Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Mondo Cane Collection


THE MONDO CANE COLLECTION
Directed by: (Paolo Cavara), Gialtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
Italy, 1962, 1963, 1969
Mondo, 108min, 95min, 128min
Distributed by: Trinity Films

Mondo... Italian for World. Cinematically the world as the Italian exploitation filmmakers saw it… But also a magnificent and disturbing genre, which still delivers a profound punch in the gut amongst the laughs and gasps, which it presents along the way. A genre that definitely brings a series of mental images and conscious emotions with it… Fascination, curiosity, humour, repulsion, shame, guilt… usually in that order too, because almost every Mondo movie entertains up to a certain point and then leaves a sour aftertaste when the morbidity of our voyeurism sets in.

The Mondo genre - a bizarre and eclectic approach to pseudo documentary blending authentic and staged footage that undeniably leaves an impression on it’s audience whatever narrow niche of the genre it determines to explore.

The fascinating part of it is that Mondo taps right into our everyday voyeurism - which we all have weather you want it or not – if you see an ambulance on the side of the road you will start to look for the “accident”. There’s really not much difference between the Mondo genre and an evening of television entertainment. You can watch people get drunk, piss themselves and get intimate if you like, you can see religious self-flagellation on the news every Easter, you can watch animals being killed for food on almost every nature documentary on discovery channel, and since the news channels started making spectacles of live correspondence from war scenes there’s no limit to the amount of mutilated and dead corpses that get air in the midst of prime time, not to forget all those “I’m to fat, sexy, ugly, blah, blah blah” shows that air before midnight on many of the channels offering alternative pseudo documentaries as part of their programming. Not to mention the Internet… if you want to see death in the white of the eye without the psychological safety net that it may be staged footage, then the internet is a lethal swamp filled with crazy stuff to settle your voyeurism.

But Mondo is still very much still part of culture, the main difference being that it’s now packaged as news, or viral videos on the Internet. But there is one point that has to be made and that’s that the movies that make up the genesis of the Mondo genre are still a very powerful and haunting movies that still pack a terribly hard punch in the gut of the audience.


Back in 1962, Mondo was the new kid on the block. Franco Jacopetti & Franco E. Prosperi and Paolo Cavara’s documentary Mondo Cane took to the world with a mission to showcase exactly how strange things where outside of the Italian border. So in a way Mondo Cane is something of a jolly good old travelogue compilation that chooses to focus on the more peculiar things instead of the regular tourist traps. And there’s no argument at bay, because Mondo Cane is a damned entertaining movie indeed. It’s a sinister and delightful chamber of oddities told though suggestive alternate cultures, shocking death and ferocious closures to life.

Friskily taking the piss out of everything by rapid edits to give a polarizing effect between baleful juxtaposition evoking gasps, gags and guff’s, and a wonderfully suave and quirky score by Riz Ortolani’s magnificent score – yes the brilliant Riz Ortolani score that featured the Academy Award nominated track More (Written by Ortolani and Nino Oliviero) which has been covered by a whole bunch of famous artists, even Old Blue Eyes himself. Don’t get this wrong as way to many other do, it was nominated, but it didn’t win the Best Original Song Award, as that went to James Van Heusen’s Call Me Irresponsible from George Marshall’s Papa’s Delicate Condition. That’s the end of that constant error.

And then there’s the narration; the narration of these movies should have been enough to win an award themselves. Cynical, degrading, misogynistic, blatant lies slandering for our enjoyment but at the same time terribly amusing, and you have to take it for what it is. Idiosyncratic and playful, not actual fact, but rather skilfully crafted text that nails it’s point over and over again with enthralling conviction and skill. Conviction and skill that had the movie nominated for the Gold Palm Award at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival and a win at the David di Donatello Awards the same year. Amongst the highlights of this award winning chamber of the macabre you will see dogs for dinner, pigs beaten to a pulp by tribesmen preparing a feast, snakes skinned alive for their Viagra blood, kids polishing skeletons, Yves Klein’s art piece that serves as the real inspiration for the Blue Man Group and a shocking cow sacrifice that still has me wondering why the executioner turned up in his whitest suit! But keep in mind that this was innovation in the making, and it was award winning!


