Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 20+1 2011 list!

In my feeble mediocrity, it’s time to present you with a list of the movies I feel made some kind of difference, stood out amongst the static or just simply affected me in one way or another during the almost passed year The most of them where released in 2011, and I’m sure that some of them where already out in 2010, but I have them in here anyway as they became accessible to me in 2011. Fred started it all off at his temple of thrills Ninja Dixon, and Wildside Cinema is bursting at the seams with them right now... but I can’t restrain myself to just ten movies! That wouldn't be me. I needed to squeeze forth twenty instead. I need to over do it. I over do everything, I gave you nearly 9000 characters about why Serbian Film is so much more than "that" film, I spent almost 12000 characters to explain why the BBFC where wrong in their decision to ban Grotesque, I've written past 100 000 characters dedicated to explaining the themes and traits of the movies of Jean Rollin, I've spent hours making mixtapes of music from films I like... I over do it. But I'm like that with things I'm passionate about.

So, here it is, the 20+1 for 2011 list! Enjoy, don’t take the numerals as written in stone, I could push several titles up or down the scale at any given moment and watch out for flying superlatives. Oh and highlighted titles take you to the in depth reviews.

20. Rubber
This may be an strange place to start, with Quentin Dupieux’s surreal tale about a tire that possesses psychic powers, but I like when people are creative and flip tiresome genre conventions on their ass. Rubber did exactly this, and the scene when the friggin’ tire rolls up to the doorway and gawks at Roxanne Mesquida as she showers, is amongst one of the most peculiar and innovative scenes I’ve seen in ages. Not forgetting the constant breaking of the fourth wall, and that strange meta sub-plot taking place on the hillside above the town held captive by the psychic tire.

Yeah, it might be somewhat pale when held up to Soavi’s classic adaptation of Sclavi’s alternative Dylan Dog character Francesco Dellamorte. Then again it shouldn’t be compared, as this is Dylan Dog, and seen as I’ve been reading Dylan Dog since the nineties so I consider myself to be a Sclavi connoisseur, and Kevin Munroe does the source material justice. Despite hating him in the comics, I miss Groucho, but never the less Dylan Dog was a movie I looked forward to a long time and in a fun, dumb way it lived up to what I wanted it to be. I somehow feel (or wish) that the interest this movie stirred up sparked Soavi’s plan to return to genre cinema with a new Dellamorte movie.

18. Insidious.
Despite climaxing on a conventional bogus ending, I really liked most of Insidious. It grabbed me by the balls, scared me on more than one occasion and really delivered the goods in a way that almost reminded me of the first time I saw Poltergeist. An old style ghost story, with some solid scares, and it got the job done... to bad it got lost up it's own ass along the way.

17. Cold Fish [Tsumetai nettaigyo]
Sion Sono. This guy just moves from darker to darker places. There’s an uncomfortable feeling brewing from the first frame of this movie as competing fish shop owners Nobuyuki Syamoto [Mitsuru Fukikoshi] and Yukio Murata [Denden] paths cross after Murata manages to get Syamoto’s daughter off the hook for shoplifting. Crippled by tradition and respect, Syamoto get’s drawn into a nightmare that there’s only one-way out from. And when he comes back, he’s kicking the shit so hard that everyone’s going to feel the wrath of the frustrated underdog. A stunning movie, with glorious moments of Japanese grotesqueness and a frustration that boils within every scene.

16. Underwater Love [Onna no kappa]
There’s a stupid soft spot inside me for wacky genre bending musicals… I think that all of us who watch horror movies have a soft spot for these movies, that’s why we love The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Phantom of the Paradise, The Happiness of the Katakuris and my guilty pleasure The Phantom of the Opera. Kappa, a spiteful Japanese water spirit is a reincarnation of a young man who get’s a second chance to go back to the human world and rescue the woman he always loved… and it get’s complicated. Comedic Pinku with some songs, some dances and a lot of heart sticks this one right into the list of genre benders with catchy tunes.

15. Attack the Block
I saw both Harry Brown and F., just days before watching this one, and with that in mind, it's easy to write off all hoodied kids who hang around the underpath as hoodlums. True, snot nosed kids aren’t snot nosed kids anymore. They pose a real threat that should be taken seriously, although Joe Cornish manages to make his lot somewhat sympathetic in this tale of space invaders in a British council flat. A surprising and fun movie that delivers some laughs, some shocks and nail-biting excitement, along with some awesome effects, great pop cultural referents and a brilliant Basement Jaxx soundtrack seasoned in John Carpenter sounds.

