Archive for the ‘Gothic Horror’ Category

The Babadook (2014) Bluray release

Dir: Jennifer Kent | Cast: Essie Davies, Noah Wiseman, Douglas Henshall Aus Horror, 94′

When it comes to home invasion thrillers it doesn’t get much scarier than this Australian shocker from Jennifer Kent that started life as a short film called The Monster in 2005. Over the next decade Kent tooled away at the narrative and in 2014 THE BABADOOK was born. It went on to win over fifty international awards from critics and viewers alike. Kent successfully employs every horror trope in the book along with a discombobulating soundscape to create a cumulatively distressing psychological thriller that feels real and yet completely outlandish at the same time with its violent visual and emotional onslaught .

Amazingly THE BABADOOK was also Kent’s first full length feature, and worth watching for its sensational central performance from Essie Davis as Amelia, a bereaved single mother still going through the trauma of her husband’s death in a car crash minutes before she gave birth to her only child, Samuel (Wiseman). The two hunker down in their dour Victorian house on the outskirts of Adelaide, where the boy becomes obsessed with a children’s book entitled Mr Babadook, a dark demonic raven-like creature who gradually becomes the vehement vector for their mutual misery and paranoia.     

At times unbearable to watch it’s the way little Samuel bears the brunt of his mother’s violent anguish that makes this so horrifying and heartfelt. There’s a visceral longing and a sexual yearning in Amelia that tips the feature into full blown Gothic territory. And as usual the family dog has to die. MT

The Babadook: Limited Edition 4K/ Blu-ray is now 28th June 2021 from Second Sight Films.

Agony (2020)

Dir: Michele Civetta | Cast: Asia Argento, Jonathan Caouette, Claudia Salerno, Nick Daly, Ninetto Davoli, Franco Nero, Monica Guerritore |

In this fantasy melodrama, New Yorker Isidora (Argento) gets hit by a bombshell in the opening scene – the mother she thought had died in the 1970s has only just departed this world leaving her troubled daughter Isadora the marchese of an extensive Tuscan estate.

Once in Tuscany (actually Viterbo slightly further south) strange things start to happen and Isadora is plagued by hallucinations of a grey-haired wailing woman who haunts the medieval castle in psychedelic magic realist sequences that dovetail seamlessly into Nicola Pecorini’s lushly rendered visuals that create a great sense place in the rural Italian settings. A pig-trailed Franco Nero (Carlo) is the only person she feels she can trust and the two instantly bond when he confesses to a close friendship with her mother (“she saved me from a haze booze and baccarat”) claiming she fell victim to a religious curse in the village back in the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

Driven forward by Bardi Johannson’s sinister soundscape Michele Civetta’s feature debut has echoes of Jane Eyre and an impressive Italian cast (Franco Nero joins fellow Pasolini veteran Ninetto Davoli) – but there’s also something spooky going on with his script (co-written by the film’s producer Joseph Schulman) that seems tonally out of kilter with the histrionic New Yorkers who are crass and cartoonish in the context of the otherwise rather enjoyably lowkey poetic narrative that grows increasingly outlandish in their wake. MT

OUT ON 14 JUNE 2021

 

 

The Hands of Orlac (1924) Blu-ray

Dir.: Robert Wiene; Cast: Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina, Fritz Kortner, Hans Homma, Fritz Strassny, Carmen Catellieri; Osterreich 1924, 92 min.

Four years after his most emblematic feature, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, director Robert Wiene (1873-1938) filmed Ludwig Nerz’ adaption of Maurice Renard’s novel as a psychological horror feature blending Grand Guignol with German Expressionism. It starred two of the great stars of the German speaking cinema of the first half of the 20th century, Conrad Veidt and Fritz Kortner; both of whom emigrated to the USA, where Veidt would go on to play Major Strasser in Casablanca. The film would be later be reworked as Mad Love in 1935, directed by emigrant Karl Freund and starring fellow émigré Peter Lorre in his Hollywood debuta. Amongst others, there is also a 1960s version of the original which stars Mel Ferrer, Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasence.

