Thursday, December 31, 2009

Terror


Terror
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Horror, 1978
England, 79min
Distributed by: Studio S. Entertainment

Bad horror movies are the ones that make all those ignorant folks who only like shitty action films that demand nothing from them but chewing popcorn, laugh you right in the face when you say that you like horror films and genre oriented movies. Unfortunately Norman J. Warren’s Terror falls into the category of a bad movie in my book. Not that that necessarily is a bad thing, but this movie did nothing for me. I have a fair guess what that depends on and it’s probably because I’ve seen and cherish the movies that inspired this one way too many times, and even tough I can laugh at the homage’s, it feels lazy and aggravated when the tributes become sloppy rip-offs. Never the less this movie was a modest success at the time of its release and even reached number one at the UK box offices.

Tired of the ole’ Hammer Horror scene and wanting to revitalise the UK horror genre, Warren set out to break new ground with this movie and his previous one, Satan’s Slave 1976 – which ironically holds a Hammerish aura to it. And you have to hand it to them, they did indeed make an impression back in 1978 when Terror just like it’s predecessor became a rather decent success in the UK, and somewhat in the USA. In hindsight it’s perhaps due to the fact that their films, unlike the Hammer movies focused on a detail most important for the youngsters they wanted to see the films; the casts where in their twenties-thirties and not grand old men of the genre like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, allowing their audience to easier identify with the casts. Also I’m certain that the lack of knowledge of what was coming out of other countries at the time made this movie look a lot better than really it is. I'll forever be grateful that I was at the exact right age when the video boom hit and low quality movies where up for grabs in the regional video rentals.
We mustn't forget that the independent low-budget studios have always had the opportunities to get in there ahead of the bigger studios and try out new fields, so when there is no other main competition you end up with a hit on your hands. Even if that often stated “Number one in England” hit, in fact only was for one single week.


The movie is obviously, sometimes painfully, inspired by the Euro horror’s of Italy - Dario Argento’s Suspiria 1977 being the main influence, as Ivor Slanley's crazy jamming soundtrack screams and howls like the Goblin tracks to Dario’s surreal horror masterpiece, the lighting goes all red, yellow and green, as the witch goes about her deadly haunting, and there’s ironically enough even a rather decent smashed windowpane decapitation scene much like the one that would be found in Argento’s Inferno 1980 two years later.

Sure it’s a decent way to kill 80 minutes if you can stay awake for that long, as the movie does have a bunch of fair enough scenes and D.P. Les Young's compositions are interesting to say the least. But it’s obvious that Warren with writers Moira and Les Young (who also shot the movie) and David McGillivray (Who wrote Frightmare, and House of Whipcord, both 1974 with Pete Walker) quickly wanted to get in on the Argentoesque style. It's all about atmosphere, arty deaths and a hot sexy cast, the plot being close to nothing. A mistake often made when watching Gialli.

A movie producer James Garrick [John Nolan] and his mate Philip [James Aubrey who actually starred as Ralph in Peter Brooks Lord of the Flies 1963] have made a very Hammerish movie about Lord and Lady Garrick who attempt to burn the village witch back in the dark ages, but obviously they fail and the witch instead kills the both of them instead. Not surprisingly the chicks at the party think that the movie is scary and even so James cousin, Ann [Carolyn Courage]. James then proceeds to tell them that the movie is based on true events and that there’s been a curse on his (and Ann's) family ever since then. Moment’s later strange shit starts to happen after Ann is hypnotised by Gary leading Ann to attack James with the prop sword, which apparently isn’t a prop but the real deal. After being slapped awake, she runs from the house into the woods. That’s the cue for the murders to kick in, and they do. Carol [Glynis Barber], the actress to star in Garrick’s next movie is chased out into the woods and killed in a very Gialloesque manner. Fast edits keeps the killer and victim separated in each frame - knife hacking in one - screaming bloodied victim in the next coming together in the final rapid orgasmic knife penetrates female flesh clips. After the second murder it apparent that the movie is trying to use Giallo traits to keep the audience in the dark which kind of works, as both James and Ann are our prime suspects and possible protagonists for quite a while. The killings add up to a fair amount of victims in various deaths, crushed and burned by falling a light, garrotted, impaled and ground to mincemeat in a dustbin truck grinder, decapitation by windowpane, and frantic Gialli stabbings. As the movie comes to it’s climax it ends just as abruptly and sudden as the ending snuck up on us. If you are expecting a decent build and a release for that anticipation, then you won’t be finding it here. The final victim has hardly finished drawing breath when the end credits smash onto the screen signalling that its time to go home, or wake up cold in front of the telly again.

All right I can respect what they have tried to do here, and in all fairness I have probably judged the film too hard, but the movie feels rushed, the acting is very varied, some are good and some a pretty bad which make the rift painfully obvious. Then there’s the biggest problem I have and that’s that they don’t really decide what kind of movie they want to be - apart from a pale, watered down Suspiria rip-off that it indeed comes off, even down to the Dolores Hamilton’s Theatre Girls Hostel…

First, there are too many daft red herrings that make me feel stupid for all the wrong reasons. Suspecting the wrong character is not the same as building up the most suspenseful sequence of the film only to deflate it like a whoopee cushion as the man stalking Suzy [Sarah Keller] asks, “Did you want a mechanic?” Yeah it’s great that Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew actually stared in something else besides that god awful (in the worst way) Star Wars Holiday Special for American TV in ’78, but it’s a complete waste of space as it takes a whole load of focus off the main narrative. Wait wasn't Chewie a mechanic too? Oh no! I hope Mayhew doesn't get stuck typecasted as a mechanic...

