Thursday, October 20, 2011

From the Land of Ice and Snow - The Sounds of Swedish Sin

The woman above is none other than Solveig Andersson. The stunning, intriguing and mesmerising Solveig Andersson. Now take a few minutes to look upon that face. Let it sink in. Absorb it if you will. Christina Lindberg and Marie Liljedahl in all respects, but for me the only real star of the Swedish Sin movies is Solveig Andersson.

I haven’t really read that much, and heard even less, about Solveig more than the few times she’s mentioned in interviews given by others about the genre.

Andersson dreamed of breaking through and becoming the next big Swedish star, which god knows she could have, but at the tender age of twenty-two she found herself cast in Torgny Wickman’s Eva – Den Utstötta 1969. This part led to other parts and if I where to list the quite frankly moderate list of movies she starred in you will see that Solveig starred in Bo A. Vibenius Thriller – en grym film (Thriller - a cruel picture) 1974, Arne Mattsson's Smutsiga Fingrar (Dirty Fingers)1973 and Torgny Wickman's Kyrkoheden 1970, Eva - den utstötta (Eva, Everything but legal), Ur Kärlekens Språk (Swedish Marriage Manual), both 1969, and my all time favourite Swedish exploitation flick, Skräcken har 1000 Ögon (Sensuous Sorceress) 1970, which I still demand an uncut version of by the way, and frequently panicky regret ever loosing that uncut vhs I had two decades ago.

If you know stuff about Swedish genre, then you will know that several of those titles above easily qualify as entries on some kind of top ten list.

Andersson left the movie business after finding faith in the lord. Now normally I would laugh that off, but in Solveig’s case, it’s so damned fitting. The main ingredient that draws me towards her movies and characters is that I find them and her to be the same person. I don’t really think there was that much difference between the woman and the characters she portrayed. There’s sadness and a frustration in all her characters. It’s almost as one can see the desperation in those blue eyes. As said, Solveig really dreamt of being a star, but sadly – probably due to her starring in the movies that she did – never really made it.

Despite never breaking out into the mainstream and becoming that shining star she dreamt of, there is some poetic justice in the fact that she apparently found her way in life and the few movies she did leave behind, have become cult classics on their own. So in some weird way, Solveig Andersson did become a star, and in my book the brightest shining star of them all.

Now get thy self off thy ass, and grab this smoking compilation of music from the movies you know and love as The Swedish Sin!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Swedish Sin...

Now I’m not going to waste your time telling you about these smutty little movies or divulging into some pseudo analysis of narrative and characters, because that’s not gonna happen, despite how interesting it might have been. Instead, I’d like to tell you about these smutty little movies and why they should be part of your collection.

Naked Scandinavians, funky soundtracks, pristine restored prints, come on it’s fun!

If you like movies in the Swedish Sin fold, then these will be right up your street. Not only is Ta mig i dalen (Girl on Her Knees) 1977 the last of Swedish sexploitation king, Torgny Wickman’s movies - his importance is so understated in the annals of Swedish history - but it’s also a movie that shows the break between kinky soft sexploitation and the start of the deep end. One frisky take on the ways of life on a farm. Think Emmerdale with a healthy lashing of shagging, Yes Emmerdale and shagging, because Chris Chittell, who plays Eric Pollard in British countryside institution Emmerdale Farm since 1984 to now, starred in Ta mig i dalen as Richard.

Chittell appears under the stage name Charles Canyon that he used on all three of the Swedish blue movies he starred in. Ta mig i dalen was the second for Wickman - the first being The Intruder (Swedish Sex Games) against eminent stars such as Stellan Skarsgård in 1975, and Mac Ahlberg’s Molly (Sex in Sweden) 1977 against Marie Forså and Eva Axén… yes the same Eva Axén who get stabbed in the gut in the start of Dario Argento’s Suspiria 1977. See the Swedish Sin is our version of Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, everything in Sweden connects back to the Sin flicks.