14. The Unliving [Återfödelsen]
Impressive short graduation film by Hugo Lilja tells the story of a few survivors after the zombie apocalypse. It’s more or less life as normal where the zombies have become part of it. Some work as exterminators with the intention of wiping them all off the face of the earth, some as researchers attempting to recycle them back into society, it’s just all in a days work but at polarizing sides of the spectrum. But one day the restrained living conditions come crashing down when a man finds his mother amongst the living dead. Effective, gripping and definitely a movie that gets my hopes up for Swedish genre again.

13. Trollhunter [Trolljegeren]
You can’t live in Scandinavia and not add Trollhunter on a best movies of the year list. PartBlair Witch, part Ghostbusters, part Scandinavian folk lore, this is a splendid combination and one of the funniest, most impressive and best movies to ever come out of Norway ever. And the Christian kid get’s eaten by a fucking heathen troll which proves the Vikings where right all along.

12. I Saw The Devil [Akmareul boatda]
Fuck that supernatural bullshit that was Tale of Two Sisters – I never really understood why everyone hyped that one of all the movies made at the time – and take a plunge off the deep end with Jee-woon Kim’s return to dark and haunting cynicism. Badass Serial killer vs. Good guy cop storyline done to death. But Kim has them flip roles over and over again taking them to hell and back, erasing conventional boundaries and creating one of the best narratives of this year. Byung-hun Lee and Min-sik Choi bring it all to the screen in this captivating monster of a movie. Just writing about it makes me want to watch it again.

11. We are what we are [Somos lo que hay]
Not to be confused with the elder Jorge Grau of Spain [Director of the masterpiece The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue], but a young director from Mexico who’s debut feature is a fascinating tale of a family in turmoil after the father drops dead in the middle of a shopping mall. Now an internal struggle for dominance arises and the one who brings home the bacon will be the new patriarch… oh, did I mention that they are all cannibals? Impressive drama, high tension, dark comedy at it’s harshest.

Spanish home invasion flick Kidnapped is something of a technical masterpiece. From the way the camera flowingly moves thorough the narrative to the elaborate split screens that bring the separate feeds to shocking climaxes and the penetrating tension that the piece builds up is outstanding, this movie kicked me on my ass. Miguel Ángel Vivas twelve scenes manage to make up one hell of an impressive movie that blows the socks off a lot of other home invasion movies in the process.

9. Ratline / Stakeland
Ratline, an intelligent, surprising and powerful movie that has some impressive surprises and hides some devastating punches up its sleeve. Independent filmmaker Eric Stanze changed the way I'll watch independent genre movies this year– needless to say the bar has been raised, and every other independent filmmaker out there should be challenged by the storytelling in Ratline. A dilemma is presented here as I on one side want to scream out Give him a real big guns budget, but at the same time, low budget is where Stanze's heart and soul is, and in all honesty he doesn't need the machinery of the cooperate bullshit slowing him down.

Stakeland holds a utopian approach to its subject matter. The same nihilism found in the zombie genre is finally seeping into the vampire genre. Gone is the pansy lovey-dovey shtick of tweeny Twilight, and back is an almost Cormac McCarthy like gloom, stinking up the earth with an engaging tale of survival against the odds… It ‘s on the list split with Ratline as Eric Stanze worked second unit on it, and I’d like to accredit a lot of the compact atmosphere to his and Ryan Samul's splendid cinematography.

I totally fell in love with The House of the Devil some years back, and I always feared the movie that Ti West would follow it up with. The horror genre is filled of one hit wonders, I really didn’t want West to become one of them. Give the guy a cigar; The Innkeepers is a fantastic movie that establishes West as a serious player in the shocker racket. This is schoolbook use of sceptics and how they bring the audience into the world of horror… and I love movies that are open to interpretation.

Powerful, raw and violent as hell, but poetically gentle, delicate and fragile at the same time, Chin-up Wong’s tale of revenge is one hell of a trip into human darkness. Posing the age-old question “what would you do in the name of love” and using the dramatic motor of emotional recognition, this movie will tear your soul apart more than any other movie has done before. Perhaps the ultimate doing bad for doing good movie, but at the same time much more than just a straightforward chop fest. Writer Juno Mak – who also plays the leading character Kit – tells a story that will leave you sick to your stomached but also with tears in your eyes as horror, thriller and a love story all come together in perfection.