Also I find it annoying that they start off by poking fun at the Hammer movies with their kitschy period piece, and then go into thriller/Giallo area only to crash back in the supernatural horror and reveal the witch from the “movie” at the start. It’s kind of silly and annoying, just like those fake red herrings. And if they hadn't used all that fog machine smoke from the campy opening, I wouldn't reflect upon the climax in the same inferior way that they opening tries to poke fun at. I’m sure that one could argue and point out that Suspiria mixes Giallo traits with supernatural ones. Yes it does but there’s no frigging smoke, matte painting lightning and BBC archive sound effects in that movie are they. I used those sound effects on my first feeble horror films shot on video back in the eighties too, and they still sound like crap. The witches in Suspiria are the real deal, not the levitating, laughing, shoddy one of Terror. It just doesn’t work and that quick chop bastard witch from hell, ending is pathetic because it’s almost as if they realised halfway through that they forgot the witch who was supposed to be responsible for the murders, and chucked her back in… even though the murder subjects have fuck all to do with the curse.

Second, I feel that the writing team are confused concerning who they want to be the protagonist. Should I give a damn about Ann or James, because the two of them at the same time get too little time on screen or character development to indicate which is the more important? As mentioned earlier, the sequence with Suzy (does that name ring a bell?) is by far one of the best, and if you are going to use Ann’s roommate as a red herring, invest in it instead of just dropping her after that dark night, meeting Chewie without his furs scene.

If they had only stuck to keeping it pure Giallo, just a thriller, even a good old slasher, or only the supernatural, then I’m sure that I would have enjoyed it more than I did now. But never the less Terror is a cult favourite among genre fans and it has a reasonably large following.

Another confusing thing about this movie is that when it was first submitted to the BBFC back in November of 1978, it had a running time of 87m 9seconds. Cut’s where made, but there are no details of the trims made to the film, and the next time the film was submitted for release on DVD and/or Video in 1997 the runtime was 79.25. One could only imagine what may have been shown in those exorcised clips, as eight minutes are a fair amount of film to remove.

There are a some amusing points of trivia in the movie worth pointing out; the blue movie being shot in James studio, is a joke on Warren's behalf, as his first feature was a sexploitation flick, Her Private Hell 1968, regarded as the first English sex film. (What does that make George Harrison Marks Naked as Nature Intended 1961?) Posters to Warren’s previous film Satan’s Slave 1976 and Bo A. Vibenius Thriller - a cruel picture 1974 are hanging on the wall of James office and the multitude of celluloid that engulf Phillip are supposedly prints of Saturday Night Fever 1977, that’s probably true as there also is a few Saturday Night Fever posters (well the logo at least) in the girls changing room behind the nudie bar they all work extra at.
But all is not lost, and even though I didn’t quite get into this movie, Warren still holds an important part in British horror as he and Pete Walker make up the New Wave of English Horror and on a good day the movies he has directed to date still do entertain, and Warren is a regular featured guest at Fantastic Film Festivals around the UK.

Even though I have some fairly harsh opinions on the film, I still recommend that you check out the movie if you get the chance, it is entertaining considering that they certainly don’t make movies like this one anymore… wait the do, but making it as a “first” in the UK thirty years ago is way better than still copying the movies of yesteryear today. When will they ever learn, the movies of the seventies-eighties worked because they where innovative, new and interesting, they also where made for a less cynical and educated audience than the ones that watch the genre today.


Image:
1:1.85 (4x3)

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. English Dialogue, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles are optional

Extras:
A bunch of trailers for other Studio S titles, a French Theatrical Trailer, bio and filmograhy for Norman J Warren, and two trivia texts.

R.I.P. Chas Balun

Anyone who was around in the late eighties-early nineties and had that lust for blood and guts that only the horror genre could deliver recognizes the importance Chas Balun had for (Me) the young gorehounds reading Fangoria and Gorezone back then. But perhaps more so, all those great books he put out through FantaCo. Deep Red Vol 1 & 2, The Deep Red Horror Handbook, Lucio Fulci: Beyond the Gates, Horror Holocaust etc. Each and every page of those books are filled with honest, respectful, wacky articles, reviews and insight into a genre that otherwise didn’t receive too much serious reporting. Chas coined the words Chunkblower and Gutmuncher and invented the ingenious rating system, where movies not only where reviewed and graded, but also rated by their Violence in the legendary GORESCORE. A system that definitely had me searching out more than one move I’d never have cared about before otherwise.

Balun was also a graphic illustrator and cartoonist, creating many fine pieces for T-shirts, books and comics. The before mentioned books where all fully illustrated by Balun’s artwork, and tonight I’ll be wearing my Rotten Cotton/Chas Balun Zombie t-shirt in tribute to Chas.