Fans of doe eyed starlet, Christina Lindberg, might want to give Swedish/Danish co-production Nyckelhålet (The Keyhole) 1974 a gander, as the leading lady of that movie, Marie Ekorre, is definitely a worthy competitor for the title of queen of Swedish Sin, and here in her first leading role. You may have seen her in bit parts in Arne Mattsson’s still missing from a decent release masterpiece, Smutsiga Fingrar (Dirty Fingers) 1973, or Mac Ahlberg’s Jorden runt med Fanny Hill (Around the World with Fanny Hill) 1974, in which she co-starred as a fashion model with none other than Ms. Lindberg.

I’m happy to see distributor KlubbSuper8 return from a lengthy hiatus, as they are an important part of preserving Swedish cinematic heritage – come on, there’s so much more to Swedish cinema than Ingmar Bergman, and if you are a frequent reader you will know that I hold no grudge to Bergman and the fantastic legacy he left us with, but I do have issues with the shadows he casts upon the rest of Swedish cinematic history.

But where the spotlight really should be directed on these current releases is that the new titles – unlike the previous releases – all have English subtitles so that fans of Swedish Sin outside of Sweden can enjoy the dialogue too! But that’s not all, because if you take the time to go through the extra features, you will find, rare press materials, production documents, short movies, tons of trailers, and deleted scenes! Who the hell seeks out deleted scenes from an old skin flick? Yes, the dedicated troops of KlubbSuper8, and that's the kind of enthusiasm that I can admire!

The release of Ta Mig I Dalen is something of a treasure trove of lost material as they have also assembled the remaining material of Wickman’s never completed 1975 film Drömdoktorn (The Dream Doctor). After finding Wickman’s original shooting script and the uncut original negative, KS8, have reassembled the movie, which was discarded when the camera broke after 70% of the movie was in the can. This painstaking feat took two years of hard work to reassemble, and bring to life. Think about that the next time you rush through the special features on your discs, there’s someone who’s dedicated hours of hard work to get that on there. But it doesn’t stop there, because there’s also three tracks composed by George Riedell and Janne Schaffer.

Nyckelhålet also has its share of extras, not only a remastered version but also enclosed is a shoddy dodgy American grindhouse version complete with trashy film grain and shoddy tracking distortions. But keep in mind friends this is the real deal, no contemporary digital effects tampering, but authentic trashy grindhouse quality. And to make your acquaintance with Ms. Ekorre more pleasurable, there’s the gallery of her gentlemen magazine photographs for you.

Among the last batch of releases you can also find Blåjackor (Sailors) an Arne Mattsson musical from 1964, Bengt Blomgren’s moral dilemma drama Hällebäcks Gård 1961 (with the recently deceased Sif Ruud) where modern technology and lost love cause serious problems on the farm… without people shagging each other.

Finally the last release of this batch is another lost movie salvaged by KlubSuper8, Arne Ragneborn’s presumed lost forever anti-drinking propaganda movie Paradiset from 1955. On the bonus features here’ you’ll find interviews with colleagues, friends and co-workers who discuss just what a badass Ragneborn really was. Of the five movies he directed the most of them ended up being banned as they all dealt with topics like violence, criminality and the ever-popular Swedish pastime alcoholism… you have seen Luigi Scattini’s 1968 documentary Svezia, inferno e paradise (Sweden: Heaven and Hell) haven’t you?

Now for overseas or, “utanför tullarna” readers, I can see that this might be a tad on the narrow side even for you (not the skin flicks of course), but if you do live in Sweden then you should be picking these up anyways because these movies all have a part to play in our cinematic heritage, and if nothing else we should support KlubSuper8 as they have some really interesting titles hidden away for future releases, and we don’t want them vanish before the Dante movie or those fantastic Calvin Floyd movies are released now do we?

I’d suggest that you pop over to KlubbSuper8 and roam their web shop for some great movies filled with superb extras! Go get some!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Woman

The Woman
Directed by: Lucky McKee
USA, 2011
Horror, 101min

You know that I‘ve been waiting for this one. Eagerly looking forward to what has been predicted as this year’s major provocation. So getting the chance to review this one for my monthly genre column was like a treat for the soul as we start to move into cold, depressing late autumn darkness here in Scandinavia. Was it all I hoped it would be after all this time of yearning? Well not really as I was expecting something different. I thought this would be more brutal and more visual, especially if the reactions of certain festival visitors are to be taken into consideration.

