Monday, April 30, 2012

The Skull (1965)

I must confess I've stayed away from Freddie Francis The Skull for many years just because someone, sometime, told me that it had a cheesy flying skull. Stupid me, but I've learned over the years never to listen to anyone who claims a movie is bad in anyway - because I know that I in most cases have  different opinion. The thing is also that I never been a big fan of Amicus. Don't ask me why, but I always had a hard time getting into them. This is a really original and atmospheric horror flick with an original story and well-executed effects. Sure, it has a skull hanging on strings - but if you're gonna basha movie just because of that then you should stay away from this form of art.

The formidable Patrick Wymark (for me he's a part of a childhood trauma because of his death in Where Eagles Dare) plays Anthony Marco, a very shady antiques dealer who's favourite customer is Dr. Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), a specialist in the occult and unknown. One evening Marco shows him a skull who he says is the skull of Marquis De Sade. Maitland is not interested, but after Marco leaves he finds himself more interested in the skull and the story behind it. Soon he's possessed by the pure existence of the cranium, he needs to own it - even if his good friend Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) warns him, because he once owned the skull himself... and knows the dangers ahead!

Freddie Francis directed some of the more edgy and dark British thrillers and The Skull is no exception. There's not hope for humanity, this easily distracted and greedy animal, here. Maitland is one of Cushing's more complex roles. Think about it, Cushing is doing his nice guy routine here, but the character is both very cynical and greedy - but pretends not to. He gladly buys stolen artefacts, with that patented Cushing-nod towards the thief. He has his full office filled with - it's suggested both by Marco and Maitland - stolen goods. He does everything to OWN. More relaxed, and more realistic his Phillips - who's been there and never want to go that road again. For him it's not important anymore.

The 2.35:1 ratio is used to maximum with deep colours, shadows and an interesting - but hard to define - sense of dread hanging over the characters. The frame is filled with details and interesting props and I would kill for a time machine to go back and take a closer look. Overall the set design is excellent. So how about that flying skull? You CAN see the threads at one point, but who the f**k cares really? It's a flying skull, they don't exist for real anyway! The flying is actually quite effective, especially considering the glorious cinematography by John Wilcox (who has a very impressive resume, including another favorite: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires).

But the most fascinating ideas with the movie is about the obsession of the skull, and it's possession of it's victims. One of the highlights is a really trippy sequence when Cushing - probably hallucinating - is forced to play Russian roulette and is trapped inside a big red room with moving walls!

The Skull is out on  good-looking blu-ray from Legend Films, well worth purchasing - and it's region all also!

Ninja Internetoholic!

Just letting new readers know that this is not the only place where Ninja Dixon roams!

You can find me on Twitter, on Facebook, Tumblr and also on my special blog about Thai cult cinema.

It's the same style of megalomania like in this place, I'm focusing on movies that few talk about or that I think is under-appreciated. On the tumblr I'm posting mostly mainstream movies - but of course not too mainstream :)

And a warning, I'm very more personal on Twitter - and I'm mixing Swedish and English a lot.

Anyway, you're welcome! :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Metal Tornado (2011)

Cheap and generic isn't just my life in three words, it's also a part of exploitation movies since the dawn of movie history. It's nothing wrong with being generic, it's part of the game - and the best game for generic scripts is the disaster genre. I think we all can agree that not one single disaster movie is an original movie - and don't defend the 70's masterpieces in the genre, they stole everything from melodrama-king Douglas Sirk and older disaster movies like San Francisco, Deluge and When Worlds Collide. It's also my favourite genre and I never grow tired of seeing either miniatures or CG models getting torn aparts by natural disasters. It's all the same to me.

SyFy Channel has been a saviour of disaster porn for a number of years, spurting out cheap flicks over and over again. After other storm-themed movies like Ba'al: The Storm God and Ice Twister, NYC: Tornado Terror and Space Twister comes Metal Tornado - a movie I don't think is a SyFy original to be honest, but belongs to that specific genre and got released on the channel last years. What makes it interesting for me, as a trash aficionado, is that it's a Canadian production and produced by my favourite exploitation man: Pierre David! Yeah? You know him I hope? He produced Dolly Dearest and Scanner Cop - and yeah, a bunch of David Cronenberg's films. Good, I knew that you knew who he is...