Veidt is mesmerising here as creepy tormented concert pianist Paul Orlac (Veidt) who is gravely injured returning from a concert tour when his train collides with one coming in the other direction. At the nearby sanatorium, Dr. Seral (Homma) saves his life by amputating the pianist’s hands, replacing them with those of a convicted murderer. But it’s not only the criminal’s hands he inherits in the ground-breaking surgery, as we discover in a grim twist in the finale.

Based on a novel by Maurice Renard, Wiene vividly brings to life Orlac’s horrifying descent into madness as his genius suffers and his reputation slowly disintegrates, his career in tatters. He is blackmailed by Nera (Kortner) and his father is mysteriously murdered, Orlac’s fingerprints appearing on the weapon. .

DoPs Günther Krampf and Hans Androschin use light and shadow to deft effects in the cavernous set design, making Orlac much more of a genre horror feature than Caligari. Mad Love was Freund’s last feature as a director, but he would go on shooting 45 features, including Key Largo). Meanwhile, Robert Wiene died in 1938 on the set of Ultimatum while in exile in Paris, the feature – starring Erich von Stroheim and Lila Kedrova (The Tenant) was finished by yet another future Hollywood great, Robert Siodmak. AS

COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | MAY 2021

Masque of the Red Death (1964) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Roger Corman | Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee | Horror, US 89′

The Masque of the Red Death is the seventh in the series of Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe adaptations produced by AIP in the 1960s. These visually handsome films were praised for an integrity of tone, laced with dark humour; and a careful – though not over-reverential – respect for the period horror genre.

Atmospheric widescreen colour sets and costumes complimented intelligent scripts and sensitive direction. Of course, there were earlier Poe films yet it was only with the Corman features that we experience a remarkable grandeur faithful to the tone of Poe’s writings, which greatly appealed to critics and audiences.

For his ninety minute version of The Masque of the Red Death Corman takes a sparse storyline and makes it rich in atmosphere. Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell worked on a plausible treatment and also added material from Poe’s tale Hop-Frog. As with the earlier Corman film The Pit and the Pendulum (an even starker one prisoner/victim situation) further characters and sub-plots needed to be created.

Alongside the Masque’s hooded figure of the Red Death (often seen as a reference to Bergman’s death character in The Seventh Seal,  those monks surfacing in Bunuel’s films and the callous Prince Prospero (malevolently performed by Vincent Price) we also have a selection of court people, dwarf actors and dancers. A rival villain is provided by Patrick Magee’s Alfredo, although Magee gets short shrift in this rather underwritten role, and would have fared better as Prospero, for he conveys much darker undercurrents of evil with his bitter cracked voice and cold stare.

It made sense to move out of the hermetic court and include some villagers. Those chosen are a virtuous peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher, ideally pure but never sentimental), her lover and her father. The men are kept inside the dungeons while Francesca, against her will, has to join the company of the court. Francesca is probed by the Satan-worshiping Prospero. He sees her belief in Christianity as equalling his attachment to the powers of darkness. Like Prospero’s mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) the peasant girl is ideal for an apprenticeship with the Devil. A quasi-initiation scene, where Vincent Price leads Jane Asher through a series of highly-coloured rooms is fascinating. Like the doors in the legend of Bluebeard’s castle, a diabolic temptation is being presented to the curious, though resistant Francesca.

These new characters are perfectly serviceable although The Masque of the Red Death tends to make them secondary to the sheer beauty of the film. And although the cast do their best, the photography, set design and costumes create an even stronger note, adding to the visual allure of the picture. Of all the Corman/Poe outings Masque is the most opulent, containing some of the most magnificent colour photography to be found in the genre (perhaps only the colour filtering and lighting in the restored Mario Bava, Kill Baby, Kill achieves a Gothic intensity equal to The Masque of the Red Death).

Nicholas Roeg won a BAFTA for his terrific work. His seductive photography is not just skin deep, it offers brilliant texture that lights up the horrible cold decadence of Prospero’s rooms, divorced from reality, and the misty presence of the village – not forgetting the hill and tree where the ominous figure of death lays out his tarot cards. Dan Haller’s set design is remarkable (they are re-used and re-decorated sets left over from the film Beckett) and so are the costumes supervised by Laura Nightingale.