When I started my academic research and serious writing back in the early nineties, Chas’ books where invaluable for me as they where among the first to actually spotlight the European Genres, outside the academic sphere. There was no arty farty twisting and questioning to prove a point or line of thought – but instead taken at face value for what they where. Chas just wrote it as it was, from that important learned fan point of view. I can honestly claim that each essay or paper, or thesis I ever wrote and handed in had at least one footnote, quote or reference to the many books and insight of Chas. I don't think that I would have started, or had the balls to start writing about the horror genre if not for Chas Balun.
Chas was 61 years of age when he passed away on December the 18th after loosing his battle with Cancer. Rest in Peace Chas Balun - You where a great champion of the genre, your legacy remains and you will be missed.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Night Visitor



The Night Visitor
Directed by: Laslo Benedek
Thriller / Horror, 1971
USA/Sweden, 106 min
Distributed by: VIC Home Entertainment


Laslo Benedek, a Hungarian filmmaker who was brought to Hollywood by MGM studios to make movies in the USA. After a being set in charge of reshoots on Gregory Ratoff’s Song of Russia 1944, uncredited of course, he finally got a chance to direct his first major studio movie; The Kissing Bandit 1948 starring old blue eyes Frank Sinatra in what has been called Sinatra’s worst movie ever. A confusing mash up of western, comedy and musical the movie failed to make an impact and Benedek seemed to have wasted his chance. Three years later, 1951, he’d definitely learned his lesson and directed Death of a Salesman based on Arthur Miller’s play featuring Kevin McCarthy and Cameron Mitchell in leading roles. The movie won Benedek a Golden Globe for best director.

But his best movie was directed in 1953 as the classic biker film The Wild One starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin set the template for those later biker exploitation films of the sixties and seventies, and stayed banned in the UK until 1968.

After almost twelve years of directing TV serials like Perry Mason, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, Rawhide and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Benedek returned to direct his last movies where the impressive American Swedish co-production The Night Visitor 1971 can be found.

The Night Visitor is a superbly crafted little gem that surprisingly has gone missing for reasons that are quite hard to understand. It’s a fascinating thriller with some of the greatest Swedish and British actors, packs a really suspenseful plot and has some great scenes that deserve to be brought forward in a new light.

Filmed on location in Denmark and Sweden, yes the Mental Institute is Varberg Castle in Sweden, this co-production between Sweden and USA tells the tale of Salem [Max Von Sydow – from all those stunning Ingmar Bergman movies; William Friedkin’s The Exorcist 1973, Dario Argento’s great return to the genre he perfected – Sleepless 2001, and soon to be seen in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood 2010 to name a few of the great movies this iconic actor has been in] who is trying to take revenge for being sent to the mental institution for a murder he did not commit. Through an ingenious use of a self crafted skeleton key, his clothes, bedding and fishing line he crafts a rope that allows him to exit and return to his cell at the institute as he wants. This is why he’s running around in the snow in his underwear every time he’s out of his cell.

And when he’s out of his cell, the innocent man ironically becomes a murderer in his sinister plan to create justice. The plan is complex (although simple in narrative form) as Salem plans to murder and leave threads that lead to his brother in law Dr. Anton Jenks [Per OscarssonArne Mattson’s Vaxdockan 1962 and more recently as Holger Palmgren in the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy – which I have no interest in seeing at all]. The first night sees him entering the Doctor’s house as Jenks discusses with his wife Ester [Liv Ullman – Again a fantastic Bergman actor and star of Jan Troell’s brilliant Utvandrarna 1971 and Nybyggarna 1972. Her portrayal of the fragile and vulnerable Kristina should have given her an Oscar in my opinion] and Emmie [Hanne Bork – who only ever starred in this movie] the ” situation with Salem”. Salem steals morphine, a syringe and one of the Doctors ties before paying a visit to Bitte [Lottie Freddie, who also only ever starred in this one] a young woman that he seduces and leaves dead. Jenks receives a call from Bitte’s parents and he goes out to their house to examine he young woman, and the first of Salem’s set up devices is exposed. A bundle of ties have been shoved into Jenks doctor bag. When the police Inspector [Trevor Howard - Carol Reed’s The Third Man 1949 and Carmilo Vila’s The Unholy 1988] starts investigating, he quickly starts putting the pieces together, a strangled victim and a distressed doctor with ties in his bag, ties that later prove to have the same perfumed chest rub as the first victim was wearing. Back at home, Jenks and Ester discover that Salem has been there too and bludgeoned Emmie to death!

Oscarsson is brilliant in his movie as the terrified Jenks to whom Salem shows himself briefly before going about his vengeance plan. Oscarsson twitches, jerks and screams in fear and panic that Salem has escaped from the asylum - supposedly impossible. He faints and that’s when the darned parrot is introduced. A parrot that will be of great importance for the final twist at the end of the film, and was the title of the Swedish release of the movie: Papegojan.

