Today's post features special guest commentary from Cinapse's Liam O'Donnell. He and both do this "watch a shit-ton of horror in October and write about it" thing, and so we've decided to team up on a few films this month. His column his entitled "Journal of Fear," and you should totally read it. He also does a podcast called Cinepunx with Joshua Alvarez, and it’s super-fun. Go listen. On to the film ... Nick Spacek When you watch a movie that has influenced so many other pictures, it's hard to separate what it was from what it now is. A Bay of Blood (aka Blood Bath, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) was Mario Bava taking the violence of giallo and making it the focus of a film, rather than yet another stylistic element. However, seeing how much of Bava's film would shape the next three decades of slasher pictures, one can't help but see how many tropes were lifted from A Bay of Blood, as if its plot was the Ten Commandments, written in stone for later directors to use: teenagers getting offed in a decrepit location, overly-complicated deaths, a creepy character in the background, and even the one kid who's super-awkward and weird around girls. Divesting one's self of the "oh, well, this has all been done before" attitude is paramount for enjoying A Bay of Blood, because in 1971, it hadn't. This was all new, and watching it through unfiltered eyes makes it pretty astonishing. While gore'd been done before -- Herschell Gordon Lewis' films certainly set the standard a decade before -- it'd never been done so realistically and so up-front. Bava set the stage with Blood and Black Lace, but that film's an emotional step away from A Bay of Blood, and is as prototypical a giallo as this is a slasher. It's a strange and powerful movie that Bava's crafted here, and the cross and double-cross plot keeps things moving along at a brisk clip, leaving you wondering who's going to die next and how. Any character's up for the killing, and the kills still shock. Bobby getting a cleaver to the face had me gasping aloud. A good portion of A Bay of Blood's shock potential has to do with the absolute contrast between the pastoral long shots and sweeping piano pieces which accompany them and the tight, up-close and personal attacks. The atmosphere is absolutely crafted, and while there are a few moments of levity early on with the teenagers and their frolics, it only serves to make the shocks which follow that much more intense. Liam O'Donnell I carry the great and unavoidable shame that I have not seen nearly as many Bava films as I should have. This is only my third, and yet even with that little experience with his work, this felt like an intense shift. The violence in Bay of Blood is quite pronounced. It is in these shocking scenes I guess the film had the most influence on the forthcoming slasher subgenre. Indeed, some films, like Friday the 13th Part II -- which I reviewed for this series -- borrowed quite obviously from these kills. Strange though, because while I noticed the violence as an intense shift, and I could see how the way it was portrayed was such an important part of the future of filmmaking, it was largely insignificant for me. You so astutely point out, Nick, how difficult it is to see a work which has been so influential for what it is rather than for what it would become reflected in other films. That is true of this movie, but for me perhaps it allowed me to see how unique Bava's film is compared to the horror films I am accustomed to. There is something I am having trouble describing about the film, in that I am not sure if it is something anarchic or something nihilistic. That is specifically the way there is no good or bad character in the film, but rather a great net of murder and selfishness which cover the whole. Yes, one could argue the young people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time represent "innocent victims," but do they really? It seems to me that Bava goes out of his way in this film to show something negative or grating or frustrating about most of the characters on the screen. More importantly, though the film plays at first as a giallo style mystery, it very quickly becomes a tale of murder which includes many many people. In spreading out the iconic role of "the killer" across so many, it is true that Bava creates some dynamic tension to a slightly over burdened script. No one could accuse Bay of Blood of being too kinetic, I don't think. However, he also takes apart the structure of these kinds of movies, intentionally or no, that does not translate to the slasher films he seems to have inspired. While classic slasher films do like to show us the moral failings of many of the victims of their insane murderers, they still maintain a classic good and bad structure. There is the killer and their are the killers victims. Perhaps we feel a certain sympathy or a certain disdain for the killer's various victims, but of course they are victims. I am being a bit too broad, as there are certainly exceptions to this idea, though those films usually spill over into revenge narratives or wish fulfillment narratives. The point is that not only do so many characters kill in this film, they do it for so little. There is not even the noble wronged person but, rather, awful people killing each other. This seems in one way anarchic. It overthrows, possibly, our assumptions about relationships of