Corman reportedly gave his cameraman a lighting “theme” and said that ‘Nic lit everything really very beautifully.’ So where does that leave Corman’s direction in this intense artefact? Well he directs with a fluid and elegant touch that glides you through the film. None of the performances seem obviously grand guignol. They’re very natural. And given Vincent Price’s tendency to sometimes be hammy, his Prince Prospero is as restrained as his Mathew Hopkins in Witchfinder General.

There’s a sense that Corman trusted his actors to deliver. However The Masque of the Red Death’s danse macabre scene slightly disappoints and is  somewhat underwhelming. There’s a feeling of it not being adequately choreographed. Roger Corman has said he thought this sequence was a failure and he’d wished he’d had more filming time. It lacks a sense of pain and ritual, a dress rehearsal for everybody’s dreadful fate rather than the real thing.

This new blu ray comes uncut – so the flesh branding scene and Julia’s satanic hallucinations are intact. And the quality of this restoration does justice to its production values. My personal best of the Poe films still remains The Tomb of Ligiea but The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher are not far behind.

According to the opening lines of Poe’s short story: “The “Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal – the redness and the horror of blood.” The partnership of Roger Corman and Nicholas Roeg gave such glorious style to this allegory, and combined with ideal casting they achieved a heightened realism to communicate the tale’s poetically despairing descriptions of both a very real, and at the same time, dream-like plague. It’s a classic horror film that’s splendidly stood the test of time. ©ALAN PRICE 2020

Night of the Eagle (1962) *** Talking Pictures

Dir: Sidney Hayers  Wri: Fritz Leiber Jnr | Cast: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Kathleen Byron | UK Horror, 90′

Two years earlier Anglo Amalgamated had realised the horrific potential of modern technology in Peeping Tom. This smart British shocker shows how telephones and tape recorders. as well as tarot cards. are employed by a twentieth century witch to cast spells (aided naturally by a cat) in a terrific Freudian version of ‘Bewitched’, played for chills rather than laughs (just as director Sidney Hayers’ early use of zooms and a hand-held camera anticipates the much clumsier later use of these devices by other directors).

Having already portrayed an evil spirit in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde is here beset by them himself; and, like any average man, is bewildered and embarrassed when he investigates the contents of his wife’s handbag (her bedside reading is ‘The Rites and Practises of Black Magic’). Meanwhile a bunch of very average men are oblivious of the office politics seething behind their backs amongst a poisonous coven of spitefully ambitious faculty wives (including a tart little cameo from the wonderful Kathleen Byron).

Based upon A.Merritt’s 1932 novel ‘Burn Witch Burn! (its US release title), the triumvirate that adapted it include the venerable fantasy writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, with one sequence of a THING attempting noisily to gain entry worthy of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, but with a spool of magnetic tape instead of a pagan relic working its malign magic. 

The perpetrator wears an enormous fur collar creating the impression of a bird of prey that’s had a stroke, and also adding another layer to the traditional superstition that physical disability was the price paid for striking a pact with the devil. Richard Chatten.

ON TALKING PICTURES | AMAZON DVD

The Hammer Horror Collection | New blu-ray release

Celebrating 60 years of Gothic horror and grisly gore, THE HAMMER HORROR COLLECTION hails from the glory years of this iconic house of horror offering a chilling foray into a selection of British cult classics first spawned by Terry Fisher’s in 1957 outing The Curse of Frankenstein up until the 1970 with Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula, now making its blu-ray debut. The production house was originally founded 82 years ago by William Hinds and James Carreras.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | 1970, 91’

Atmospherically directed  by Hungarian Peter Sasdy, and adapted for the screen by Anthony Hinds – stepping in due to budgetary constraints under the pseudonym of John Elder (he told his neighbours he was a hairdresser to avoid publicity throughout his entire career) this outing actually broadens the storyline into a damning social satire of Victorian repression and upper class ennui. The eclectic cast has Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen and Gwen Watford and sees three distinguished English gentlemen (Keen, Peter Sallis and John Carson) descend into Satanism, for want of anything better to do, accidentally killIng Dracula‘s sidekick Lord Courtly (Ralph Bates), in the process. As an act of revenge the Count vows they will die at the hands of their own children. But Lee actually bloodies the waters in the second half, swanning in glowering due to his lack of a domineering role in the proceedings.

