label, for sure. So there you have it, a film about the audiences at one of the most iconic cinemas of its time. A definite recommendation from me for this one, for sure.

Monday 16 October 2023




Directed by Quentin Dupieux
France Kinology 2023
London Film Festival screening, 14th October 2023

I’ve only seen two other films by Quentin Dupieux, the man who surely should be considered one of France’s great, living surrealists... but both of them, Rubber (reviewed by me here) and Deerskin (reviewed by me here) have been absolutely brilliant. His new film, Daaaaaali! struck me in much the same way. Is it a great movie? Certainly. Is it a genuine masterpiece? Quite possibly, actually.

There’s no spoiler warning at the top here because, in terms of story, it’s kinda hard to spoil a premise which basically is just a starting block on which to pin the movie on... especially when that starting block gets pulled away by the end of the film and comes into question itself. I will, however, be revealing little details of the structure and absurdist spirit of the film so, yeah, if you don’t want to know anything before seeing it then please avoid reading this review.

Okay, so it may be easier to start off telling you what it isn’t. Much like Dali’s own autobiography, The Secret Life Of Salvador Dali, this film is not trying to be a factual portrait of the man. More so, I would say, than even Dali’s often fictionalised account of his life because, this film really doesn’t go down the documentary route at all. In fact, the only real stab at imparting an actual fact in this movie comes, it seems to me, when Gala points out to Dali that the work he is painting is anachronistic to the film... as it was painted in 1972 in real life, as opposed to whenever the film is actually set (and I’m not quite sure when that is, to be honest, which I’m guessing is the intent of Dupieux).

What it is, or purports to be from its earliest moments, is an account of a reporter played by Anaïs Demoustier, who is trying to secure an interview with Dali and every time she gets to meet him, something happens to ensure that interview doesn’t quite happen. Now, here’s the thing... Dali himself is played by several actors... among them Edouard Baer and Jonathan Cohen... and the actors keep switching out in the roles, mostly focusing on a specific three actors which it keeps substituting at different points in the... well... let’s call it ‘narrative’, for want of a more accurate word. And they’re all brilliant in their own way, being comical caricatures of Dali and eschewing the specifics of his life and instead focusing on the spirit of Dali, rather than trying to pin down and capture him with the dry data behind the man. So, it's a homage, if you will.

And yes, the way the film is shot and various incidents which happen, means this comical journey of a movie shares some DNA, at the very least, with the creative mind of Dali himself. But, of course, there’s also a lot more of Dupieux in the film too... so it’s not just a Daliesque piece in and of itself. And, bearing in mind the title character is constantly switching out with other actors, it seems to me an almost conscious reference to one of Dali’s early partners in crime, Luis Buñuel. At least in terms of the films Buñuel was making much later in his career.

Now Dupieux does something magical with the film in terms of the way it is structured, in scenarios which constantly fold back into themselves like a series of Russian Matryoshka dolls. He changes the way time works for the audience by chopping it into bits and forcing the minds of the audience to experience the film at a much slower rate than what it actually is. The film is only an hour and a quarter, after all but... it feels like three hours have elapsed by the time the film is done with you. And in this case, this isn’t a bad thing... the film is never dull and nothing less than entertaining. Indeed, the audience I saw it with were in absolute stitches as soon as they realised this or that thing was happening.

Dali’s first entrance in the movie, for example... and I’m trying to phrase this in a way that doesn’t give away the joke... plays with both time and physical space and it crept up on the audience gradually, until they realised what was happening and then, every time Dupieux cut back to a specific kind of shot, the audience started laughing... a lot. Another moment of strong humour came from the realisation that two actors playing Dali in what must be different times, found themselves... much to each other’s surprise... sharing the same physical location at the same time. Not to mention the fits of laughter everytime a certain cowboy turns up in a shot. And even the composer (who shall remain nameless due to the IMDBs failure to include it in their full cast and crew list), helps the stretching out of time in various places, with its constant repetition used almost as a comic trigger to inform the audience... here we go again.

And I think that’s me just about done with this one. Quentin Dupieux’s Daaaaaali! is an absolutely astonishing film and, judging from the audience I saw it with, a laugh out loud piece of comic writing and timing. All I am saying is that I hope the film finds UK distribution soon because I want to get my hands on the Blu Ray edition of this one as soon as possible, so I can show it to people. So well done the writer/director and, now I guess I have to go back and watch some of the other movies by him that I missed when they first came out. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Sunday 15 October 2023


Whole Lotta
‘Salem Going On

USA August - October 2021
Ten episodes

Warning: Mr. Barlow will enjoy some spoilers.