The Inspector pays a visit to Dr. Kemp [Andrew Kier from all those wonderful Hammer movies – Terrence Fisher’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass and the Pit 1967, Seth Holt’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb 1971. Not forgetting Gordon Flemying’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150AD 1966 which sees Hammer legend Peter Cushing returning as Dr. Who for the second time]. Dr. Kemp runs the institute - a great use of Varberg Castle, that really looks like a menacing and freezing place to be captive - where the Inspector hopes to further his inquiries into the killings and to see if there is any chance of Salem actually being responsible for the murders as Jenks claims. He sits down with Salem who delivers a splendid reference to that great scene in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal 1957 as he asks The Inspector ”Would you care for a game of chess?” Not only a reference to that iconic scene, but also a great metaphor for the movie plot as Salem taunts the detective and the Jenks family throughout, having planned all his moves to the smallest detail. This eye for details and planning ahead is reflected in a conversation he holds with the warden Pop [Arthur Hewlett] as they play a friendly game of chess though the food hatch in the cell door prior to Salem’s first revealed escape.

Salem acknowledges the crime he is institutionalised for and tauntingly set the game with the detective in motion. But the detective isn’t having it, he knows that there is something fishy going on and even though all the evidence points towards Doctor Jenks, he’s hot quite sure that Salem is telling the whole truth, and is actually locked away as tight as Doctor Kemp and Salem claim that he is.

Needless to say by this time the plot has been established and the suspense wound up to a great high, and the last act will have you biting your nails as you move towards the climax, revealing how all the crimes and Salem’s plot are connected.

Holding an almost Hitchcockian feeling with the unease of Bergmanesque despair to it, the movie plays off traditional ”let the audience in on the plot before the characters” trick so frequently used by Hitchcock, and ”underdog getting away with the perfect revenge” a excellent choice as we almost always by default become empathetic towards underdog characters. And as soon as we know reasons for his incarceration we start to sympathise with him and actually want him to succeed in his plan. Add to that the anguish of the characters that all shift between terrified feeble beings to coldblooded maniacs just like Bergman frequently portrayed his characters, and it gives a fascinating and intriguing blend.

Von Sydow gives an illustrious performance as Salem the crazed man on a mission, and does a great deal of running around in the freezing cold inter in his undies, and a fair amount of climbing to and from high spaces. His second escape from the asylum is very tense and it’s a delight to watch his cunning devices and methods as he once again breaks out of his captivity. But the splendid finale sees him frantically, and painstakingly returning to the prison fighting both the elements and time, as he must return to his cell before the police open the door to his cell.

Benedek brings out the best in his actors that are top notch here; Sydow, Oscarsson, Ullman and Howard are terrific, supporting cast members, Kier, Rupert Davies as Judge Clemens [also seen in Michael Reeves Wichfilnder General 1968, Freddie Francis Dracula has Risen from the Grave 1968 and the leading man of Pete Walker’s Frightmare 1974), and Arthur Hewlett’s gumpy gnome like prison warden Pop are very entertaining.

The movie also has a great soundtrack by the masterful Henry Mancini – composer of such classic tunes as the Pink Panther Theme, the score to Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce 1985 (uncredited of course...), and the beautiful Moonriver from the Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961 soundtrack.

And to top it all off, the movie was produced by Mel Ferrer, and I’m surprised that his notoriety within the European genre pieces of the seventies and eighties (Alberto De Martino’s The Antichrist 1974, Sergio Martino’s excellent Giallo The Suspicious Death of a Minor 1975, Flavio Mogherini’s The Girl in the Yellow Pyjamas 1977, René Cardona’s Guyana: Crime of the Damned 1979, Sergio Martino’s Big Alligator River 1979 Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive, and Nightmare City both 1980) would have attracted the attention of genre fans, and it by far the most interesting piece he would produce.

It still puzzles me why this movie became a lost gem, it’s well written, splendidly acted and has a very captivating narrative and an excellent overall atmosphere to it. The cinematography by award winning Henning Kristiansen is fine, there’s a splendid little twist at the end, a very Hichcockian twist if you like, and the movie is really very entertaining. It’s my highest recommendation that you seek out this movie and enjoy the magic of this lost gem as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.


Image:
1.33:1 - Full frame 4x3

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono 2.0. English Dialogue, that is spoken by the actors in their broken English, which is fascinating to hear.

Extras:
Previews for other titles released by VCI Home Video, among them; Ugo Liberatore’s semi sleazy Oxford decadence flick May Morning from 1970 starring Jane Birkin and John Steiner and Bill L. Norton’s cult TV movie Gargoyles 1972 with it’s special effects and scary monsters crafted by the late Stan Winston. There's a little photo gallery and short biographies for several of the cast and crew and finally the Theatrical Trailer.

Here's a glimpse at the first part of the movie that should lure you into the charm of this fascinating piece of film.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thriller - a cruel picture



Thriller – a cruel picture
Original title: Thriller – En grym film
Directed by: Bo Arne Vibenius
Thriller /Sexploitation, 1974
Sweden, 104min
Distributed by: Synapse Films


Sweden, Sweden, Sweden… What ever happened to the movies of Sweden. This country produced some of the most interesting directors, movies and actors ever, and then it all went to the shitter. Swedish movies of today have no edge, no charm, they are all either detective movies with the same five actors over and over again, shitty comedies trying to recapture some of the brilliance of the seventies cuteness – unfortunately with the same actors of then too, debut features focusing on immigrant culture clashes or disturbed abstract art fuck too dark and introvert to ever gain wider recognition or make an impression as on lee the director has an slight idea of what the heck he’s trying to say. Who actually green lights these films, and where's the gambles?

