Friday, July 31, 2009

Paperhouse



Paperhouse
Directed by: Bernard Rose

UK, 1988
Horror/Drama, 89min
Distributed by: Lionsgate

Story:
Young Anna Maddon, starts having strange dreams during fainting spells. In these dreams she finds herself walking an imaginary world that she has drawn in one of her notebooks. After a while characters from her drawing start turning up in her dreams and several inverted reflections of the real world start to become apparent in the dream world. But when anger towards her father’s absence starts to enter the dream world they take on nightmarish proportions.

Me:
Here’s one of those movies that I often have referred to as a forgotten British horror gem, but now, after re-watching it, I have really mixed feelings about. So much that I contemplated dropping it from the pile of stuff to be reviewed as the end credits rolled on screen. On one hand I remember it as a very scary and effective movie and brought more than a decade of respect for the movie with me to the couch before enjoying a dear reunion with Bernard Rose’s Paperhouse. But after seeing the movie again I had the churning feeling that it’s really only a pretty silly and tedious piece of confusing junk. Well the silly/tedious/confusing junk bit goes on for ever during the last fifteen minutes of the movie, and that’s probably why I completely had forgotten about it, because there are a few really good scares here, some fabulous moments of fear, an intriguing plot and a great pre-adolescent love story underneath all the parallel world dream/nightmare stuff. It’s funny how fifteen years of space between viewings can warp your impression of a movie.

Anna [Charlotte Burke, who never starred in anymore movies, but did win the Best Actress award at the Spanish Fantasporto festival in 1989 for her part in Paperhouse] starts having fainting spells where she awakens in a dream world that reassembles the drawing she drew during the opening titles. Anna passes out during a game of hide-and-seek and can’t be found for several hours, her Mother [Glenne Headly] is worried sick, and Anna’s father is away with his work. The police find her and the family doctor, Dr. Sarah [Gemma Jones who apart from playing Bridget Jones mum, and Madam Pomfrey in the Harry Potter movies also played Mrs. Folder in Jaume Balagueró’s Fragile 2005] orders Anna to a few days rest. She also tells Anna about another patient she is treating, a little boy in Anna’s age, who also is bedridden. Anna draws the boy into her drawing and he, obviously turns up in her dream world but he’s disabled and unable to walk. Marc [the late Elliot Spiers, who only ever did one more movie apart from Paperhouse, Taxandria 1994, which also features a nearby lighthouse on the seaside] The two children start a platonic relationship in the dream world that eventually leads up to an innocent kiss. That’s when Anna’s father [Ben Cross] appears in her dream and he’s not the loving parent that you may think, but rather the opposite as he wielding a hammer, chases Anna round the paper house, screaming that he will find her and punish her. Anna and Marc destroy the threatening father, but their action which takes place both in the dream world and in reality ends up with Anna being put in hospital. As she awakens in the real world her real father is there, full of remorse for having spent such a long time away from home. Anna also learns of the real world Marc dying. Together the family goes on holiday and in one last confused state of reality and dream Anna and Marc take their goodbyes and Anna moves on into adolescence.

Now how do you go about this movie? It’s difficult to place it in a determined slot as it mixes several genres and styles together throughout the course of the movie. Is it a coming of age drama, is it a horror, is it a fantasy or is it an art house movie? Well it’s difficult to pigeon hole it because it does move between a varied assortment of styles, and more than once I found myself thinking of last years Let the Right One In which also, more or less, is an adolescent drama with horror themes. Such is the case with Paperhouse. An adolescent drama with horror and fantasy themes to give a deeper dimension to the narrative.

Right from the start there’s great character establishment being made as we rapidly become fond of Anna. We know that she has a fair amount of skin on her nose as she talks back to the fatty bully type in class and yanks away her desk causing the bully to crash into the floor. Her teacher punishes her and sends her into the hallway. Anna stays on making faces at the bully. When her teacher further reprimands her, giving her a detention despite the fact that Anna tells her it’s her birthday. Anna complains that she feels dizzy and the teacher ignores her until it’s too late and Anna passes out in the hallway. Anna’s mom picks her up at school and at first is affectionate, but later is disappointed as Anna claims to have faked her fainting spell (although we know it was for real) and drives her back to school. Anna becomes humiliated and worried what her friends will say when they see that she’s been enforced back to school. All of this is valuable material because it establishes Anna, her mother, their current living situation, and it creates empathy for Anna. It’s little innocent Anna against the classmates, pre-teens and adults which generates emotions that we can relate to, something that we are going to need if we are going to give a damn about this kid during the rest of the movie, and a child protagonist really does wonders for a horror movie if you manage to create that empathy.

Anna is just coming into her teens, she’s just on the threshold of puberty and still innocent, boys are “yucky” and she’s still just a little girl. This is nicely portrayed in the scene during the start of the movie as she and friend Karen [Sarah Newbold, who never starred in anything else either] spend some time after school putting on makeup and talking about the party Karen recently went too. The differences in the way they wear their school clothing and act towards each other gives away that Anna is a few steps behind her friend on the journey into puberty. Karen has her skirt hitched high, her socks rolled down, Anna’s skirt is hug low almost to her knees, where her socks are rolled up almost a few inches away from her skirt hem. Karen applies a modest amount of makeup, where as Anna naively paints it on in the way a child would. Karen talks about going to parties and snogging with loads of boys, Anna listens with an almost disgusted look on her face before asking her friend if they should play hide-and-seek. “I’m too old for that game now…” her friend replies. This indicated that Anna is somewhat behind her friends as they are maturing faster than her, hence leaving Anna behind. This is one of two reasons why Anna escapes into her imagined world and meets Marc… the first boy who isn’t “yucky”.

Daddy is the monster in the dream world, and this is also part of growing up and exploring the values of one’s parents, re-evaluating there importance that every child does as they enter puberty. The breaking of paternal bonds, making new friends outside the comfort of the family and becoming an individual. Two main factors add up the fuel behind Anna’s sudden despite for Daddy. He’s obviously got problems with his drinks, as Anna and her mother Kate talk about daddy being drunk, and that he was drunk in the photo Anna holds most dear, which obviously flips the value that the photograph has for Anna and she in a blink of an eye despises the photograph. Secondly, he’s never there. His work has him constantly on the road, and away from home, which also adds to fuel Anna’s sudden hatred. A hatred that she dare not speak aloud, but is confronted in her dreams. Also there is definitely something going on there worthy of some psychoanalysis as her father shows up and wants to beat her to death just after she receives her first, but still innocent kiss. Her affections have shifted from her father to the young boy.

On a more sinister note, Ben Cross plays the father so disturbingly that I keep getting a creepy feeling that there’s an unwritten child molestation story going on somewhere in here. There’s nothing to validate this feeling, it’s just there. The almost apologetic way he approaches Anna, the distance between them. There is definitely something in the backstory that never is presented, but brings a really distressing atmosphere to the scenes with Anna and her father.