6. Super 8
Yes, a mainstreamer, and a fucking brilliant one too. J.J. Abrams movie simply swept me up off my feet and made me believe in the magic of mainstream movies all over again. Everything I grew up loving about Goonies, Ghostbusters, E.T., Gremlins and Romero’s zombies was contained in this gem. Those dopey kids deliver more insight on storytelling – yeah, that movie within the movie that instigates the entire plot –than a majority of genre filmmakers out there are in their movies. I loved every minute of it, and enjoyed it just as much – if not more – on the second viewing. A movie I can watch with my kids and lure them into the darkside of genre cinema.

5. Inbred
Ok, so if I hadn’t had ever met Fred and Joachim some years back, I’d probably never had gone to the Weekend of Horrors in Bottrop, Germany, and I’d most likely never had seen Alex Chandon’s Inbred... A brilliant and unpredictable “fish-out-of-water” story about a bunch of Londoners who go up North and get what they have coming. The instant you think you are ahead of the movie it flips it head over ass and goes a complete different direction. Superb acting, great locations, and special effects proving that old school with a dab of new tech are just the ticket! Porkscratchings never tasted so good and British violence hasn’t been this grim since Carter went north.

4. Julia’s Eyes [Los ojos de Julia] *
My personal favourite of the recent Spanish “produced by the Godfather of neoGoth, Guillermo Del Toro” flicks. Finally a movie where the real threat is death, adult antagonists taking on adult protagonists and not a single fucking kiddie ghost anywhere to be seen. Definitely a homage to the Giallo genre, a play on Peeping Tom and all things that go bump in the dark. A magnificent movie that shouldn’t be missed. Belén Ruben just goes to show that you don’t need thirtysomethings pretending to be teenagers to make a scary movie; you just need fantastic actress with charisma to bring the audience into a realm of engagement, suspense and fear.

Lucky McKee’s fascinating tale of a wild woman captured by a seemingly ordinary family… but slowly, the cracks in the façade start to show, and their dysfunctional reality is exposed just in time for the grand finale. Hell hath no fury like a scorned woman, and this one packs the most bittersweet punch of them all. Following the ponce screaming about violation and what not, during Sundance, I was prepared for a regular generic torture flick. Instead I got something completely different, a mighty tour de force that floored me completely the first time I watched it. I could watch that climax for the rest of time, and if I where a chick, I'd style myself after Pollyanna McIntosh on a daily basis.

2. Red State
I fucking love Kevin Smith. I love his movies and I even find some personal space for Jersey Girl. George Carlin is in it for christ sake and he gives a great performance. Cop Out wasn’t written by him, and just proves that he’s not a gun for hire, he needs to be in control of his stuff if he’s gonna pull it off. But then again that pay-check financed Red State, so back off. As Smith’s movies are something of an anti-thesis to the horror genre, I was terrified when he announced he was making a horror flick. I wont even tell you what I feared he’d come up with… I was wrong on all accounts. Kevin Smith delivered a brilliantly dark, provocative and satirical expose of life within a cult, and the people who want to stop them. From the horny teenagers looking for some ass to tap, to the cult members sacrificing sinners, to the mind fucking bureaucracy of the government, this is a haunting, intense and splendid movie. Smith knocked it out of the ballpark and Michael Parks deserves a goddamned academy award for his portrayal of sect leader Albin Cooper.

Yes, this is easy the best genre piece of 2011, a gripping, seductive and spellbinding masterpiece. Filled to the brim with pulpy references, and impossible to pin down or even predict where it’s going to take you. I take pride in being one of the few Swedish reviewers who wrote about this movie knowing what the referents where all about, and not just what I read on the press release. Nay, yonder Franju, Franco, Clouzot or contemporary genre imagery referrals went wasted on me Pedro. I saw them and I understood them. Almodóvar is a genius and when he dabbles in the dark side of entertainment his most diabolical movies become masterpieces. I love it when an artist shows that horror is a real genre, and not just kids geeking around with corn syrup and food dye. Horror is art, Viva Almodóvar!

