Wednesday, June 27, 2012

sidewinder...

...here's a little side project that I'm kinda going public with as of now.



Sex, Death and Storytelling

You can read more over at that site.
Hope you'll find it interesting.

J.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Absentia

Absentia
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
USA, 2011
Horror, 87min
Distributed by: Second Sight

Trisha [Courtney Bell] is still somewhat in limbo since her husband Daniel [Morgan Peter Brown] went missing some time ago. Her sister Callie [Katie Parker] comes to stay for a few days, and together they help to have Daniel declared “Dead in Absentia”. This is when Trisha starts to have nightmarish visions of her dead husband, and Callie encounters a strange man inside a nearby tunnel who asks her to “trade…”
Every now and again there comes a movie that digs it’s claws into it’s audience’s mind so much deeper than an lot of others do. I say it’s the vulnerability within the characters, which make them such empathetic persons, hence getting inside the audience mind. I say it’s this vulnerability and values the characters hold that make them such easy characters to have emotional recognitions with. I say it’s emotional recognition that’s the key to great horror. If I feel for the characters, and believe what is happening to them, the effect of everything that happens to them is so much more intense. 

It’s an understatement to say that independent filmmaker, writer, director, editor Mike Flanagan has created a great movie. A movie that seeps into the mind of the audience, playing tricks on them through some impressive storytelling and well disposed manipulations. Low-key effects and cunning camera deception make it a sublime haunting. It’s the kind of movie that makes me drool mentally, and going back to check details, I ended up being drawn in once more whilst still having a great time watching the movie all over again.
 
Movies that want to take their audience on a dark haunting journey need to set up values and familiarity before plunging into a world of horror. Yes, I’m once again talking about setting up the ordinary world. Returning readers will know that this is what I consider a vital cornerstone to all good horror movies. Sell me the real world, make me believe that what you want to show me, and I’ll follow you anywhere. The set up of Absentia is phenomenal, I’m drawn in by the characters, discover their vulnerability, watch them struggle with everyday haunts, empathise with them as I learn their human traits, before the horrors are unleashed, and I realize that the transition from ordinary world into the supernatural realm has been a flawless one.

Four key ingredients are presented in the opening minutes of Absentia. The exterior of the tunnel where the title card is placed and moments later, it’s cobwebby interior. Trisha is out re-posting the “missing” flyers featuring Daniel’s face. When she gets back home, her sister Callie has arrived for a visit, earlier than intended. A brief chat later, and we have some kind of insight into the ordinary world that these characters live in. The pregnant Trisha is seeking some kind of closure from the disappearance of her husband Daniel, and Callie is a restless soul. One can feel somewhat of an animosity between the two, which will sit there brooding until later on in the movie.
 
Dialogue between the two women explores their relationship further, and we understand that Callie has been in and out of rehab for drug and drinking related problems, Callie obviously had no idea Trisha was pregnant. It’s been six years since the last met, and not only do they have a spontaneous relationship with each other, they obviously have a somewhat blemished relationship with their mother too. It’s more or less the same problems both you and I deal with on a regular basis, family beefs, internal struggles and toils of life. Now we not only have an insight into their world, but we now also know the “flaws” that make them human and believable too.

Releasing scares upon an audience is a moment that can make or break a movie. You can either start to build, with strings and cues, letting the audience in on the game and have them wind themselves’ up, or you can simply let the shocks rip through and have them stand on their own. I’ve noticed a trend of “when you see it, it fucks you up” aesthetics similar to those of the J-horror used when that broke internationally. Moments when the camera hangs in a scene and you expect some kind of cue proclaiming the antagonist pounce, but instead it turns out that the “antagonist” is already in frame, which gives a hell of a freaky scare when you see it already there and caught you with your guard down. This is how Flanagan builds his tense atmosphere, by slowly bringing us in to the realm, and then unleashing the horror on us. Yes, there are classic jump scares that will keep you on edge, but also a lot of assault shocks, with no builds, no cues, just wham! It will grind you down, because it get’s intense, but there’s also a hidden agenda behind this cunning deception.
 
With that said, I should point out that the ghost of Daniel first makes an appearance after the two sisters together burn the remaining “missing” posters. When Trisha takes that final step towards being free from her past with Daniel, the guilt that comes with it ignites the nightmares. It’s guilt that starts messing with her mind. Again, a key ingredient to innovative horror, guilt, and I love that Flanagan even has a scene where Trisha’s psychologist makes a point of the nightmares being a result of her guilt…

Here a fascinating thing happens, the jump-scares become part of the world Trisha is in. Where one commonly would expect a jump-scare and key shocks the ghost is merely reduced to a figment of Trisha’s imagination - her guilt - and therefore he makes no threat to her. The ghost can be in the scene with Trisha and other, but poses no threat. This is a beguiling display of how one can bring things in from a supernatural world and make them part of the natural one if you make the transition a reasonable one.
 
Then comes a fine twist to Absentia, where Trisha comes to insight and reason with the ghost she sees, Callie is confronted by ghosts of her own. During one of her daily runs, she encounters a man [Doug Jones] grey and worn out by exhaustion, in the tunnel from the opening titles. Although this man is obviously not a ghost, he’s something completely else, and he asks her to “trade”. It set’s off a whole parallel storyline that runs next to Trisha’s own experiences. Focus is somewhat shifted and Callie takes on a larger part in the narrative.

