Monday, February 21, 2011

AMER


Amer
Directed by: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
France/Belgium, 2009
Drama/Horror/ Arthouse, 87min.
Distributed by: Anchor Bay

Where the yanks pay homage to their gore, slasher and grindhouse history, the Europeans create pastiches of their cultural treasures found amongst the alternative genres… such is the case with Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s stunning debut feature Amer!

Amer is without a doubt the most minimalist and stylised approaches to the horror genre ever put on screen. But it’s also one of the richest and most detailed movies in the genre. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of European art house, the mystery of the Italian Gialli, the lighting of Mario Bava, the sensuality of Borowczyk, the daring mise en scène of Jean-Luc Goddard, to name a few will undoubtedly fall in love with the many nods, homage’s and direct referents to the many movies that dominate the visual style, narrative and tone of Amer.

Amer tells the tale of a woman, Ana, in three stages of her life, [Casandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud & Marie Bos] as a child where the death of an elder haunts her and set’s demonic ghosts at play, her adolescences, where budding sexuality torments her as she comes of age and tries to fins her place in her new body, and finally the adult Ana coming to grasps with her memories of childhood and the traumatising experiences that she had.

A fascinating aspect of Amer is the minimalist dialouge. There are no long scenes of dialogue or hefty monologs; instead the restricted discourse pushes forth to suggestive imagery that drives the narrative forth.

Symbolism and metaphors are a huge part of Amer and it’s discourse with the viewer. It’s in the colour schemes, it’s in the imagery, it’s in the unspoken dialogue, it’s in the juxtapositions - it’s everywhere. Where deliberate referents have been created, they in turn spin non-intended into play.

Amer plays like a checklist of your favourite Euro horror titles, especially witin the Gialli sphere. Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Suspria, Sergio Martino’s Torso and All the Colours of the Dark, Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper and many more, are all movies that flash to mind when watching Amer. Something that obviously pleases an old genre hound like myself.
Then there’s that superb soundtrack - what a soundtrack! A mere six tracks make up the entire soundtrack to Amer - Bruno Nicolai’s La Coda Della Scorpione, Ennio Morricone’s Un Uomob Si è Dimesso, A. Celentano/E. Leoni/P. Vivarelli’s Furore and Stelivio Cipriani’s La Polizia Chiede Aiuto, La Polizia Sta A Guardare and La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate. Six tracks, six classics, six friggin’ masterpieces that give further dimension to Amer and propel the narrative forth when the music bursts through the speakers. You know the movies and that sets you in a certain mind frame. Obviously these tracks are very determined choices to layer out the movie and indicate to what is happening. Each track holds a key to reading the movie. There’s thought behind placing a track from a movie about childhood traumas and sexually charged crimes alongside the images that enhance the experience. It brings an incredible depth to the movie.

Amer is also quite possibly the most sexually explicit movie that you will ever see without actually seeing anything. Yes, without seeing anything. This is a magnificent aspect of Amer, everything is insinuated, everything is amplified by sound and image, but you never see it. The second and final act all ooze sex. You can almost taste it in the air from the atmosphere this movie creates. Theme wise, Amer is all about life, sex and death, which is exactly how the three acts play out.

The first sees Ana coming face to face with death, hence realising the value of her own life. She struggles against the antagonistic forces of the “ghosts” in an attempt to save her own life. The act comes to a harrowing climax – no pun intended – when she interrupts her parents being intimate, their own way of overcoming death. A moment that scars Ana, haunting her for the rest of her life. I will get back to that in a moment.