Chapelwaite is a ten part mini series based on an old Stephen King story, which many of you may remember reading in his short story collection Night Shift (I think I read it sometime in 1982). The story it’s based on is Jerusalem’s Lot which, as I’m sure many of you know, was a longish short story prequel to his popular novel Salem’s Lot, set over one hundred years before the events which we all know and loved from both King’s amazing book and, no doubt, from having fond memories of being scared silly as kids, when the TV miniseries of ‘Salem’s Lot aired, starring David Soul (reviewed by me here). Based on is definitely the key phrase here though because, admittedly, when you try and stretch out a short story into ten episodes of approximately 50 minutes per episode, things are going to have to change or, at the very least, be expanded upon.

Such is the case here with some of the characters changed drastically from their source but with some of the incidents in the story being incorporated into the events which take place in the mini series. But, I didn’t find that such a problem, especially since (if memory serves and, if it doesn’t, then forgive me but it’s been 41 years since I last read it) the original story was told in the form of old letters of correspondence, with the fictional writers detailing the story from a first person point of view.

That being said, it’s actually a very strong series. It’s not one of those which attempts to wow you with a new twist or layer week after week, as certain elements are revealed, such as... say, From (reviewed here) or Yellowjackets (reviewed here). It sets out a lot of it’s narrative intent and path right from the start with, to be fair, not that many suprises around the corner. That being said though, it tells its tale in riveting fashion and, while not quite retaining the feel of King as, say, the completely non-King TV series Midnight Mass ironically did  (review coming soon), it’s still a very sturdy tale and it leans heavily on a very good script and a great cast of actors.

After the death of his wife at sea, Whaler Captain Charles Boone, played by the series’ executive producer Adrien Brody, inherits a handsome property in Maine from his cousin, named Chapelwaite... and decides to take his three children...  Honor (played by Jennifer Ens), Loa (played by Sirena Gulamgaus) and Tane (played by Ian Ho)... to live there and start a ship building business. However, there’s a curious malady in town killing people and the Boone family has been blamed for this. Pretty soon, the family curse which we see detailed in the pre-credits of episode one returns to haunt the grown up son (Brody) but, as he and his family, along with writer/governess/love interest Rebecca (played by Emily Hampshire), deal with the taint of his former family, not to mention the racial tensions caused by the skin tones of his children, it becomes clear that a) his cousins are not actually dead but... well... undead... and b) that the curious malady which has taken the small town in its grip is, of course, vampirism.

I won’t say any more of the plot as, like I said, there are not too many surprises but, it’s a sturdy ship of a show and the writing, acting and direction is all great. Actually, because like many shows, several different directors are hired for each episode, there are some minor stylistic differences in the way things are shot. The first episode (and, to some extent, the second), for example, feature a lot of establishing shots taken from a camera very low on the ground and looking up at the content of the frame... almost as a visual echo of the time when Charles Boone was whacked over the head with a shovel as a kid and having to look up and out of the grave his father dug for him. It’s a nice touch but it does seem to get jettisoned very early on in the series. This is not to say the direction is bad, however... just more noticeably different in this show than with others I’ve seen.

But it’s a great tale and, while not necessarily scary, it does have a lot to offer and, scares aside, there’s certainly a lot piled on in the way of tension and suspense. For example, when the family board Chapelwaite up and paint white crosses on its walls in expectation of a siege by a party of vampires and their human minions attempting to get in... the whole of the next episode is shot, almost in real time for a lot of it... and the battle for the house and something which is inside it (which two factions of vampires want, actually) lasts for the whole of episode eight. And it’s all topped off with the musical cherry on the cake via Mark Korven’s lovely score (sadly not available on CD at time of writing this).

One thing which worries me is the future of the show. Chapelwaite has a very definite ending to it... the story seems finished and some big sacrifices are made in the final episode. So it must have been as much as a surprise to the writers when the channel producing it renewed it for a second series.* Now, I really don’t know how they could continue this story in a plausible enough way so that the audience won’t think it’s a poor excuse for a sequel but, who knows, perhaps the only thing the new series will have in common is the house itself... plus various vampires (would be my guess). Either way though, I was really hooked on this one and Chapelwaite doesn’t disappoint on pretty much any level. Check this one out if Stephen King inspired, period vampire tales are your thing.

*Releasing very soon now, it would seem.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Executioners From Shaolin

Pai Mei Kung Fu
Roo Down, Sport!