There you have it, and just for the record, all titles with an apostrophe are titles that I had either poster or dvd/bluray cover quotes on. Movies that neatly sum up this great and final year of writing about genre movies in print. It’s been a life long dream come true, which now ends with the cancellation of Cinema magazine… But I have other plans for you my pretties. All will be revealed in due time.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Young Dracula

Young Dracula
Aka: Dracula in the Provinces
Original Title: Il cav. Costante Nicosia demoniac, ovvero: Dracula in Brianza
Directed By: Lucio Fulci
Italy, 1975

I like to refer to it as the calm before the storm, the calm before second coming of Lucio Fulci. The movies he made after the impressive Gialli/thrillers, but before the magnificent grotesque movies that firmly placed him in horror mythos.

As you most likely know, Fulci started his career with comedies and dramas, so they are an important part in the fundament of what would come later on. With that I’m referring to the at times terrifyingly dark humour that is found in his films. Light dramas, saucy comedies, and fun fun fun is somewhat of a strange contradiction to the images and movies one associates The godfather of Gore with, but at the same time, if you weren’t making salty thrillers, westerns or horrors then it was the sexy comedy that the audiences in Italy wanted. Fulci was no stranger to making comedies; he even began his career as an assistant to the legendary Italian comedy director Steno, so comedies have an important place in his filmography. And before that second coming, Fulci directed some very interesting comedies that deserve to be rediscovered.

Young industrialist Costante Nicosia [Lando Buzzanca, who did a brilliant job as the politician with a bum-grabbing fetish in All'onorevole piacciono le donne (Nonostante le apparenze... e purché la nazione non lo sappia) (The Senator Likes Women) 1972, and his last leading role for Fulci] is the Toothpaste King. Despite being tremendously wealthy, the envy of town and married to beautiful wife, Mariú [Sylva Koscina], Costante is somewhat unhappy in his life as it is. His superstition has him convinced that he’s plagued with bad luck and watches carefully for all omens of evil forces. After insulting an old aunt at, a very gothic, dinner, Constanta takes off for a business trip to Romania.

In Romania, he goes to visit Count Dragulescu [John Steiner who’d starred in films for Fulci previously, and would go on to act in many classic genre pieces from here on] for a grand feast. After a series of comedic encounters and misunderstandings, Costante is binging champagne and making out with luscious women… only to wake up in the bed of Dragulescu. Upon his return to Italy, Costante is a changed man in more than one way. Convinced that night in the Romanian Count’s bed has turned him into a homosexual vampire, Constanta starts a transformative soul search that will take him on an unforgettable journey.

Getting into an Italian comedy from the seventies isn’t really as difficult as one would think. Fulci’s comedies are seldom straight forward slapstick routines, but more on the satirical side. Young Dracula goes for the jugular; the jokes sometimes racial, crude and chauvinistic, sometimes classic situation gags still do the job. Perhaps not as much tongue in cheek as something like The Senator Likes Women, Young Dracula has its moments where I almost feel as if Fulci is parodying the erotic comedy genre too. A specific scene where Costante confronts Mariú in the bath, should have been an obvious place for a saucy shot of nudity, instead Fulci uses it to present a gag about Costante‘s lust for blood. It’s also a vital scene for the shock ending that Fulci has prepared.

The main question is obviously does it work? Well yeah sure it works. It may not have the same natural appeal as the horror pieces do, but at the same time it’s a movie that mocks the genre and specifically the vampire niche. It does deliver quite a lot of laughs, there’s some nudity, and Buzzanca delivers a solid performance once again despite sporting a terrible Harry Reems moustache. I only mention that, as Christa Linder who’s to be seen in the movie would star against Reems the following year in his last adult film, Mac Ahlberg’s Bel Ami 1976. Young Dracula also features a tiny, but early appearance by very young Ilona Staller long before the days of being an Italian politician...

There’s no doubt about it, this is very much a Fulci movie. It’s riddled with typical Fulci surrealism. There’s a creepy atmosphere pre-dating David Lynch whilst an odd opera is held in a dining room at the hotel in Romania. A serious injury at the factory is shown in its gory glory. Costante has weird and frightening, but at the same time erotic nightmares. A slaughtered horses head is graphically on display, there’s an ungodly warlock [Ciccio Ingrassia] who holds an séance and one woman slits her wrist with a straight razor to feed Costante the blood of the proletariat. So yeah, this is Fulci-land indeed.
There’s a wonderful confusion to be found in Lando’s Costante character arc, on several occasions I find myself thinking of Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss 1988 and Margheritti/Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula 1974, the year before Young Dracula, which also is an alternative title to the Udo Kier, Joe Dallasandro vehicle. It’s a decent character arc that he has through the movie. After all he goes from superstitious, frustrated man to calm and relaxed, with a few bumps along the way.