Lou Diamond Philips is Michael Edwards, some blahablaha-scientist, living alone with a troubled teenage son. He's dating his co-worker Rebecca (Nicole de Boer) and that causes some friction between him and his son. Anyway! He's working on a new energy source: taking power from sun flares, sucking it down with some weird space machines into gigantic battery packs down on earth. Something like that. Of course something goes wrong and the energy creates a magnetic tornado who starts to eat every metal thing it can find and of course it's going towards Philadelphia! How can Michael and his team stop it? Will he make peace with his son? Will everyone hug each other in the end? Watch the movie and you'll see...

Seriously, for me - as a very forgiving fan of cheap TV movies - this was quite OK. There's absolutely NOTHING original with it. The story goes from one metal tornado-incident to another - just like a creature feature from SyFy, and Lou Diamond Philips is a good hero running around looking worried, sitting behind computers looking worried, hugging survivors looking worried. I like Lou, no doubt about it. He's good and even if this was an easy paycheck he delivers some acting - which is rare in these movies.

The effects are mostly very cheap (surprise!), but effective. The tornado itself looks silly like hell, but I can buy it just because the story never drags. This is a movie for people who wants to sleep when watching it, just to wake up when some disaster happens. I mean, I can't even pretend any of you will like it - but I like it and that's the most important thing with the movies here at Ninja Dixon!

I have an avid reader who always comments on my blog, and he/she wanted to read about a SyFy movie and here's one for you! Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

The original UK title of Die! Die! My Darling! was the less What Ever Happen To Baby Jane-esque "Fanatic", and actually it's a better and harder title, closer to the disturbing subject of the story. Directed for Hammer Films, TV-director Silvio Narizzano seem more used to the confined spaces and the claustrophobic atmosphere than many others and directs here, I think, one of the best Old Psycho Lady-films of the sixties.

Stefanie Powers plays Patricia, an American woman who travels to London to meet her fiancé. But before their wedding she wants to visit the mother of her former boyfriend, who died in a car accident some years earlier. Just to pay respect, you know the deal. Upon arriving to the house of Mrs Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead) and her staff, Patricia realizes that she's a religious, Christian fanatic, controlling her house with a steady hand. But worst of all, soon Mrs Trefoile understand that Patricia is a sinner - wearing lipstick, perfume, not going to church regularly - and even more horrible: she's not a virgin! Mrs Trefoile decides she want to save Patricia and reunite her with the dead son. All in the name of God!

I can see how someone, somewhere, wanted this movie to be another Baby Jane or Strait-Jacket. Maybe the distributor or some stupid executive producer somewhere, but this is a smarter and darker movie than just a an ordinary rip-off. Bankhead's performance is one of the most twisted and dark I've seen from this period, an woman deeply evil, extremely bitter and to a certain degree insane. She's taken control over her staff, the emotionally fucked-up Anna (Yootha Joyce), her grim husband Harry (Peter Vaughan) and the retarded helper Joseph (Donald Sutherland) - all three brilliant actors. Powers as Patricia is an excellent heroine, fighting back more or less the whole time and the sparks between her and Bankhead is sensational.

It's a pretty violent movie, without being very bloody or graphic. But it's cruel, it's has a cynical atmosphere - an brilliant cat and mouse game of mindfucking deluxe. But make no mistake, there's no doubt who the monster is - this is one of the more anti-christian and anti-religious flicks I've seen including Kevin Smith's Red State (and I know he's a believer himself, but he at least understand that even Christians can be evil). Yeah, I would go so far to say that Die! Die! My Darling! is the Red State of the sixties. From it's theme of religious fantics to the story about kidnapping a non-believer/random ordinary Joe and force Jesus into his head with violence! It's a brave commercial thriller that dares to make the Christianity the bad guy. The only big difference is that Mrs Trefoile is a sinner deep inside, a weak damned sinner.