power and good. Yet, it is also nihilistic, as it seems to assume that almost every person, given enough reason, could decapitate someone or embed a machette in their skull. Of course, I am getting a bit too heady. At base, it seems that Bava was doing exactly as you suggested, that is highlighting the violence of the Giallo genre above all else. Do you think then there is more to the film then that? Should we thank him for the history of movies he spawned or regret his unintentional creation? Nick: I think that the innumerable variations on the theme created by Bava demonstrate so very well the flexibility of what he created. Given that the slasher genre has been shown to take place in any locale, with any character, with any victim, and still manage to provide new and interesting twists over forty year on, I'm amazed that it took as long as it did for someone to combine the masked killer story with the Rube Goldberg deaths of b-movies. All the ingredients were there for decades, and yet, it took decades before someone thought to combine them. I think your point of nihilism isn't too heady at all. This film came at the very start of the ‘70s, and that was a decade of movies absolutely loaded with moral ambiguity. Be it Jake in Chinatown, almost any character in The Godfather, Travis Bickell in Taxi Driver, or even Han Solo in Star Wars, the decade became defined by characters who operated in moral gray areas. This was just a bit more black and white -- well, almost purely, darkly evil. Do you think this is due to an Italian way of thing, like Sergio Leone's pictures? Liam: Well, one thing that did not originally occur to me was humor. In other words, is it possible that this stunningly dark turn is not -- in some sense -- comic? Certainly, the film has some comic moments, and I don't think that would be outside of the Bava style. Then again, a darkly comic take on something so morally grey, or rather so intensely evil, would not be too far outside of Leone either. I can't help but wonder if, as an American, I am inclined perhaps to take the film too seriously, which is perhaps to take it not seriously enough. That is, am I not peering below the surface to how utterly comic it is to have a "murder mystery" where many of the supposed red herrings are still actually killers. There is just simply not one main killer, a sort of focus of our intention. Is Bay of Blood some sort of comic farce? Or is the film simply having fun with a genre Bava was, at this point, one of the pioneers of? Is it too simple, when it comes to these Italian films, to look for genre clarity at all? Nick: I'm astonished at how many layers this movie ends up having, when you take a look at it. I didn't even think about the humor. Upon further consideration, it really is almost a parody of giallo, if you really think about it. Rather than one killer, masked or otherwise hidden, you've multiple, all of whom are easily tied to the deaths they cause. The deaths aren't shown in artily-framed shots, lit like a dream (or nightmare, depending), but are instead presented in a stark manner. This is almost the lead-in for the cannibal films which would later follow, as well -- death as shock in and of itself, as opposed to some greater artistic statement. In this case, death is the statement, and it's blunt: "Here, this is what you seem to enjoy the most." And -- going back to the humor -- I don't think it's a coincidence that the future films which took this template and not only succeeded, but are still considered worth seeing, also have that strange sense of humor to them. Given that, is there a film that came later that you think a worthy heir to this progenitor? Liam: I am actually not sure. From one perspective there are many, be they the F13 series or The Burning, slasher films that take a lot from this movie. However, to focus on them as directly from Bay of Blood does exactly what seems to have not been the point. It almost seems that Bava made a film similar to Hanneke, in that it pointed a finger at its audience and asked what it was they wanted to see. It then played with the feeling of tension, the fear and drama of the piece, until it becomes farcical. It pushes the boundaries between what is the dramatic real that we can accept, and when the performance goes beyond that. Not that I think Bava is attempting to make so complicated a point, but it is still the direction the film seems to go. Then again, Bava also claimed this was his favorite of his films. Perhaps this tension, between what is plausible and not, and between what the audience wants or does not want to see is the point. In that way, I am reminded of, say, Funny Games or similar films. However, those movies are more literally "meta," in that this commentary on a genre or condition is the entire point and content. Bava has made a suitably horrifying giallo, certainly one that bends and even transcends the genre, but is still what it is. The question is, are there any films that seem to push so far, but are not clearly satirical. I am reminded of another unlikely film, Mothers Day, but this is also more clearly a satire. The question for me, and perhaps you can give your insight on this, is whether Bava is laughing with the audience or at them. If we are supposed to be in on the joke, so to speak, then I think Nightmare on Elm Street might be an interesting comparison. Not a comedy, but with some real humor