The ending is still rather tedious there’s no getting around that, because it goes on a bit too long without anything really happening until Anna spots the lighthouse at the seaside where she and Marc spent their last dream together. Throughout the movie, the dream world and real world are reflected in each other. To start with, they are fantasy reproductions of that what Anna puts in her drawing, but gradually they become negative projections of the real world. When Marc is getting better in the real world, he grows ill in the dream world and vice-versa. So at the end of the movie, when Marc can walk (he even runs), and flies away in the helicopter he drew in his reality, we understand that he has died. Then there’s that final scene on the end of the cliff here dream and reality once again crossover into each other. In the dream world Marc has promised to obtain a helicopter so that he and Anna can fly down to the beach. A promise Anna made to him early on was that they would leave the house and walk the beach. Anna stands on the cliffs as the helicopter appears, but instead of urging her on, Marc tells her to step away from the cliffs and ignore the ladder that she is reaching for. In the last possible moment Anna’s mom grabs her and she falls back over onto the safety of the ground as the helicopter flies away. Credits roll on the hugging family. It’s confusing and silly, but an if you want, you could say that it’s a closure of the childlike dream world Anna has been in, her age of innocence, and as she fails to grab the ladder (metaphorically the stairway to heaven as the fall off the cliffs would undoubtedly be her death.) she puts all her childhood (i.e. fantasies, dream worlds etc.) behind her and takes her first step towards growing up.

The production design by Gemma Jackson is fabulous, those sets of the dream world are awesome and really look like the paper drawings that Anna has done, and the darker and dirtier the drawing gets, the darker the sets get it’s impressive to say the least, especially all those items that only have two dimensions in the drawing but have three dimensions in the dream world. It’s really original and well done. In 2005 Jackson was nominated for a Best Achievement in Art Direction Oscar for her work on Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland.

The movie also features a wonderfully haunting but rather mysterious soundtrack by Stanley Myers, who scored several of UK Horror/exploitation king Pete Walker's movies and several John Hough movies too. The score to Paperhouse was co-written with a young Hans Zimmer who together with Myers had founded the Lille Yard Recording studios in the early eighties, where Myers and Zimmer had been combining the potent sound of a full orchestra with state of the art electronics. Paperhouse is a great example of this, where the score elegantly combines childlike pling plong keys that flow over into dark brooding drones with a touch of bombastic orchestral pomp much in the trademark style that Zimmer would later become infamous for.

A fun detail that had me sniggering is the frequent smoking in Bernard Rose movies, especially his horror flicks. There are two scenes in Paperhouse where Glenne Headly’s Mother character smokes within inches of her child. Once in a car driving her home from school and once on the train when they go on holiday. It’s the same in Candyman that Rose directed in 1992, there’s loads of smoking going on in that movie and almost every second scene has Virginia Madsen lighting up or butting out her smokes. You don’t see that much anymore in movies. I would guess where it twenty years ago meant nothing; it could be seen as a burdening trait to characters in a more modern storytelling. A parent ignorant of the dangers of secondhand smoke. That’s possibly something to jot down in a note book and bring out at a valuable moment of writing.

Speaking of writing, Paperhouse is based on Marianne Dreams, a novel by Catherine Storr, who didn't like the ending of the movie either, but rather preferred the TV series Escape into night which aired on ITV during the early seventies and stuck closer to her original story. The screenplay for Paperhouse was written by Matthew Jacobs, who previously had written Mats Helge Olsson's The Ninja Mission from 1984. Jacob's later settled into a nice run of TV shows, writing primarily for The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones series.

Paperhouse is a enjoyable movie, and even though one could ask for more in some areas I still enjoyed it, apart from that ending, which could have been much more effective and shorter. Also I’m not quite content with the final scene. After dragging on for a bit too long, the movie ends abruptly on the cliff after the climax. Perhaps some closing dialogue or an epilogue would have been in place. But after brooding on the movie for a few days and making some sense of the ending I feel that Paperhouse can go back on the shelf and keep the label “A Lost British Gem”


Image:
16x9 Widescreen. No subtitles.

Audio:
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0

Extras:
Unfortunately nothing more than the theatrical trailer and a few of the adult cast and crew filmographies.

No trailer unfortunately, but here's a short scene with that score by Myer's and Zimmer and some marvelous acting by Burke and Spiers.


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Psychic


The Psychic
Original title: Sette notte in nero
Aka: Murder to the tune of Seven Black Notes, Seven Notes in Black
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Giallo / Thriller / Horror, 97 Min.
Italy, 1977
Distributed by: Severin Films.


Story:
A woman suffers visions where she sees death and murder. She teams up with her friend in an attempt to solve the cryptic images she saw in her vision. Images that quite soon start finding their way into her current life, and her investigations turn into a matter of life and death as she starts to realize that the visions may not be of a past event, but of her impending future!

Me:
Good old Lucio Fulci, [Bio here] he really polarizes his audience doesn’t he. And it’s a strange fan base Mr. Fulci has because the impression I get is that the majority of them build their admiration for him off those few gore fests that he directed in the early eighties; Zombi2 1979, City of the Living Dead 1980, The Beyond 1981, House by the Cemetery 1981 and New York Ripper 1982, Yeah you know them don’t you... All great movies in their own, but sadly each a lesser movie than the previous one, that’s without getting into some of the really poor stuff he directed in the late eighties. But to say the least, his movies do have an aura and atmosphere that not that many other directors managed to conjure up in their movies, and that is possibly what makes him such a favorite among the European genre directors.

Towards the end of his life, in 1991, he made an impressive return to the genre with the gore fest Nightmare Concert, in my opinion Fulci’s comment on his celluloid heritage, the criticism towards him, in some way his own version of Fellini’ s 8½. The aging director summing up his art and crafts, which in some poetic way justifies the recycling of all that footage from some of those lesser movies in the swansong Nightmare Concert. Then there was Demonia, also in 1991, which showed a return to the good old mystique and atmosphere that made him so popular, still not a great movie, but definitely an improvement. Finally there was that almost “super group” project that never got made with Fulci onboard (not counting co-screenwriting credits), Dario Argento producing, Sergio Stivaletti responsible for the special effects and Lucio Fulci returning to the directorial chair; Gaston Leroux’s The Wax Mask. One can only imagine how that movie would have turned out; it could have become the last great movie of the dying genre or the crap-fest that it eventually became when it went into production after Fulci’s death.

I like Fulci, I like the constant rumors that he was a pain in the butt to work with, the accusations the he hated his actors and crews, that he only made movies to for money, etc; it’s all the stuff that creates legends. Contradictory to those rumors, more and more people only have affectionate and respectful things to say about him on the many featurette's that can be found on the masse of DVD releases of is movies, perhaps once and for all proving that he was a great guy, but perhaps once and for all proves my theory that he merely cursed to walk the path of horror gore-meister churning out atmospheric splatter fests until the end of time... And I really do like Fulci’s movies, even the really bad ones, there’s definitely worse stuff that came out during that golden period, and in many way’s I feel that his did his best even though he was struggle ling to stay productive in a genre that he probably wasn’t entirely satisfied working in. In later years, I have found myself growing tired of gory effects, gimmickry and shallow plots, perhaps due to seeing that classic suite so many times, I find myself going back to the older stuff, the comedies and the Spaghetti Westerns, the Dramas and definitely the Gialli / Poliziotteschi stuff before the gates of hell spewed out all those iconic zombies and ghouls. There is some splendid stuff back there, like the fantastic One on Top of the Other 1969, The Psychic 1977, the Gialli, Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972, and my personal favorite A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin 1971.