This is a movie you can watch only for Tallulah Bankhead. She's worthy every prize in the book her. I'm not sure if she had some illness during the time of the shooting, but from time she looks frail and it's not acting. This was also the last movie she made before her death in 1968. After reading up on her a bit I can understand how this part got her interest. She was a born provocateur, always ready for telling people the truth or just fucking with their heads. No surprise she took the role as Mrs. Trefoile with such enthusiasm. I also love how they, almost like in Sunset Boulevard, connected her to her past as a silent movie star. That's also a brave move from her, but not surprisingly it's said she actually disliked her earlier stardom.

Maybe she wanted to poke fun at what she once was?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lake of the Dead (1958)

It's rarely you come across vintage Scandinavian horror movies, which is kind of weird because in both Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland we have a rich tradition of myths and legends and deep, dark forests that scared the shit out of our ancestors for many years - and still do, believe me. My fathers grandma died when I was a baby, but she was a witch. A real one. With dark long hair, a wart on her nose and a strong belief in ghosts, goblins, trolls and every other supernatural creature living in the nature. I'm one of those boring atheists that doesn't believe in anything, but I love Scandinavian ghost stories. Lake of the Dead is one of those and probably the first horror movie ever made in our neighbouring country Norway. And it's still one of the best.

Six friends, all intellectuals - writes, critics, doctors - travels far out on the countryside to spend the weekend at a cabin in the woods. The brother of one of them is waiting there - they think. But when they arrive he's gone and when they find his diary it tells a haunting story of a ghost coming back for revenge, a one-legged incestuous man who lures his victims to the nearby bottomless lake. Soon strange things happens and they find traces of a one-legged man around the cabin and they soon understand that their lives are at stake...

Together with Rune Hagberg's ...och efter skymning kommer mörker (Sweden, 1947) this is probably the best genre movie made in Scandinavia before the sixties, even if I hold Arne Mattsson's Lady in Black from 1958 very high. But What makes Lake of the Dead so damn good is how simple it is. The story is very straightforward and the script plays on the ideas of the dangerous darkness that surrounds us in the nature, and the eerie desolate lake where no one can hear the screams of a drowning victim. The story balances right between a murder mystery and a supernatural tale and in the end it's quite open on what really happen. I like that. I hate when it's to clear. The ending isn't perfect, for me they could have kept it more mysterious, but what the hell - that was probably as much as the audience could take at the time.

It reminded me of the writings of Nigel Kneale, with a scientific approach to what's happening, but still leaves open for something more unexplainable. Well, maybe it's more the classic horror tales of the BBC that comes to mind: classy, well-acted and with genuine creepiness all the way through. I also like the discussion how magic is a form of science, close to hypnosis and manipulation of the mind from a distance.

I also need tell you that the dialogue is very important in Lake of the Dead. It's a lot of talk, but nothing is unnecessary and all of it, at proper moments, is also very witty and smart. I can't recommend you to watch this without subtitles, it will lower your experience a lot. Sure, there's stunning cinematography and cool scenes of terror - but this is a movie that needs its dialogue. If you want to see it, and I guess you want after this review, it's out on a gorgeous DVD in Norway with English subtitles! Believe it or not!

A Norwegian masterpiece in horror, there's no excuse to not buy it! 

Beyond the Grave (2010)

Beyond theGrave, or Porto dos Mortos, is something as unique as a Brazilian horror-western-drama hybrid from director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro. Shot in the beautiful city of Porto Alegre, the movie looks gorgeous and has an attractive cast of talents but suffers from a slow pacing. Will that work when the horror nerds out there most likely expects a gore-ridden splatter-movie?

The seven gates of hell has opened and transformed most people to zombie-demon-thingies. The Officer (Rafael Tombini) is a police officer obsessed with his work and even now, after the apocalypse, he's searching the country for the dreaded serial killer The Dark Rider. During the way he picks up two teenagers (Ricardo Seffner and Amanda Grimaldi) and teaches them to defend themselves without wasting bullets. But the closer they get to The Dark Rider higher the risk, and not everyone is gonna survive the end of the day...