injected. However, if he is laughing at the audience, something I think the ending suggests a bit, then I am at a loss as to what might be related. Do you think I am being too harsh on Bava? Is Bay of Blood a cynical commentary or simply a good time playing with gore and violence? If anything, does it say negative things about us that we enjoy the movie so much? I found it fun if a little confusing at times, and I am now wondering if I should have! Nick: I think it's meant to be fun. Given that everything else I've seen of Bava's -- Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby Kill, and Black Sabbath -- has some element of humor to it (especially Karloff's parched desert dryness of delivery in Black Sabbath), I can't but imagine that this is supposed to be the film that's an exercise in ridiculousness. Maybe Bava's laughing at you while you laugh at the film, because that ending is just over-the-top in terms of one last absurd plot twist. However, I think he's willing to let the viewer enjoy themselves, showing nudity, showing blood, and just generally amping up the ridiculousness inherent in giallo to an extent that he accidentally created a new genre along the way. Liam: I think you are right and perhaps that is what he also did, as far as innovation: commentary with humor. That is to say, it really feels like Bava is in some way satirizing the audience's desire for this violence, but I don't think he is judging it. The film is having so much fun with it's bevy of ridiculous villains, the various ridiculous character traits and odd ways they interact. In fact, even the kills are amazing, and done in such a way that I cannot believe Bava is not enjoying his art as much as we are in watching it. Yet that ending does seem to suggest to me some silly nod to his audience, he is not just performing at his art, which is creating this intense murder film. No, we are part of it, he acknowledges us, and thus implicates us in his fun I think. He is going over the top, to new heights of blood. Granted, here we are some 44 years later and it may not seem like much. It was a rough year for movies though. Bay of Blood was one of many to face backlash and censors for its extreme content. Bava, I think though, hints not just that he is pushing his art form to new extremes, but that this is where it is going. It is in many ways a watershed moment not only for film and the horror genre we both love, but for the culture as a whole. Bay of Blood is still powerful in it's intensity, and while it may not be as extreme as it seemed then, it is an incredibly well executed bit of brutal fun. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGSJCLWAL3Q[/embed] Christopher Brown's Video Nasties podcast did an excellent episode on the film, and you can listen to that here.
It's especially interesting to think 1960's The Amazing Transparent Man came out the same year as Psycho. The two films couldn't be more different, despite both being black and white, low budget scare pictures. Psycho essentially redefined the thriller picture for the next -- well, forever, really -- and managed to achieve a massive level of discomfort and fear, while not really showing much of anything. In its most famous scene, Hitchcock let the mind create the actual horrific stabbing, while cutting away at the last minute. Despite showing you where things disappear, and revealing everything in excruciating detail as it goes along, The Amazing Transparent Man might as well have been made two decades prior, given its smashed-up plot, which combines radioactive sci-fi mumbo-jumbo and gangster pictures. It has more in common with something like The Man They Could Not Hang than it does with anything that would come in the '60s. It's really sort of a dying breed of picture that would soon vanish from the landscape. It's not terrible, by any means: the snappy banter's cute and clever, and there are about two or three double-cross attempts, none of which amount to much. Plus, watching characters get knocked around by the unseen gangster Joey Faust (clever!) is uproarious fun. The actors are wonderfully acrobatic in their miming, and seeing a guard take an imaginary beating is delightful. Given scenes like that, it should come as no surprise that The Amazing Transparent Man's scored like a Looney Tune. The plot's completely spelled out by the accompanying strings, making all of the movie a bit cartoonish, with things like pizzicato notes accompanying the invisible Faust as he's walking to offer some sense of what's going on, since even his clothes disappear after being zapped with the ray. It might as well have been Carl Stalling conducting things for all the subtlety the music offers. When all is said and done, The Amazing Transparent Manis only an hour long, and seems more like a lengthy Twilight Zone episode without a moral or twist. It's a weird little thing, and worth checking out if you've the time. As a matter of fact, you can watch it below via YouTube. It was riffed in episode 623 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I think I'll have to dig through my stack of booted MST3K eps and see if I can't revisit it. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO-fYCWctBA[/embed] Disclaimer: For whatever reason, I'd thought this was way creepier than it ended up being, hence its inclusion as part of the marathon. There's kind of one every year. This is it. Whoops.