7C940955-3F3B-4D0D-A526-A2E93CD37184BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB

Directed by Seth Holt | Starring Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon | UK | 1971 | 89 mins
Adapted from Bram Stoker’s mystical thriller The Jewel of the Seven Stars, this supernatural shocker is one of Hammer’s most enduring classics. A British expedition team in Egypt discovers the ancient sealed tomb of the evil Queen Tera but when one of the archaeologists steals a mysterious ring from the corpse’s severed hand, he unleashes a relentless curse upon his beautiful daughter. Is the voluptuous young woman now a reincarnation of the diabolical sorceress or has the curse of the mummy returned to reveal its horrific revenge? Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb was plagued by the sudden deaths of director Seth Holt and the wife of original star Peter Cushing, leading to rumours of a real-life curse. Michael Carreras completed the movie that made a Scream Queen of Valerie Leon as the Mummy who, in a titillating twist, forgoes the usual rotting-bandages and is instead resurrected sporting a negligée.
Extras: New featurette – The Pharaoh’s Curse: Inside Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

1DB70328-2F7E-4621-ABE6-82C9355D699FDEMONS OF THE MIND

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Robert Hardy, Shane Briant, Patrick Magee | UK | 1972 | 89′

In 19th century Bavaria, deranged Baron Zorn (Hardy) keeps his children Emil (Briant) and Elizabeth locked up because he thinks they are possessed by tainted hereditary madness. It’s up to discredited psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg (Magee) to unravel the dark family secrets involving incest, traumatic suicide and proxy fantasies in this satisfying and unusual late-period masterpiece.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Will Have Blood: Inside Demons of the Mind

C2BB7EFB-1328-4D87-B707-705E379113E3FEAR IN THE NIGHT

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast Judy Geeson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing | UK | 1976 | 94′

A damaged young girl (Geeson), recovering from a recent nervous breakdown, is about to move with her new husband (Briant) to a secluded boarding school in the country but, the night before they are due to leave, she is attacked by a one-armed man with a prosthetic hand. With no evidence remaining, her kindly old neighbour and the local doctor conclude that she may have imagined the attack and the intruder altogether. The terror follows her and at the school she is attacked again but again her story is met by doubt, this time from her kind and loving new husband. She continues to be terrorised by the mysterious one-armed man, but nobody believes her.
Extras: New featurette – End of Term: Inside Fear in the Night

9DA0E0C1-1ED9-46D9-A532-841BF4DCAC5ASCARS OF DRACULA

Dir: by Roy Ward Baker | Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton | UK | 1970 | 96′

Count Dracula (Lee) is brought back from the dead when blood from a bat falls on his mouldering ashes and once again spreads his evil from his mountaintop castle. When a young man, Paul, disappears one night, his brother Simon (Waterman) and his girlfriend (Hanley) trace him to the area, discovering a terrified populace. Thrown out of the local inn, they make their way, like Paul before them, towards the sinister castle and its undead host.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula

5FB7AF34-6BD5-4200-A000-99B6D4BD70CBDR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast:Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick | UK | 1971 | 97 mins

In Victorian London, Professor Jekyll (Bates), an earnest scientist, obsessively works day and night haunted by the fear that one lifetime will not be enough to complete his research. Side-tracked from his objective he becomes consumed with developing an immortality serum. Once convinced his findings are complete, he consumes the potion only to discover that he is to become two as he turns into half Jekyll and half Hyde. Desperate to cover up his newfound identity he calls her his sister, but things take a turn for the worse when he realises that he needs female hormones if he is to maintain his existence. Before long he is battling with his alter ego Mrs Hyde (Beswick), as a number of young girls begin to go missing in the streets of London…
Extras: New featurette – Ladykiller: Inside Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde

B4674D93-6B5E-4B87-A1BB-45F72FBE630BTO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott, Nastassja Kinski | UK | 1976 | 95 mins