But with that said, I have to point out that The Woman is in no way a lesser movie. In fact I’d say that this is one of the most intelligent and frightening movies since something like Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs 2008. This movie got into my head in an unexpected way and I really love movies that break through that otherwise impenetrable shield built from years of watching genre movies. This one did and that made it one of the best viewing experiences of the year.

Chris Cleek [Sean Bridges], the father of a seemingly normal family, lives on a ranch outside of some unknown city. One day after an early morning start, where his wife Belle [Angela Bettis] hand rolls his smokes, he goes hunting and captures a wild woman [Pollyanna McIntosh]. He brings her home, shackles her to the floor and roof of their garden shed and presents her to his family as their “Project”. To the gasping family he explains his plan to civilize the wild beast. Bang! That’s it, the set up is established, from here on it can only get worse. And it does, in a fascinating way that you probably never expected.

A couple of years ago Jack Ketchum said during an interview with Constructing Horror “If I didn’t offend someone then I wouldn’t be doing my job… this is about violence right?” Well that is a statement that should be taken into consideration when watching The Woman. I’m quite certain that quite a lot of genre fans will watch this movie and then walk away disappointed. Because there is a rather restrained approach to the violence, it’s there, but not as predominant as I had expected. But I feel this to be a good thing. It works for the movie and lifts the film above the average torture flick, which in all honesty, we’ve seen way to many already.

Here the violence is found in the subtext. The things not said, which comes rumbling in with a devastating rush of insight as the climax approaches. A genius approach by McKee and Ketchum, as this is where the mind fuck aspect of the movie comes into play. The feeling that something is wrong, that odd mood which has been fermenting throughout the movie, stingingly slaps you in the face like a cold towel whipped by that bully jock in the school showers. The suspicions that have brewing where correct, this almost weirdly religious cultish family vibe that ha been simmering was correct. This is a family who do live in fear of their patriarch, Chris. Their children are tormented by repressed anger. This is a family on the verge of implosion and we join them just as the pressure cooker is about to burst open. The tension has its most intense grip on the Cleek family.

In a sublime way the introduction of “the woman” into the Cleek world acts as a catalyst for the rise of woman. Her presence on the farm is the cause of wife Belle’s revolt. She takes her first steps towards revolution; Belle also dares speak up against Chris, the women of the farm become active and step up for a first time. Yes, they pay a price, but in the long run you have to ask yourself what would be worse?

There’s a nasty little theme of voyeurism and objectification going on in The Woman too. The first time it’s almost as a gag, Chris spots the woman in his rifle sight and watches her with a sinister leer on his face for a while before realizing his plan. This is later reflected when his son Brian [Zach Rand], who has prepared the door to the basement with a peephole, watches his father rape the woman. It comes as no surprise that Brain too is soon stood in that basement touching and tormenting the constrained woman. The voyeurism and objectification of The Woman is mirrored in Chris heritage to Brian. We know that Brian will grow up to be exactly like his father, and when the façade finally cracks at the finale, Chris view on women is finally exposed. The charming charmer front falls away to reveal a depraved Joseph Fritzl kind of man who really hates all women, hence his need to captivate, objectify and oppress them. He does it to his wife, to his daughter Peggy [Lauren Ashley Carter], to the captive woman, to the school teacher, and then there’s that surprise in the dog pound…

I usually discuss the ordinary world in genre films, as I find it a vital part for setting a tone, and also important tool to help me into the imaginary world portrayed by the filmmakers. It would be easy to say that the ordinary world of The Woman is the family, the farm they live on and the everyday activities of their life… but I don’t think that’s where the ordinary world of The Woman is… In my book, the ordinary world is presented during the scenes of the woman in her natural habitat before the title screen. It’ is this world where the woman hunts, breeds and lives, at one with nature. She lives in a hole, she is raising her infant child there, she has wolves as babysitters. This is her ordinary world, where everything is in order. It’s when she is moved into the world of the Cleek’s that the balance is shifted. Her ordinary world becomes her nightmare world.

Approaching the movie like this and keeping Andrew van den Houten’s The Offspring 2009 in mind – both movies with screenplays written by Jack Ketchum and featuring Pollyanna McIntosh as a savage woman, and on a geekier trivia note, both produced by Van den Houten, something of a prequel to The Woman – the final scenes see balance reinstated in to the world of the woman. She can return to her ordinary world, back to nature. And in a happy turn of events a family richer.