The Psychic, revolves around Virginia Ducci, [Jennifer O’Neil from Visconti’s The Innocent and Cronenberg’s Scanners] a woman scarred by the psychic abilities she found out she had when she saw as a child saw her mother throw herself off the cliffs of Dover in her first vision. But that was many years ago, and now Virginia has made the best of life having just started a serious relationship with wealthy playboy Emilio Rospini [Gabriele Ferzetti who played the Railroad Baron in Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in the West]. On her way from dropping him off at the airport where his private jet takes him on a business trip she starts having a series of disturbing visions of death and murder, strange people and secret tombs in walls. She visits her parapsychologist friend Luca [Marc Porel who also played against O’Neil in Visconti’s The Innocent] who starts helping her figure out what she may have seen. She goes to her boyfriends’ summer residence with the intentions of redecorating it, and suddenly has the shocking insight that this is the location she saw in her vision, and there is a corpse behind the wall.

This is what initiates Virginia’s investigations into the events that lead up to her boyfriends’ previous lover, a photo model, being murdered and plastered behind a wall in his summer house. The plot twists and turns as her boyfriend is put in jail suspected for murder, and eventually released as Virginia and Luca’s investigations prove that he couldn’t have conducted the killing. But then fragments of the vision start reoccurring in current time and just like Luca suspected all along, the visions where not of the past, but of the future!

The Psychic is really quite a decent movie; it’s full of traditional Giallo mystery solving, has some great plot twists and uses some magnificent devices on its way. The cinematography is excellent and shot by Fulci regular Sergio Salvati, who once again shows that he's a master of his craft. The script by Dardano Sacchetti is major league and possibly one of the finest that Fulci had to work with. Supposedly the script came about after Fulci and co-writer Roberto Gianvitti had been struggling for a year to write a story about a character with a psychic ability based on a book that Fulci was fascinated by. But Fulci was so determined that if you where psychic and knew your future nothing could change that. So a year later when Sacchetti was connected to the project he made a bet with Fulci that he could write a script where a foreseen future could be altered. Hence the ingenious musical watch that Jennifer O’Neil receives in the movie. And what a brilliant plot device that is! Sure it was a common device in early Spaghetti Westerns, but to item to change a foreseen future and save someone’s life is a stunning twist to the movie. But at the same time there is no outspoken salvation here, because the movie ends just as the chimes are acknowledged, and we never really know if Virginia is saved, or if Emilio gets away with his fiendish plan. Wonderful stuff and a highly recommended movie that proves Fulci’s skills outside the splatter and gore department.

I can’t really let go of the “bad Rep” Fulci used to have, and still does in some circuits, and considering that he often used the same people on his productions, editor Vincenzo Tomassi edited fifteen of Fulci’s flicks, Sergio Salvati shot some ten movies for Fulci and Sacchetti co-wrote more than eight films with Fulci, I think that we can come to the conclusion that he was a decent guy and people obviously liked and respected him or else they wouldn’t have worked on so many movies with him would they?

Although if I where to point out one thing that kept annoying me as I watched it would have to be all the ridiculous clarifications to what we are seeing. I feel that it’s somewhat underestimates it’s viewer on many occasions, I mean fans of Gialli have often seen more than one, and someone who was to start exploring that fantastic genre wouldn’t start with Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic, they would start with the textbook examples of Dario Argento or Mario Bava. The constant zooming in on O’Neil’s face or the object in front of her every time she realizes that she’s just seen a fragment of her vision in reality is ludicrous. We know that the indicating item or person was in her vision, or at least after the tenth time we saw it should know, and this kept disturbing me throughout the movie. The constant flash backs to further support that the thing/person is completely unnecessary, and we don’t need it in a Giallo. Remember Dario Argento’s masterpiece Profondo Rosso 1975? That mirror reflection that’s in the early part of the movie and returns but a few times to keep it alive? Just imagine if David Hemmings had flashbacks and the camera zoomed in on that area of the room each and every time he tried to figure out what he saw! Well that would have destroyed that movie, because half of the effect is that when you go back you see what he saw in the final reel! Brilliant. So If one where to remove these element from the The Psychic and only use them when it’s really necessary, like towards the end where her Luca presents his theory that the visions are not showing her the past, but the future, then BLAM, stick those images in there and create an effect instead of just wearing down my patience instead. Sure constant zooming into facial reactions is just as much a Fulci trademark as spooky atmospheres, but still it rattled me the wrong way unfortunately.

Last but definitely not least, the soundtrack! What an amazing soundtrack The Psychic has. Fulci had worked with the group Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera [Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera] earlier on his Spaghetti Western Four of the Apocalypse 1975, and later on Silver Saddle 1978, another Western that Fulci directed after The Psychic, but the score they composed for The Psychic is without a doubt on of their finest. Building off the chimes of that ingenious plot device, the musical watch that O’Neil has, the score just builds into such a terrifying and at the same time beautiful climax that it definitely outshines much of their later work. The track was later rediscovered by Quentin Tarantino, who used the track Seven Notes in Black in Kill Bill Vol.1. But in all honesty it is a brilliant piece of music still very enjoyable still today.

Frizzi later scored most of the classic Fulci horrors [Zombi2, The Smuggler, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, Manhattan Baby and Nightmare City] and Tempera wrote the scores for the TV horrors Sweet House of Horror and The House of Clocks both 1989.

Image:
Widescreen 1.85:1 [16x9]

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English dialogue, no subtitles available.

Extras:
There’s almost no Lucio Fulci title on DVD with some self-respect that doesn’t have a lengthy featurette that in one way or another discusses Fulci and the movie in question. This time Severin have put together a little it they call Voices from the Dark, a great piece that consists of phone interviews with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti (although he claims that the script was all his and Fulci only commented from a directors view not story wise), Costume director Massimo Lentini, and assistant editor Bruno Micheli. (The Psychic was edited by Ornella Micheli a female editor who edited some of the most famous pieces of Italian genre cinema!) The addition of Bruno Micheli makes it all worth the while, as it’s rare, or never to my knowledge that an editor of an old piece of genre cinema gets to talk about his part in the process, and he gives some valuable input on how disciplined Fulci really was during the shooting of a movie and the amount of takes and scenes the editor had to work with. If only Fulci had been alive to add his comments to the process, this could have been a fantastic extra as there’s a saying in the industry that you make three movies, the one you write, the one you direct and the one you edit. Just imagine those three valuable commentaries on a movie like this! It would be a movie geek’s wet dream. At least it would be mine.

The US Trailer:


And that fantastic score:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Special! A - Z Taught By Italian Exploitation Movie Posters.


A is for Anthropophagous.