Following the success of Mondo Cane, it’s pretty obvious that it would spurn a sequel, Mondo Cane 2, also known as Mondo Pazzo, which this times sees Prosperi and Jacopetti reunited without without Cavara. Much like it’s predecessor, Mondo Cane 2 tackles the heavy stuff with a healthy dose of comical counterparts, but never really get’s as grim as the first instalment. And these ingredients are needed to make a Mondo movie watch able, there needs to be some kind of release valve, because even though a fair amount of the material is indeed staged and fake, the realism is pretty hefty and the authentic footage is powerful, so there needs to be lighter parts if we are going to be able to endure the movie in its entirety.

Mondo Cane 2 starts right off the bat by taking the piss out of the British censors who had concerns with the first movie – especially the dogs in the first movie if you where to trust the narrator, which lead them to ban the movie… – and offer up a nice little montage of dog related moments. This all set’s a pretty funny tone for a movie that slowly will squirm it’s way through religious sects, bizarre rituals, Mexican Day of the Dead sugar highs, Grand Gugniol inspired photo shoots and insane male rites of passage. Don’t worry though, the burning monk may be disturbing, but it’s not real. Look for the cut and how the colour on his garb changes if you want, because this is a “fun” game that one can play when watching Mondo; spot the giveaway moments.

This time around the stupidity, obsessions and evil of Man are in focus and our four legged friends get off lightly – apart from a crocodile which feasted upon whist Nino Oliviero’s xylophone music frenetically plays over the images. The narrator calmly wraps the sequence up with the line “But in the civilized world where we don’t eat crocodile everyday, sex has always been the biggest business ever…” before crashing into a burlesque performance montage. It’s all sex and death, the most primal emotions known to mankind and undoubtedly the firm backbone of any decent Mondo movie. And as I mentioned earlier, the rollercoaster relationship between the humorous and the grotesque are essential to the genre, something that soon would change and take the genre to a completely different level…

I’ve discussed the rise and fall of the Mondo genre previously on this blog, and this box set, just released by Trinity Films, is a splendid way to see where it was going, as the final disc of the set is the notorious Africa addio. With the supposed intent of making a statement and observation on the decline of the African continent post colonisation Jacopetti and Prosperi headed off to Africa with their bag of tricks and cinematic gaze focused on the Dark Continent. And it would get very grim indeed; depressing, cynical and profoundly disturbing, Africa addio presents its audience with a haunting depiction of violence and death that still is a trial to sit through. Unfortunately the most renowned version of this powerful entry is the heavily edited version missing almost an hour of footage, re-issued under the namesake Africa : Blood and Guts. A version relied on a concentrate of the blood and guts for it’s voyeuristic audiences to lap up.

The guy responsible for the “slaughter” was infamous Grindhouse distributor Jerry Gross, the same guy who made sure that, among others, the two previous Mondo Cane movies, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie 1979, Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave 1978 and Ulli Lommel’s The Boogeyman 1980 hit the Grindhouse theatres of America. Never the less, the version here isn’t the shortened Grindhouse version, but a longer theatrical version with a run time just close to two hours, and reinstates some of the raison d’être “intended” with the original movie. If you want the full 140min directors cut, then you should try to find the Blue Underground eight disc box set.

Needless to say Africa addio is complete exploitation galore – a voyeuristic hell if you will. The supposed documentation of a continent in crisis is complete bollocks; it’s merely a façade for one of the most disturbing Mondo movies ever made. Africa addio takes no prisoners and is very low on that vital release valve I say you need to cope through these flicks, and without the release you do start to question how far you can go in the name of entertainment… even if you do package it with yet another soaring Riz Ortolani score.

Obviously it’s an almost rhetoric question to ask when discussing the Italian genre scene, as we all know that there’s a lot of questionable moments of animal death in some of the pieces. But at the same time Africa addio does take it to extremes, and it’s questions that you need to be asking when you see the various hunters chase and kill animals that we in modern time know are facing extinction. It’s no wonder that Ruggero Deodato’s classic Cannibal Holocaust 1980 points critique towards the genre and questions who the real cannibals are, but with the infamous animal deaths in that flick, the question posed in Cannibal Holocaust is a mind-boggling paradox indeed.