No matter what you think about this kind of movie, or the horror genre’s gender roles in large, McKee is first and foremost a feminist horror director. His movies have all had a strong female protagonist, which can be seen in May 2002, his episode of Masters of Horror: Sick Girl and The Woods both 2006. The Woman is no exception, and can be read as a critique towards the patriarch system that Chris runs his family. The nuclear family holds dark secrets and it’s the woman who unhinges the door into that dark void. Note that the woman never really shows any fear or pain. She is just a strong, unstoppable force waiting for the exact right moment to pounce and as soon as it comes, she pounces hard.

It’s a delight to see the gorgeous Angela Bettis reunited with McKee, and Pollyanna McIntosh has certainly brought a new iconic face to the genre scene. Those shots of her animal face staring into the camera are massive and really break right though the fourth wall. It’s into the soul of the audience she is starring and you know she’s’ a fighter. Someone needs to present McIntosh with an award for her portrayal here, as a beautiful woman who undergoes that transformation for her character, certainly needs to be praised. It’s a great moment that goes against genre conventions, as the victims are more than often picture perfect stereotypes. McIntosh is a dirty, tattered goddess of violence and she really brings a powerful presence to every scene she’s in.

Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum have created a haunting and disturbing movie that stuck with me for a long time. The Woman is one of this year’s best genre movies. An intelligent disturbing story, pushing a powerful narrative and some outstanding moments of insightful horror. I don’t know what the fuck happened on Red (2008), but McKee is back with a vengeance. The Woman yanked the carpet from under my feet and floored me completely.

Thank god I have the UK BluRay on preorder so that I can go back and watch this splendid movie all over again in a fortnights time.

Here's my fave take on the trailer!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Original Title: Proie

Directed by: Antoine Blossier
France, 2010
Horror, 85min

For a guy who doesn’t really like monster animal attack movies, I managed to hit the jackpot as I surprisingly saw two giant wild pig flicks in the same weekend.

One of them, James Isaac’s Pig Hunt (2008), was definitely worth the watch and took a not too original humoristic approach to the material, spicing up the narrative with not only monster boar’s but also stereotype Deliverance hillbilly’s… Antoine Blossier’s Proie (Prey) on the other hand is all about being serious. There’s no room for gags, nods or ironic dialogue, this is all dark, brooding and terrifyingly grim in it’s horror come social commentary bout with the gigantic boar.

Nathan [Gregory Colin] and his pregnant wife Claire [Bérénice Bejo] have just spent a weekend in the countryside at her family home. On the morning of their planned departure, something attacks deer’s in the woods and Claire’s father Nicolas [François Levantal] arrives with some urgent distressing news. The men of the family, Nicolas, his brother David [Joseph Malerba] and their father Eric [Fred Ulysee] all pack up to chase after the wild boar that is stalking their lands, and Nathan reluctantly get’s dragged along. But what starts out as a seemingly easy pig hunt, will soon shift from a hunt to a fight for survival… and the boar’s are not the worst enemies in the woods.

As said earlier, I’m not much of a fan of animal attack movies, but sometimes I do get round to watch them and sometimes they are worth writing a few lines about. I primarily picked up Prey as it was a French flick, and I’m really enjoying the French genre films, and this is very much their take on the wild animal genre, but with that sinister dark European tonality to it all.

The movie starts with an initial attack to set the mood frame. The mystery of the woods is presented when a pack of deer have died as they tried to escape over the electric fence surrounding the Leman land. The huge boar tooth that David finds gives him logic reason to brag about his hunting skills and talk about the size of the boar hiding somewhere out there. It get’s the movie off the ground before the subplot is presented.

There’s an interesting life and death theme running through the movie, especially reflected in the pregnancy of Claire and how both she and her father react to the news when then need Clair to go back into the chemical plant and sort things out. The life of her unborn child is not as important as her loyalty to her father. This is something that her father points out to Nathan several times whilst they are in the woods, and as the movie climaxes it becomes painfully obvious that he was right.