A pretty lo-fi little flick, Among Friends has a nice little grit to it that reminds me of '80s movies like Happy Birthday to Me or April Fool's Day. You get a bunch of friends gathered together for a celebration, then shit goes awry. A standard plot, with plenty of opportunity for mistaken identity and jump scare surprises. The '80s vibe is augmented with it being a costume bash with crimped hair and pastel tuxes, along with a soundtrack that vibes super new wave. There's a character named Blane. Kane Hodder plays the limo driver. And, much like the previous movie, 100 Bloody Acres, we have a character tripping -- this time, mushrooms. There's also some other drugs, but to share them would spoil the fun. "Whodunit, prom night 1984" is the theme ... and, of course, while playing a game to discover a killer, shit goes terribly askew, but not in the way you think it's going to. If you've seen Would You Rather, you've a pretty good idea of what Among Friends has to offer. It's a little less gleefully clever, and far more gorily visceral. It's not as much fun as I'd expected. Billing this as a horror comedy is stretching the limits of what exactly can be defined as hilarity. It gets a little too torture-y for it to be any fun after a while, even given the off-kilter, unhinged mania of the revenge. You'd think the fact that the craziness keeps ratcheting up would result in a gleeful sense of "holy shit!" Not so: it's just steadily more fucked-up and unpleasant. And, really, that gets repetitive and boring. Fucking, yelling, stabbing / gouging / cutting, repeat. It just happens over and over, to the point where you just hope everyone would just fucking die. There's not a likeable character in the bunch. Even the most victimized character, and the one for whom we should feel the most sympathy and end up rooting for, manages to be an irritating pain. Skip it. Go watch any of the other films I mentioned, and you'll end up having a far more entertaining hour and a half. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_RBN-ozihk[/embed]
30 seconds into WolfCop, and I desperately wish I'd bought the Shooting Guns score One Way Static put out for MondoCon. It's Sabbath-y blues rock, and it sets the scene for the movie absolutely perfectly. The music, much like the movie, is tongue-in-cheek over the top. It's a hell of a fun flick. WolfCop is silly enough to keep things light, but bloody enough to make the movie worthy of calling itself a horror film. The transformation our hero Lou Garou undergoes is fucking brutal in and of itself, to say nothing of the first few kills. There's something about WolfCop that's hard to put your finger on. Maybe it's the way it devotedly follows horror movie tropes -- especially those of the the werewolf variety -- while winkingly acknowledging them and tweaking them. There's some showing of the seams here and there -- Lou Garou's werewolf makeup is considerably less detailed for action scenes, and you only get one really great transformation scene, but that only adds to the charm, because once you've seen them, your imagination fills in the later gaps. The seams are obscured by the editing, which early on is could stand to be a lot less jump-cutty. Too many jittery zooms and weird pans during the standard scenes, but once it gets all bloody, it works. You could alos likely justift it as a way of implying Garou's constantly drunken state, but the connection's not made emphatically enough to make the point effective. The dialogue, though: ACES. It's the one-liners which make or break a good dumb movie, and goddamn me if WolfCop doesn't have them. The greatest work best in context, but the fact that it was desperately hard for me not to yell across my local library, "Hey! You got any books on Satanism?" the next time I was there is a pretty strong testament to how many quotable bits WolfCop brings to the table. The only real downside to the film, aside from the seam-showing, is that while WolfCop is a werewolf movie, it's also a cop movie, which means equally as many shootouts as maulings, and that's not what I signed up for. Werewolf means people torn limb from limb, not gunned down. On a positive note, shit gets super weird near the end, which certainly more than makes up for the dragging banality of the gunfights. Tracking this one down's a bit difficult, as WolfCop saw release on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK last Tuesday, but won't make it to disc stateside until March. It's making the festival rounds, though, so check the official wesbite for dates and details. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Spd_v-d5-xs[/embed]