At times I talk of something called the contrast frame, and it goes something along the lines of presenting two options where one be more absurd than then next which helps sell the original one. One of the best examples is found in John Carpenter’s The Thing 1982, where MacReady after seeing the space craft theorises “ So it crashes, and this guy, whoever he is, gets thrown out, or walks out, and ends up freezing.”. Childs jumps right in declaring it’s all “voodoo bullshit” before Palmer goes off on a stoned rant about extra terrestrials all ready here, that they “taught the Incas everything they knew” and even goes so far as claiming the president is an alien… hence giving the result that we buy into MacReadys suggestion no matter how absurd it may seem, because the president couldn’t be an alien, could he?
 
I find traces of a variant of the contrast frame in Absentia. We have an explanation for the ghost Trisha sees, but none for the one Callie encounters. With no other explanation except whatever we have imagined ourselves, and the lack of answering the question of what the mystery with the tunnel is or what resides there we go for the closest most reasonable answer, which leads us to accept the theory Callie has presented. All the research she does leads to a shocking insight, hence the abundance of “Missing” posters, both human and pets all around the neighbourhood outside the tunnel. But don’t get your hopes up for a conventional closure to the mystery here, because there are still some hefty twists to come.

Remember that I mentioned an animosity sensed between the sisters in their meeting at the beginning of the movie? Well that comes back to the story when Callie’s “junkie” backstory is spilled wide open to create sceptic character of Trisha. My jaw hit the floor at this point! Because it’s outstanding to bring a sceptic character this far into the narrative, especially one who we would presume to rally up behind Callie and support her theory. As Trisha has been seeing “ghosts” of her own, one would think her to believe her sister’s story, or at least be more open minded about Callie’s tale. Instead she choses not to, and blames it all on drugs. Callie’s backstory and history with substance abuse is brought into light and now empathise even further with her. The emotional recognition of what Callie is experiencing – not being believed despite being right - is where we connect. Now we really want Callie to expose what the mystery with the tunnel is all about, at any costs, reveal it, solve it, save the day.
 
There’s an interesting subplot with Detective Ryan Mallory [Dave Levine], who is important to the narrative on more than one way. His importance to the story also puts a spin on themes already discussed.

Editing is flawless, time is valuable when it comes to movies, and crap pacing can wreck everything. It’s to an advantage to loose everything one doesn’t need. Without spoiling anything, you can find a solid example of this in the scene where Trisha talks face to face to Daniel’s parents. Timing, acting, deliverance and editing all come together in a perfect crescendo and the result is heart breaking – one can feel the tension, despair and anguish in that room.
 
Ryan David Leack’s score! Damn I like that score, it set’s a tone which more or less opens an expressway to your heart and soul, and when it’s prepared that road, it starts vibrating with a sinister vibe. It really suits the movie, and this is one of the perks of independent filmmakers, they frequently hook up with composers and musicians burning with the same passion for their craft as they are, and together they become a strong force to rely on.

I could probably use Absentia in my everyday storytelling examples because this is one hell of a well-crafted movie that deserves every piece of attention it gets. Do not be fooled by reviews that didn’t see the magnificence of this piece.  This is an impressive movie, and Mike Flanagan is from now on a name that I’ll be keeping tags on.

I’m not going to mention that Absentia is shot on a pretty small budget, and financed partially through a kickstarter programme, because it never really comes off as a low budget movie. The acting is grand, Katie Parker and Morgan Peter Brown both give great performances as tormented souls, and its neat to see Doug Jones in a small part and out of special effects makeup and suits. Courtney Bell’s real pregnancy is wonderful and brings a whole new level of vulnerability to her character, and thank god she’s really pregnant, because there’s something about the way women move when they are pregnant that no one ever get’s down in the right way.
 
Taking a “What if” cue from the old Norwegian fairy tale De tre bukken Bruse (Three Billy Goats Gruff) written by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in the late 1800’s, there’s a brooding despair that grows within this movie, a slow moving nightmare that slowly seeps into our world and into our consciousness. I’d also like to connect this film with the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, as the way Flanagan uses things that lurk in the dark, glimpses in the corners of the eye and things that move between dimensions, reminds me of the same rhetoric that Lovecraft used to describe his ancient ones. Needless to say I loved every minute of Absentia, and I'm already looking forward to the next time I watch it, and that's without me getting into the symbolism and small details I've found so far. From gloomy drama, the movie shifts into dark urban fairy tale that keeps throwing unexpected twists at its audience all the time. There are some really haunting moments in Absentia and films that take an unexpected path are rare things these days. It that scared the crap out of me, totally took me captive in its narrative, and left me with strong emotions as the end credits hit the screen.
 
Absentia is certainly one of the best indie genre movies I’ve seen this year. Genuinely creepy, it simply knocked me down. I fell for all the classic tricks and was captivated by the new ones; as far as I’m concerned this is an innovative future masterpiece of contemporary horror. In the years to come, people will seek out Absentia and wonder how the hell they missed it the first time around. Make sure you see it now and not later.




