Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Girl in Room 2A


The Girl in Room 2A
Original Title: La casa della paura
Directed by: William L. Rose
Italy, 1974
Horror/Thriller, 90min
Distributed by: Mondo Macabro

Dick Randall, happy go lucky archetype of an American film producer/ writer/actor, with a burning passion for low budget trash and sleaze fare. Amongst his mighty catalogue of productions prowls some of the grittiest dazzling and favoured exploitations flicks co-produced between the USA and Italy, Spain, France, Philippines, Taiwan, South-Korea, Thailand and on and on and on. I’ll say stuff like Guido Zurli’s Lo stranglatore di Vienna (The Mad Butcher) 1971, Fernando Merighi’s Casa d’appuntamento (The French Sex Murders) 1972, Mario Bava’s Quante volte… quella note (Four Times that Night) 1972, Eddie Nicart’s For Y’ur Height Only 1981 and Juan Piquer Simón’s Mil gritos tiene la noche (Pieces) 1982 and you’ll probably find at least one title you like, and then you have a perfect image of what Randall got up to in his thirty years as producer of cheap and cheerful trash cinema.
If you’ve been keeping up with Mondo Macabro’s catalogue these last couple of years, you will definitely have seen the names of several Dick Randall produced movies, amongst them the more recently released gialloesque sleaze thriller, The Girl in Room 2A.

A pretty grim initial attack – during the opening credits, talk about being effective - eagerly sets the tone, as a young woman is kidnapped by masked strangers, drugged, striped naked, strung up to the beams of a roof, tortured and then tossed off the side of a cliff to her death… There’s no doubt about it, from here on this movie is probably going to be on the rough side.
In stark contrast to the violent opening, we’re introduced to our protagonist Margaret Bradley [Daniela Giordano] as she’s released from prison peacefuly chatting to the wardens. She goes straight to her halfwayhouse under the supervision of Mrs Grant [Giovanna Galletti], claims to have been incarcerated innocently, and that it all had been a mistake, which obviously makes her backstory suddenly become intriguing. To thicken up the plot, there’s a lurky geezer following her around, and installed in her temporary residence, she notices a big blob of red – supposedly blood – that won’t wash out from the floor of her room. Definitely lifting a trick of two from the Italian Giallo genre, shutters slam, the landlady acts suspicious, footsteps stalk outside her door at night, a character has a mannequin fetish, and a red gowned, red masked figure haunts her dreams… but is it a dream?
By chance the landlady’s son Frank [Angelo Infanti], is in cohorts with the sinister Mr Dreese [Raf Vallone] who takes an eager eye to Margaret. There’s a little hook that keeps Margret from leaving the cooky landlady and her snooping son, Margaret can’t leave before she’s paid the first rent. So she need’s dosh too become free… With a small loan of twenty bucks from her parole officer and friend Alicia Sundberg [Eurohorror icon Rosalba Neri], Margaret starts to plan her move to freedom and escape from the suspicions apartment of Mrs Grant.
Along the way, we learn just how vile Dreese and the man in red can be, as they turns on a former business partner, torturing him and driving him off a cliff in a burning car. The plot thickens when Jack Whitman [John Scanlon] turns up, telling Margaret the story of his sister’s suicide. Edie Whitman was also the previous tenant of Mrs Grant, and also a former resident of room 2A.
Jack ignites his own little subplot, which goes via Edie’s boyfriend Charlie [Brad Harris], and his wife Claire [Dada Gallotti], who clarify both Margaret and the audience’s suspicion that Mrs Grant’s hostel is being used as a menagerie of victims for the Red masked man’s sadistic pleasure. When Charlie tells Jack Edie ended up at Mrs Grant’s after a short spin in prison, it becomes clear that Margaret better stay on her toes. Which doesn’t stop her or the supposed mourning Jack from dropping out of heir clothes and getting it off, whilst Frank peeps on them from the other side of the curtains…