The second act is the sex act. Ana has become a young woman. All men she encounters look at her from a voyeuristic standing point. We can easily read their minds; they all want her. This is also enhanced though the choices of imagery. Low camera angles, almost peeking up her skirt, the oral symbolism of “sucking on her hair”, wind blowing through her thighs... If you pay attention you will also notice how her mother [Bianca Maria D’Amato] sees her daughter as a threat. She constantly corrects Ana’s ways and when there’s a man on horizon, she evokes all her female attributes, becoming almost a woman and not a mother anymore – a mother with needs, lusts and desires which may not have been responded to in a long time – we see no father figure and the scene is secondarily about a trip to the hairdresser. In a way it’s the mother’s demonstration of power over the young woman, the young woman who obviously is still a child in her mothers eyes. The entire scene holds a feeling of that classic moment where a parent corrects their child from doing the same things that make up their own traits. Do as I say, not what I do…

The final act is the obvious climax/death act, in more than one way. Remember that the French also call the orgasm “Le petitie mort”. Pretty early on in this sequence Ana falls onto a tree trunk and puts her hand in resin. With the suggestive line of association that has been put forth so far in the movie, this resin is not too far from come, a climax symbolism in it’s own right. There’s the anticipation of coming full circle, we are back in the house where the mystery started, we are expecting the ghosts to come back, but instead we encounter a completely different kind of ghost, the ghost of fornication past. Also there’s the climax to the line of Ana’s story. Where we expect her to fall victim, things take a completely different path. Pay attention to the closing scene, it’s a compact concentrate of the three main themes of the movie Life-Sex-Death and when the final climax is reached colour comes back to the world. The circle starts once again.

Freudian analysts would have a field day with this movie, one example being the cyclic movement that flows throughout the movie and the oral fixation, be it fingers, tongue or straight razor in the mouth of Ana. But getting into a brief psychoanalysis, AMer is once again a testament to the great power of guilt. Once again it rears it’s head and shows just how effective it is. As a child Ana interrupts her parents having sex. Her mother is crying a trait that a child will read as pain or sadness. Therefore Ana can’t be intimate without feeling sadness or pain. Also the frightening ordeal before she disrupts her parents – the blasphemy of stealing from a dead person, the horror of having ones life threatened, and the traumatising interruption – seeing mom crying as father [Jean-Michel Vovk] penetrates her – undoubtedly make it impossible for Ana to be intimate. Instead she get’s her kicks from stalking and claiming her own victims.

Her guilt of the childhood experience, disrespecting the dead, evading death, and interrupting life make her the hot mess she is. The life-sex-death circle is complete. Taking a Lacanic approach to the movie and his theory of “objet petit a” it could be fair to suggest that Ana is metaphorically murdering her father for causing that “pain” her mother experienced in the first act.

Without competition, Amer is one of the most visually stunning movies in a long time, but be aware - this isn’t a movie for a lazy audience, this is a movie that you need to pay attention to whilst watching. It may seem to be random imagery, but observing and taking in what you see will lead you to the conclusion. Much like watching early Giallo movies. You think you know where it’s going but you will never be prepared for the next surprise that comes your way. Not until the final moment will you be able to read the movie and gain the insight you are looking for.

Amer - suggestive, surreal and seductive, a honey-coated mindfuck – it probes deep and thrusts hard. With this movie Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani definitely have created a fascinating art-house genre piece that reaches the top of the scale. But the major question is where do they go from here?

Extras:
On the BluRay you can find the four short movies directed by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani. These four short movies obviously play as a breeding ground for the style, and themes that later would become Amer. There's also the theatrical trailer and teaser.

Now tell me that the juxtaposition below was unintentional...





Monday, February 07, 2011

Sleazy Succubus - The Sounds of Jess Franco

Three is the magic number, so here's Sleazy Succubus The Sounds of Jess Franco. My personal tribute to the wonderful movies of the one and only Jess Franco, his fantastic movies, casts and soundtracks.

Enjoy it, and make sure to grab the Fulci and Argento mixtapes if you still haven’t

This movie is dead to me...



Pulled this off Gorezone.net...

** Tom Cruise wants AT THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS: During promotion for SANCTUM, James Cameron was asked whether Tom Cruise has signed onto Guillermo del Toro's big screen adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's AT THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS which Cameron is producing. Cruise and James McAvoy have been rumored for the lead role in the film in the past month, a claim McAvoy recently denied when he was asked about the project.