I have news for all of them; it’s all been done so much better some twenty-thirty-forty years ago. There’s an ignorance among the young audiences of today that is disturbing. People do not know their own celluloid inheritance, they sigh at Bergman’s name, calling him boring, they have no idea of directors like Arne Mattsson, Torgny Wickman, Bo Arne Vibenius, Bo Widerberg, Gunnar Höglund, Jan Halldoff, not forgetting our own flock of low budget exploitation masters Mats Helge Olsson, Peter Borg and many others.

Yeah I keep going back here and saying the same thing, many directors where lost in Bergman’s shadow, but it’s important that we always push forth these guys because they are the alternative directors, the directors that need to be profiled here in Sweden. I can’t understand when I meet who say that love the American and European Goth, Crime, Sleaze and Sexploitation flicks but haven’t even seen the Swedish pieces. The ones we need to embrace…

Most audiences of today don’t know shit. They go to the cinema, eat their fucking popcorn and all become professional movie critics, not knowing anything of the astonishing movies shot in and around Stockholm. If you don’t know background, then you really shouldn’t try to shoot your mouth of, if your frame of reference only goes as far back as the last Ulf Malmros/ Kjell Sundvall / Josef Fares flick. (Decent enough directors, but not my cup of tea)

One of my ambitions in life is to somehow establish a Swedish film museum that isn’t all about the great Ingmar Bergman (with no sarcasm attached – Bergman was the greatest and there’s no denying that and he would be featured), but also showcase these other fantastic craftsmen and artists in the light that they need to be exposed in. Even if it’s only a six-month exhibition in town, it needs to be done. Every country should have it’s own movie museum to enlighten those with an interest for trivia and facts. Yeah, a shrine to domestic cinema geekness.

Thriller - A cruel film directed by Bo Arne Vibenius under his Alfred Fridolinski pseudonym – and most of the crew used pseudonyms on this one too - is a provocative, wonderful example of the golden age of that genre warping period during the seventies. For sure, this movie wouldn’t ever be made today, and considering that Sweden has the oldest board of censors in the world, established already in 1911 – give a man a break will you! They just invented cinema and some beurocratic sod wants to review everything that is shown already… it says a lot about Sweden – it’s no wonder that Thriller ran into trouble for it’s violent and sexual content. When it was screened to the board on the fourth of April 1973, they banned it there and then. It’s often it’s claimed that Thriller was the first movie to be completely banned in Sweden, but that’s not entirely true, as this honour goes to Arne Ragneborn and his 1957 film Det Händer I Natt (It happens tonight). Ragneborn was so outraged by the decision that he never directed another movie again. Just over a year later Thriller was up for review again, this time in shorter form, with a new English dialogue soundtrack, and once again they hammered a no go ban on the movie. But Vibenius, being the clever guy that he is, had already set about selling the movie overseas with the moniker ”Banned in Sweden” a genius stroke as Sweden was supposedly the most sexually liberated place in the world, and a movie banned there... The cunning promotion would eventually pay off and the film would hit the States right in the gonads. Supposedly it’s this shorter overseas version, under the name They Called her One Eye that was submitted to the board a third time mid 1974. (The English dialogue version was also the second one presented to them) With a whole suggestion of scenes to be axed from the film (the infamous eyeball scene, two of the revenge/murders and the strangulation of Heinz Hopf in the final reel – the hard core sex scenes where all ready out. And no, that's not Lindberg getting porked, but frequently hired adult actors of the time who Vibenius brought in for the parts.) and somewhere near 22minutes shorter than that initial version the movie was finally released with the highest age limit possible to the theatres. It only played for about a week before disappearing from the screens. Although the movie did return during the video boom, and it did have some success overseas in the States as They Call Her One Eye. A movie that is among one of Tarantino’s favourites and his affection for Lindberg hasn’t gone unnoticed over here.