Beyond the Grave is a very ambitious movie. The digital cinematography looks excellent and the main actors, especially the John Savage-esque Rafael Tombini and the two teenagers has a lot of charisma and carries the story all the way through. Even if the movie starts of quite cheesy, in a good way, with a shoot-out (including a very nifty shadow with bullethole-gag) and a samurai, the rest of the story is very, very low-key and is more or less an existential road movie with heavy doses of Stephen King's The Stand and it's villain, Randall fall - also called The Dark Man (compared to The Dark Rider) and the Walking Dude, the latter is referenced in a message that's sprayed on a wall in this movie.

One interesting idea is that the zombies isn't that dangerous (which I guess could be a disappointment to the gorehounds!), unless they are in a larger group of course. In some scenes the creatures is just stumbling around a couple of meters from our heroes without anyone really caring about them. Like stray dogs. Director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro wasn't interested in doing a normal zombie-movie - which is very obvious when watching the movie. It's more a drama with some supernatural scenes tossed in here and there and very low on the gore front (and I like gore), which could have spiced up the story a little bit.

I was expecting something else, maybe something more less serious and with more action, but if you read this review and plans to watch the movie: expect something totally different, expect more of a road movie. Well-acted, nicely shot and with more focus on characters and dialogue than pure horror. I think you will like it more with that knowledge.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Haunts (1977)

I need to thank Lars Jacobsson for tweeting about this movie, because if he didn't I wouldn't have hard about it and I would have reviewed yet another SyFy production that no one of you care about anyway! Haunts is directed by c-director (and former Rabbi!) Herb Freed, the maestro behind such classics as Graduation Day and Beyond Evil. He directed a couple of hundred TV-commercials before becoming a movie director and his second feature was this very interesting super-cheap thriller set far out in the American countryside...

May Britt Wilkens, the Swedish blonde Rat Pack-nymph who got her first start in Carlo Ponti's AND Dino De Laurentiis Le infedeli in 1953, plays Ingrid Svensson, a deeply religious woman living on an old farm who earlier belonged to her parents. Her only relative nearby is Uncle Carl (Cameron Mitchell) and the rest of the time she spends in church or taking care of her goats. One night a woman gets brutally killed by a masked man (wearing black gloves) and soon everyone is getting more and more paranoid. Who is the killer? The unknown psychopath is also starting to following and attacking Ingrid, and she gets closer to a nervous breakdown...

Haunts might be cheap, very cheap, and terribly slow - but this is actually a very ambitious, giallo-esque backwoods-thriller with a very fine cast. I've never been fond of these local productions, but Haunts stays away from the usual Bigfoots and monsters and goes directly for a complex psycho-thriller that gives the audience more than one twist. I'm surprised, because the directing by Freed is intelligent and arty with a wonderful score by the one and only Pino Donaggio (who the hell did they get him?!). The script, co-written by his wife Anne Marisse, is not that simple - but it's possible to connect all the dots even after the very haunting and cryptic ending.

Aldo Ray and Cameron Mitchell is two of the old farts giving Haunts some respectability, and both are doing it very well. They both starred in countless oddities over the years, most of the time probably just so they could pay the rent, but here both of them are low-key and uses a very realistic style of acting which tells me they probably cared more about this movie than some of the other stuff they did. But May Britt is the lead and with her strong Swedish accent (I'm not sure if that's her real accent or if she made it stronger for the performance) gives a lot of credibility to the story and she carries most of it by herself.

Don't expect any gore or sleaze, just expect a good and cheap horror/thriller with a script more clever than you can imagine.