Absentia is due to be released by Second Sight in the UK on the 9th of July.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Devil Seed

Devil Seed
Directed by: Greg A.  Sager
Canada, 2012
Horror, 108min

I’m not much of a fan of possessed chick films, as they often tend to become way too silly, or perhaps it would be better to say that they lack in presenting a believable shift from an ordinary to an unordinary world. I unfortunately find it to be a lazy genre, which stays overtly close to convention and rarely ventures out of the box. As most sub-genres and flavour of the week niches, the outlet is of varied quality, with some highlights, and some low marks, but personally I find the sub-genre predominantly stale. Devil Seed may not be all that original; although it does have some good moments that make it somewhat stand out amongst the rest of the clutter.
Without messing around the movie plays straight into the classic demonic / Satan possession film traits  – young prudish woman becomes a vessel for evil forces following an intoxicated visit to a gypsy tarot reader – who they drunkenly insult. Evils forces are unleashed visualized through nightmare rock-video aesthetics…something that oddly never reoccurs – and then her world starts to crumble as the demons successively take over her body… Somebody call a priest and save her soul!

It all starts with a tone setting imagery of priest and writhing woman cursing her way thorough an exorcism, as the credits blast by, before plunging into generic geekery as college student Alex [Michelle Argyris] returns back to her new apartment that she’s to share with friends Jessica [Shantelle Canzanese] and Breanne [Vanessa Broze].  The first generic nudity is on display within the first five minutes, Alex boyfriend  Brian [Kevin Jake Walker] makes an appearance and all seems hunky-dory…classic turf; now just wait for the scares to start hammering down.
But despair not; this generic tomfoolery is what establishes characters, the complexity in the structure of the constellation of friends’… hostility, relations, and infidelity. You learn a lot more about this bunch in these first five minutes than the average horror movie, and I really like the way director / writer, Greg A. Sager, establishes those we need to root for and those we can see as cannon fodder early on in the piece. Not forgetting that the dirty little secret we are in on really gives an interesting intrigue to all the scenes with the affected parts from that moment on.
Classic stuff like over acting… strange scratches on the thighs… weird symbols in her schoolbooks… creepy visions… am I loosing my mind questions… doors that creak in the dark… foul language, and silly overdubbed possessed voices… and in all honesty it get’s kind of annoying. Apart from alienating me with some at times really poor acting, what I find Devil Seed doing, is provoking me with some weak ass moments, then taking these moments and leading them to great ones. A really sappy research scene lands in images of Annelise Michel pre and post supposed possession by no less than six demons… and who the movies Annelise Michel: The Exorcist Tapes 2011, The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2005, and the superior Requiem 2006. I take this as sign of Sager doing his research correct and knowing what path to take in this journey.
Let’s shift focus. The pros of this film are the jump scares. Phew; I don’t know when demonic possession flick jump scares where as intense as this. When Sager starts off one classic jump scare moment, he just keeps pushing on, and frequently nails more jump scares into the same scene. Kind of like multi layered scare, which just keep kicking. A Chinese cracker of intense jump scares. It’s really effective and as there’s no tension release, only blam, blam, blam, it definitely winds the audience up.  At the end of the day this is a vital reason for why we seek out horror related movies, we want to be scared, and Devil Seed really hammers the frights down solid.

There’s some good storytelling and audience manipulation in setting up the Alex character and guiding the audience into feeling empathetic towards her. By letting the audience in on the deceit of her boyfriend, there’s an emotional recognition  - from the times we have felt deceived or let down by a love one – between the audience and Alex. This is a good way to help the audience feel more for the otherwise pretty shallow character, oh and to show that’ she’s still a virgin without actually having that awkward dialogue. Instead we have Breanne  in post coital pillow talk ask why Brian doesn’t just leave “that little virgin Alex”. He tries to hold some façade but this comes crushing to the ground when the demon pushes him away as he’s trying to get into Alex pants… Instead of accepting the incident as proof of Alex possession, he takes it as a major cock-block and abandons her there and then. As said, her allies are leaving her one by one… and the audience become more and more empathetic to this poor girl with her solid values, who after turning down her boyfriend in a gentle manner is raped by the devil, again.
Oh, and if I where a filmmaker making a flick about the devil raping some top-notch hottie – which he always does, the devil has great taste in women - I’d at least make sure that her pants get torn off.  Unlike the possessed lesbian act between Alex and Jessie - brief but it’s there, the demonic rape is nodded at but sort of kept off-camera. Let’s just say that The Entity 1982 came to mind, but with the clothes still on. Luckily there are some great special effects courtesy of Anthony Veilleux, who’s been part of crew’s on some pretty damned good movies. Veilleux definitely knows his stuff and the cuts, scars, burns and air gropes really get the job done.
There’s a small Subplot with the parent, Father Madison [Micheal G. Wilmot] and son [Wayne Conroy] who have grown apart, which never really develops into anything else than dialogue. Madison is the priest from the opening montage, and he’s been down this road before, even if he’s reluctant to perform one last Exorcism. His backstory connects in to the introduction montage – as the demon recognizes, and taunts Father Madison in a way that indicates that they know each other.  Surprisingly, in all it’s convention, this last act is what becomes something of a booster for the movie, as it really picks up here and I find myself liking the movie more and more for ever minute. If only Sager had worked Father Madison into the plot earlier and built that character arc more, he could have come out with a tale of one man loosing his faith, serving time in prison, living a life of remorse only to come back out of hiding for one last round, re connecting with his faith and redeem himself. But that’s a completely different story, and at by the end of the movie, Devil Seed actually manages to take genre convention and warp it somewhat, by partially pushing the accustomed traits into places I’ve not seen it go before!
I predict Devil Seed sands a risk of being lost amongst the clutter of similar flicks, as it really doesn’t bring all that much innovation with it, until that last act goodness. Hopefully this piece doesn’t scare you off, but instead evokes some interest as Devil Seed has a couple of good tricks up it’s sleeve, and impressive, intense, nerve wrecking jump scares, that might make you pee your pants. Grab your girlfriend (or boyfriend), check out the movie and enjoy some classic generic demonic possession before your date becomes a portal to the end of the mankind.
Devil Seed is set to be released by NjutaFilms later this year.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Sky Has Fallen