The threat against Margaret is pretty solid now, and gearing up for the last act, the red hooded figure and his thugs make their grand entrance.  Chained up and locked in a small cell in a dank chateau Margaret finally learns what the strange cult is all about, and how they are the only ones who can help her, and the other” Bad girls” repent their sins. It’s a small part, but Karin Schubert is featured as Maria, yet another young woman to move into the Grant hostel, and as we have already learned, bad girls must be punished. Subplots and main narrative all come together in a final climactic encounter where answers are given and the identity of the masked red figure is revealed.
The Girl in Room 2A never really manages to get up there with the great Gialli, although it certainly does tap into genre traits and relies heavily on something of an investigation plot. There could have been more moments where nudity and violence come together, and the greater part of the hooded man’s sadistic torture is told through flashbacks. It is a great moment of depravity, and a quick internet search makes me wonder if there was an even rougher cut of the film, as some seventies bush found on the net, isn’t featured in the film. It could also be the classic publicity shot stunt, so let’s not pay too much attention to that. I’d easily have seen more of it, but despite being an important part of establishing the threat of the climax, it’s pretty sparse. The opening premise certainly doesn’t come through even though the final scenes have a great evil cult, complete with bourgeoisie audience in attendance moment. If one this is underused, it’s the mystery of Mrs Grant and the ominous cult!
Perhaps it is part of lesser Gialli traits, the sudden stopping in it’s tracks and tossing a mediocre ending at the audience, as a lot of them suffer from somewhat unsatisfying final solutions. The climax to The Girl in Room 2A isn’t’ altogether satisfying and comes off as something of a quick fix. I’m guessing that the lack of eroticism and sexploitative content – which certainly was an area that Rose had tampered deep into back in the states during the Sixties with scripts for several roughies and his direction of the one with the best name ever The Smut Peddler 1965 - may be sign that Rose was trying to move into a new area, more serious film turf and perhaps starting to sever his ties with the old smut peddling sexploitation world. Whatever the case, his plans seemed to have failed, and he unfortunately never made another film after The Girl in Room 2A.
The majority of the score is brilliantly haunting ambient jazzy stuff by Berto Pisano - mostly known for his scores to Andrea Bianchi’s Nude per l’assasino (Strip Nude for Your Killer) 1975, Le notti del terrore (Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror) 1981, and Mario Landi’s Giallo a Venezia 1979. But at the same time it takes on some preposterous proportions during the last act and does more damage than help build towards the climax. I don’t know what the through was at the time, but it almost becomes farcical with a cheesy adventure matinee quality. Needless to say it sounds pretty daft in the context of saving young naked women from a red masked person thrashing at them with a cat o’nine tails.
Re-built using part of English and Italian prints to bring the most complete version of The Girl in Room 2A, Mondo Macabro present the film in the finest shape it’s ever been available in to date, uncut, uncensored and unbound! It may not be the top of the crop, but it sure is an delightful little piece that easily makes for some easy watching and the Red hooded sadist is one of those characters you really cant get enough of and cherish every moment of that scarlet insanity.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Contest. (Closed over and done with)