Every approach to his wife, she’s got some excuse to avoid being intimate. This obviously results in a couple of skits and laughs in the early half of the flick when establishing Costante's sexual frustration of never being allowed to get cosy. Lines like “Don’t mess my make up, don’t tear my dress, don’t mess my hair… then you complain that a man picks up a hooker once in a while…” establish a clear image of this love sick man longing for some closeness. Although he’d probably never approach a whore, it’s still this yearning that makes him fall for the Vampires
erotic seduction later in Eastern Europe. Another important plot device presented in the first half is Costante's superstitious mind frame. He points out that he’s cursed with bad luck, freaks out when seeing a black cat cross the road, get’s hysterical when he accidently breaks a mirror in his wife’s room, and even tosses salt over the shoulder of the airplane pilots for good luck when he travels to Romania. Just like the sexual frustration, the superstitious side of Costante goes away with his transformation. Even the dog Gestapo that barks and snarls at him every time he arrives at his office block, runs and hides after Costante’s trip to Romania.

There’s a gay undercurrent to be found. At first Costante is avoidant of the male vampire in the castle despite several approaches, Costante backs away, almost repulsed. After almost fainting in the showers of his basketball team, he goes to a doctor pulling the old classic “ a friend of mine…” only to come up with the answer that he’s probably becoming a homosexual! When the doctor encourages Costante to go straight to his mistress to find out if a woman can still arouse him or if he actually was “deflowered” in Romania. But whilst chasing her across a field she trips and cuts her knee… Costante cant resist when being requested to sucking the bloody wound to save his mistress from blood poisoning, and in a metaphorical way, his vampire virginity is taken. Moments later she slaps him hard in the face because of the “love bites” on his neck. Despite the serious topic, Fulci quickly returns to the gags, after all this is a comedy.

The movie is high on production value and sees most of the familiar names that I associate with the really great Fulci movies. Frequent collaborator on early Fulci movies, editor Ornella Micheli is on-board, and does a wonderful job of it too. Sergio Salvati who shot almost all of the great classic Fulci movies brings a familiar look to the movie, and some scenes – even though being comedic – would easily fit into the horror canon.

The screenplay – written by amongst others Pupi Avati, Mario Amendola and Bruno Corbucci does what it should, there are some genuine laughs in there, and Fulci obviously brought his surreal grotesque to the table considering certain moments of the movie mentioned above.

But why is this a lost movie, still only available on shoddy bootlegs sourced from that even rarer Greek VHS? It’s odd, as Young Dracula easy could compete with the other comedies released so far. Perhaps the movie was forgotten by time, as Fulci himself never really appreciated the movie. A shame as it’s certainly got a lot going for it, and a restored version should be of interest for fans. Considering that I maniaci 1964, The Senator Likes Women 1972, La Pretora 1976, all received this treatment – not to mention those titles released in Italy - there’s no reason why Young Dracula shouldn’t. I’m keeping my fingers crossed because this one is an entertaining, and interesting movie considering that this is the Fulci comedies that plays closest to the sphere we all associate his name with - the horror genre.

Polish up on your Italian and enjoy, this would never have happened in the days of VHS.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The White Reindeer

The White Reindeer
Original Title. Valkoinen peura
Directed by: Erik Blomberg
Finland, 1952
Horror, 74min

Say the words “Genre movie from Finland” and most people will think of Pete Riski’s Dark Floors 2008, Jalamari Helander’s Rare Exports 2010, or perhaps even Antti-Jussi Annila’s Sauna 2008 but they will probably not mention Erik Blomberg’s 1952 early shocker Valkoinen peura (The White Reindeer).

Blomberg was a Finnish documentary filmmaker with background in cinematography. After lensing several feature films and short documentaries – several of them award winning - Blomberg took the step up to directing. Obviously he perfected what he already knew, and co-directed documentary Porojen parissa (With the Reindeer) 1947, a movie which went on to win Blomberg a Jussi Award for best editing together with his co-director and co-editor Eino Mäkinen. Six documentaries later, he made his debut feature with The White Reindeer, a movie that he co-scripted with his wife, actress Mirjami Kuosmanen – who also won a Jussi Award for her performance in The White Reindeer.