Today's post features special guest commentary from Cinapse’s Liam O’Donnell. He and both do this "watch a shit-ton of horror in October and write about it" thing, and so we've decided to team up on a few films this month. His column his entitled "Journal of Fear," and you should totally read it. He also does a podcast called Cinepunx with Joshua Alvarez, and it’s super-fun. Go listen. On to the film ... Nick Spacek It takes a few moments for Nightmare City to get going. Ironically enough, the first five minutes or so are spent setting up the plot of a nuclear exposure, and a introducing the reporter covering the the story. Considering that the remainder of Nightmare City's running time gets spent making not one lick of sense at all, it seems like director Umberto Lenzi's looking to justify everything that will follow. There's been a bit of discussion regarding whether or not Lenzi meant this to be a commentary on the dangers of nuclear power and war. Given that the creatures are irradiated, I can somewhat see that point, but the war metaphor stands up far better to scrutiny: mindless creatures, killing effectively, and to really stop them, you have to destroy their brain. Something's definitely being said about the illogical nature of war. It's a point muddled by a disjointed film, but it's certainly there, if you're willing to look. Regarding the disjointed film: you're never quite certain as to what exactly these creatures are. Traditionally, zombies are either supernatural creatures or the result of some science gone sideways -- reanimated corpses or plague victims maddened by sickness, and rarely do the twain meet. In this case, Lenzi's given us radioactive victims who are out for blood, but also creatures who can spread their infection. It's like they're nuclear zombie vampires, and even more confusingly, while zombies are usually mindless, these creatures use guns, knives, chains, axes, spearguns, and all manner of weaponry with great skill, while also shambling silently. Again: no real logic. The plot's a mess, the makeup's pretty rough, the special effects are banal, and the dubbing's emotionally flat: these are all things I knew, having seen the film before. Then why the hell did I buy it? There's a strange sort of charm to Nightmare City. It throws all manner of apocalyptic tropes into a blender and flings them onto the screen with wild abandon, and that's really the appeal. Having no idea what to expect keeps you watching, and the complete lack of coherent narrative allows for all manner of interpretation with each successive viewing. Liam O'Donnell I can see what you mean as to the "mess" of Nightmare City. Sure, at the very least the internal logic of irradiated people who thus become bloodthirsty murderers is an odd set up to say the least. I loved this movie though. This was actually a first time watch for me, and once I accepted that there was no back story and just constant violence, I was sold on the film. Constant attacks, constant action, and a complete lack of sentimentality. I mean let me start at the beginning: I am possibly in love with Hugo Stiglitz. I fell in love thanks to Exhumed Films and their showing of the amazing Night of a Thousand Cats. Stiglitz is his usual amazing self in this, and by amazing I mean the embodiment of 70s manhood. Stiglitz is perhaps a little stiff in Nightmare City. His character is a little more respectable here and less over the top. No matter: he is exactly who I would want shepherding me through this irradiated wasteland of gooey faced murderers. Ok, now that I think about it, the things in this movie make no sense: they can fight like rational, decision-making creatures. They drive cars, use guns, but then at key moments, they act exactly like mindless zombies. If I were concerned with some sort of world building or mythology, this film would bum me out. Why do I love it so much? My assumption is simply how ridiculously over the top it is. Every character can bite it at any time, and the story is really just a series of violent attacks. If I were to think about it too deeply, I could hate this movie. There is no reason to connect with or care about any of these characters. There is no sex appeal, lots of nudity post-murder, and no one is interesting at all. I didn't find myself bothered by any of that. I just went along for the ride, and all I could think was how much I would like to see this exact film but with better special effects and a slightly more kinetic director. Nick Strange question, but is there some sort of European rule that says there has to be some sort of dance sequence? It seems like Bava, Lenzi, and Argento all have to work in something involving dance. Maybe it's just an effective bit of shorthand for "beauty destroyed by ugliness." Either that, or spandex just makes a more effective reason for showing T&A. That said, there's something vaguely creepy about how many women get killed, then have their shirts torn open. Liam Yeah, I mean I get it. The plot moves at a pace that doesn't really allow room for things like sex scenes, or even a shower. This being a Euro horror flick, there needs to be nudity of some kind. So, murder nudity. Ok. Whatever. It