Following Africa addio, the Mondo genre took a plummet, things got a lot ominous, vile and sensationalistic, possibly peaking in disgust with John Alan Schwartz infamous Faces of Death 1978 which would lead to even darker movies that more or less completely skipped the humoristic and smirky approach and went straight for the jugglar with depraved cocktails of death and violence… To be honest it’s understandable that this would happen. The exploitation genres would take matters into their own hands, setting their pieces in foreign cultures using Mondo traits and effects would become considerably more effective than the real thing, as fictive violence can be exaggerated into levels far beyond realism, and the tantalising sexpose’s of the Mondo genre where nothing compared to the boom of hardcore pornography that soon would sweep over the world. Mondo focused more and more on death and brutality without release the valves, in some later, final, entries like Damon Fox’s Traces of Death series even accompanied by hard death metal and Fox as the corpse painted host growling his way though hard-ass mix tapes of mayhem there’s no room left for a laugh or a smirk at all. It’s nihilistic, brutal and very, very distressing.

The Mondo Cane Collection is definitely not for the squeamish or sensitive viewer, but at the same time they are a fascinating display of masterful documentary tricks and traits, which with the aid of cynical voiceover and corny, or rather out of place music, become a spectacle of dark comedy and shocking morbidity. Even if audiences may have been considerably more naïve back in the sixties, the Mondo movies are fascinating documents that hold an intriguing cultural aspect, because these movies where controversial at the time they where made – even banned in many places – but looking at them today, the shock factor is not as harsh as it may have been and there is even grimmer stuff on the telly every night. Sensationalism has always been appealing to certain crowds, as we all have a streak of voyeurism in us.

Trinity Films release of this collection is a required addition in any eager cineastes collection. A devouring expose of one of the strangest subgenres to come out of Italy and definitely the finest examples of that genre are collected here, from the rise and the beginning of the end, a excellent starting point to pick up if you still have the fascinating Mondo genre ahead of you in your exploration of Italian genre cinema.


Image:
Full frame 4:3 and Anamorphic Widescreen 16:9

Audio:
English or Italian narration, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian subtitles are optional

Extras:
There’s the regular stuff, Italian and US trailers, TV-Spots, image galleries, alternative opening sequences and some amusing Radio Spots that make the most out of Ortolani’s More and the Danish press books for the movies. It’s a satisfying amount of extras, but it’s a bit of a shame that the Godfathers of Mondo 2003 documentary made for the Blue Underground collection released some years back, couldn’t have been included as that would have made it an excellent extras in this box set for Scandinavian audiences. But considering that the movies finally are available with subtitles, this is a very price worthy set indeed. If you don’t already have the movies on your shelf, then this is the way to go.

Here's a bunch of trailers for you, but be warned, this is MONDO!



Sunday, October 17, 2010

Orgasmo


Orgasmo
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Italy/France, 1969
Mystery/Thriller, 91min



Umberto baby – what a trip! As customary I’ll start by saying it again, stick Make them Die Slowly back in it’s case, and seek out the older Umberto Lenzi Gialli and thrillers, because they are some really excellent movies back there that give a better insight into the arts and crafts of that fantastic director.

Lenzi’s career more or less follows the trail of many other great genre directors. He started out way back in the fifties when he used to write critical essays on film in magazines and newspapers whilst he was attending school with the plan of becoming a lawyer. He also penned several adventure and detective stories under a different name. The obvious step to take after completing school and realising that he held a passion for cinematic storytelling led him to landing a job as assistant director on Renzo Merusi’s anti-communist movie Apocalisse sul fiume Giallo (Last train to Shanghai) 1960 starring sexy Swedish export Anita Ekberg.

Following his directorial debut with a pompous period piece – pompous in a good way that is – Le avventure di Mary Read (Queen of the Seas) 1961. From there on he busted onto the scene with a string of Spaghetti Westerns, period pieces, action thrillers, sword and sandal adventures before he rekindled with that genre he’d been so fond of previously – the mystery genre. He did this with a loose trilogy all based on the themes of deception, double-crossing and death. Orgasmo (Paranoia) 1969, Così dolce… così perversa (So Sweet… So Perverse) 1969 and Paranoia (A Quiet Place to Kill) 1970. See some knob somewhere decided that Orgasmo should be called Paranoia which screws things up for that later movie doesn't it, and don't be misled by the title, Orgasmo isn't a screw movie, it's a genuine mystery thriller.