The Sky Has Fallen
Directed by: Doug Roos
Horror, Drama, 72min
USA

Independent zombie/apocalypse movies are becoming so stereotype that it’s a crime. There’s rarely anything new added to the formula that’s been running on autopilot since 1968. Nevertheless, I love the zombie genre, and can’t tear myself away form watching them. Watching them to find those rare gems that actually bring a new novelty with them to the scenario… Ok, so The Sky Has Fallen might not really be a zombie film, but it does use themes from the genre, and the dead have risen from their graves - even if it is part of a larger scheme of sinister experiments conducted by a strange demonic entity. Perhaps this is where the future of zombie film lies, in crossbreeding it with other niches. Part post apocalypse, part survival horror and part zombie film - just like Doug Roos’ The Sky Has Fallen.
An airborne virus is wiping out mankind. Mysterious black figures are kidnapping the recently dead, experimenting on them and resurrecting them as their undead puppets. The few survivors left, have been fighting the battle for their existence what seems to be an undefeatable foe. One persistent warrior, Lance [Carey MacLaren] is determined to seek and destroy the leader of the shadow beings as to stop the pestilence that’s taking down mankind in rapid succession. Along the path of his quest he encounters Rachel [Laurel Kemper], who also has an agenda of her own… but the encounter also awakens questions of morale, life, death and human nature.

The Sky Has Fallen is a good film, a really good film As far as independent horror films go, I’d be an idiot not to say that Doug Roos is onto something here. This guy obviously knows how to tell a story, bring characters to life and captivate an audience. The Sky Has Fallen has a lot of great fight scenes, some good horror moments, but perhaps most importantly it has heart, soul and intelligence.
There’s a natural interest evoked when certain information, or backstory, is kept from the audience. Both Lance and Rachel are obviously holding back on telling what drives them towards their goal. Roos boldly explores their backstories through intimate dialogue and non-linear crosscutting in-between fight scenes. This is also where a vague, but existing love story sub-plot evolves. Hardly surprising when two people in an extreme situation, are drawn closer to each other as they reveal their darkest secrets, most inner thoughts and reasons for taking up the quest. It’s a cool way to take a story like this and in many ways much more authentic than a lot of other pieces where women just fall head over heals for any bloke who turns up. I can completely relate to these two finding feelings for each other.

There’s a matter of trust between the two. They strive towards the same goal – terminate the white spectre – and keep each other alive. There’s an intriguing scene where Lance decides to take Rachel on as his companion, which comes through a dilemma between taking her life and saving her from the dark road ahead, or sparing her and at the risk of her being tortured by the black shadows. This brings a creative dimension to the character that makes him stand out amongst other “heroic characters”. I was definitely a wtf moment for me, and the outcome made Lance grow in my eyes, and even more so as his backstory is revealed bit by bit.
Our old friend guilt makes a great appearance when Lance finally reveals the reason for him taking on his monumental quest. I really tip my hat to the way Roos moves a classic revenge motivation to the side, to reveal a guilt motivator behind it. The guilt of letting a family member down is much more effective than that of a random person he should have rescued. This is a textbook example of how guilt can be used, and Roos uses it in all the right ways.