His final movie, Noc poślubna (Wedding Night) 1959, a Finnish, Swedish, Polish co-production based on Émile Zola’s L’attaque du Moulin. Despite an international cast of amongst others Bergman muse Harriett Anderson and Ignacy Golowenski; the movie was a devastating failure. After screening in Poland and Finland, the critics thrashed the movie and Blomberg so profoundly that the movie never opened in Sweden, and Blomberg left movie industry. Looking back at his career, the obvious highlight is winning the international prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival with The White Reindeer, a movie I’m taking a closer look at today.
There’s no wasting time in The White Reindeer, as soon as the opening credits are finished, a singing voice comes in and delivers otherwise awkward exposition and more or less establishes the setting, the mythology, the genesis of the curse. Song ends and it’s all fun and games as the Lapps race sleds drawn by reindeers. Pirita [Mirjami Kuosmanen] stands out, as she’s the only woman competing in the race, and she certainly gives the men a run for their money. Although to keep gender roles at bay, Aslak [Kalervo Nissilä] ropes her in and gives her a snog – suggested inoffensively off screen, after all this is still the time of innocence.

Alsak asks Pirita’s father for her hand in marriage and all seems to be leading towards a happy conclusion for the young couple… but, and there’s always a but… shortly after their wedding night, Aslak has to take the herd off to roam, and leaves Pirita alone at home. Disappointed, Pirita wanders the snowy plains visiting the Shaman Tsalkku-Nilla [Arvo Lehesmaa] to ask for a love charm to be cast, helping her keep Aslak at home. But mid-chant the Shaman pulls back in fear and screams that Pirita is a witch, the spell goes wrong, she becomes cursed instead and the shaman tells her that she will kill/become the first living thing she encounters… which just happens to be a white reindeer.

Later that night in the light of the full moon, Pirita turns into a white reindeer, and such a reindeer is a prized trophy amongst the Lapps. Aslak’s mate, Niilo, sees it, chases after it and wrestles it to the ground. As he brings the animal into submission he hears a familiar laughter. The Reindeer has turned back into Pirita, and her lustful gaze seduces him completely. As he moves in for a kiss, we see how Prita sports fangs... The vampire has claimed it’s first of many victims…
That Blomberg would choose to set his first feature in Lapland, as this is where the majority of the documentaries that he’d worked on where set comes as no surprise. He undoubtedly knows his nature shots, which bring a lot of added production value to the movie. I find myself thinking of oddities like Gunnar Höglund's Kungsleden (My Love and I) 1964, Trier’s AntiChrist 2009 and André Øvredal’s Trolljegaren (Troll Hunter) 2010. Movies which all utilise a lot of nature and location shots to create mood. I have a friend who will remain unnamed, as I’m not sure how official his work on the movie was, but when he was requested to go through Trollhunter and tighten the movie up, it was under the strict order that he was not to trim any of the nature shots. They had to stay at any cost. Never underestimate the importance of your location and the impressions it brings with it.

Basically the movie is about greed, obsession and envy. Pirita challenges conventional gender roles, and is therefore punished. She’s punished for wanting more, not being content. For being aggressive, and not the common passive housewife. She captures the alpha male, but then grows weary of his long absence when he’s herding the reindeers. Again challenging gender roles, she takes action instead of being content. She makes that pact with the village shaman to become irresistible for any man, with the intention of luring Aslak back and keeping him there. A pact that goes wrong. It’s also a stern warning, as the desire for more – or perhaps even the at the time provocative “female lust” leads to a certain death. I can’t say that Blomberg intended this, but it’s definitely a way to interpret the movie and what happens in the narrative. After all this is a movie made before female sexuality took control of the Scandinavian cinema screens, and old values where still valid. The movie could also be seen as a metaphor for the fear of the threat from within. Within the family, within the community, with the individual.

A lot of the tension in The White Reindeer comes from the slow and steady build towards the inevitable hunt the Lapps all engage in. They know that there’s a cursed white reindeer roaming their snowy plains, they know that there’s a witch slaying the men of the village, they know that they have to put an end to the troubles, but they don’t know that Pirita is the vampire witch.