Directed by Joe D'Amato in 1980

To Let


To Let
Original Title: Para entrar a vivir
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró
Horror / Thriller, 68min
Spain, 2006
Distributed by: Noble Entertainment

Story:
A young couple comes to an almost derelict house to look at an apartment they have been told about. A strange landlady greets them and gives them a tour of the building, which is in a terrible state; although she assures them that they are rebuilding it. Scrambling up the stairs, past masses of mannequins they finally reach the apartment. Once inside the flat strange things start happening. Items that shouldn’t be there are there, unexplained noises from the neighboring apartments, and an eerie feeling crawls up the spines of the young couple as the landlady says things she shouldn’t know about the couple. But strangest of all is that the landlady talks to them as if they already have moved in and that it’s their apartment…

Me:
Jaume Balagueró. That’s one guy who holds a special place in my black cineaste heart. Just over a decade ago I met him at a Film Festival where Brian Yuzna introduced me to him. (Both where part of the Filmax delegation attending the festival) Balagueró was pre-producing his second feature Darkness (although it took him another three years to finally get it made). I had already seen the impressive promo as I had used it on a movie show I was editing at the time. So we spent some time talking about the promo, movies we liked and stuff like that that movie geeks like to talk about, and he spent so much time shooting the shit with me that I became a fan for real there and then. Because someone so sympathetic can’t really go wrong in my book. And I’m happy for that, as he just keeps the great movies rolling and his career is growing more and more impressive each and every year.

Originally part of “Tales to keep you awake” (Películas para no dormir!), the 2005-2006 Spanish equivalent to Mick Garris' Masters of Horror TV series, To Let is available separately from Noble Entertainment in Scandinavia probably to cash in on the success of their previous smash hit with Balaugeró’s REC. Although the US box set with the other five movies of the series is probably worth picking up too, because directors like Álex de la Iglesia, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador and Paco Plaza, to name a few contributed to the series.


To Let starts off with a spooky little montage setting up the apartment and showing a woman bloodied and battered carrying her crying child through the apartment. She is in her nightwear so we understand that it’s her apartment. Her photographs hang on the walls as she moves into a hallway before a blue light floods the small space leaving both her and the child screaming. Cut to the stairwell and fade to black. Fade up to an interior of a hospital, where a young woman walks out, climbs into a car and is greeted by a man who has been waiting. Here starts the tale of Mario [Adrià Collado who also played the lead in Rigoberto Casteñada’s confusing KM31: Kilometro 31] and Clara, [Macarena Gomez, who you may have seen in Stuart Gordon’s Dagon or Paco Plaza’s Rosamanta] a young couple desperately in need of their own place.


A fast introduction later (this is made for TV so it moves fast), we understand that Clara works at a hospital (She walks out of the aptly named St. Jaume’s hospital), she’s pregnant, they have no where to live and are spending time living with his parents, so off house hunting they go, Clara falls asleep and when she awakes Mario lets on that they are lost in the rain. Finally they arrive at their destination the house that has an apartment to let, yes the same one from the start we realize from the interior shots of the gigantic stairwell. The creepy landlady [Nuria González] guides them through the building and more or less talks to them as if they had already agreed to take the flat, which has Clara feeling at unease. The house is being renovated, the flat has been empty for a year, and it’s still furnished with the last tenants’ belongings. “It has everything a young couple would ever need!” the landlady explains just to be interrupted by a strange sound in the house. Only the child on the first floor the landlady explains and Clara has a dizzy spell. Mario and Clara take to one of the bedrooms so that Clara can lie down and rest, “You should rest in your condition.” The uncanny landlady says without ever being told Clara is with child. And this is just the start of the strange shit about to happen. Mario sees a pair of sneakers under a cabinet, sneakers just like the ones he bought last week, and in the bedroom, Clara finds a framed photograph of her and Mario which could not possibly have been in the flat…

This is the set up for this short movie, just over an hour, but still a very effective movie and it doesn’t loose any pace at all, quite the opposite as it rushes over the viewer with a great force leaving a stern uncomfortable impression after completed viewing. This honestly surprised me, because TV shows don’t usually have that effect, and I haven’t been this affected by an hours worth of TV horror since watching Roan Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected as a young lad. (Yeah the Georgy Porgy episode with Joan Collins which aired in the early 80's. There's a realy sinister aura to that episode that stuck with me for years.)

After the setup, Balagueró builds up to that sudden shock moment which kicks the movie into its next phase, the escape and survive phase. A sudden twist and rush of insight starts the phase off and then keeps plummeting Carla and Mario into this harrowing nightmare which is almost a mixture of Hitchcock-ian suspense meets SAW meets the Texas Chain Saw family. After a fantastic hide and seek sequence Balagueró uses some great eclectic, non linear editing to add to the confusion of where we are in time, jumping back and forth in the narrative before slamming us back in to the nightmare of the house.

The movie moves fast and in only those brief moments of establishment Balagueró manages to create empathy for the young couple and we really want to see them pull through. The above mentioned hide and seek sequence adds to that and miraculously there’s a cell phone scene that plays an important part here, but I’ll return to that later on.

There’s a few amazing scenes that I didn’t expect to see in a TV show, especially when considering that the Masters of Horror show isn’t really as scary as it could have been. It’s probably not fair to compare the MoH and Tales to Keep You Awake, buy honestly there’s not much else to compare it too, and the most of the MoH episodes do have you laughing, or at least sniggering, more than anything else. But To Let really rocks, it’s violent, its gory, it’s fast moving without any tedious sequences, it’s disturbing, innovative and utilizes the best use of shaky-cam that I’ve seen since Evil Dead 2 back in 1987. Cinematographer Pablo Rosso who also shot both of Balaugeró’s REC movies definitely knows what he’s doing and his compositions are visually very similar in tone and colors to the REC movies too. The gore is distressing too, and there’s an amazing kitchen sink disposal grinder sequence that has the characters slipping and sliding around in blood like Bambi on ice.

In more than one way I feel that this movie is brought to life first and foremost by Nuria González, who portrays the Landlady. González has mostly played in comedies and done long runs on TV serials, but she really dominates this movie, is absolutely amazing and definitely someone I want to see more of, because honestly she is one of the most disturbing characters I have seen in ages. Some one should cast her in a leading lady antagonist role as soon as possible.

There are some themes and items that keep reoccurring in a lot of the Spanish Horror flicks that have been turning up on the market these last few years, themes and items that are used in a very effective way considered how contemporary movies in the US use them in ridiculous ways.

Cell phones: As mentioned before there is a cell phone line in the early parts of the movie, and I hate it when cell phones don’t work in horror movies. Because in real life cell phones work almost everywhere, even as I write this from my house deep in the woods where there shouldn’t be any coverage, but there is. So it annoys the crap out of me when ever some lame protagonist pulls up a phone just to show that there is no coverage. Keep the sodding phone off screen and we won’t be insulted over and over again. But, Balagueró and co-writer Alberto Marini do the right thing and use the cell phone in an original way, and not just as a stupid one off scene. Clara has coverage and uses her phone on three occasions. First when Clara calls the cops after the initial attack. She calls them, but to no use as she was asleep when they drove to the address, she has no idea where she is and can’t tell the cops where to come. The second time she tries to find out where she is and calls her mate who we presume lives in the same house as Clara and Mario, as Clara tells her mate Nicky to look through her mail for a flyer announcing a flat to let, because if she gets the address, she can tell the cops where to come save her. Clara hangs up as she once again tries to escape the Landlady. The final time is during the hide and seek scene. Clara just by the inch of a hair manages to evade the sinister Landlady only to have her silly little cell phone signal give her hiding place away. Now that is how to use a cell phone in a horror flick set in an urban milieu.