I really get a kick out of finding metaphors in genre films. When it comes to The Sky Has Fallen, I’d like to point your attention to the scenes with the Priest that Rachel and Lance find along their way… Being that we all have our roots in Christian society, the scene is a great way to tell the audience, in a sublime way, that we’re fucked. Not even God can save us, and the evil will prevail! Keep an eye open when you watch zombie and post apocalypse releated movies... the clever one's usually have this kind of metaphor. 
Editing if ferocious, and really packs a punch, Roos definitely has a feeling for getting through a lot of material and transforming it to the most effective substance. Backstory is told in dialogue, but also violently spliced into the other wise calm flow of the dialogue scenes. It creates unease as these violent bursts disrupt the sobriety of the tales they are trying to tell. It works brilliantly. I would most likely have gone over the editing of the dialogue scenes once more and create a better flow there – not due to pacing, but because the somewhat restrained delivery of dialogue and pretty straight cuts make those moments feel sagging at times. But these moments are luckily contrasted by the highly efficient editing in between, such as action and fight scenes. It should be pointed out that there is a terrific amount of dialogue in The Sky Has Fallen and Roos deserves every inch of respect you can give him for the amount of dialogue. It’s certainly no small feat to make a movie that mainly relies on it’s dialogue scenes, and at the end of the day, for a low budget feature with what I presume is amateur actors and actresses how they deliver there lines is a small issue.
Sometimes bad luck turns into good luck and works to one’s advantage. Roos had covered wide shot footage but later felt that they weren’t quite working out when he got to post. So he removed them from the edit. Which was kind of unfortunate, as the film never really establishes locations, space or setting. But at the same time it works great for the movie as it forces most shots into being half shots, close ups and extreme close ups that creates an immense intimate feeling with the material. With the subplots that play though the film, this intimacy is exactly what the movie needs and what brings that all so important heart to the movie. The effect is almost as if becoming a third party at the camp fires where Lance and Rachel share their stories, fight the creatures and slowly are drawn to each other.

Roos, never really tries to explain what the creatures are, or what really happened to the world as we knew it... which i feel is a plus. Nothing destroys an atmosphere and tone as well as the quick fix tacked onto the end of a movie, and god knows that way to many indie movies try to patch up questions that never really need to be fixed. This movie is primarily about the people, and the journey they take. The plague, demonic creatures and zombie figurines are all secondary.
The score is absolutely beautiful. For real, I see way to many flicks with synthesizer-orchestrated scores, or even worse goddamned keyboard drones. But the music to The Sky Has Fallen, composed by James Sizemore is magnificent and really adds a layer to this fascinating low budget gem which definitely leaves an impression on it’s audience.

I love the irony that Hollywood can’t get shit to fly, despite huge budgets, extensive re-writes, re-shoots and tossing all the “hot names” into the mix. Then comes a young man with a vision, no budget, amateur actors, shots, directs, writes and edits his own movie and it resonates louder than most the shite the studios “think the kids want”. Doug Roos has created an original, impressive, one of a kind flick that definitely promises a lot for future projects to come. 



Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Countess Perverse

Countess Perverse
Original Title: La comtesse perverse
Directed by: Jess Franco
France, 1973
Drama/Sleaze/Dark Comedy, 78min
Distributed by: Mondo Macabro


I’m a sucker for directors cuts, presumed “lost forever” finds, multiple source prints and stuff like that. There’s something magic with watching re-cut or reassembled with previously missing, but now found in someone’s cupboard footage or sparkling restorations that try to recreate the director’s original vision that completely enthrals me. Perhaps even more so when it’s cheap exploitation fare, as it shows a level of admiration, passion, attention and respect for these fantastic movies that they haven’t’ been getting before.  Celluloid oddity enthusiasts, Mondo Macabro have finally come to the point in time where they follow up their previous selection of pimped Jess Franco titles: Sinner - Diary of a Nymphomaniac 1973, Lorna The Exorcist 1974, and one of my all time favourites, The Diabolical Dr. Z 1966  - with the ultimate, restored version of the "lost" directors cut of La comtesse perverse (Countess Perverse) 1973.
When I first started getting into Franco movies back in the late eighties, early nineties, one of the things that fascinated me was a recurrent tale my peers and fellow Franco enthusiasts would tell me. The tale of how Franco would make several versions of the same film, to cash in on several different areas. Sometimes a rawer horror/thriller version followed by a softcore erotic version and then rounded off by a hardcore version. At the time it felt like an ingenious way to cash in on several different areas and I thought Franco was something of a marvel to have this insight and wisdom. But the more time I’ve spent watching and researching Franco, it’s becomes obvious that the multiple versions are rarely a move of his will. It’s unfortunately more often something forced upon him by producers and distributors who seemingly push the movie – or Franco’s vision if you want – into a completely different pigeonhole.
Franco originally shot this movie as an erotic little horror themed black comedy called Countess Perverse in 1973 - which this restored version presents. His producer at the time, Robert De Nesle, feared reactions to the cannibalistic themes presented in the movie and demanded a change to take the edge off the movie’s violent content and down beat climax. So new footage featuring Lina Romay and Caroline Rivere, (stepdaughter of Franco), was shot, bringing a comedic tone to the film and adding amongst other things an “It was only a dream” ending to the film. But it doesn’t stop there, because during the same time period a new cinematic novelty was hitting the screens with the result that exploitation filmmakers – and producers – where loosing out to, the novelty of Porn. The seductive French erotic movies couldn’t compete with imported hardcore porn, and this left the sexploitation films in peril. In 1975 the French government passed a law that permitted screenings of hardcore porn, which allowed French filmmakers to get a piece of the action. So producers started adding inserts into their movies and titles they already had on the shelves. This is quite possibly what led producer de Nesle to, once again, take measures to keep up with what audiences wanted. Hardcore inserts featuring Romay, Pierre Taylou and Monica Swinn where shot and added to the movie to create a third version, Les Croqueuses (The Munchers) which hit the French adult cinemas in 1975. This version later ended up in Italian hands, where further random hardcore footage was added, much like the godawful XXX version of 99 Women 1968, edited by Bruno Mattei. This Italian version is known under the name Sexy Nature!  
Anyways, back to Countess Perverse, the directors cut:
Now, this might be a little spoilerish, but I'm pretty certain that it won't stop you from watching the movie.