Being something of an old movie, the in-camera effect and editing bring a lot of the in all fairness, cosy, atmosphere to the piece. There’s a lot of old universal vibe here and it’s an enchanting movie that certainly impressed me. God knows, I’ve seen worse stuff that this. The White Reindeer managed to grab my attention and delivered an interesting story.

At times the movie manages to come in close to the feeling of the gothic flicks Italians such as Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava and Piero Regnoli would be making in a few years time and to some extent even certain Hammer movies. But this was all before that, it’s most likely that the old Universal and Weimar movies where the largest influence on the imagery and style. Suggestive lighting and cinematography by Blomberg make an ironic statement, as the most impressive moments of the movie all take place on a set – I would have expected the outdoors “documentary” footage to have looked better. In any way, there are moments in the later half of the movie that really stand out and deserve to be re-discovered, this is a lost gem worth seeking out if you want to see what the Finns where doing in the fifties.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crazy Desires of a Murderer

Crazy Desires of a Murderer
Original Title: I vizi morbosi di una governante
Directed by: Fillipo Walter Ratti
Italy, 1977
Giallo/Horror, 85min
Distributed by: Redemption Films, (Oop), ZDDVisualMedia

Giallo. I really love Giallo. I also love taking long periods of time where I don’t watch Gialli only to have them make such a larger impact on me when I return to the genre and get that “Oh shit, this is why I really love Gialli!” rush. I guess you could compare it to not smoking for a while, and then returning for that kick the first couple of drags gives you. I love movies that I can’t predict and the Giallo genre is filled with that kind of beautiful movies… not even ones I saw on video half a lifetime ago.

There’s something off kilter in the De Chablais castle. Young jet setter Ileana De Chablais [Isabelle Marchall, also seen in Sergio Pastore’s Sette Scialli Di Setta Gialla (The Crimes of the Cat) 1972 and Luciano Ercoli’s Troppo rischio per un uomo solo (The Magnificent Dare Devil) 1973] brings a bunch of shady types back to the castle for a weekend of party and fun. It’s obvious from the start that some of them have other intentions with the weekend, such as Pier Luigi [Roberto Zattini] who we see co-horting with mobsters he apparently owes money to. Bobby [Gaetano Russo – who’s only starred in some two dozen flicks, but still managed to score a parts in Stelvio Massi’s Cobra Nero (Black Cobra) 1984, Richard Donner’s fantasy classic Ladyhawke 1985, and Bruno Mattei’s second flick L’isola dei morti viventi (Island of the Living Dead) 2008] is a pusher who’s used his suave charm to exploit Ileana’s naiveté and smuggle drugs into the country through the antique vases she’s brought home for her father the Baron. Elsa [Patrizia Gorzi], refuses the invites of her husband Frank [Beppe Colombo – who only starred in a handful of movies but went on to become a successful producer on amongst other things Dario Argento’s La Stendhal Syndrome 1996] after he’s been intimate with Gretel [Adler Gray] and instead ends up bedding Pier Luigi instead… so you get the jest of things, they are not a very sympathetic bunch adding more reasons to suspect them all when the shit hits the fan, which it does so quite soon after the first night of sinful charades. White gloved hands wander the corridor, a knife is pulled forth… soon the knife is bedded into the soft silky stomach of Elsa, as she bleeds to death the killer shifts focus to her eyes. The knife that moments ago sliced trough her gut, sadistically slices out her eyes too!

From here on it’s all fun and games kids, we guess frantically which of the sinister characters can be the killer, and become acquainted with new characters such as inspector [Corrado Gaipa – who you will recognize from shitloads of flicks], family doctor Dr. Olsen, the horny housemaid Bertha [Annie Karole Edel], the house janitor Hans, and the obvious one, Ileana’s weird brother Leandro – who mysteriously enough has something hidden in a box on the shrine he has in his bloody workspace... Several flashbacks point to Leandro, as he’s been strange since he witnessed his mother in several compromising situations when he was a child. The mother – even though only seen in flashbacks and the large looming portrait that hangs in the castle - also acts as a motor for the narrative, as she was supposedly buried with an emerald worth 150 million lire… with the dodgy bunch of characters presented, and the possibility of walking away with a large amount of dosh in hand, the plot can start to unwind.