Haunts is only released in shoddy, crappy releases, which is a pity. It deserves better, at least to make give more people a chance to see it. I have an Italian release with both English and Italian soundtrack, but the quality isn't much better than those 50 movies in one box that floods the net. But still, this is a movie worth watching - and when you've seen it, please come back to me and discuss the ending!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Warning to the Curious (1972)

Here's a little BBC gem I never heard of until I found it on DVD at Monkey Beach, THE go-to DVD shop in Stockholm. I can't say I'm an expert, but British TV from the seventies in the horror genre was often something very special. From immortal classics like The Stone Tape to the excellent horror series Beasts, not to forget the predecessor, The Omega Factor - everything is so top-notch it's absurd. The budgets was almost low, but scripts and acting better than anyone could dream of. A Warning to theCurious aired on Christmas eve 1972, based on the famous short story by M.R. James...

An older man, just fired from his job since 12 years back, Paxton (Peter Vaughan) goes to the little town of Seaburgh to find a hidden treasure, a crown belonging an ancient king. He starts poking around in the history of the village and finds out that there was a family named Ager who was the guardian of the crown, but the last one died twelve years ago. Soon he finds some clues and locates the crown... but someone, a dark figure, is watching him. Guarding him, and wants him dead...

A Warning to the Curious is of course an excellent - and cheap - TV movie, just 50 minutes - but not one minute too short or long. The actors are few and most of the locations are some old streets, the exterior of a church and lots of forests. This is it, and it's hard to make a story like this better. What always surprises me with productions like this one is how simple the scares are. We're not talking jump scares, it's just something weird or out of place looking at you. And that's it. The filmmakers trust that the audience cares about the story and sits down and concentrates, more or less inhaling the atmosphere. You can't have breaks for TV commercials in a movie like this. You can't make it too long. You just need to tell the story and act with your guts. Yeah, if you using a flashlight in a room and you suddenly see someone staring at you, that's fucking scary. It would be scary in real life and if you just shoot it like it is, it's still scary in the TV.

I wish more director could understand that.

This is a genuinely eerie little fucker and if you can find on DVD (it's out in the UK on a very OOP DVD, but Sinister Cinema has released a quite good looking version in the US) it's worth a purchase. Just don't expect shocks, gore and action. This is way more complex than that.

The Card Player (2004)

The CardPlayer, the universally hated giallo from maestro Dario Argento is probably his most personal movie since Tenebrae in 1982. It's personal because it once again takes another route in his visual style, away from the overloaded set-pieces and complicated camera-movements. Deep inside I think Argento is tired of what the fans claim to love him for. Remember when he tried to connect to the fans again with Nonhosonno? It ended with a shallow pastiche of his old movies, a simple best of. The Card Player is actually more inspired than Nonhosonno and closer to really good storytelling.

Stefania Rocca is Anna Mari, a police inspector in Rome who one day is contacted by a man who calls himself The Card Player. He has kidnapped a British female tourist and want to play a game of internet poker over her life. Anna Mari, in cooperation with her colleagues and superiors, agrees - but it all ends with the victim being killed in front of their eyes. A British cop, John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) joins the hunt and tries to stop the Card Player to kidnap and kill more girls...

Yeah, the story is pretty basic. Some critics has compared it to CSI and other US crime shows and the format feels a bit television, I can agree on that last thing - but the rumour also says it was originally made for television. The rest is typical standard giallo, but shown from the side of the police. There's not much crime scene investigation and the story concentrates a quite much at the love affair between Anna and John. A love affair that feels both honest and real, and one of the best ever told in a movie by Dario Argento.

What feels clumsy is the internet poker-thingy. At least for us who lives a lot on the web and understands how games like this work. For a normal joe, turning on the telly a dark evening, it means nothing and seems realistic enough. But a good fan always ignores the plot holes in Argento's movies, because all of them have something that actually could destroy the whole story if analyzing it too much. So I choose to just accept that this is a movie and nothing else.