Bob [Robert Woods] and Moira [Tania Busselier] find a naked woman, Kali, [Kali Hansa] washed up on the beach outside their house. The woman is delirious and moans about a house on an island and the people there who are going to kill her, Count and Countess Zaroff!  [Alice Arno and Howard Vernon]

Bob & Moira take the woman back to the island, before they invite a friend to stay at their house by the sea. Sylvia [Lina Romay] eagerly moves in, and the couple lure her into a sinister ménage a trois, which induces jealousy, between the couple. A boat trip takes them to the Zaroff Island where they all sit down for a red meat dinner. The initiated can read a subtext in the dialogue that goes right past Sylvia’s head. Countess and Count Zaroff visit Sylvia late at night, as she ends up in the middle of yet another ménage a trois.

Following their session, Sylvia hears noises and takes up her own investigation which leads not only to an image to make you fall head over heels in love with Romay all over again, but also to revealing the dreaded secret of the Zaroff’s. They are cannibals, Sylvia finds them midst decapitating the body of Kali, and they tell her she’s next. A naked Sylvia runs into the countryside as the prey for the day and just might end up being plat de jour.
Leaning sternly upon the plot of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, Franco came up with this frisky and darkly comedic twist to the story immortalized through Pitchel and Schodesack’s 1932 movie, which has then been done to death from there on up through Ken Dixon’s Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity 1987, influencing stuff like Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot 1982, Lucio Fulci’s New Gladiators 1984, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale 2000 and inspiring mainstream bollocks like the Hunger Games 2012 along the road.

Countess Perverse was shot back-to-back with Plaisir à trois - featuring the same crew and cast, and mostly improvised. Although I still believe that Franco had some kind of basic idea of what he wanted from his actors, as there are some key scenes that make this a highly enjoyable gem with some amazing visuals, perfectly sleazy moments and sinister dark comedy.

Approaching this film as I would anything else I watch here I’d say that the protagonists of the piece are established effectively as Kali in the opening scene tells of her ordeal, even if in brief form, at the hands of the Zaroff’s. The flashback narrative, shot with extremely wide angles, give an almost dreamlike illusion before the architecture of Ricardo Bofill’s Xanadu - which almost seems to be defying gravitation – pops into frame and the Zaroff’s, like lurking predators, invite her into their web of depravity.
Oh, and on that architecture, the next time in Stockholm, take a walk from Medborgarplatsen to Södra Station, and lookout for the half circle shaped apartment complex near Medis… Yeah, that’s designed by Ricardo Bofill and now you know why it’s called Bofills Båge. It’s our connection to Franco from now on. Franco also uses Bofill’s Xanadu in Sie tötete in Ekstase (She Killed in Ecstasy) 1971, and Eugenie - Historia de na perversion (Eugenie – The Story of Her Journey into Perversion), 1980, and I’m sure that observant viewers will find it used on more occasions.

So the threat of the island, and the Zaroff’s is established. We know what they eat, and cannibalism is definitely on the list of taboos. At the time of Countess Perverse, 1974, Lenzi had only started dabbling with the themes that would in a few years erupt into the Cannibal genre, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 was just around the corner waiting to pounce, so Cannibalism still was a pretty shocking occurrence on screen.
At the time cannibalism may have been provocative to producers and audiences, but today the cannibalism works as a platform for some wonderfully sinister dark comedy. It gives a fun rush of insight when we realize that the meat is human. Editor Gerard Kikoïne’s juxtaposition of dialogue and close ups of chunks of meat roasting on a grill is splendid, and Vernon sniggering manically each time they asked what meat they are eating is genius. The reason I question the improvisation claim, is that these innuendos are also fond repeatedly in the dialogue. Lines such as “Sorry for the tough meat, next time… oh you won’t be here next time… “ must have required some thought, but perhaps that should be credited to the French dubbing and dialogue added in post. More on that in a moment.
The second major shock comes when Bob and Moira, after hearing Kali’s devastating tale of cannibalism, sexual abuse and daring escape, turn her right over into the hands of the Count and Countess.  This kicks off a subplot concerning morale and doing bad for better cause, as Bob and Moria have an agenda. They want to get away from the life they are living, escape from the current situation.
I find it interesting in the way the Bob character plays out, because he has remorse for what they have done. He’s obviously obsessed by Sylvia – and who wouldn’t be – and the guilt from taking her to the Zaroff’s, leads him to take serious actions against Moria, and later challenge the Zaroff’s to little effect. This character redeems his immoral ways, he tries to correct his wrongdoing and find some kind of redemption as he tries to put things back to normal.