freaked me out as well. At this point, watching Italian horror and worrying about gender issues is not something I can even imagine. Stiglitz has spent many of his films smacking various hysterical women, and that is something I have come to terms with. Nightmare City is no different. I agree about the dancing, but I wonder if this is a time and place thing. The 70's -- what is this, '79? The '70s in Europe were certainly well within the thrall of disco and all that entails. I am sure these dance sequences are entirely necessary for these directors to feel like they are making hip, relevant films. What I am utterly confused by is the following: is this in some sense a zombie film? You started off that way and I just accepted that as a marker by which to understand this movie. I think many would, including this movie within the realm of films like Zombi, and I mean, why is that? These things are certainly NOT zombies, right? It never claims they are. However, I have always thought of Nightmare City as a kind of zombie movie, and many have discussed it as such. Why do you think that is? I also think this movie in many ways is the movie World War Z wants to be, is that fair? Nick I think it's considered a zombie film, for lack of any other sort of descriptor. When you have mindless hordes in some form of decomposition, it's an easy term onto which you can latch. They're described by the military during that wonderfully expository sequence as radiation victims, so that's essentially what they are, but given that they display so many signs of autonomy and intelligence, one should probably call them something like mutants. Honestly, the next nearest analogue, when you really think about it, would be something like a C.H.U.D. What I'm seeing here is that both you and I agree that the movie's appealing because of its lack of explanation or exposition, and I'm curious as to whether you think that's part of the appeal of European horror movies of this era: is the emphasis on look, mood, and universally-understandable things like sex and violence what make them so appealing, even after so many years? Liam I mean look, sometimes a lack of exposition is an artistic decision to ignore things that would simply hold back an engaging atmospheric film. I recently made the claim that the most appealing part of It Follows was the refusal of the info dump, that is you know what is happening but the why, in the sense of back story, is considered superfluous. That is not what we mean here though, is it? Some of these European films have no back story and I think it is because they just didn't write one. Nightmare City has all the exposition it feels it needs: these are radiation victims who, for some insane reason, need blood. Now, what is crazy about this set up is that it is certainly enough info to decide the movie is dumb, but not enough to feel like you understand why anything is happening. You are right, this sort of film from this era has this happen often. Characters? Lets just settle for caricatures or stock folks. Plot? Look, there is danger, and now people are dying. I do think that is part of the appeal now, though. While we could attack these films for their lack of depth, they still are often made with more visual flare and directing talent than even some of the biggest films from the US. Do you think it is the artistic flare, the sort of visual intelligence of these films, that makes their fans so close to artistic film fans? I mean think about folks who love obscure art films and people who love obscure Euro horror films. They are not often the same exact fans, but there is often some cross over. Even when these movies are totally ridiculous, I don't often find myself laughing at them cause they still effect me. Is the visual strength of these movies why they sit with us and appeal to so many different people? Nick I think the visual intelligence of European horror films is what makes them so appealing to fans who don't even like horror. Actually, I've found that people who are super-into American horror really despise Italian horror films, simply because they can't get a handle on what's going on. Personally, I've grown to love weird Slovenian art film, simply because you just watch and enjoy. You lose yourself in the visuals presented, and let them take you where they go, without worrying what it's all about. Given that the visuals of the film are so strong, you don't need a plot. Who cares why, when there's so much to look at? Honestly, what's absolutely great about these is the fact that you could turn off the sound, watch them almost silently, and still find something about which to enthuse. Liam I don't want to overstate my case here, these directors are not Felini or whatever. By the same token, Nightmare City is not The Beyond. Fulci had his own visual genius, and I think you can defend some of his most insane films regardless of how the plots may not always