But why is this such a good movie? Well, it has not much gore and blood (but more than Bird with the Crystal Plumage for example!) and the story is just OK, but here's why it's so effective: when I first got it on DVD I showed it to a friend. He was just visiting me and I was preparing to watch the movie and he stayed because he had nothing else to do. This guy is a normal guy. He likes movies, but is no collector. He can't tell an Italian thriller from an American, so here he is: pure. Untainted. We watches the movie and when the credits start to roll in the end he turns to me and say: "Fred, this was a really thrilling and scary movie!".

He don't know who Argento is and he doesn't care. It was a damn good movie. And it's for people like him Argento makes movies. Because of Argento would be making movies for those few fans that think he never should make another movie after Inferno he wouldn't make any movies at all. He's a commercial director, he makes movies for the big masses. Entertainment. Bloody entertainment.

The Card Player has several excellent set-pieces. When the killer attacks Anna in her apartment it's one of the best sequences Argento directed. It's actually, for real, exciting and scary. The actors are uneven, but it's Stefania Rocca and Liam Cunningham who carries the whole movie and makes great performances. Like with Tenebrae, almost a sibling movie when it comes to the style and design, The Card Player will grow and sooner or later be a favourite of many new Argento-fans.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Doctor Sleep (2002)

I have a fondness for non-Italian thrillers who have that Italian thriller-atmosphere. It can be great giallo-wannabe's like The Eyes of Laura Mars and Dressed to Kill to more esoteric productions, for example Roman Polanski's masterpiece The Ninth Gate. There's tons of more titles to list, but basically it's movies with twists and turns and who's rooted in art, perverted sexuality and with a splash of occultism. Not in the same movie necessary. Doctor Sleep is a slightly forgotten BBC thriller with Goran Visnjic and Shirley Henderson in the leads. If it was made in the seventies and by an Italian crew it would have belonged in the proud traditions of supernatural giallos/horror movies, because it has more or less everything such a movie should have.

Visnjic is Michael Strother, a hypnotist who's speciality is making people stop smoking. After blaming himself for a death of a patient in the US he's relocated himself, his wife and daughter to London to being a new life. After a few months one of his patients, a cop named Janet Losey (Shirley Henderson) notices that he sees stuff in her mind that he shouldn't be able to see, in this case a young girl traumatized by a kidnapping. She's the only one so far who escaped from the dreaded tattoo killer. Unwillingly Michael tries to help Janet with trying to get the girl to remember something and suddenly gets way to close to the killer than he expected from the beginning...

We should be happy that Madison Smartt Bell's novel never got in the hands of a greedy American producer, because gone would be the slow build-up, the sense of mystery, the low-key acting. It would have been a Se7en wannabe and we had enough of those already. It almost feels even more exotic to see a occult serial killer/murder mystery like this set in a realistic British enviroment. Gone is the rainy streets of New York or the Palm trees of Miami. That would have fucked things up badly.

Doctor Sleep has several details that I fucking love: serial killer who's face is always exactly out of frame, occultism and esoteric mumbo jumbo, some (for a BBC production) bloody killings, a man tormented by his psychic powers, a fun twist ending etc. It never goes totally wild like the Italian productions, but stays very commercial and never goes into that kinda boring British TV-cop drama that we're used to and that we all love so much. Actually, there's more or less no cop-work at all in this movie, just Michael and Janet trying to understand the symbols they find and the killer trying to stop them.

The twist is very interesting and I didn't expect it to happen, which is a good thing in my point of view. But the giallo connection doesn't stop there, because the composer of the score is none other than Simon Boswell, who's earlier works is Phenomena, Stage Fright and Delirium.

This is a very underrated thriller who I think many ignore while shuffling through the x-rental DVDs for sale in the store or just disappears in the flood of UK crime dramas eating up our TV channels.

Doctor Sleep deserves a better destiny. 

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Mario Bava, loved by many, overrated by some. I must confess I've always belonged among those that think he's slightly overrated. Not that he's a bad filmmaker - he's damn brilliant with amazing effects, stunning cinematography and very competent directing. The only problem has been the scripts, which in their way has hampered the pacing of most of his movies. He as a director should have seen this and demanded rewrites or maybe solved it during the editing. But he's dead and long gone and he can't defend himself from this terrible hating so just pretend everything is fine and that I haven't said a thing. Anyway, I decided to give Planet of Vampires a new go after a few years. A movie I've started to watch a couple of times recently but often got stuck and lost interest after the excellent first half hour.