In 1970s London John Verney (Widmark), a renowned occult writer, is approached by Henry Beddows (Elliot) to help rescue his daughter Catherine (Kinski) from a Satanic cult. Catherine is a nun with the Children of the Lord, a mysterious heretical order based in Bavaria and founded by the excommunicated Roman Catholic priest (Lee). When Catherine arrives from Germany, Verney sneaks her away from her bodyguard and takes her to his apartment. The order, however, are determined to get Catherine back and use all the powers of black magic at their disposal in the ensuing battle between the forces of light and darkness
Extras: New featurette – Dark Arts: Inside To the Devil a Daughter

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING

Dir: by Peter Collinson | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam | UK | 1972 | 96 mins)

This is not some sort of night of unmitigated lust chez Dracula, but the tragedy of  young Brenda (Tushingham), an innocent young girl, who leaves her hometown of Liverpool for London in search of love. By chance she meets Clive (Briant). Attractive, debonair and rich he seems to be the handsome Prince Charming she’s been looking for. Clive is actually a deeply disturbed young man and his psychotic tendencies soon manifest themselves and destroy Brenda’s dreams of a fairy-tale life offering instead a kind of COVID-19 style misery – and we all know about that

5603F039-792D-4DEF-BE89-8EB09D72EACCTHE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara | UK | 1970 | 95 mins)

Young Victor Frankenstein (Bates) returns from medical school with a depraved taste for beautiful women and fiendish experiments. But when the doctor runs out of fresh body parts for his ‘research’ he turns to murder to complete his gruesome new creation. Now his monster has unleashed its own ghastly killing spree and the true horror of Frankenstein has only just begun…Extras: New featurette – Gallows Humour: Inside The House of Frankenstein

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | AVAILABLE On BLURAY AND DVD DOUBLEPLAY  | Amazon | Warner Bros

Carmilla (2019) **

Dir/scr. Emily Harris. UK. 2019. 95 mins.

This exquisite-looking atmospheric drama based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s female vampire tale is a blood-drained version of the original spine chiller.

‘Carmilla’ pre-dates Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ by nearly three decades yet remains a more obscure affair lurking behind the more famous ‘Uncle Silas’. And this film version is a pale rider compared to the 1871 novel that chronicles the dwindling life of teenage Lara (Hannah Rae) whose impromptu house guest (an exotic Devrim Lingnau) arrives in a mysterious carriage. Carmilla eventually outstays her welcome – not not by drinking Lara’s cellar dry – but draining her hostess’s blood and reducing her to a bedridden cypher.

Women of that era were destined to be seen and not heard, and this is the fate of Lara whose increasingly demure behaviour fails to alarm her family. In her first film, Emily Harris stays faithful to the supernatural powers of the book but fails to convey the sinuous terror instilled by Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel. Carmilla is a fable fraught with sullen and brooding characters, but most of the support cast here just seem lacklustre. Never mind a splash of blood, Harris could have added a jolt of life by reanimating the novel’s spectacular opening carriage scene, adding some vital backstory and dramatic heft as a counterpoint to the languorous aftermath in the claustrophobic interiors of the remote country pile where the Gothic tale unfolds.  

DoP Michael Wood conjures up summery English scenery and lowkey candlelit interiors that set the perfect scene for a sapphic ‘love story’ to be delicately evoked by the bewitched duo. Shame then that Harris fails to breathe life into this rather wan thriller that feels as lethargic as the lovers themselves . MT

NOW IN CINEMAS | 16 OCTOBER 2020

 

Vampir Cuadecuc (1971) **** BfiPlayer

Dir: Pere Portabella | Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Soledad Miranda | Sound Design: Carles Santos, Jordi Sangenis | Horror | Spain 67′

Made in 1970 by the Catalan avant-garde filmmaker Pere Portabella (1929-), Vampir Cuadecuc is a weirdly effective experimental slice of ‘Hammer’ horror that rides on the back of the filming of Jesus Franco’s Count Dracula (El Conde Dracula) that styles Christopher Lee as a grey-haired blood-sucker who is seen rocking sunglasses like some 1970s version of Karl Lagerfeld.