As for Cruise? Cameron told MTV News "Tom does want to do the picture. I don't think we have a deal with him yet, but we're hoping to get that closed soon. Guillermo is madly working on a new draft of the script. Hopefully we'll be shooting by June or July." del Toro and his writing partner Matthew Robbins penned the screenplay back in the very late 90's and the pair have been tweaking every now and then ever since. (thanks to DarkHorizons.com)

This movie is dead to me...

I love Lovecraft, I love Guillermo del Toro's work, I even had some breif e-mail contact with him a few years ago when researching a gothic horror & Lovecraft segment for The Ministry of Fear, and then his name popped up when I visited H.R. Giger at his home in Zurich. It was Giger who told me he had met with Del Toro to discuss AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.

To put it into context - Giger and I talked a lot about Lovecraft and the possible influence his writing had been on Giger, one of the angles to my interview with him. This lead us to discuss how he shared a Lovecraft interest with Dan O'Bannon who also was into the Cthulhu mythos and how Alien sprang from there... [That's the movie Alien, not Giger's Biomechanoids which where already there before Alien] ...and other Lovecraftian movies like John Carpenter's The Thing and At the Mouth of Madness, which obviously lead us to del Toro's "announced" movie.

I was giddy as a kiddy on christmas, and was so from then on. Somewhere inside me I found a satisfaction when del Toro walked off The Hobbit as I imagined that now he'd get himself onto the mountains of madness... but then the king of the fucking world Capt. Jim Cameron came onboard, and with the Giger-Aliens debacle in mind, it was a fair bet that Giger would be out...

But OK despite a terrible loss for such a promising paring of two of the most important visual minds in a hundred years - YEAH JUST IMAGINE WHAT THE HELL THAT MOVIE WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE! HOLY SHOGGOTH! - perhaps Cameron may be able to appreciate the craftsmanship of the artist that is Guillermo del Toro is after all, and theirs a chance that AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS could still come off being a del Toro flick after all...

But then this shit hit the fan...

No Fucking way. NO FUCKING WAY! With J.C. and Tom Cruise on this mission, it's gonna become a stinking turd of a flick. The one that makes me loose all faith in Guilermo del Toro. The one that alienates his fans. The one where he starts dancing to someone else's tune instead of following his own notes... because Cameron and Cruise are not equal to trippy, creepy, mindfucking visually stunning movie, but more synonymous with big, explosive, crappy, predictable, action garbage where Tom Cruise saves the world, kicks monster ass and leaves the source material raped beyond recognition. Get ready for smiley happy ending with group hugs for all surviving expedition members!

It's a lost cause. This movie is dead to me. Despite the probable Mike Mignola artwork for the poster, despite the funky effects and set designs and Doug Jones in all his wonderful creature suits, despite the supposedly confirmed participation of Ron Perlman... this movie is dead to me.

Perhaps they where all right when they said it was unfilmable, all I can hope for now is that del Toro proves me wrong.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Exorcism

Exorcism
Original Title: L’éventreur de Notre-Dame
Directed by: Jess Franco
France/Spain/Belgium (1974) 1979
93min, Thriller/Sexploitation
Distributed by: Extreme - WorldWideCinema


Jess Franco gets a lot of undeserved critique for making quick and dirty movies – technically too - and amongst the movies that get the most complaints are the Eurocine movies. It’s no understatement he made more “lesser” movies than “better” movies with Eurocine – but at the same time it’s also the studio that produced some of Jess Franco’s absolute finest moments. Such as the magnificently sleazy, depraved and violent Exorcism or The Sadist of Notre Dame or Demoniac depending on which version you actually get to see. This is one of Franco’s wildest, darkest and strangest movies, and a shocking, disturbing and outstanding tour de force of Jess Franco cinema.

Pulp author Paul Vogel – or Mathis depending on which version you are watching [Franco] is writes seedy, sensationalistic crime stories for The Dagger and Garter Weekly. His latest short, The Torture Chambers of the Inquisition, tells the exploits of a sadist who Vogel claims to be based on a real character, hence the absolutely authentic details - which the readers love! Office clerk Anne [Lina Romay], who also participates in the opening nightclub performance, works in the Venus Publications offices too. The meeting ends on a sour note, when Anne and boyfriend Raymond (or Pierre depending on which version you are watching) [Pierre Taylou] candidly without knowing he’s still in the hallway, mock Vogel.