Children; most of these Spanish horror flicks rely heavily on children as protagonists in either main roles or as secondary parts in subplots. It’s a fairly decent plot device, as children evoke empathy and this trick has been used for ever in the horror genre, but of lately almost every Spanish genre piece features children in either protagonist or antagonist roles. Balagueró uses them all the time (Los Sin Nombre, Darkness, Fragile, REC etc), Guillermo Del Toro likes using them (Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth) Juan Antonio Bayona uses them in The Ophanage… See there is definitely something going on here. I don’t know why, but my theory is that it has something to do with all those children who spent time in Franco’s orphanages after the war and suffered up until his death in 1975. This could be why so many of the movies also have hauntings' taking place in orphanages; Fragile, Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage etc.

I’d like to say something about the ending of the movie, but I really don’t want to spoil this brilliant little short, so all I’ll say is that Balagueró sticks to one of his traditional traits during the final scene and leaves the viewer with a disorder in their gut.

The worst thing about To Let is the terribly silly soundtrack which at times works fine but then it pops over to a sort of 50’s sci-fi warble at times which really hurls me out of the atmosphere that has been crafted so delicately. It’s a pity because that whoohooweeeeewhooohwww sound is only effective if you are watching Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Out Of Space or paying homage it, like Burton’s Mars Attacks. Otherwise keep the hell away from it.

But apart from unexplainable little slipup with Roque Baños score, Jaume Balagueró’s entry to the six episode serial, Tales to Keep You Awake, is a must see for fans of the later wave of Euro horror and a very entertaining movie indeed.

Image:
Widescreen 1.78:1 [Anamorphic]

Audio:
Spanish dialogue, Dolby Digital 5.1. Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish subtitles are optional.

Extras:
That great All the Boys Love Mandy Lane trailer that suckered me into watching that piece of crap, and the trailer for the diabolical film The Mist.

Be aware, this promo does contain spoilers...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Have They Done to Your Daughters?



What Have They Done to Your Daughters?
Original Title: La polizia chiede aiuto
Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Poliziotteschi / Giallo, 1974
Italy, 90min
Distributed by: Shameless Screen Entertainment.


Story:
Vittoria Stori, a district attorney and Police Inspector Silvestri team up to break a mysterious case concerning a young woman, who at first appeares to have taken her own life. But the autopsy shows foul play and pretty soon their leads bust open up a fiendish ring of teenage prostitution lead by men in high positions of society. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a homicidal maniac appears to be one step in front of them, doing his best to eradicate all the witnesses and sending death threats to Stori trying to force her away from the case…

Me:
What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is a fine piece of genre cinema from Massimo Dallamano, perhaps best known for his classic Giallo What Have You Done To Solange? Dallamano was a fantastic director who unfortunately made only a dozen movies in his short career as a director, just less than twenty years, before dying in a car crash in 1976. Although in his short time as a director of fine movies, he really did give us some amazing ones and was no stranger to crossing and mixing genres be it Sexploitation flicks, Gialli, Gothic horrors, or his fantastic Poliziotteschi movies. But Dallamano was not only a director of great movies; he actually started his career as respected cinematographer who shot many of the great westerns including the two first Dollars installments for Sergio Leone.

What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is no exception to his splendid track record. It is a really great movie that has stood the test of time well. In many ways it is so much more satisfying than much of the contemporary movies that I waste valuable time watching.

The movie starts with police officials busting into an apartment only to find a young woman, an apparent suicide, hanged naked from the ceiling. From the start it looks like a routine case, a young woman who took her life after discovering that she was pregnant. (Here’s the reoccurring “illegal abortion” theme previously explored by Dallamano in Solange) But pretty soon the autopsy shows her neck and vertebrae are all bust up wrong for a suicide. She must have been murdered somewhere else and then placed in the attic apartment. Someone has had a hand in her death and the police soon start to piece the bits and pieces of evidence together leading them on a wild goose chase that eventually takes them to the top of the corridors of power. And where many have previously felt that this movie has a sudden lame anti-climactic ending, I feel that it’s quite a fitting ending, especially for being set in the seventies. Year ago there was much respect for the superiors and you never dare to raise a question to those sat with the power. In modern society today we see businessmen and politicians fall from grace each and every day, but back then it wasn’t as common and in some way the nihilistic ending is fitting for the movie. Despite all their hard work they still just can’t get to the real criminals.

What makes What Have They Done to Your Daughters? such an entertaining movie, apart from top notch acting and stunning photography by Franco Delli Colli, is the great combination of Poliziotteschi and Giallo that Dallamano uses throughout the movie. After setting up a conventional Poliziotteschi where clues are searched for, matched and then going after their suspects, gory deaths a fantastic mutilated corpses scene that is really good and definitely one of the best I have seen on screen in ages. No cheap effects here it’s all remarkable stuff. And this combo which started in his previous movie What Have They Done to Solange?, also inspired several other directors to blend the two genres such as Sergio Martino’s excellent The Suspicious Death of a Minor scripted by maestro Ernesto Gastaldi, and Alberto Negrin’s Red Rings of Fear that both play off the underage prostitution Giallo/Polizioteschi angle. Great movies indeed.

After setting up the crime and detective works scenarios, Dallamano throws in a masked, leather wearing killer stalking the district attorney Vittoria Stori [Giovanna Ralli]with a meat cleaver in traditional Giallo style. This gives some of that wonderful stalk and slash sequences that make the Giallo so loveable, and then there is a brilliant car chase sequence that goes on for ages, but feels like a few minutes because it’s so well composed. Inspector Silvestri [Claudio Casinelli] almost has his main suspect within his reach but the killer escapes and takes off on a motorcycle with Silvestri in hot pursuit blasting down small back streets (which is always a joy to see as it probably explains why they always have those damned small cars in Italian Poliziotteschi) before taking to the off road and speeding to safety through a train tunnel. Leaving Silvestri fuming as he once again just by inches misses his man. And this is the way the movie plays out all the way through, Silvestri hot on the heels and just by a fraction missing the suspects as the plot twists and turns towards the finale.

Apart from the great narrative, What have they done to your daughters also has a fantastic score by Stelvio Cipriani, the masterful composer that I feel is easily on par with Morricone's versatillity and tremendous amount of varied genre scores. Featured on several compilation albums the title track to La polizia chiede aiuto is also featured on the great compilation CD The Sound of LOVE + DEATH that can be found as part of the now out of print Luciano Ercoli 3disc box set released by NoSHAME films a few years back. A really fabulous CD that definitely showcases the great music of this equally fantastic composer, Stelvio Cipriani, and has been part of my Cinezilla playlist on my iPod for the last two years. (I have even got my kids singing along to Franco Micalizzi’s title tack to Umberto Lenzi’s Napoli Violenta this summer so the passing on of parental interests is going fine so far.)



What Have They Done to your Daughters? Is a fantastic little gem that engaged me profoundly, as district attorney Stori and Inspector Silvestri try to bust the ring of child molesters. It’s an impressive and solid tale that on several occasions even outshines some of the more known movies of the genre, and I actually feel that this one may even be better than the more know What Have They Done to Solage? Thanks to the guys at Shameless Screen Entertainment it’s finally available on DVD once again and you get the English dub, so no more falling behind trying to keep up with the Italian dialogue with out subtitles of the Mondo Home Entertainment release of 2005 and the early 2000 Redemption release. The only down side to this release is that I would have preferred to have the Italian dialogue with optional English subs, but you can’t get everything you ask for and just a English dub is fine because this is one of hundred of Italian movies that Nick Alexander worked on the dubbing with, which always signifies a decent well worked dialogue.