Orgasmo starts off the trilogy of mystery, and also sees the first of four collaborations between Lenzi and actress Carroll Baker. She would go on to star in the following two and the later early Giallo Il coltello di ghiaccio (The Knife of Ice) 1972. Lenzi show’s that he completely understands that there’s no need to waste valuable time on exposition and starts off with Kathryn West returning to Rome after her husband has suddenly died in a freak car accident – there’s no pointless funeral and wishy washy going on, but instead he cuts right to the chase and starts it all off. Some time is spent on establishing Kathryn and her world, her close friend Brion Sanders [Tino Carraro] who deals with all the paperwork following husband Robert’s death and Teresa [Lilla Brigone] who runs the mansion. A soon as we know the setting, Peter Donovan [Lou Castel] makes his entrance. Honking his horn and shouting aloud it’s a fair bet that he’s the antithesis of all Robert once was and it’s no wonder that Kathryn is drawn in by his rough charm and arrogant frankness.

But as soon as Kathryn find’s happiness, there’s going to be something negative to shake that foundation of pleasure. This comes in the shape of the late Robert’s relatives who don’t take to fondly to the young wife he once had and a bickery bitch fest is on the way. Luckily for Kathryn she has the trusty Brion at her side to pick her up when she faints. A rather innocent and deceptive subplot is set in motion when Brion starts to vaguely express his emotions towards Kathryn. But, and there’s always a but, Kathryn is all about her new young stud Peter who at the most unexpected moment surprises Kathryn with the arrival of his sister Eva [Colette Descombes].

From here on the movie takes a plunge into subtle and lusty exploration, there’s a delicate, provocative and suggestive eroticism between the three characters which slowly shifts into a sadistic deconstruction of Kathryn’s mental state.

In the last act, Kathryn uses all her strength to break free from the now abusive couple and certainly put’s up a great fight, but weakened both mentally and physically from long sessions of drink and drugs this is one battle she appears to be loosing. Never the less, Lenzi and co-writers Ugo Moretti and Marie Claire Solleville have a series of surprising twists and shocks up their sleeves before the movie finally comes to it’s crashing climax.

The editing style of Enzo Alabiso (wonder if he's related to Eugenio Alabiso?) is evident and a vital component of the movie. It moves rapidly and forcefully without taking unnecessary breathers that would have slowed down the pacing of the piece. Lenzi would use the talents of Albiso on several movies to follow. So keep your eyes on the screen because Orgasmo moves fast. Adding to the determined forward movement of the piece is cinematographer Guglielmo Mancori’s effective bag of tricks. Orgasmo is riddled with delicate dolly moves, fast swoosh pans and crash zooms to corner in the vital moments – most often focusing on Carroll Baker’s various facial expressions. Mancori and Lenzi would work together on at least seven more movies and Macori would go on to shoot some great genre pieces before calling it a day at the end of the eighties.

There’s the score. A vibrating and quirky score by the majestic Piero Umiliani who you know from such great pieces as Luigi Scattini’s Svezia, inferno e paradiso (Sweden Heaven and Hell) 1968, Mario Bava’s 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto (Five Dolls for an August Moon) 1970 and Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga 1973 – which also starred Baker in a leading part. The score starts of very suave and quirky, but develops alongside the tone of the movie, the darker the movie gets and the deeper Kathryn falls into her mental decent.

The vocal piece of the movie Fate had Planned it so sung by Lidia MacDonald (the Scottish born singer who also sings on the Sweden, Heaven and Hell album - a must if you don't already have it) is used rather sparsely and holds a wonderful cynical mood that fits the movie, the more rockier track Just Tell Me performed by Weiss and the Airdales is the one that sticks out, but with reason, as it’s used several times to mark a rift between the very young Paul and Eve and the middle aged Kathryn.