Quick and dirty contest on the Facebook page....

If you aint' member yet, then get in there.

Go HERE!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bereavement


Bereavement
Directed by: Stevan Mena
Horror, 2010
USA, 103min
Distributed by: High Fliers Films


I knew nothing of the original movie when I first sat down to watch Bereavement. If I had know that this was the second instalment in a proposed trilogy – and a prequel - I most likely would have looked at it through the “oh do we really need another sequel telling us where it all went wrong movie” glasses. But that would have been wrong of me as Bereavement stands completely on its own two legs and is somewhat unlike other explanatory prequel movies in this genre. Instead of a road to ruin recap showing how all the bad conditions shaped the monster, Bereavement presents a scenario of its own through which the antagonist of the initial instalment merely figures as an unfortunate victim instead of being the prime focus of the narrative.
“If they have no feelings they can’t know fear, but if they cant know fear, why do they run?”

The above sentence is a mantra uttered by serial killer Graham Sutter [Brett Rickaby] who resides in his families since long shut down and abandoned Meat and Poultry processing plant. After kidnapping a young male child of six years, Sutter starts to force his young protégé to watch a series of disturbing moments of violent sadism. The young child, Martin [Spencer List], is stricken with a mysterious condition that makes him lack emotion or feel pain. A condition Sutter uses in his mental and physical torture of both Martin and the victims he has chained to the roof of his torture chamber. In stark contrast to the dark sinister realm of Sutter, we find the Miller family. Hard working father Jonathan [Michael Biehn] who takes in his teenage niece Allison [Alexandra Daddario] after her parents die in a tragic accident. The Miller’s do their best to welcome Allison, and raise her as one of her own, and are the complete opposites of Sutter. After spotting Martin lurking behind the broken windows of the processing plant, Allison’s curiosity get’s the better of her, and the contrasting families rush head on in a violent collision course.
Bereavement runs pretty smoth and effectively, despite tapping deeply into TCM territory, which is hard not to do, when messing around in this genre niche. It builds a fine tension between the good and the evil. Martin doesn’t really have much activity in the major part of the movie, but acts more as a supporting role to Sutter – who has some serious issues of his own. From square one Martins “disorder”, which will come in handy in the sequel… is introduced. His mother tells a nanny there on a job interview of his condition, his fragility and his lack of feeling. It’s also used as a tool against him later when Sutter slashes his face with a huge knife in front of one of the unfortunate female victims. Sutter does this whilst delivering philosophical ponderings along the lines of “don’t feel anything, because it doesn’t hurt”. A complex approach as he torments Martin whist the poor victim becomes part of his sadistic game.
The way Mena uses the contrasts of Biehn’s gentle all American guy, against the raw sadistic way Sutter is raising Martin - making him watch as he tortures and slaughters innocent victims, punishing him in tormentfull ways, grooming him for the murders to come - is effective. One never knows when Martin will snap and become what his destiny expects of him. Unfortunately there’s many areas unexplored within the Sutter character, such as the strange demons that haunt him, and the backstory between Sutter and Miller. Miller at one point refers to the “stink” of Sutter who used to go to the same school as him. There’s also the subplot concerning Sutter and the imaginary shape he sees roaming the shadows. Unseen beings he refers to as “Them”, and also the beings he claims control him, and demand the sacrifices he’s committing. Who knows, perhaps that’s where the third instalment will reside.
There’s a witty pun the first time Martin sees Alison and Sutter warns him “Curiosity killed the cat”. When Alison’s curiosity drives her to seek out Martin in the supposedly abandoned processing plant later on the phrase backlashes with a bittersweet irony.
I’d be lying if I said that I find  Bereavement to be the most original movie in the genre because it isn’t, and as I said earlier, it does tap into a lot of other genre classics for inspiration. Then again not to many movies in the niche do come up with something unique to add. So where the upside lies, is in the way it stays away form many of the pitfalls others have tumbled into when trying to introduce backstory into a franchise. I also find it works much more efficiently if the audience, instead of reading it as a straightforward genesis of a “madman” film, interpret it as a study of the parallel lives of Martin and Alison. They both are challenged with the same obstacles – trying to fit in to the new lives they have ahead of them, and not really belonging. They both try to run away from the lives they are being forced into – in their own very different ways. The movie comes to a climax, when Alison as a character develops from a self centred teenager to a person who risks her own life to rescue others. Martin also changes character, from the passive character he is throughout the movie, to a most active character in the last act. It's also between the two youngsters that the dynamics of the film rests, and where the tension is built to that final climax.
Although it still is the telling of what drove Martin to become the character he is in the first part, Malevolence, it’s the path taken to that point which is of interest. It does indeed build a fine tension as to which way Martin will go at the last act, considering the sinister grooming Sutter has forced upon the young child. One could say that the victims along the way are anonymous and their deaths never really mean anything, but when the shit hit ‘s the fan and the movie goes all in survival horror, the pace picks up and the punches start to take. The way Mena presents characters is a worthwhile investment and he reels the audience in effectively in this dark and suspenseful horror. At the end of the day, this certainly wakes an interest in the original movie – which is elegantly woven into the final scenes of Bereavement - and what will become the final part of the trilogy.
Bereavement is out on UK DVD on the 1st of October!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blood for Irina



Blood for Irina
Directed by: Chris Alexander
Horror, Drama
USA, 2012
Distributed by: Autonomy Pictures

Franco, Rollin, Herzog, EuroHorror Fever Dream… you got my full attention right there with those key words. I only knew Chris Alexander as the guy who gave Fangoria the vital CPR the publication was in desperate need of. I also slightly know of our shared passion for EuroHorror and all it’s sub-niches. But I knew nothing of his filmmaking ambitions. Ambitions that finally have come to fruition with his debut feature set to be released by Autonomy Pictures in Spring 2013.
Blood for Irina… yeah, Blood for Irina. For some reason that made you think of Jess Franco films and possibly the female vampire Irina (as played by Lina Romay), didn’t it. Well that’s quite possibly the intent of the title… No wait, change that, that IS the intent of the title. Blood for Irina is a passionate homage to the seductive cinema of Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and several other European Art-house horror and sleaze auteurs. Yeah, Let’s talk about them as Auteurs, because if you hold a burning interest in film, you’d know that Auteur theory is all about the film reflecting the precise creative vision the director had intended. Sans Franco, Rollin, Margheritti etc, and perhaps it would be fair to jot down Chris Alexander’s name on that list too. For regardless if they succeeded or not, the intentions where all about creating that perfect image of what they had in mind, and if so, then Blood for Irina definitely is the film of an auteur.