Image:
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen

Audio:
English Dialouge, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo

Extras:
Trailers for Tonino Valerii’s My Dear Killer, Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders, Sergio Martino’s Torso, Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga (which Shamless painstakingly restored to HIS vision of the movie, not the butchered version available previously), Ruggero Deodato’sPhantom of Death , Lucio Fulci’s Black Cat and the theatrical trailer for What Have They Done to Your Daughters?


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kungsleden


Kungsleden
Aka My Love and I,
aka Obsession
Sweden, 1964
Thriller, 106 min.
Distributed by: KlubbSuper8


Story:
A middle aged man takes a walk on Kungsleden, a trail that goes through the Northern Swedish highlands. A trail he previously walked ten years ago with his girlfriend Leni. That trip ended in the couple calling off their relationship and each going their separate ways… Even though it was a decade ago he last saw her, the man can’t forget Leni, the only woman he has ever loved, and the further through the trail he gets the more confused he becomes over what really did happen all those years ago on Kungsleden…


Me:
A trippy, enigmatic and amazing flick to say the least. There’s a fair amount of these splendid Swedish gems from the sixties/seventies with directors like Torgny Wickman, Arne Mattson and Bo Arne Wibenius to name a few, showcasing some awesome themes, great imagery, fabulous women and suggestive movies in the wake of Ingmar Bergman’s art house recognition. Most of them where already established national auteurs’ that unfortunately got stood standing in the shadow that I feel Bergman held over loads of Swedish filmmakers for a very very long time.


Director Gunnar Höglund had previously written scripts in the romantic drama area using the topic of lost love in the 1952 movie Han Glömde Henne Aldrig (aka Memory of Love) Kungsleden also builds off the themes of lost love, as “You” [Mattias Henriksson] (“You”, yeah that’s the only name he ever gets in the 106 long movie) walks his trail looking for that long lost girlfriend that he walked away from all those years. The movie flagged the tagline: “A Romantic Thriller” which is rather a bold statement I feel, because the movie is indeed a thriller, but there little or next to no romance within. Tomas Seidevall, the responsible publisher of the KlubbSuper8 DVD's, once told me that the movie could be looked upon as a Fight Club in the Mountains, and after watching the movie I really agree, it is like a Fight Club in the Mountains. The movie is very existential as “You” searches for something during his walks over marshes, crosses rapids, and climbs mountains, pondering the mysteries of his life. It should have been called an Existential Thriller instead, which would have been a much better, because the movie is existential to claim the least. And this is set right from the start with an extremely weird surreal opening sequence where a subjective scene of a woman (It’s Leni, [Maude Adelson] the long lost love, we will understand in a few moments) saying that they can’t continue anymore, not after “that”. The camera pans away and starts walking towards the mountains, stops and looks back at her, who replies with a shake of the head. A no is a no. The camera pans away again and once again walks away from her into the wilderness. Then a sharp cut to a close-up of Leni’s face turning to face the camera, gone is the openness of the mountain range, and instead a claustrophobic darkness surrounds her, and for each time she turns her face towards the camera her facial expressions change. From happy to lustful to scared to blank. And after that rather strange set up (which I’ll get back to later on) the title sequence starts. “You” walks the starting trail and pretty soon he starts seeing and hearing stuff that has him remembering his hike ten years earlier with Leni. Enter the flashbacks. Kungsleden relies heavily on flashbacks that run parallel to the main narrative to tell the tale of what happened ten years back as “You” did the walk with his love Leni. Some are confusing, and some are magnificent. In one the use of crashing porcelain brings us back from a confrontation between the two agitated lovers to the somber “You” left in awe as it all starts coming back to him. It’s a great sequence that is excellently composed. Anyhow, quite quick Leni comes across as a pretty unsympathetic character. She isn’t very nice to “You” as she taunts him when he’s afraid to cross the bridge over the rapids, she teases him at bedtime, she makes fun of him when he awkwardly rolls on a condom before they have sex, she mocks him when he falls into the rive they are crossing, she scolds him when he is fascinated by the Lapps violent marking of their reindeer herds comparing it to the Nazi’s number tattooing of WW2, she laughs at him when he tries to make advances on her, she provokes him when he gets jealous that she’s bathing in the nude and flirting with the strangers that she meets on the mountain, and to top it all off she ignores his hurt emotions and goes out for coffee with the Lapp she just met moments ago instead of staying with the distraught “You”. So no, she isn’t a very likeable character. She annoyed the hell out of me to say the least. But then “You”, who hasn’t been a very considerate character either, rather the opposite, a pretty silly, weak person, overthrows the tables when he misreads the signals and rapes Leni, pushing her further away from him than ever before.

So in the past part of the movie, neither character is especially empathetic, but for some strange reason the older “You” evokes empathy. Those lines uttered by Leni in the flashback before the title sequence, “It’s impossible; you must know that, not now. Perhaps in Ten years time when we both have grown older…” are repeated over and over again as well as the sensory reminders of Leni, the scent of myrrh that she washes her hair with, her questioning of local fauna, the things one remembers from the old times. Which gives some sort of nobility to “You” and his quest for the love he once lost. We still do not know what happened, and as the flashback narrative tells us of the past, we are drawn in by the forward movement of the present narrative because those ten years have passed and we feel that “You” should be redeemed and reunited if possible with Leni. And when the imaginary indicators start turning into reality, Leni’s name in the cabin logbook, the myrrh scent on the pillows, the still burning fire, it all adds to the forward movement as we realize that Leni too has returned to Kungsleden, and if she has returned she may quite well be looking for “You” just as he searches for her. Deep inside of our exploitation loving hearts we are all suckers for a happy ending.


Then the Höglund and Bosse Gustafsson (who wrote the original novel and co-wrote the script with Höglund) throw us a curveball as they show us what happened all those years ago, how “You” driven by his jealousy, guilt from raping Leni and fear of rejection takes drastic actions. Actions so terrible that they still haunt him like the day they occurred. The movie grows very dark and harrowing from this moment. Mentally the older “You” relives in his older state how he buries Leni on the mountain, stumbles into a dark cabin and sees the younger version of himself tossing and turning in post murder angst in the cot on the other side of the room, and finally he has terrifying nightmares as the past catches up with him. (There are also glimpses of a possible accident scenario to add to the confusion) The next morning “You” awakens and meets “The Other” [Lars Lind] who is sharing the room with him, a man possibly ten years his senior, who tells him a strange story about the mountains and how time has no influence there. “You” agrees confusedly and remarks that his watch has stopped since he got on Kungsleden, before he notices (or has visions, jus like the visions of Leni earlier on that lead him to the flashbacks) items that used to belong to Leni, her camera rolls and her scarf… “You” becomes convinced that “The Other” was Leni’s killer and follows him up into the high mountains struggling up sharp rocks and harsh mountain faces just too confront “The Other” with his theories. “The Other” laughs at his accusations, and the fact that “You” suffering from severe vertigo is cowering on a small ledge. Never the less, “The Other” pities “You” and offers to help him down the mountain, even though he’s just accused him of being a murderer. “You” climbs down, but snags the rope on a ledge, and when “The Other” instructs him to loosen the cord he yanks it, sending “The Other” falling down the face of the mountain to his death. “You” gathers strength, climbs down the mountain and without finding the body of “The Other” starts hiking back to civilization. End credits roll…

Now how the hell do you interpret this strange and bizarre movie? Well here’s my take and answers to the clues hidden without the flick. The opening shots of Leni shot from “You’s” point of view and the series of close-ups on her face; well this is in a nutshell the movie isn’t it! The rejection is what drove “You” into his personal hell, and when Leni’s face goes from happy as in the start and finally to the dead face of the drowned Leni in the end represents her journey in four quick shots. Obviously “You” is chasing himself; his own guilt drives him into the mountains searching for answers, as he tries to redeem himself for the events that took place there.