An interesting final note on Orgasmo can be found in the fact that the Italian version differs from the American version. The ending of the American version brings a satisfying justice to all ending, but leaves certain valuable information out of the conclusion. Where as the original Italian ending stays closer to that cynicism that we all love about Italian genre cinema and ties in with the references to Robert’s sudden death in that car accident which is mentioned on several occasions. Without the conclusion to this important arc, the referents seem odd and out of place, and rather posing the question what happened to Robert? Well the answer, as told in the Italian version, is that Kathryn isn’t quite the hapless victim that she seems, but rather the initiator of an previous scheme outside the main narrative to claim the entire will and estates of Robert for herself. His death makes her a terribly wealthy widow! I can’t tell you why the decision to change Kathryn's character was made, but perhaps it was in a move to make her a more empathetic victim rather than a cold hearted and complex villain. Lack of dimension and polarisation has always been a favoured trait in American cinema so I’d guess that’s why. Also the Italian version is a preferred piece as it also has a lot more of the sensuality and nudity that comes with the blooming relationship between Paul and Kathryn and later Eve, which the American version exorcises on at least three occasions. We can’t have our empathetic victim being a sexual predator, enjoying both straight and lesbian sex can we, because we all know that bad girls go to hell and we have to keep it easy to follow…

Orgasmo is a riveting movie, which definitely demands that someone salvage it from poor quality copies and re-releases it in a pristine version because it’s a true gem that most certainly will find a new audience. It’s high on entertainment value, effective and still has a decent surprise ending even though there’s an endless amount of movies been made in the same niche both before and after this one. But if you are looking to explore early Umberto Lenzi, the mystery trilogy is an excellent place to start before following the path of evolution towards the splendid Gialli to follow. Just make sure to enjoy the Italian version not the American one will you.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Psalm 21


Psalm 21
Directed by: Fredrik Hiller
Sweden, 2009
Horror, 114 min

This is something quite unique – a good scary movie with some heavy atmosphere that stems from Sweden! If I was asked which Swedish horror flicks are good I would blurt out two or three and then have to search my mind, because there are not too many of them.

The obvious one is Thomas Alfredsson’s smash hit Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In) 2008, and then it gets tricky. Mikael Håfström’s Strandvaskaren (The Drowning Ghost) 2004, Anders Banke's Frostbiten 2006 and Martin Munthe's Camp Slaughter 2004 all fall deep into a pit of ridicule and predictable genre conventions. But at least Camp Slaughter has Fred Andersson giving the performance of a lifetime to make up for it. Someone needs to give Andersson a real acting gig because with each performance I see him in the more he shows his wide repertoire.

But even though there may not be a lot of Swedish horror, I’d definitely point you towards some earlier stuff that I find interesting. 1988 Jack Ersgård directed a kind of schlocky flick called Besökarna (The Visitors) that, in a nutshell, is a haunted house movie with a slow build, a monster hidden in the shadows and pretty all right movie when it all comes around. When I first saw it in the eighties I hated it, and someone wrote that the most scary thing that happens in the movie is that the wallpaper falls off the walls in the children’s nursery. Partially true, but when I revisited it a year or two ago, I was surprised at how well made it actually was. The slow build really established the characters well as they take a plunge down mentally, and then the constant reluctance to show the ghost. Well back in the day this was what I felt wrecked the movie, but in hindsight it’s actually what makes it still stand the test of time. It actually works and becomes a decent little moody piece, which relies on me as an audience to fill in the blanks, and the entity that I imagine is by far more shocking than the one actually revealed in the end. Then I’d definitely point you to sexploitation director Torgny Wickman’s Skräcken har 1000 Ögon (Fear has 1000 Eyes) 1970 even Gunnar Höglund’s Kungsleden (Obsession) 1964. Kungsleden is a sombre headfuck that manages to engage and challenge its audience. That’s two more movies that you should look into if you want to see some interesting stuff.

Arne Mattson made a wonderful and superb suite of Hitchkockian thrillers with a typical Swedish farcical tone that hit a few high notes. Amongst the adventures of the married couple and detectives John and Kajsa Hillman, [Karl-Arne Holmsten & Anna-Lisa Ericsson] there is one that stands out supremely – Mannekäng i Rött (Mannequin in Red) 1958. Its magnificent stuff and I shit you not when I claim that this movie more than likely had some influence upon the later Italian Gialli! The characteristics are all there and even the vibrant colour schemes pop out of the screen in the most magnificent way. It’s even said that Hitchcock at one time presented Mattsson with cigars and the praise that he had made a most splendid movie indeed. Watching that one is more of a demand than a suggestion.