Two spaceships travels to the mysterious planet of Aura because of an odd SOS signal. Well down on the planet something, or someone, takes over their bodies and it's an ancient alien race who wants to find a new place to live! The crew at Galliot already killed each other and have become mindless bodies controlled by the aliens, but the Argos crew decides to fight back! They discover another, giant, ship with huge fossilized aliens aboard. It was also one of them who sent the signal...

The less said about the story the better, but it's quite clearly that Dan O'Bannon was inspired by this movie (and the brilliant It! The Terror from Beyond Space) when he wrote Alien (his own and John Carpenter's Dark Star also, of course), at least the basic premise with. But what's really striking is the alien spaceship they find with the dead alien crew - that's so similar to Ridley Scott's Alien that there's not doubt about the inspiration. But where Alien goes dark and realistic Planet of the Vampires continues Bava's fascination for comic books and ultra-stylish colour extravaganzas. There's very few shades of grey, everything has a strong colour, or strong light. The sets are big and not even close to realistic. It's like stepping into a comic book, which isn't surprising at all - Bava loved comics and got his bloodthirst satisfied some years later with the excellent Diabolik. But it's all here, just as a horror movie in space!

Which is interesting, like Alien - who basically is a haunted house movie in space, Planet of the Vampires is a gothic horror movie in space. Complete with people crawling up from graves, tombstones, fog and dark mountains. It also works a lot better as a grim horror movie than the cheesy sci-fi flick it pretends to be from time to time.

Planet of the Vampires was a lot better now, when I finally managed to watch that quite slow middle section, and I see now how it works fine as a preparation for the good finale and great twist ending (which I didn't see coming actually, totally forgot the details after these years). I've just seen the American edit, released by MGM/Midnite Movies, so now I need to get myself the Italian edit and give it yet another shot!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Night of the Hourglass (2007)

In 2004 Salvation Films wrote this on their homepage: "Rollin says that his days are numbered. I don’t mean by that that Rollin is going to die tomorrow, but that he is going to die sooner rather than later, and because of this he is putting his affairs in order and tying up lose ends". In the same text his next movie is mentioned, titled "Transfiguration of the Night", "a dark, beautifully macabre, and in the circumstances, very poignant film. To be shot in France and Florence, and featuring the stunning and very special actress Ovidie, it promises to be a very surprising swansong to Rollin’s career."

In 2007 Night of the Hourglass came and delivered the promises above, a perfect swansong (he actually made one more movie, The Mask of Medusa - read an excellent review here) connected to his whole life, especially his cinematic life, starring French porn actress Ovidie. It took me a few years to see it, but today - five years after its released I finally took the time to see it. I felt it was something that could wake me up from the darkness, from the constant depressions that plagues my mind. I won't bother with explaining the story, it's not necessary. Night of the Hourglass is all about nostalgia, but that kind of good nostalgia that doesn't shy away from what Rollin's life was all about: telling stories. Ovidie walks through the french countryside, looking for the dead director Michel Jean (without being in the movie, Jean Rollin himself), but instead of finding him she's meeting his characters, those ghosts, vampires and oddities that inhabits his world.

We're meeting Dominique, Jean-Loup Philippe, Natalie Perrey, Françoise Blanchard and others from Rollin's past, now aged, but intercut with they young versions of themselves, from that time when everything seemed impossible. Familiar locations, props and houses appears. It's very nostalgic, but never to that point of crying and sobbing. Rollin was here well aware of his illness and obviously decided to treat his future death in a very straight way. Like he wanted everyone, including himself, to accept that this is the way it is, that damn life. In the last scene Ovidie is walking around, after burning the clock that leads to Rollin's world, and we hear a voice over how hard it is to find Rollin's grave, like it's almost lost. Maybe just a mystery like the world he created for so many years. This reminded me of Mr J's fantastic post about his search for Rollin's final resting place, a must read.