That ending when “The Other” falls from the cliff and there’s no body to be found… Here’s my interpretation; “The Other” is “You” as an older man! Stick with me now, because this is going to get heavy. Remember that dialogue between “The Other” and “You” the morning after his nightmare? “The Other” points out that time means nothing in the mountains. Things that happened years ago could just as easy have happened a few days ago, and vice versa… Then together with that voice over just after the title sequence, that warns not to leave the trails with the words “As long as you wander here on the paths nothing can happen to you…” Well if you pay attention you will notice that “You” cuts his cheek just as he sets foot on solid ground again… hence creating the cut that the middle age version of “You” has had on his face all through out the movie. Time does stand still, the young, middle age and older “You” have never left Kungsleden, he’s trapped there, damned to walk the Kungsleden for all eternity. But when he come face to face with the reality he has been neglecting he is freed, you could say that he redeems himself by creating an imaginary him that killed Leni. By killing himself to live he has now found peace and the last scene before the masters hot of him walking away shows his watch now ticking once again.

Kungsleden is a confusing, strange and facinating movie that definitely is a showcase for Mattias Henriksson who portrays both the middle age and young “You” to such perfection that I on more than one occasion was convinced that it was two different actors. Henriksson stared in a few more movies before ending up playing bit parts in TV serials for the remains of his career, a shame on such a promising actor. But once again there’s that looming shadow of Bergman that I started out talking about.

Apart from the hazy wide shots of desolate landscapes, Kungsleden uses an even stranger soundtrack to add to the mystery. Remember Gene Moore’s evocative Wurlitzer score for Herk Havey’s 1962 Carnival of Souls? Well imagine that on a Hammond organ and you have Karl-Erik Welin’s equally disturbing score for Kungsleden. But all in all it adds up for a really surreal, haunting and enjoyable movie.

Höglund followed up Kungsleden with the 1969 Swedish Sin classic …som havets nakna vind (Aka One Swedish Summer) which caused outrage at the censors, and became known as the “most scolded intercourse movie” for it’s explicit content. If this is what made it sell to over forty countries outside of Sweden I will let go untold, but controversial criticism always adds a fair amount of interest for new titles doesn’t it. Next he directed the raunchy sex comedy Som hon bäddar får han ligga (aka Do You Believe in Swedish Sin?). Both films are available from the guys at KlubbSuper8, and his last directorial effort, the splendid kid’s detective/thriller Dante – Akta-re för Hajen! (Aka Dante, Beware of the Shark!) which I have fond memories of watching as a kid back in the golden age of VCR, is on their TBA list along with the interrelationship melodrama Vill så gärna tro’t (aka Want so Much to Believe) where Christina Scholin falls in love with Robert Nash! Groovy stuff to keep an eye open for or pick up what’s available already now.

Image:
1:16.66, color.

Audio:
Mono, Swedish dialogue, sometimes English with Swedish subtitles burned in. Unfortunately there are no English subtitles, on any of the KlubbSuper8 titles except for Sweden Heaven and Hell, which is a pity as they should subtitle them, so fans of wild and wonderful cinema outside of Sweden can enjoy the gems in their catalogue.

Extras:
A short reel showing the pressbook and poster art for Kungsleden, and trailers for Kungsleden, Aldrig med min kofot, Anaconda, Drrapå –kul grej på väg till Götet, Flamman, Jangada, Johan på snippen, Johan på snippen tar hem spelet, Linje sex, Mord i Marstrand, and Morianerna all available from KlubbSuper8.

Sorry no trailer as KlubbSuper8 haven't upploaded one yet and the only one available encourages you to download the movie, and that is just wrong isn't it. :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Django


Django
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Spaghetti Western, 1966
Italy, 88 min.
Distributed by: Atlantic Film.

Story:
Django walks slowly through the dry barren desert dragging a coffin behind him. He first rescues a young woman, Maria, from the claws of two opposing gangs, Major Jackson’s red hooded hoodlums and the Mexican bandits, splicing him in-between the two enemy camps. He claims to be their to avenge the only person he ever loved and sets out on a one man rampage killing all of Major Jackson’s gang but soon proves to have further motives, namely to swipe the gold from Fort Charriba with the help of the opposing Mexican bandits. Gambling high Django goes up against two separate gangs, wedging himself in between the two rival parts in his quest to achieve his two goals, vengeance and money.


Me:
Probably one of the most known Spaghetti Westerns outside of Leone’s fistful of genre classics, Sergio Corbucci’s Django sure makes it’s mark and there’s a very obvious reason that it made an impact full impression back in 1966 when it was released on the big screens and later on when the wonderful world of home entertainment exploded and video tapes hit the shelves of rental stores allover Europe.

Banned when it first hit screens outside of Italy (both cinema and domestically on VHS) due to the sadistic violence and nihilistic tone that the movie holds it’s fair to see why audiences wanting to push further into the genre beyond the Eastwood/Leone westerns start out by tracking down Corbucci’s milestone Spaghetti Western. And even though it has some flaws that distract from the all round experience the movie is a milestone in the aspect that it generated almost thirty, follow-ups and copycat movies.

Corbucci had previously directed four Spaghetti Westerns, nowhere near the brilliance of Django, but like them it was inspired by the dark anti-hero take of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo from 1961, (just like Leone’s Fistful of Dollars the year after) and was an important addition to the army of Italian Spaghetti Westernsthat in cold blood blew the old school American westerns out of the saloon and into the mud outside.

Then there’s the violence and the flip-flopping of characters that make the Italian genre cinema so much more attractive than most of the boring old tricks that other non-European countries where shipping out at the same time. In Django the gore hounds get what they want (although don’t go there today expecting a blood fest, but put in the correct time frame and it’s gore galore, sit like this wasn't happening in other Westerns!) almost fifty hoodlums are torn apart by extensive gunfire from the Gattling gun Django pulls out of the coffin he’s been dragging with him allover the place, prostitutes fist fight in the mud, a preacher gets his ear sliced of and then force fed it, and then there’s the extensive beating that Django takes. And we’re not talking about a few punches to the face and gut here, no first Mexican bandit General Hugo Rodriguez has his right hand man smash the butt of his rifle into Django’s hands some twenty times, then the entire band of Mexicans ride their horses over the mangled digits that Django so skillfully uses to quickly shoot his enemies down. And what good is a gunslinger that can’t use his trigger finger?