Ingmar Bergman. Even though I constantly moan about the other directors that unfortunately disappeared in the shadow of the great Ingmar Bergman, even he couldn't keep his grubby little fingers away from the horror genre. Amongst his canon there are two that stick out as horror flicks – he even referred to them as his horror flicks – even though he made some really scary stuff where he explored the human psyche too. But never the less Vargtimen (Hour of the Wolf) 1968 and Jungfukällan (The Virgin Spring) 1960 are pretty grim stuff. Vargtimmen tells the tale of a man who sees demons and drags his wife in there with him, and Jungfrukällan is very much indeed one of the first rape revenge movies posing the question when is it right to take another persons life. It also supplied Wes Craven with a story to base his Last House on the Left 1972 with. By the way, both movies star Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman and are required viewing if you want to talk about horror and Sweden from now on.

Obviously stuff like Benjamin Christiansen’s Häxan 1922 and Victor Sjöström’s Körkarlen (The Phantom Carraige) 1921 don’t pack much of a punch these days, but at the same time they are great movies to watch whilst you listen to your favourite music as none of them have dialogue. There is a version of Körkarlen with an audio track by KTL side band of Stephen O’Malley of Sunn o))) which is awesome, but still at the time they where made they where the cutting edge.

Anyways, what’s the state of Sweden these days? Well there certainly is some interesting stuff at work. Kristian Petri – who also made the documentary Brunnen (The Well) 2005 about Orson Welles relationship to Spain, his movies and the well that he was buried next to, giving Jess Franco an opportunity to talk on his friendship with Orson – just released Ond Tro which pretty much takes Giallo traits (especially Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet) and puts a modern spin on it. He’s also slated to bring John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Hantering av Döda (Handling the Undead) to the screens pretty soon, and then there’s Fredrik Hiller’s impressive debut feature Psalm 21.

Quck fix for you before we get into the heavy stuff. A Young priest, Henrik Hornéus, [Jonas Malmsjö] is a beloved priest who holds sermons on the love and happiness that heaven will bring. Yes people, there is no hell in his religious view as the Swedish Church abolished Hell during the late eighties (true it did happen). His world is at its best when he is in his throne in the Church as his cold relationship to his son he has with his ex-wife. This is shown as he clumsily tries to talk to his son a few moments before his ex comes to pick the young lad up. It’s also here the movies weakest moment is found as the relationship between Henrik and his new biddy Karolina [Julia Duvfenius] coldly passes by. The phone rings and Karolina tells Henrik that his father has drowned.

The moment that Henrik leaves the sanctuary of his safe Stockholm parish, odd things start to take place. On his nocturnal drive to his fathers last resting place he encounters his first “ghost” and also whips out his cell phone to check for coverage – why oh god why do we need to show that characters have cell phones but they can’t use them… wouldn’t you be better off not showing them at all? Anyways he walks to a farmhouse near by and after seeing a child demon he get’s some assistance from the damned odd family living there. They are obviously concealing some serious stuff from Henrik. Later that night he has a second cryptic encounter with the child demon – which will fall into place if you think about it after the movie – and Olle [Björn Bengtsson] starts to insinuate that Henrik’s Father Gabriel didn’t die accidentally but was actually murdered! This sets up the movie, establishes Henrik’s ordinary world and slowly introduces a perhaps not to original protagonist, but its done in a really good way. And it goes to places I never thought it would go from there.

Psalm 21 is a pretty decent piece of cinema within the context of Swedish genre movies. It surprised me because I wasn’t expecting a movie of this complexity, not to mention the scares, surreal dream imagery and excellent special effects – even if they are CGI and made by the same people who did the Harry Potter movies FX. Sure it has a few flaws but actually does deliver some scares and has a rather interesting line of question. It relies heavily on religious themes – Faith being the obvious one. Now I’ve been living here since the seventies, and never actually understood that the Swedish church abolished Hell. Not that I’m much of a religion guy anyways, man is a conscious being, we chose to do wrong or right without any pending threat of going anywhere after life. It’s a heck of a lot more complex than doing right to go to heaven… But Psalm 21 uses this abolishment of Hell and uses it effectively in its narrative. At first I thought the movie ended with Henrik loosing his faith – which would have been cool as the mother of all Religion themed movies, The Exorcist sees father Karras' regains his faith – but it’s more of him questioning the set of rules his religious ground is based on. He still keeps his faith, but he can’t go on under the premise that there is no Hell. Instead he has to face the facts that people actually do bad things just for the sheer pleasure of if. There is a hell and that shakes his perception of the world under God completely out of whack.