Surprise twists, unexpected events, background traumas, roofie spiced champagne, double-crossing partners, sultry ladies pouting their way towards fast riches, yes, it all here. The traits that separate the Giallo from the common thriller; there’s a character tampering with taxidermy, there’s saucy ladies and suave dudes who get their kit of if the opportunity is given, a glove bearing psycho wanders the hallways at night, a greed plot focusing on the jewels of the late Baroness, a funky soundtrack and lovely wide-angle shots of lightly dressed women running in poorly lit corridors.
There’s an oddity to be found in the opening attack, which establishes Ileana – one yet another of her trips, and the Baron, and a suggested threat. A pair of bloodied hands roam the corridor, whilst it’s owner stay safe in the off-screen space. The hands wander into the Baron, who gasps and the movie titles – rather crap ones, but at least accompanied by Piero Picconi’s decent score – kick in. A strange opening sequence as the rest of the movie will show that it was all merely one of may red herrings laid out to trick the audience. Picconi’s score in all respect, but there’s more than one scene where I find my mind rushing off to connect the, either blatant rip off, or similar tunes from other movies of the time.

Extreme close-ups on eyes. A trait familiar from the world of Lucio Fulci, who indeed was a master of cutting to reactive images of eyes to create emotions within the audience. Similar shots find their way into Crazy Desires of a Murderer, which is kind of fitting, as there’s a killer who removes eyeballs in the plot.

But despite a lot of common Gialli traits, Crazy Desires of a Murderer choses not to use the familiar one of the amateur detective. Instead we the audience are invited to figure out the mystery from the clues that are given. Well, being a later and lesser Gialli, there’s an obvious lack of vital ingredient that muddles the narrative. There’s nobody to root for, and none of the characters are that sympathetic. Now in almost any other genre this would be a major problem, but within the Gialli it works, especially as a lot of the charm is the who-done-it approach. As long as there’s some murder, some mystery, a cool score and some kinky romps, then I’ll stay with the movie and try to solve what’s going on.

The movie looks every bit the part, cinematographer Gino Santini, gives the movie a treatment that certainly mimics the look and style much like similar, movies of the time. The corridor and cellar scenes are perhaps not originally composed when it comes to the lighting, but the shadow play of figures lurking down in the cellar is splendid.

One area that I find to be lacking is the moments of sexual tension. Gialli needs a healthy dose of tantalizing or seriously perverse sexuality to keep it interesting. It goes with the territory, some movies more than others, but in Crazy Desires of a Murderer, the few moments of sexual activity almost feel forced into the movie and completely random. Even the soundtrack is sloppily pushed aside for something that sounds completely different to the otherwise rather groovy score. Oh, although there is a highly evocative scene concerning Elsa, Pier Luigi, and a candle, that really pushes the envelope of suggestive juxtaposition. Yes, it’s fair to assume that this DVD-R sourced from the old Redemption video release of the movie was a cut one, and most likely heavily exorcised version too as the writer of the script Ambrogio Molteni was on something of a high at the time with screenwriting credits on stuff like Bitto Albertini’s Emanuelle Nera, (Black Emanuelle) 1975 (and you know how that series took off from there on), Mario Gariazzo’s L’ossesa (The Sexorcist) 1974, Bruno Mattei’s Violenza in un carcere femminile (Violence in a Woman’s Prison) 1982 amongst others. Another curious fact concerning Molteni is that he’s commonly listed as the co-director with Jean Josipovici on Delitto allo spechio (Death on the Fourposter) 1964. Information is sparse on what he did to deserve the credit, as he’s only stated as “ American version directed by” on the rare print available. It’s odd, as he never directed another before or after that one. But back to Crazy Desires of a Murderer, the movie certainly works but there’s a feeling that something’s missing with those quick cuts, coitus interrupts and sloppily edited soundtracks, and you don’t have to look far to find a possible solution to that mystery.

Searching the net for information on the movie, I revisited Johan Melle’s excellent euro fever where he reveals that there was more to the movie and exposes images taken from the considerably much more explicit photo novella of the movie. You should check that out for the whole image of what this movie could have been like.

The title of the movie, Crazy Desires of a Murderer, is a decent title, and definitely tap’s into the mood of Gialli names of the period. In many way I’m glad that they decided on something other than a mere translation of the Italian title, as this would have been more of a spoiler perhaps leading the audience to expect a movie more erotically daring than the horror themed violent Gialli… which reminds me again of euro fever’s article and images. Johan will even tell you more about the movies history and reasons for being exorcised into the shape it’s available on bootlegs today. I think it’s time you paid a visit there now.

Try this for a mood reel...

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