Taking the down beat ending and Vernon’s nihilistic closing speech in mind; it’s fair to see why producer Robert du Nesle became concerned about audience reactions, and took to the drastic measures taken. Today this kind of ending is a predicted narrative tool when it comes to many genre movies, but at the time, I’d dare say that Franco was breaking new turf, which when one thinks about it is outstanding proof to the genius of Jess Franco.
Another reason I adore the films of Jess Franco is that he’s had the balls to experiment with his filmmaking. He always makes the most of what he had to work with, just look at Paula-Paula, 2010 for an instance. Armed with a simple DV-Camera, Franco presented us with a concentrate of aesthetics that saturate most of his work, and even worked in a small final part for Romay as Alma Pereira - another returning Franco character. Or the excessive zooming that the unfaithful unfortunately associate with his films in a negative way. In reality the zoom technique was a result of the tight schedules given to him by producer Arthur Brauner during the suite of movies shot in 1971 – She Killed in Ecstasy, X312 – Flight to Hell, Vampyros Lesbos, and Der Teufel kam aus Akasava. Instead of grinding the production to a halt to reposition cameras and lighting for cut away shots, a rapid zoom back and forth, gave the same kind of result, whilst saving valuable time and money.
In Countess Perverse, he’s obviously experimenting with camera lenses and composition. Many scenes start with a distanced master shot, lingering there as long as possible, before cutting in to wide or mid shots. A lot of these mid shots are shot with wide-angle lenses that give a fisheye effect, which is really effective, creepy and surreal. It also hit me that there’s a lot of great dolly work going on in Countess Perverse too, something I rarely associate with the cinematography on Franco films. I have to point out the gorgeous compositions because Gérard Brisseau’s cinematography is outstanding, and he really makes the most of the fantastic Bofill architecture. Pacing is almost flawless, and Gérard Kikoïne’s editing moves the movie forth in a steady flow.

Immaculately restored, with a stunningly crispy HD image, Countess Perverse has been returned to the original vision Jess Franco had in mind thirty-eight years ago by Stéphane Derdérian and screenwriter/actor Alain Petit (Jean Rollin’s La morte vivante (The Living Dead Girl) 1982, Franco’s Justine 1979 and Tender Flesh 1997). Petit is said to have been present when Franco edited the movie back in the day, and I seem to recall reading somewhere that he’d confirmed the original aspect ratio as the presented 1.33:1 – there’s even an onscreen guide to make sure you get it right.
Franco started editing his own movies early seventies – uncredited on Plaisir à troisKikoïne get’s the credit. So perhaps he (and Petit) where present, but didn’t physically cut and splice film together himself.  As it’s told, Franco shot the scenes, assembled a mute rough cut which was then sent back to the offices of CFPC (Comptoir Français de Productions Cinématographiques). There Kikoïne edited the movie and this is most likely this is where co-credited writer, Elisabeth ledu de Nesle, wrote dialogue for the movie. After all, Countess Perverse was only one of a whopping fourteen films - eleven completed - several iconic Franco titles amongst them - and three which where never completed or released, that Franco directed in 1973.

Some food for thought - if Countess Perverse was shot back to back with Plaisir à trois, a movie Franco without receiving onscreen credit, edited and shot, then there’s a pretty good chance that he also worked the camera and the assisted the editing of Countess Perverse.
Returning readers, will know that I love old soundtracks – hence the stacks of vinyl in my home and mixtapes for your pleasure to the right. The Countess Perverse soundtrack is a gem; Jean Bernard Raiteaux and Olivier Bernard supply the movie with a fantastically cool fuzzy guitar progressive rock opera kind of track. at times reminds me of a aggressive take on Gene Moore’s theme from Carnival of Souls 1962. Just how often do you hear fuzzy guitar, flute and monkey screams in the same tune! Amazing stuff, someone (hint hint Finders Keepers) should get this out there as soon as possible.

Countess Perverse is visually stunning, psychotronic wonder of sleaze, mystery, dark humour and features wonderful performances from the cast. Romay may never have given a more vulnerable performance – although that could just be me being emotional at seeing her in HD - Vernon is superbly sinister and oozes evil. Choosing this movie is a no-brainer, it’s Franco at his finest (which both I and every DVD quote will tell you, of every Franco movie) Countess Perverse will perfectly fit into the void next to the Mondo Macabro releases of The Diabolical Dr. Z, Sinner and Lorna the Exorcist that you already have – or should have- standing in your shelf.
Countess Perverse is to be released on June 12th, by Mondo Macabro. You can preorder it on Amazon or pick it up from our friends at Diabolik DVD.

Sleazy Succubus...


Writing about Jess Franco generates a lot of love and compassion, which deserves a good soundtrack.

So here's the Sleazy Succubus - The Sounds of Jess Franco mixtape once again, just incase you missed it the first time around of didn't notice the links on the right hand side...

Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Night of the Demons

Night of the Demons
Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
USA, 1988
Horror, 90min
Distributed by: Anchor Bay 

I really like Night of the Demons, REALLY! I’ve had a real soft spot for it since the very first time I saw it a long, long time ago. Yeah, it’s one of those eighties flicks that I hold as a classic, and I held on to that old VHS tape for an eternity. It’s schlocky, creepy, fun and intimidating, just in the right way, it plays out almost like the first time you rode the ghost train. The first time around it was scary and fun, the second time you knew the beats and came prepared, and every time from there on, you just took the ride for the sheer fun of it. I can’t really say why this one became a fave more than any other title, but at the time Steve Johnson FX where buzzing, Linnea Quigley was THE scream queen and the flick had one of the best Bauhaus songs ever on the soundtrack.
A bunch of kids gather at Hall House, an infamous haunted house, where Angela has invited them to a Halloween party. The party starts and fun get’s rollin', until they decide to hold a séance. Disturbing images are seen in the mirror, which shatters into a thousand pieces releasing the demons of Hull House, which start possessing the youngsters one by one…
Basically Night of the Demons is a pretty straightforward generic horror that takes place on Halloween night. Gender roles and stereotypical characters are all introduced within the first ten minutes as the bunch of kids attending Angela’s party are introduced.  Judy [Cathy Podewell – who went on to became a regular on Dallas, as J.R’s second wife Cally, her date Jay [Lance Fenton], Sal [William Gallo], the bad-boy, with a crush on Judy. Their friends Max [Philip Tanzini] and Frannie [Jill Terashita], Angela [Mimi Kinkade] shop lifting while Suzanne [Linnea Quigley] – who only want’s to look good for the boys, bends over way to deep distracting the clerks with her pink panties… and in classic Quigley style, there’s more to come. Punk rockers Rodger, [Alvin Alexis] Helen [Allison Barron] and Stooge [Hal Havins]… and finally the Hull House, where the events of the night are about to unfold.  All of their traits are rapidly presented and we get a crash course into their personalities… and knowing genre conventions you know exactly where they are going to go during the movie. When jock type Jay get’s irritable that Judy won’t put out – after all he’s “heard the rumours” of her and Sal – he ditches her in the dark room and she’s left to her own devices.
Archetypes displaying their traits in the classic way, and from that moment on you know that the good girl virgin, Judy is gong to be this movies “Final girl”. Hey, it’s no coincidence that Judy’s wearing an Alice in wonderland dress, as Alice is a symbol of innocence, a metaphor for virginity… I’ve discussed how Alice in Wonderland is a goldmine for genre filmmakers – such as Jay Lee’s Alyce 2011, and this is yet another example of how it common it is in popular culture, and specifically the horror genre.
Oh, and notice that splendid character shift, where the unfortunate old man taunted by obnoxious teenagers turns into sinister old man about to hide razorblade in apples… That’s the kind of two-sided comedy/darkness I love about The Night of the Demons, and he’ll be back for the wraparound in a final blood drenched Steve Johnson effect.
It’s kind of silly, but the genesis of the haunted Hull House is told through corny dialogue bringing us up to speed – obviously it concerns someone in the Hull House going insane and slaughtering the entire family, and the underground stream, which the house supposedly was built on, that traps the evil spirits inside the old creepy house.

Being such a piece of eighties pop culture, and generic formula, the kids obviously have a few brew’s, dance around to some new wave rock, and then kick up a séance, which releases the evil forces. Buckle up, shits about to get wild, and Steve Johnson’s about to unleash a shit load of amazing special effects upon you as Demons walk the world.
False scares, conventional build-ups, traditional horror ploys, but also some very original moments that still stand out today. You can’t argue with Steve Johnson's spectacular eighties special effects, the eye gouging, possessed faces, burn victims, trauma injuries - still spectacular today  - or that gory climax! Who can ever forget the image of Linnea Quigley pushing her lipstick info the flesh of her nipple. An iconic moment of generic horror that still stands the test of time. The lipstick into the breast scene is still an awesomely impressive effect, and is in many ways an epitome of sex and horror colliding, creating a discomfort within the audience.  First it get’s you all excited then it freaks the hell out of you, but that’s nothing compared to the seductive little dance Suzanne gives Jay later; lifting up her skirt, showing him some muff, straddling the expectant lad, and then turning into a demon only to gouge out his eyes… awesome stuff, and definitely a head fuck in the best possible way.
Night of the Demons was followed by two sequels – Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Night of the Demons 2, and Jim Kaufman’s straight to Video Night of the Demons III (written by Tenney) - all starring Amelia Kinkade as Angela. It was also source for a remake in 2009 Adam Gierasch Night of the Demons, to little success, despite Edward Furlong (Who's arm I grabbed and snarled "Watch it Kid!" at, at a convention in Stockholm a few years back, after Furlong stumbled out of a booth in the bathroom, bumped into my then seven year old, and snarled "Watch it kid!"), Shannon Elizabeth, a Quigley cameo, and an almost blueprint replica of the original movie – including lipstick gag. The contemporary take on old-school generic horror fails miserably as it lacks the enthusiasm, fines and passion of this original gem with it’s almost perfect tongue in cheek mix of scares, cark comedy and sexual allusions, and ironic wraparound story.
Night of the Demons is a movie that I love so profoundly that I have no trouble revisiting it over and over again. On a list of 20 desert island titles, I'd take this one with me. Despite being rather conventional and a universally generic horror film, it has some fantastic effects by Steve Johnson – who finally got to showcase his work on his own and not as part of a team, a great new wave soundtrack and an original score by Dennis Michael Tenney, and a cast and crew, who obviously are having a great time. I elevate it above the most other generic flicks of the time, because there’s something magical about the demons in Hull House.