seem coherent. I will say though that American films do too often rely solely on story and dialogue in a medium that is very much a visual one. How many sick American films, horror or not, still look shoddy? How few capitalize not only on the strength of their story telling but also captivate their audience with gorgeous visuals? Like any art, Film has a visual vocabulary, and film makers should have a way to communicate with use beyond the words their characters say or the events they participate in. This is, of course, arguing way too much for a film like Nightmare City, which is in mnay ways a surprisingly compelling cash grab. Clearly, this movie exists because of the popularity of horror films LIKE this, and whatever it has to show us is simply that self serving capitalism and effective film making can coexist. However, it is still very Italian, and for me the Italians are more commonly visual directors, who realize that images can be as moving as ideas or story. Nightmare City is the least obvious example of this sort of film making, as I suspect it was an attempt at a more visceral action film, but even in its shallow depths manages some far more powerful images than comparable American films. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_oy0mhWFBQ[/embed]
Big ups to 100 Bloody Acres for starting in media res. You've no idea what this man's name is, much less why this selfsame man is pulling a body from a wrecked lorry. You'll eventual grow to like every character in this movie, though, whether or not they're a victim or victimizer, and it's a testament to directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes that they were able to make even backcountry madmen likeable. Additionally, the film manages to walk a very fine line between generating unease of a comedic sort, along with unease of the terrifying kind, a deft act which is a difficult thing to do. It's a natural inclination to giggle when you're scared, and 100 Bloody Acres milks that for all it's worth. Tucker & Dale did it, Shaun of the Dead did it ... and so many other films fail in that balance, so it was with some trepedation I pressed "play" on this movie. It kind of reminds me of The Cars That Ate Paris, in terms of backcountry Australians doing what they think's best, even if that means killing all kinds of people. Much like that film, it's all kinds of skewed weirdness. It's menacing and uncomfortable, but delightfully manic in its gore and violence. It's not overdone, but the killings which happen are unflinching. People getting pulped aren't pretty. The soundtrack of Australian pop hits of yesteryear lend the film a pastoral charm, as well. As my wife commented, "It's nice to see the United States don't have a monopoly on terrible music." The radio station allows for a cool connective thread, letting the viewer in on where everything's happening in space and time. Maybe I was way too jacked on generic NyQuil, but the scenes of tripping on acid while running through an abandoned kiddy park called Fairyland were the most hallucinogenic thing I've seen since A Field in England. The line, "He wants my potassium!" might be something I need to work into conversation far more often. I went into 100 Bloody Acres expecting a chuckle and a grin, but ended up getting a film that delighted me. It's not just a good comedy, nor horror, nor even horror comedy -- it's a good movie, period. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTk2khyu3LA[/embed]
Vincent Price's campiest role outside House of Wax also features him in hideously-deformed makeup. In his part as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Price actually never utters a word on screen, as his voice is instead dubbed in, as a result of his vocal chords having been ruined as part of the same terrible accident that destroyed his face and killed his wife. As Phibes seeks his vengeance, the film verges on silence. There's not a word of dialogue spoken in the film's opening scenes, yet it still manages to be of great unease. This will repeat over and over as the film progresses, and it's one of The Abominable Dr. Phibes' greatest strengths, as it keeps your eyes glued to the screen, so that you know what's going on. Expositional dialogue isn't a thing about which this picture knows, but atmosphere is, and that's why these scenes are so effective. Big points to the filmmakers for using real bats -- all three Fulci films last week featured bat attacks, and were weak as kittens in terms of terror. This still shocks -- visible strings notwithstanding. The deaths, as a whole, are rather clever in their murderous ingenuity, especially as they relate to the plagues of Egypt. The plague of frog (mask) is just astonishing, given its brutality and wit, and I'm pretty sure that locusts eating someone's face off is one of my favorite kills ever. It's an American International Pictures film, but feels more like Hammer horror, thanks to its British cast and setting. The highbrow Seven Plagues method of killing really drives home the Hammer comparison, as well, given that studio's fondness for using already-extant characters and plots -- although, that is something which they shared with AIP, whose greatest work with Price came from a series of Edgar Allen Poe-inspired films. We'll explore those movies, which Price did with Roger Corman, as the week progresses. Watch The Abominable Dr. Phibes via YouTube below. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6FPbt8zB48[/embed]