Executioners From Shaolin
aka Hong Xi Guan
aka Executioners Of Death
Hong Kong 1977
Directed by Chia-Liang Liu
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Spoilers abound but, you know, they’re no more than you would expect from the film anyway.

The seventh entry in Arrow’s Blu Ray box set ShawScope Volume One is Executioners From Shaolin. It’s another epic of punching, kicking, needle dropped soundtrack cues (War Of The Gargantuas, anyone?) and lots of sound impacts. As in, it’s very entertaining and watchable and, also, happens to contain a quite iconic villain in one of his early appearances.

The film starts off with two grandmasters fighting against a red backdrop, representing a fight they are having while the Shaolin Temple is burning. Yep, it’s yet another kung fu film set after the burning of the Shaolin Temple by the Qing government and, once more, the main heroes flea the burning temple to fight the tyranny in their own way. The opening credits fight involves the white browed, white bearded Bai Mei (played by Lieh Lo), a character who is often translated in English as Pai Mei and who has made a number of appearances in films over the years. In this opening credits battle, he uses what I can only assume are the kung fu honed super powers of his testicles of doom (either that or he has no balls, hard to tell... I think he’d be fatter if that were the case, though). Anyway, his opponent gets his foot stuck tight in Pai Mei’s lower regions and the villain pulls his partner along with the power of his undercarriage before dealing the killer blows. It’s just as well they show us these key moments because the white browed monk will use this technique at least twice more in the narrative.

Meanwhile, survivors of the massacre are trying to escape, including Gordon Liu, who fights off a load of Quin dynasty warriors in a spectacular post titles combat, to allow his fellow survivors to get away. He eventually falls when the watching archers have had enough, thus making this a short appearance but, of course, although he doesn’t fight Pai Mei in this movie (although I believe he does in others), he would also go on to play Pai Mei himself in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2.

Another hero, Hong, played by Chen Kuan-tai... who practices Tiger Style kung fu... escapes and leads a bunch of survivors, all in hiding on ‘red ships’ as acting troupes. Much is made in the film, in terms of screen time, of his short courtship and long marriage to Fang, played here by Lily Li, who practices the Crane Style as her main element of kung fu disciplines. Eventually the Quin government get wise to the red ships and start burning them all, forcing the survivors to separate into smaller batches. After Fang gives birth to their son, Hong perfects his tiger style for another ten years before seeking out Pai Mei in his temple for revenge in his betrayal of the Shaolin Monastery... and for the death of his master (which we see in those opening credits). He is easily defeated but manages to escape, although his best friend dies helping him and also giving him the information that Pai Mei can only be beaten by hitting all of his pressure points in the hour of the goat only (between 1 and 3pm). Why Pai Mei’s invisible, mystical body defences can only be penetrated in that time period is anyone’s guess.

Anyway, Hong trains for another seven years while Fang trains their youngster Wending, played at this point in the film by Wong Yue, in the crane style. Then, father Hong goes off to fight Pai Mei again but he doesn’t return, himself falling victim to Pai Mei’s Groin Of Doom technique, as I have just named it.

So the son trains for a little longer (from a rat shredded and incomplete manual showing the tiger style) and goes to fight Pai Mei, finally beating him as we are told on the bizarrely hasty freeze frame which concludes the picture without any real warning.

And it’s great. Lots of action and nice use of the fast zooms and some cool kung fu choreography. The director also does nice things with the camera, for example, as when a fight with Pai Mei has already started, showing part of the fight through his just removed, see-through outer robe which his assistants are holding up still as the combat has already started.

My favourite thing about the movie is the ingenious training doll the two generations of kung fu heroes use to train. I don’t completely understand it but it’s a wooden dummy with absolutely loads of pressure points highlighted by marked marbles... filling many channels carved out of the dummy. As each pressure point is accurately hit, the marbles from that part of the channel unlock and then spill onto the floor. It looks and sounds great in the extended training montages and, in the last use, the marbles are replaced with many lit candles which the hero has to snuff out to complete his pressure point targeted exercises. It’s good stuff and I’m wondering if this brilliant prop will be turning up in any other movies at some point.

And, yeah, not much more to add but Executioners From Shaolin, despite having no actual executioners from Shaolin in it (and why would the Shaolin Temple have need of executioners anyway? This makes no sense!), is an absolute blast and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. One of the better ones I’ve seen in this genre for sure although, it has to be said, it’s hard to make the call because most of the films so far in this first volume of ShawScope box set have been pretty good. Definitely worth a peek.