It’s a bold movie to make for a man so strongly associated with above mentioned publication, as I’m sure this film will polarize it’s audiences, and quite frankly alienate a lot of Fango readers. It’s not the kind of movie one would have expected the chief editor of one of the biggest Horror magazines to have come up with.

This is the story of three individuals and the paths they walk, Irina [Shauna Henry] the vampire, who has come to an end of her time. The same blood she craves is the same blood that is destroying her. The prostitute [Carrie Gemmell] who walks the streets knowing that each abusive john may be her last and the motel manager [co-producer David Goodfellow] who holds dark secrets in his obsession for his longtime guest.
So many times I’ve read the tagline “in the vein of Franco, Rollin etc”, and come to find none of it anywhere in the actual movie. It’s an easy way to pigeonhole a film, but a lazy one. It takes more than a band of seductive fanged ladies in transparent nightgowns roaming abandoned château’s to reach the level of poetry I associate with those other guys.  As the final credit on the work print I saw fades out – a dedication to Franco muse Lina Romay – I start going over my notes to see if Alexander comes through on his premise, a “Eurohorror Fever Dream”.

He does and it’s easy to see that he knows his Eurohorror (of which Alexander is an acknowledged expert on) The movie definitely ties in with several of the traits I’ve come to familiarize as the traits specific for the work of Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and I can understand why the press release also mentions Werner Herzog.

Blood for Irina, connects through it’s gentle approach and absentminded visuals – although I have a few issues with the repetitive slow motion. The studies of decay, abandoned locations, and lack of interacting characters all evoke the style so familiar, at times perhaps a bit to hard and almost forcefully, but it does connect. But the motif that bonds the movie to the same emotions of Rollin and Franco, is found in the themes Alexander uses. Returning readers may be familiar with my studies of Rollin and Franco, where I talk about the themes, motifs and referents that they used in their movies. This is where Alexander taps into their hidden treasure. Instead of presenting a generic vampire film, the movie deals with the themes of being abandoned, solitude and the search for belonging, all in the same fashion as the directors whose work he’s paying homage to.
Eerie images, abandoned beach, tormented souls, long delicate shots, lingering on character faces, and a haunting soundtrack (Written and performed by Alexander) all conjure up the recognizable traits even if presented in a new, more contemporary setting. The power comes from the dreamlike state the characters of the movie are trapped in. Within the constellation of the three main characters, who are all in search of “something else”; Irina in search of closure, the prostitute in search of something better, the motel manager seeking to bond with his longtime tenant Irina.  Their search takes a meditative path as they slowly come together like driftwood on the abandoned beach that bookends the movie.

Keeping a distance from the characters is tricky way to approach a subject matter. We are accustomed to bags full of exposition telling us everything and more about the characters before the movie gets going. It’s all left out here, apart from slight backstory of Irina, but Alexander still manages to produce emotions for his characters in the small acts of kindness they do along the way. Irina comforts the hooker after a date turns sour, she also gives the hooker a second chance, which directly turns victim to predator. It’s an act of kindness that serves them both. It’s also an act that helps the audience for the first time empathize with Irina.
The narrative is sublime, subtle and tender. Alexander never overtly clarifies what we are watching. Instead the approach taken is a suggestive one, challenging the audience to place the pieces together. This is a film that demands attention from its audience. Sometimes the abundance of a destination is effective, as the rush of insight when all falls into place is much more efficient than characters moving on a predestined track. As said, the movie demands it’s audience to pay attention whilst laying out the pieces.

A scene that may seem random at first, becomes an important part when it falls into place later on generating a somewhat tender moment. This happens on several occasions in the film. As when the Motel Manager find’s a victim of Irina’s hidden away amongst the desolate beach houses. His acts are of affection; he’s protecting his object of desire. In the obscure intimacy of distance, the characters drift together through their search. It’s a meditative and dreamlike approach, which certainly mimics emotions and traits of several Rollin and Franco movies.
Blood for Irina is a passionate, dedicated fervor that walks the thin line between life, death, fantasy and reality when three fates are interwoven in an introspective state of mind. Not for everyone, but undoubtedly something fans of minimalistic genre films will appreciate. I’d say it’s a delightful appetizer for future projects to come from the mind of Chris Alexander.

Blood for Irina was shot on a minimal budget, over a five-day period in Alexander’s hometown of Toronto, and is set for a Spring 2013  release through Autonomy Pictures. For more information on the film, check out Blood for Irina's facebook page and Autonomy Pictures.