Part of the trick to making me enjoy this movie was in the fantastic subtext. Making everyone around Nathan a complete bastard, yes, even his beloved pregnant wife, the audience obviously empathize with Nathan. He’s the one who reacts to the fact that their unborn child will die if Claire goes back into the chemical plant.

The relationship between Nathan and Claire’s dad, Nicolas, is ingenious, and an important ingredient to making this movie much more than just a “monster in the woods” flick. The tension between the two men is indicated early on when Claire and Nathan talk about their unborn child and when they should tell Nicolas. Nathan makes a small joke about his father in law now officially finding out that he’s been sleeping with his daughter, and there’s unease in the air. This tension is apparent whilst Nicolas reluctantly brings Nathan with him into the woods on the pig hunt, and is amplified when Nathan confronts Nicolas about Claire’s pregnancy and the effects working in the chemical plant will have on it. The two men more than dislike each other and setting them together in a stressed situation with loaded weapons is fascinating as it creates a threatening atmosphere the audience awaits snapping.

You could actually say that Prey more or less is a French version of Spielberg’s Jaws, but set in a forest with a wild boar instead of at sea with a huge shark. Thematically there’s the “misplaced man” trait Chief Brody [Roy Schneider] and Nathan are the same kind of character, both forced into a situation that they have no control over. Brody is terrified of the sea and all that goes with it; Nathan doesn’t like the woods and can hardly handle the hunting rifle he’s handed. They are both in a threatening location, beyond their control. In both movies, a large beast is killed, an uncomfortably large beast but still not the one they are searching for. The big one is still out there.

Both movies keep the monster off screen as much as possible. Sure, Jaws may have been the result of a faulty machine, but keeping it off the screen makes the threat so much more intimidating. Just like the big wild boar in Prey, the less the audience see of the monster, the more their imagination will fill in the blanks and obviously come up with the most terrifying wild pig ever…

The special effects are rather impressive. Not only the recurrent gore, but also the animal effects are really effective and never once do I catch myself thinking “that’s only a puppet”, not even when the band of hunters come upon the rotting carcasses that are found strewn around the lake which is obviously contaminated.

Yes, there is a subtle message in here too. A message to take care of our planet, and not to pollute the fuck out of it. The referents to Jean Rollin’s Les Raisins de la Morte (Grapes of Death) 1978 are not to far away; both movies use the same basic idea, don’t fuck around with nature, and take care of mother earth. Don’t pollute her, because if you do, she will fuck you up bad.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

sadness all around.

The very sad news on the passing of the patron saint of Turkish cult Cinema enthusiast Vassilis “Bill” Barounis just reached me a few hours ago. I’m still trying to compute it, despite subconsciously understanding that this moment was rapidly crawling its way closer, I was really hoping for a last minute miracle. Bill was a man I associate with miracles, given the many tales of last minute escapes and haunting curses he believed where laid upon him.

Years ago, when I was a young man… yeah like twenty years ago or so in the decade we called the nineties, I used to work at an underground shop that specialized in distributing uncut videotapes. The old letter and a few quid for a catalogue of ex-rentals to Greece was one of the cornerstones of that business. Three men made it possible, Cordas, Alex and Vassilis. I never made the connection that Bill was the same Vassilis until late last year after several years of talking to Bill and his Onar Empire, buying a lot of movies and constructing several advertisements. I questioned his email as it had a similarity to one of the old Greek tape distributors used to have, and the connection was made all over again.

I will always remember Bill with a smile, no matter how down he was, no matter what fate tossed in his face and no matter how beat he seemed, he always came back with an even bigger smile and even more enthusiasm. He'd take a beating, but he never let it break him.

I’ve mentioned before that Bill even offered to go visit my father earlier this year after he took ill during holiday in Athens. This is the way I will remember Bill. The guy who swallowed the hard times and pushed on through, and could offer friendship to people he didn’t even know. If you liked movies, then Bill was your friend, and today I feel that I lost a really good friend.

The world is one eager enthusiast poorer. A re-animator of curiosities we otherwise never would have seen, a warrior of lost cinema, a Pantheon of Yesilcam knowledge. Cineaste heaven just got a whole lot richer, and their movie nights will be so much better now.

Rest in Peace Bill.

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