Vogel stalks Anne and her friend Maria [Monica Swinn] going as far as renting an adjourning apartment with a view right into the two young women’s room. From his, room with a view, he get’s his voyeuristic kicks whilst oogling the two women and their lesbian lovemaking. It’s classic Franco voyeurism and wonderfully shot from an adjourning location, creating frames within the frame and presenting a metaphorical space between Vogel and his “prey” - a space soon to be closed.

Next Franco establishes the complexity of the Vogel character. He’s not only a man who gets pleasure from his voyeurism, he’s also driven by the compulsion to cleanse the women he watches, and he has to make someone pay for the sins. Vogel rushes down to the local bar, picks up a barmaid and after sloppily making out with her – or rather having a minor breakdown on top of her naked body – Vogel proclaims that he’s must exorcise the devil out of her… which obviously means she’s gonna’ die! It gives a dimension to the character, which may come as a surprise for haters, but it is there and it’s a fascinating character with more depth than most the generic shite produced today. I’ll get back to the complex character of Vogel in a moment.
This is where a subplot concerning Satanism, black magic and occult rituals is started off and then runs throughout the rest of the movie. The barmaid tells Vogel of a satanic cult that have invited her to a Black Mass, and Vogel is shoved gently towards the brink. It’s an interesting subplot and a useful one as the Satanism and occult obviously contrasts against the many religious paraphernalia and recurrent praying of Vogel’s world. As we know all about Vogel’s religious morale and mission to clean out Satanism and sin, it becomes a conscious provocation and we know that he will have to react to it. It builds an inner tension within the Vogel character, which soon will need a reaction.

Vogel sneaks around the grounds of a mansion and witnesses the Black Mass invoking a brilliant clash within the character. We already know he’s on a one man mission to clear the world of sin and sinners, so stumbling upon a cult of Satanists who not only perform a ritualistic sacrifice, but also where participants freely start sessions of heavy petting and later end up in one huge sweaty snake pit of carnal frenzy, is an absolute point of no return for Vogel. The cultists must die, and obviously he starts with the high priestess and her husband, one of the most violent and haunting moments of the movie.

There’s bitter irony to be found here. As we have understood the black Mass to be merely another act, we realise that Vogel’s “exorcism/sacrifices” of the cultists is unjustified. There is no real threat to “our/Vogel’s” religious foundation; hence the sacrifices are merely murders. His misinterpretation of the ritual, leads him into an accelerated frenzy of disgust. He commits his gory assassination of the Countess [Francine Nicolas] and the blood remains are what lead the cops to take their manhunt for a sadistic killer whose methods - according to one young detective - are identical to that of the exorcism ritual of the early inquisition. It’s another obvious religious reference, but also the jump-start of an investigation plot. But instead of going the traditional way, Franco mind-fucks us. We know all about Vogel and his mission, and at the same time Inspector Tanner [Olivier Mathot] and cohorts are not too sympathetically portrayed. It’s as if Franco is manipulating the audience into empathising with Vogel instead of rooting for the police force, as we know the “sadist”, have an insight into his complex character and compared to the inefficient police grasping at straws, Vogel is the most effective character.

As the second act introduces the “antagonistic force” of the police – yes they can be an antagonistic force, after all they are out to bust the leading character, Vogel, who in this case is a classic anti-hero type just like Dracula. Think about it, I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, vampire movies have a complicated problem, as the vampire; i.e. the classic monster – most often becomes the one we root for… the protagonist. It’s the same here, it’s Vogel we want to see more of and we want to see his sleazy killings go on for ever… well at least till he starts pawing Romay, then we will have had enough.