As the movie is still in post at the time of publication, I’ve chosen to use publicity shots to illustrate the article. Images may not represent the final tone and look of the completed movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amityville Horror 3D


Amityville 3D
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
USA, 1983     
Horror, 105min

One of the few movies I’ve ever turned off because it got to me in all the right ways, is the original Amityville Horror from 1979. My wife and I tried to watch it way back when we started hanging out in the nineties, and we just couldn’t make it through. It was way to scary and it ended up being turned off and put back on the shelf. I’d seen the movie several times before along the years, I’d even read Jay Anson’s novel which still to this day has a fixed spot on my bookshelf amongst the other horror and pulp books. It’s still the movie my wife rates all others we watch against. So, when Amityville Horror 3D turned up in my mail the other night, a stiring urge to watch it grew inside me, as I recalled seeing the trailer, probably in the theatre I used to help out at when growing up, or on one of the many trailer tapes watched back in the advent of VCR. Anyway I recall it hitting all the right marks and freaking the hell out of me - I was thirteen and still had a lot of really cool shit to discover. And keep in mind that there once was a time when a single image from a movie could give you the chills, that goddamned Lutz house is an icon of fright if there ever was one...
Ghostbusting couple John Baxter [Tony Roberts] and Melanie [Candy Clark] expose a band of charlatan mediums working out of the old Lutz house. Whilst following up their story with some photographs in the basement, real estate agent Sanders [John Harkins] turns up and presents John a great "on the spot" bargain: buy the house for almost nothing. Being mid-divorce from Nancy [Tess Harper], John jumps at the opportunity, as do the set-up’s. Photographs show deaths to come, demonic faces, swarms of flies gag the uninvited, floorboards creak, holes in the basement groan, winds blow, stinks stink, and teenage daughters complain about things way out of their league, before whipping out the old ouija board.
When it all comes around, Amityville Horror 3D holds nothing against the original and it really is a truly generic movie that tries its hardest to be unique. Unfortunately it just can’t stay away from following in the footsteps of paths and tricks earlier treaded by Stuart Rosenberg and Damiano Damiani – not forgetting the very Omen II-ish elevator sequence, and an old Indian burial ground - in earlier films. Now perhaps this is due to the fact that parts one and two, are based upon “real events”, and this third installation, is all make-believe. Because producer Dino De Laurentiis was being sued buy the Lutz’s weren’t part of the second sequel, hence the make up story by William Wales, who seems to have never written anything else for films either before or since. But that doesn’t stop Meg Ryan, in her second role ever, and Lori Loughlin - who will be forever associated with her character Becky, John Stamos girlyfriend in the god-awful, never-ending, Olsen twin goo, Full House - as the Baxter's daughter Susan, referencing the earlier events and movies that took place in "that" house. 
Nevertheless Amityville Horror 3D, tries it’s best to be and entertaining little flick that get’s the job done. It builds up the tension – or at least tries, as we already know everything there is to know about the house and the “entity” living there. Just as I enjoy movies that poke my mind and make me look over my shoulder an extra time, I enjoy movies that demand nothing from me. I can just chill the heck out, be entertained and fall in and out of sleep if I wish, despite a really cool John Caglione Jr. burn victim effect around midpoint.
Taking a peek at the storytelling, it's pretty straight forward. It's never said, but one can guess that John and Melanie are an issue, hence the divorce between John and Nancy. Perhaps in an extended universe, they hook up again and make it work as the ordeal in the house brings them back together. But there's not much dimension to characters, and not really anyone that one empathizes with either. It's pretty flat and in several ways it plays as a rack-em-stack-em slasher. There’s also a splendid irony to the movie, as sceptic and hoax buster John, finally turns to his previous team of assistant hoax busters to prove that his house is indeed haunted. Cue demons and spooky lighting.
Originally shot in 3D, Amityville Horror 3D host several moments of that amusingly bizarre theatrically overacted scenes and moments to make the three-dimensional effects pop out. Stuff being held a tad too long, up front of the camera. Poses held a bit longer than necessary. Objects moving slightly slower than normally, you know, it's the goofy stuff that makes eighties “revival 3D” such a blast. Like the Friday the 13’th part III : 3D 1982 opening credits, where names and title stab out of the screen…it gets the job done and it’s all in good fun. Some really great moments are spittle towards the audience, iron pipes though a windshield a Frisbee, a stuffed swordfish and my favourites, a rotting corpses and demons jumping out of a hole in the basement.
 The Njutafilms release, out now, comes with an option of normal, or migraine inducing 3D viewing (glasses included) - which is something of a rarity for this title! Go get it, you know you like dorky eighties horror with special, special effects.