Thriller is a fascinating movie, and there’s no way you can get around it. Being a rather uncomplicated rape-revenge movie it see’s Christina Lindberg [Gustav Wiklund’s Exponerad (Exposed) 1971, Torgny Wickman’s Anita – ur en tonårsflickas dagbok (Anita: Swedish Nymphet) 1973 and Norifumi Suzuki’s Sex and Fury 1973. Lindberg also reprised her role as Frigga in the underground classic Sex, Lögner & Videovåld 2000] as Frigga - Madeleine in the English Language version – who’s been mute since her uncle molested her as a child. The choice of keeping the character a mute was a brilliant decision as Lindberg’s delivery of dialogue wasn’t her greatest skill. She lives with her parents on their farm and as she one day stands looking when the next buss to town goes by the sleaze-bag Tony (Heinz HopfArne Mattsson’s great Mördaren – En helt vanlig person 1967, and Smutsiga Fingrar (Dirty Fingers) 1973 – Where’s the friggin' DVD release of that one? Also in Wicklund’s Exponerad against Lindberg and Bergman’s Award Winning Fanny and Alexander 1982, to name a few of the many fantastic movies he starred in.) offers her a ride into town. He takes her to his pad, and after getting her drunk to the point where she passes out he gets her addicted to heroin. Frigga tries to escape on several occasions, only to have Tony scar her for life, and in the process create one of the most fantastic iconic images ever; after stabbing her in the eye with a scalpel (supposedly the eye of a real corpse, hence the nauseating realistic scene) Frigga takes to wearing that hot eye patch over the gaping hole that once was her eye. Tony the creep now has leverage over Frigga as he forces her into prostitution in return for each day’s fix of smack. A variety of sordid customers come and go after having their way with Frigga, who is all alone in this dark world of extortion and grimy sex. Her only friend Sally [Solveig Andersson – from Torgny Wickman’s films Skräcken har 1000 ögon 1970 and Eva – den utstötta 1969] tells Frigga of the vile letter that Tony has sent to Frigga's parents telling them that she wants’ nothing to do with them anymore. This letter led her parent’s devastated and committing suicide. This is the spark that is needed for Frigga to start planning her revenge. As each customer pays her, she pockets a small percentage of the cash herself and pays for karate, driving and shooting lessons. As each day goes by she’s one step closer to taking her revenge, and after Sally dies it’s payback time. One by one she tracks her exploiters down and kills them with that fantastic stone cold look on her eye patched face, and yes, even the hot lesbian [Despina Tomazani - who is also in Singapore Sling 1990 director Nikos Nikolaidi's The Sweet Bunch 1983] gets a shotgun to the gut. Even the cops try to stop this one-woman murder machine culminating in that amazing eight minute slow-motion sequence of carnage. Finally after asking a hot dog vendor [Vibenius in a cameo] for directions, Frigga stands face to face with the fiendish Tony who first is shot in the kneecap, an IRA favourite, and then slowly decapitated in an ingenious device consisting of a rope, a horse and a bucket of apples.

There’s no way around it, Thriller is an amazing and impressive movie, that definitely stands out like a sore thumb in the eye of every cineaste – in a masochistic and pleasurable way that is.
The slow pace, the sparse use of dialogue, that stunning eye gouging, the sleaziness, the graphic hardcore inserts that leave nothing to the imagination, the gritty violence and the overall cynicism of the movie make it a masterpiece unlike any other. It’s simply one of those must see movies, and I still find it entertaining upon each revisiting – Christmas day night, a perfect ending to a stressful day. It was quite a while ago I last saw it before that, back in 2004 when it resurfaced on DVD, but back in the nineties I saw it quite a few times after a true cineaste I know (It’s you again Stefan) actually spent time with Vibenius reassembling Thriller, and his third feature, the completely insane and splendid Breaking Point 1975, to their original form. Needless to say many party nights ended up as movie nights watching old Swedish psychotronica – Thriller and Breaking Point being the new found lost treasures. Like a modern day ring virus, You have to see this film! was probably one of the most common drunken slurs when meeting fellow friends of mind-expanding movies out on the town. I’m almost certain that the Synapse DVD is from the same source as that was the version they assembled on VHS. I also received an original Swedish poster, which still is one of the most cherished entries in my movie poster collection.

So how come Bo Arne Vibenius, who had worked on several award winning movies; with Ingmar Bergman - Persona 1966 and Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf) 1968, Kjell Grede’s Hugo och Josefin 1967, Gunnar Höglund's Raskenstam 1983, Bo Widerberg’s Mannen på Taket (Man on the Roof) 1976, Vilgot Sjöman’s Tabu 1977, - all very good and respected productions - become the man responsible for one of, if not THE most renown Swedish exploitation flick ever?
After writing and directing his debut feature, the children’s movie Hur Marie träffade Fredrik, åsnan Rebus, kängurun Ploj och… (How Marie met Fredrik, Rebus the Donkey, Ploj the kangaroo and…) 1969, the anticipated success failed to come even though the movie received decent reviews at the time. The movie, in many ways before it’s time as it’s narrative is told from the children’s point of view, and features a fabulous sequence where during a high speed police chase on go-carts, Marie and Fredrik along with the police officers in pursuit take a break to eat cakes and drink pop before resuming the chase, is great stuff indeed and would probably work better today… Frustrated and disappointed he decided to make a movie that would appeal to all, and bar nothing from the process. Vibenius is often quoted as saying “I’m going to make a super commercial piece of shit movie”, and the results talk for themselves, Thriller is still talked about in pop culture, and being acknowledged by Tarantino as an inspiration for Kill Bill Vol. 1 2003 you know it made an impression.

I just wish that the stars could align correctly at one point in time and present a complete Vibenius Collection, because all three movies of his films to date (never give up the faith!) are all stunning pieces of craftsmanship. Hur Marie Träffade Fredrik is hilarious, like mentioned previously has a unique narrative, and I’d love to re-watch it with my own kids as I enjoyed it myself that one time I saw it ages ago on video. I’d almost kill for a decent release of Breaking Point as the memories I have of it are that it’s completely surreal, even more provocative than Thriller and was shot in the area of Stockholm where I used to live. Actually the video society Art Video Club that I worked for had our premises on the other side of the street to the school where Bob Bellings kidnaps a child in the movie. We freaked when we realised that we where a step from the location.