Today's installment is me pulling an audible. Looking at the list, the actual film slated was Dario Argento's Phenomena (aka Creepers), but I just couldn't handle another Italian horror film again. So, I went another way, choosing the horror spoof Student Bodies. It's only 1981, and there's already a well-established pattern of horror movie tropes, and Student Bodies plays on them all. I mean, you could argue that even more than something like Evil Laugh, this was the movie that Scream ripped off, with lines like, "When people go wild and crazy, wild and crazy things happen to them." Of course, given the fact that this is essentially the Airplane version of horror movies, this actually makes Student Bodies more like Return to Horror High (Scary Movie before there was a Scream). It is super-dumb. It is not subtle. "The Breather" is as if the unrestrained id of every teenaged boy was allowed to run rampant in a voiceover, and it's occasionally funny, but rarely hilarious. Granted, the movie does have its moments of greatness. It's usually when Student Bodies avoids the obvious and just gets straight-up weird that its at its best. The shop teacher's lecture early on, wherein he states, "Perhaps man's highest cultural achievement is the horse head bookend"? Brilliant, as well as Malvert the janitor's "No, since accident, Malvert pee red. You know good urologist?" Same goes for the interstitial that might be one of the finest cutscenes ever. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzHKwhrN1Lg[/embed] See? Weird. I miss the fact that movies in the '70s and '80s were completely willing to do things which made no sense plotwise, just fucking because. Student Bodies isn't exactly a calvalcade of brilliance, and it's comprised of a juvenile sense of humor like The Kentucky Fried Movie that comes straight from the junior high locker room. I'm not usually one to suggest completely writing something off, but the kills are bloodless, the humor's juvenile, and the best bits are still funny out of context. Pull the highlights off YouTube and ignore this one. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YM-gFnlnO-o[/embed]
The final Italian mind bender this week is Suspiria, the crown jewel of Dario Argento's giallo crown, according to critics and film scholars. It's not my favorite -- I like Goblin's score for Profundo Rosso a lot more, and Cat O' Nine Tails far outstrips Suspiria in terms of plot twists and insane kills. However, Suspiria is the big giant to slay -- and, perhaps not coincidentally, the one Argento film I have with a good transfer and subtitles. The plot is surprisingly straightforward: a bunch of weird things happen at a ballet school, we find out it was ran by a coven of witches, they all die. Now, actually motive and intent are entirely absent, and the deaths of all these people go unexplained, but you know what was going on, if not why, and that's better than usual for most giallo. The most-interesting plot points come as an expository monologue -- it's almost as if Argento set the stage for later slasher scenes in the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and any other film where the villain needs an interesting backstory. The film oozes with symbolic tension. As Suzy arrives at the school, the rain drips down the front of it like blood. It's a film that's riveting -- you can't look away, for fear of missing a scene beautifully framed, or a detail that will lend some much-needed information. The way by which Argento drives home the growing panic is masterful. His alternating between intimate close-ups of violence -- shot like love scenes -- and wide-angle establishing shots of characters in panic absolutely emphasizes the characters' solitude. The monochromatic shots, and the use of warm colors to demonstrate death and cold ones to speak decay both create further visual cues which telegraph mood and emotion. Suspiria has justifiably earned its reputation as a pinnacle of Italian giallo horror, even if there are other films I find more fun. Goblin's score -- while admittedly not as fun as that for Profundo Rosso -- is still interesting, if a bit sedate. The theme's creepy as hell, though, and you can snag the Cnevox pressing of the score from 20 Buck Spin. Watch Suspiria on YouTube below. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onTYKt5lFNU[/embed]