A few years ago (when it was released on DVD by Criterion in 2000) I revisited Perry Henzell’s 1972 excellent Jamaican crime flick The Harder They Come, which features the machinegun massacre of Django in a key scene, and as I hadn’t seen Django since years ago I was surprised that the infamous Gattling gun scene was already over and done with before the movie hit the halftime mark, I was convinced that this scene was the grand finale, but nope. Midpoint, or possibly point of no return, as Django wipes out the entire gang that rides with Major Jackson [Eduardo Fajardo], letting only him flee for he hills.

How do you possibly escalate a move after that ecstatic crescendo of death and violence? Well Corbucci moves to new ground and shifts from the classic “Revenge/Vengeance” plot to the “Greed/Money” plot that he and his brother Bruno Corbucci explored in many of their great scripts. Money and greed is almost always the single driving force of all characters in a Corbucci Western. Django befriends, or rather is reunited with his old jail buddy General Hugo Rodriguez, (played by Jóse Bódalo who also just like Eduardo Fajardo and Gino Pernice starred in Corbucci’s Compañeros against Franco Nero four years later) and as they celebrate the victory over Major Jackson’s band Django suggests the plan to raid Fort Charriba and share the gold held there. Stealing from the Fort and hefty heists are a Corbucci trait too, as it is recurrent in several of his Westerns. With the money from the heist, the Mexicans would have enough money to buy nine more Gatling guns that Django claims to be available. And with these the bandits could return to Mexico as heroes with massive firepower on their side. So even here the motif of greed is important.

General Rodriguez can now return home to Mexico a powerful man that will hold a valuable position. His greed drives him into the plan. Needless to say there’s a second twist and Django goes a step further and his greed makes him attempt to double-cross the General and swipe the gold for himself… which brings the first of two main plots full circle the damned bridge over the quicksand, the same where Django saved Maria’s [silently portrayed by Loredana Nusicak] life at the start of the movie, the one that leads on to freedom and the future, Django says to Maria during the opening that he’s not ready to cross the bridge yet, and now that he’s facing it once again it becomes his downfall. The coffin containing the gold slips from the wagon and plummets into the quicksand. Despite Django’s desperate attempts to salvage it he fails, Maria is gunned down by the Mexicans and only due to previously having saved General Rodriguez in prison (yet another unexplored subplot if you ask me) Django gets to keep his life, but only barely and not with his fast gun hands intact. But you can’t keep a good man down, and if he can’t escape his past through hue wealth, he better redeem it in the way he originally set out to do; Vengeance. Needless to say the last part of the movie builds towards the final shootout with Major Jackson and the few remains of his once terrorizing gang, and even though it isn’t as formulated and stylized as later Spaghetti Westerns with their low angles, deep focus, cross cut with extreme close-ups of eyes, fingers and the inedible waiting for the shots to come, because that’s what differs the finale of Italian Westerns over American ones. Where the US movies focus on the actual shootout (i.e. Ford, Houston, Peckinpah) the Italians focus on the mood an atmosphere just before the shots ring out giving us those wonderful moments of cinematic glory. The shootings are over in a few seconds, the villains, or in some cases the heroes are dead, but that moment of pre-death still lingers on emotionally. A Corbucci-esque metaphor for life, it can be slow, tedious and disregarded, but taken from us in the blink of an eye.

I have read several analysis of Django that claim that there are no sub-plots to this magnificent movie, but I tend to disagree and claim that there definitely are subplots to be found, and these are what make main plots click into each other, even if the subplots are not closed. The story of Maria, which is left uncommented, (apart from the information that she used to be the whore of Major Jackson, went over to the Mexicans and then fled from them too, leaving her in the troublesome state she’s in at the start of the movie. There’s the dark “Love story” between Maria and Django. Yes it is there. After he saves her she offers herself to him in the safety of the brothel, and he isn’t late in responding, even if Corbucci chooses to let this happen behind closed doors. This is also what allows Django to tell the story of his dark past later on when he tells Maria that he once knew love and will never know love like that again. And don’t forget that Maria follows him as he makes off with the gold, saving his life before her own is put in jeopardy on the bridge. There’s the “revenge” story that Django unfolds during his visit to the cemetery, and the untold story behind what happened all those years ago. There’s the entire subplot of The Mexican Band of Bandits vs. Major Jackson and his troops, which Django uses in his quest for both his goals, swipe the gold and take his revenge. So to say that there are no subplots is pretty far fetched I feel.

A further directorial trait I love about Sergio Corbucci is his Fellini-esque ugliness that is found in almost everything, the sets really look shitty and abandoned, the prostitutes are butt-ugly, the violence is always way exaggerated, and there’s always a morbid fascination for death and the grotesque in his films. This exemplified in the finale out where Django chews the trigger guard off his pistol (probably wrecking what’s left of his teeth in the process) and uses a cross in the cemetery to wedge his gun in between before slamming his mangled hands on the cock and trigger in the final shootout.

On the down side, I feel that Django perhaps is not the masterpiece that it’s hailed as, as it certainly has its flaws and I feel that Corbucci made some better Westerns after this one, but the main letdown of the movie has to be the terribly poor dubbing and dialogue. Sure, being a fan of Italian movies, I’m all for dubbing and sound overlays, it’s all part of the charm when it comes to Italian genre cinema. Silly voices, awkward grammar, and faulty dialogue, and we all know about the 300 page scripts actors where getting, and just by own decisions slicing away dialogue from, hence creating some of he most memorable Western characters ever…, but it all comes together neatly and with discretion in the majority of cases. But Django unfortunately feels as nobody ever really took the time to look through the dialogue, and then when it was overdubbed it was laid down very sloppy and often out of sync with the actors. Which is a shame, then there’s the soundtrack. Right off the bat, I’m not a big fan of Luis Enriquez Bacalov’s score for this movie at all. Sure there is a damned good push in that title track, DJANGOOOO! With its powerful chorus and all, and god knows it was copied over and over again by others, but the score to the rest of the film just gets me annoyed. Just like the sound dubbing I get a very determined feeling that nobody really gave a damn about this important part. I’m sure that Sergio Corbucci was involved, but to what extent is questionable, as he did script and direct three/four other movies during the same year. Where was Nick Alexander when we really needed him?

Anyhow, Django, a masterpiece or not is a defining moment for Spaghetti Western history, and it makes an impression still today, and is a very enjoyable movie with a great early (not first, contrary to common belief) leading role from Franco Nero as the classic anti hero Django.

Image:
Anamorphic Widescreen 16x9 [original proportion 1.85:1]

Audio:
English Dolby Digital 2.0. Stereo. Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Norwegian subtitles optional

Extras:
So lame that it’s hardly worth calling them extras, but there’s a very weak poster and artwork galley, and a complete waste of space “cast and crew” text that is really just the credits all over again. Unfortunately this Atlantic release is a real shitty print, the colors dip at time to time and there is a lot of damage to the print, but it was a cheap one I found in a box during holiday, and just looking at the Franco Nero as Django artwork on the front of the box made me decide I needed to see Django ASAP. In retrospect I should have waited and ordered the far more superior Blue Underground edition instead.