Thinking of the irony of Vibenius' “I’m going to make a super commercial piece of shit movie” statement made after the first film, it’s easy to feel its the kind of quote that makes legends, as this commercial piece of shit movie is the one that Bo A. Vibenius will be forever remembered for…

Until he releases some new piece of celluloid fury upon us that is, and that isn’t completely impossible, as there are frequently rumours of new films in the works. All from Thriller 2 – were Frigga is hired by a and of guerrilla soldiers in South America to start a revolution, and eradicate Drug lords and the CIA, to the futuristic Z-Rider (I have had the fortune to read a synopsis that was one of those, I have to see this, moments.) Whatever Vibenius comes up with, I'm sure it would definitely be a movie that all the fans of the masterful Thriller – a cruel film would line up to see, or buy when that desired DVD box set finally materialises.

The version that Synapse Films have released is the complete long version that all those years ago was submitted to the censors in all its gritty, sleazy grandeur…


Image:
1.78:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono - Swedish or English dialogue is optional, and English subtitles are available

Extras:
Where as I complained the other day that the Synapse release of Jesus Franco’s She Killed In Ecstasy was lacking, this one is filled to the brim. An extensive gallery of stills, original TV-spots and theatrical trailers, outtakes, the story in pictures, an alternative harbour fight sequence, and a photo document on that unused fight sequence that the lab accidentally destroyed in post.




Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Night Fulci Cameo #3

She Killed in Ecstasy



She Killed in Ecstasy
Original Title: Sie tötete in Ekstase
Directed by: Jesus Franco
West Germany / Spain, 1971
Thriller / Horror (barely)
Distributed by: Synapse films

I get the feeling that every Jesus Franco DVD released contains the ”Franco’s finest film” on the shallow synopsis on the back of the cover. Quite possibly it’s true, as Franco certainly is an eccentric jack-of-all-trades who goes with the flow, working with a multitude of producers and almost reinventing his style for each collection of titles directed for the various production houses. It is an impressive amount of movies he's churned out, and when financed appropriately by the varied producers he's come up with some classic movies. Some gave him larger means, other lesser, but Franco always makes the most of it and gives his best to deliver what is expected.

She Killed in Ecstasy is a pretty straightforward movie during its 73 minutes and continuous zooming in and out of the compositions, as the beautiful Soledad Miranda [here billed as Susann Korda – who starred in eight of Franco’s movies] who is happily married to Dr. Johnson [Fred Williams – also a Franco regular]. But after Johnson’s research and experiments on human embryo’s is rejected and he’s exiled from the medicinal world, he goes insane, finally committing suicide… The grief ridden Mrs. Johnson goes on a killing spree to make the committee responsible for her husband's death pay with their lives. The committee, a bunch of Franco regulars, consisting of Professor Jonathan Walker, [Howard Vernon], Dr. Franklin Houston [Paul Muller], Dr. Crawford [Ewa Strömberg – a Swedish actress who started out in Pippi Långstrump director Olle Hellbom’s 1959 classic Raggare! and also starred in Arne Mattsson’s fantastic Mördaren – En Helt Vanlig Person 1967] and Dr. Donnen [Franco himself]. Mrs. Johnson stalks, seduces and kills all four of them and for good measures Franco has thrown in Horst Tappert as the police inspector not only investigating the death of Mr. Johnson, but also the killings of the other doctors. But it’s not much of an investigation as he merely participates in a few scenes, not really giving the impression of investigating at all, but asking the question: "What kind of maniac would commit these kinds of murders?" Just in case we hadn’t grasped that Mrs. Johnson was crazy.

Soledad, flirts, seduces and kills her way through the lot of them, in a rather dull fashion, apart from the murder of Dr. Crawford who she first enjoys a little lesbian flirt and romp with before killing with a plastic see through cushion. A great little scene as the camera stays in a master shot only to intercut the close-ups of Strömberg suffocating through the plastic. Finally Mrs. Johnson’s work is done, and she is reunited with her dead hubby in death as she drives her car over a cliff… an profoundly ironic scene as the seductive and tender Soledad Miranda herself would die all to young in a tragic car accident herself in 1970.

She Killed In Ecstasy is one of the more familiar movies of Franco’s, possibly because he claims Miranda’s performance to be one of his own personal faves. Strangely Franco, just like Amanda de Ossorio, supposedly doesn’t like his own movies at all. It’s sad, because there are a few gems in there. Unfortunately She Killed in Ecstasy is a shambles of a movie, almost completely lacking of suspense, filled with terrible zooms back and forth, poor editing, corny dialogue, really lame scenes of seduction and sex scenes that are about as erotic as taking the trash out, but it does have a great soundtrack and Soledad Miranda.

She Killed in Ecstasy is more or less a reworking of one of his previous movies: The Diabolical Dr. Z 1965 based on a novel by David Kuhne, which for the uninitiated is one of Franco’s several pseudonym names. Although Franco in his turn probably based The Diabolical Dr. Z, or the much more attractive original title Miss Muerte on Cornell Woolrich’s novel the Bride Wore Black which also sees a young woman track down a bunch of strangers and kill them one by one after they accidently killed her husband.

Woolrich’s novels have provided inspiration for several others during the years, Rendezvous in Black provided the basis for Umberto Lenzi’s fascinating Giallo Seven Blood-Stained Orchids 1972, The Bride Wore Black for Francois Truffaut’s 1968 film of the same name and It Had to be Murder for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window 1954.