Guilt is used pretty much and primarily as a force of antagonism. It’s explored though Henrik’s back-story, and also motivates Henrik to widen his views at the climax of the movie. His mother [Lena B. Eriksson] dies in the opening sequence – through a really good looking flashback he keeps returning to that day, and then his mother starts to turn up in his hallucinations. One of them is a pretty shocking twist to an erotic encounter with Nora [Josephine Ljungman] that would have Oedipus jumping with joy. But that parental death never really left Henrik and it’s a pretty strong motivator to his nightmares and self-image. Yes, he thinks of himself as a demon, which is probably why he’s preaching the love of God and heaven so intensely. Sure his father is a Priest too, but I guarantee you that the guilt of his mother’s death is what made him chose the profession.

The usual good versus evil symbolism is pretty sparse, instead it’s represented through a pretty darned clever use of various interpretations of psalm 21 which has different reasoning in the various sources that it can be found in, older editions vs. newer editions of the bible, psalms and Psalteries.

On the down side there are some actors that don’t really measure up here. Unfortunately they are the ones that you would expect to be able to pull it off the best. But the problem is that some of them are established Bergman theatre actors and not genre actors used to acting with small means, which is probably that they act more overdramatically than realistic. Luckily there are only a one or two of them and they are only in a few scenes early on. Jonas Malmsjö gives a great performance as the tormented Henrik, and Per Ragnar [Håkan in Let the Right One In] is dark and disturbing as Henrik’s Father and regional priest Gabriel – although he better be careful that he doesn’t get trapped in a typecast hell because this one has similarities with that other movie he starred in. And I now hold a theory that this movie may have had some kind of effect on Let the Right One In as I was in production at the same time… I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling anything here. Even Görel Krona who I usually think is a crap actress does a great job here. Adding Nicklas Falk (who you will recognize from those damned Millennium trilogy movies if you have seen the original Swedish versions) and up and comming starlett Josephine Ljungman to the mix is great – they present some wonderfully complex characters that are very believable.

But my hat is off to Björn Bengtsson who does a marvellous job as Olle. Olle has some very concrete thoughts of what has happened to Gabriel and as he too is an aspiring priest it causes some serious contradictions for him. And being in the position he is he can’t quite deal with them, or react to them, by his own hand alone. It’s a great supporting character.

I have read comments that the effect of the Demons wears off as the movie goes along. And yeah it does, but I’m convinced that this is Hiller’s intent too as the demons at first serve a function as a shock device in the early stages, then transform to metaphors of Henrik’s mental decent. Finally they are as much a part of the Hell he’s living in as non-demon characters.

Fredrik Hiller has made a really interesting and good movie here, and I think it’s fair to say that this also proves the power of independence. For many years Hiller has been a background actor and voiceover artist featured on cartoons. Following a break in Hollywood where he starred in Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf against Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie, he buggered right back to Sweden and spent his earnings on the project he’d been yearning to do for almost two decades, direct his own horror movie. The result, Psalm 21, is a good honest old school shock fest with some great use of themes and questions that you really want to check out when it comes around. Because this is one of the best Swedish Horror flicks right now.

Psalm 21 hits Swedish cinemas in early November 2010.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fantastic Film Festival 2010

So, I just spent three fantastic days in Lund at the Fantastic Film Festival.

Gave one lecture – Horror Storytelling at the Lund Film Accademy

Saw two movies - Simon Rumley’s disturbing and brilliant piece Red, White & Blue and Yorgos Noussias’s zombie comedy Evil in the Time of Heroes.

Talked with three filmmakers – Jake West, Simon Rumley and Sarah Caldwell (Who also writes for us on ConstructingHorror.com)

Hung out with loads of friends, fellow geeks and colleagues – Kim Newman and Phillip Bergson among them.

Had a great time in other words. A small, but wonderful little festival, that I certainly want to go back to next year… as a visitor and not a guest there to work. Because there where a lot of interresting movies that I unfortuntately missed.


If anyone wants’ to see the lecture that my mate Steve and I gave, drop me a mail and I’ll send you a link to the feed which was aired live over the net.

With all that out of the way, I can get back to focussing on stuff that’s been neglected!

Stay tuned.