Following this suave manipulation, Franco moves into the final act, the one that will take us though to the climax. It obviously see’s Vogel “peeping” on Anne, committing even more murders, whilst Anne and friends all become increasingly paranoid and worried about the killer stalking Paris. It’s all a build of anticipation, as we kind of already know where it’s all going. Vogel has to encounter Anne and when he does it pure ecstatic Franco concentrate.

Having kidnapped Anna, Vogel rants about how she’s too is possessed by the devil, but at the same time he loves her and waits for the right moment to rid her of Satan’s evil influence. With his object of desire finally in his possession, he can’t just kill her off in cold blood, instead he keeps her chained to his cupboard and toys with her instead, and after all he is the Sadist of Notre Dame.

The culmination comes after Vogel is confronted by Raymond and Maria who put forward “proof” that Vogel is the killer, as the feel he knows too much about the killings, and it shines though in his pulpy writing. It’s no chance happening, it’s planted earlier on in the movie and it’s a fantastic beat that delivers. They further provoke him with the fact that they are going to have another black mass later that night. Again it’s a provocation that leads somewhere and it has consequences in the climax, a climax that rushes forth like a runaway train.

Opening in a fashion that is true Franco cinema - We take the voyeuristic gaze into a sexual torture scene where one woman dominates a second – and as the scene reaches its climax; the camera cuts away to show a room full of swanky audience members. Franco sets us down right in the middle of the audience, creating the illusion that we are one of them. It’s a trait that returns quite a lot in Franco’s movies.

We’re used to seeing Franco in bit parts in his movies, and we’re used to seeing him play shady, freaky and oddball characters too. But Mattis Vogel is almost a concentrate of all the characters he’s portrayed though the years. It’s a performance that is outstanding. Vogel is a fascinating character. He has some serious skeletons in his baggage, which are let out in portions along the narrative. The first hint at his background comes early on when Anne asks if it is true that he once used to be a priest. He writes explicit crime novels with a sadomasochistic angle, but he’s also a man of the clergy. It gives dimension to the character. As does the conflict in kneeling affront of his bible, praying to God and putting on his priest garbs only to turn around and savagely murdering the prostitute he picked up at the club. It’s also here his profound beliefs come to surface for the first time. It’s also where he exposes his secret of once being expelled from the church due to his extreme ways of dealing with sin and sinners… he’s not even a real priest anymore, and not accepted by his kind, he’s an outsider.

I usually claim that there’s one crown jewel of storytelling when it comes to creating a fascinating character, and the one thing that motivates their actions harder than anything else is guilt! Yes, guilt. It’s obviously Vogel’s catholic guilt that drives and motivates him to kill the women. The guilt over his voyeurism becomes such a burden that he must redeem himself, and what better than sacrificing the satanic sinners of the devil’s cult to God!

Exorcism is all about voyeurism, life, death and religion – the art of killing in the name of God - i.e., which I feel is an obvious General Franco metaphor if there ever was one. The cinematography by Raymond Heil is outstanding. There are quite a few shots that just linger on in long shots. Being accustomed to the effectiveness of Franco’s zoom I was on several occasions waiting for it to bust forth and catch a close up, but it didn’t it just hung out in the back of the room. Really impressive and completely unexpected. Not forgetting the entire kidnapping of Anne sequence, which definitely is amongst the finest ever seen in a Franco movie. Lighting, composition, pacing and even the editing bring it together unlike any other moment. This could be the one single moment that could define the greatness of Exorcism.

Exorcism has a great score by André Bénichou and long time Franco collaborator Daniel White - who originated from Yorkshire, England. Adding that to the mix, makes this a fantastic movie - Exorcism, one of Jess Franco’s most violent, sleazy and hands down most complex movies, a magnificent piece of trash cinema when its at its best.


Image:
16x9 Widescreen

Audio:
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, English or French dialogue, Dutch subtitles.

Extras:
A really spartan release, and it’s painfully obvious that I’m going to have to start digging into my pockets and get the Synapse releases as I’m guessing they are completely uninterested in sending review samples of several year old releases to some bloke in the wrong region… This disc has noting to offer as far as extras go, not even a trailer. Just imagine what you could have done with "alternate versions" clips on this movie.