Night of the Hourglass is for the fans, those who appreciated and supported Rollin over the years. It's pure love towards us all that cared. It's also a sign of respect to his amazing crew and cast that followed him on his adventures since the late sixties. One actress, who I can't identify, also tells a story that she was in one of his first movies, a lost movie, as a girl stepping into a train. I love details like that. And I love the love that these actors and actresses is giving Rollin by participating.

Interesting enough he never visits the beach, "his" beach. It's visible in footage from his old movies, but there's no new footage from it. But they're talking about it, and Ovidie gets the opportunity to visit the beach by stepping inside the clock - but she refuses.

...And the beach continues to be a fairy tale, a place we only can visit in real life - outside the movies. I will, one day. I promise.

To drink a glass of red wine to the honour of Jean Rollin.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The End...

...for a while anyway. I've been thinking for  quite a while now that blogs like this have no meaning, no purpose. There's millions of cult movie blogs out there and the world will be a better place without one of them. No, I will probably return sooner or later. The drug called "writing overly positive reviews of movies no one likes" is strong. I just need a vacation, maybe try to stop watching movies for a while. Go on with my life, do something that will make me feel better and smarter.

I might be back tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month or maybe next year. I don't know. You know me better.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Humongous (1982)

I starred in a slasher once, the ill-fated Camp Slaughter from 2004, not to be confused by Camp Daze who later changed title. Anyway, I played the traditional fat nerd and gets killed after fifty minutes. So it's a quite big part and after being shown in cinemas and on DVD it was a year or so with people recognizing me on the street - not because they liked the movie, but the opposite. To tell me how bad the movie was and to quote all the "funny" critics who told everyone what a crappy bunch of actors Camp Slaughter suffered from. Maybe it's true, but what I mostly remember is the fun shooting - on a real camp, close to the water and forest. That's why I might enjoy watching these old slashers so much, to experience once again the pleasures of shooting a slasher in the summer, having fun with friends and getting killed in a bloody way.

Humongous suffers from the same thing as all slashers from this time: a lack of story. The characters are also unusually underwritten. Yeah, I've always considered the old slashers to have quite interesting characters - not original - but easy to like or dislike. In Humongous they're a bit to flat, and what's left is an attractive cast with very little to work with. But who cares? Well, except me? These meatheads ends up on what they think is a deserted island - with dogs - but believe it or not, it has a crazed humongous killer walking around crushing everyone who dares to come to the island!

The director, Paul Lynch, tried his luck in the slasher-genre with the semi-classic Prom Night a couple of years earlier. I can understand the love for it, but personally I've always felt it to be too slow and with a very annoying soft visual look that took away the grittiness. It's mostly a nice way to see Leslie Nielsen and Jamie Lee Curtis do what they do best: looking serious and scream. Humongous is both gorier and grittier - and no "soft" look to distract me, but instead it's almost too generic. I mean, we have seen this hundreds of times before - and this flick even reuses a couple of very specific ideas from earlier movies in the same genre. Sure, this was probably just a tax shelter production, but a little bit more inspiration from the writers could have been nice!

Instead Humongous lives on a couple of very effective set-pieces and a nice big brutal killer who like to toss around his victims like big dolls. The production value, the locations and sets looks excellent and saves the movie from a complete failure. The actors are cute and good-looking, always good, and the editing effective and makes the most of the sequences. The only scene standing out as a complete failure is the worlds slowest chase scene at the end. It's so slow that it's hard to understand how it could be SO slow! I mean, it must have been visible during the shooting of the scene! A couple of plot holes and some very uneven acting is something I could complain about also, but I'll be quite and stop whining.

Humongous is a good slasher, a lot better than some of the others from 1982. What it misses is more graphic gore and the script could have needed some more originality. The DVD from Scorpion is a must purchase. It's uncut (first time I see it uncut by the way) and for a movie that always looked dark and murky on VHS, it finally looks good.