Reusing previous successful plots is also a frequent Franco attribute, his breakthrough feature, The Awful Dr. Orloff 1962, uses the template - mad scientist attempting to recreate his wife/girlfriend/lovers disfigured face with the faces of innocent victims, loosely based on Franju’s Eyes Without a Face 1960, and acted as the stencil for many of his films including the terrific Faceless 1987, and the wife/girlfriend/lover out for revenge after a death of a loved one was also one of his key models to work from.

In all honesty it’s easy to list the personal favourite dozen of good movies over the almost two hundred movies he’s directed, but it’s almost impossible to write that list of the ”best” Franco titles without offending other fans of the man, as the beauty of Franco is in the eye of the beholder, be it the surrealism, the eroticism, the nudity, the many muses, the period pieces, the sado/masochistic decadence, the imagery, or simply the fantastic jazzy, funky soundtracks that propelled the movies forth. Soundtracks that Franco, a highly talented musician too, often played on himself.

Each fan of the remarkable Jesus Franco has their own little niches of Francomania that they prefer. I know mine and you probably know yours!

But even with the low percentage of decent films of choice, you have to respect Franco, he filmed, edited, scored, wrote, directed, produced to keep the movies coming, and I find that in even the shittiest of his productions there’s always that one little nugget; a scene or a image, or a glimpse of magic that makes it all worth while. This is what lays the foundation for my complex relationship to him and his movies. At one point in time I had somewhere close to ninety Franco movies on VHS (I used to work in two video store’s, one a shop that rented out UK imports, and the other that concentrated on imports from Holland, Greece, Germany, Japan, Usa etc, so there was always a new Franco film on the shelves to watch. Which reminds me, one of our customers was such a Franco buff that he went to Spain, found Franco and became involved in several of his films during 2001 – 2005, acting, editing and filming you name it. I still think that Peter is one of the coolest mohtherfuckers ever for actually making that happen in his life.) Anyhow, I used to watch so many of his movies that just fell right out of the VCR into the voids of oblivion. But some of them had that one damned little sparkle that made them worth hanging onto. On one occasion, I think it was the 1983 flick Cries of Pleasure that was incredibly tedious and slow, but then suddenly, during a Franco mandatory lesbian makout scene, this one on a boat, the camera circled the boat two or three times (obviously making the most out of the shot), and the ocean surrounding the boat is still completely blank. That one little scene surprised the heck out of me; it got me excited, engaged, and enthusiastic. (The movie didn’t get any better after that scene though.) I couldn’t for the life of me understand how he’d managed that shot. I’ve seen and shot enough helicopter scenes of my own to know that the rotors of the chopper at that distance would have had water spraying all over the place, the shot couldn’t have been taken from a second boat as the rest of the ocean still was crystal blank. I started imagining some sort of pole extended from the mast with the camera attached to that spun round the boat, filming the minge munching actresses, and that’s still how I think he pulled it off. By using his creativity and coming up with something that his tight budget wouldn't have allowed him to do. And that’s Franco in a nutshell, which also leads to one of the most persistent rumours and comments that people will state when mentioning his name – Franco the zoom king.

Actually Franco didn’t really use the zoom as much as one would think, but during certain time periods, and due to tight budgets, zooming in and out of faces, items and scenes made the need for counter shots and cut always unnecessary, less set-ups where needed and valuable time was saved.

Such was the case with the films Franco directed for German producer Artur Brauner, tight budgets, forced Franco into situations where to make the most out of the movie relied of the zoom gimmick and reusing most of the casts from previous movies he’d directed there.

That’s why you almost have all the ensemble from Vampyros Lesbos 1971, The Devil Came From Akasava 1971 returning in She Killed in Ecstasy, which by the way was one of the four films Franco directed in 1971 - X312 – Flight to Hell being the fourth.

The movies of this time period also saw Franco collaborating with musicians Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab, who worked with him on She Killed in Ecstasy, Vampyros Lesbos and The Devil Came from Akasva. The result - three fantastic soundtracks that still are enjoyable today, and where featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown 1997. Filled of psychedelic, sitar/funk/jazz they are truly three amazing soundtracks that are possibly the best thing about the movies of this period. If you are lucky you can still get your hands on the limited release 3 Films by Jess Franco CD released by Lucertola Media back in 1995 – it will perk any party, that is for sure.

So you have to hand it to the guy, as Franco has directed an impressive amount of movies, worked with Orson Welles after he was highly impressed with Franco’s craftsmanship, was requested to come visit Buñuel after the two of them where declared the most dangerous filmmakers by the Catholic Church, has a reputation for staying within budget and keeping his projects on time, and during the glorious eighties had three films on the infamous Video Nasties list in the UK and to finally recognize his importance, he was rewarded with the Goya (Spanish Academy Awards) Lifetime Achievement Award last year for his contributions to celluloid history.


Image:
1.66:1

Audio:
German dialogue, English subtitles optional

Extras:
There really should be a re-release of this title to flesh out the extras because the only thing the disc offers is the original theatrical trailer.


Here's some of that great soundtrack for you, and a suave six minute version of the flick.