Almost entirely dialogue-free and driven forward by a sinister and occasionally seductively languorous soundscape, the film is curiously watchable, its silent moments as beguiling as the discordant outbursts that threaten to dominate proceedings, even more than Count Dracula himself, who remains and elusive but mesmerising presence throughout. Filmed in lush black and white on a 16 millimetre camera, it almost feels as if Portabella and his crew where lurking in the bushes like a posse of predatory voyeurs. .

Impressionistic and highly suggestive the film swings between deranged docudrama and heightened melodrama, Bram Stoker’s storyline running along the same lines as F W Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu (1922), but lacking the lyrical romanticism of Werner Herzog’s 1979 Nosferatu the Vampire (1979). The narrative here is fractured by the scenes being played in different sequences and often repeated, but Cuadecuc (which apparently means ‘worm’s tail in Catalan) still retains an hypnotic fascination because we all know the storyline and the vicariousness actually adds allure to the original, Portabella creating a piece of cinema verite. The final scene featuring Christopher Lee is the icing on the cake of this highly original curio. MT

NOW ON BFiPLAYER 

 

Robert Siodmak | Master of Shadows | Blu-ray release

Dresden 1918, Robert Siodmak left his upper-middle class, orthodox Jewish home in this epicentre of European modern art, to join a theatre touring company. He was 18, and this was the first of many radical changes that would see him becoming a pioneer of film noir, and directing 56 feature films fraught with (anti)heroes who are morose, malevolent, violent and generally downbeat (spoilers).

Robert Siodmak began his film career in 1925, translating inter-titles. Later he learnt the editing business with Harry Piel. In 1927/28 he worked under Kurt (Curtis) Bernhardt (Das letzte Fort) and Alfred Lind. But MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG (1929/30) (left) would transform his professional life forever. Together with Edgar G. Ulmer, he would direct a semi-documentary, social realist portrait that pictured ordinary Berliners, far away from the expensive “Illusionsfilme” (escapist films) of the UFA. The idea was the brainchild of Robert’s younger brother Curt (born in Kracow), who would become a screen-writer and director of Horror/SF films, and follow his brother and Ulmer to Hollywood – along with the rest of the team: Billy Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan, Fred Zinnemann and Rochus Gliese (later art director for Murnau’s Sunrise). Robert Siodmak, Ulmer and Giese would also be part of the “Remigrants”, film makers, who would return to Germany after 1945.

People_on_Sunday_2 copyMENSCHEN AM SONNTAG was filmed on a succession of Sundays in 1929. Subtitled “a film without actors” – which is misleading, since the actors – non-professionals – co-wrote and co-produced the film, had already returned to their day jobs when the film was premiered in 1930. The five main protagonists spend a weekend near a lake in a Berlin suburb: Wolfgang (a wine seller) and Christl (a mannequin) meet for the first time at the Bahnhof Zoo by accident on Saturday morning, Christl had been stood up. On the same evening, Erwin (a taxi driver) and his girl friend Annie have a violent quarrel, tearing up each other’s photos. As a result, Erwin and his friend Wolfgang travel with Christl on the following Sunday to the Nicolas Lake. And here on the ‘beach’ Wolfgang meets Brigitte (a vinyl record sales assistant), the four spend the day together; intercut with images of the forlorn “stay-at-home” Annie. The final scene returns the quartet to the heart of the metropolis: four million waiting for another Sunday. MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG is a chronicle; a document shot against the narrative UFA style of the day. There is no story, just interaction. Even in the complex narratives of his films Noir, Siodmak would always be the bystander, the person who observes much more than directs.

Inquest_2 copyINQUEST (VORUNTERSUCHUNG), Robert Siodmak’s third feature film as a director, produced in 1931, is his first ‘Kriminalfilm” (thriller). The student Fritz Bernt (Gustaf Fröhlich), has a three year-long affair with the prostitute Erna – he also receives money from her. After falling in love with his friend Walter’s sister, Fritz wants to leave Erna. Out of cowardice, he sends Walter to her flat to break the news. But Walter sleeps with Erna’s flatmate and goes for a drink afterwards. When Erna’s body is found the next morning, Fritz is the main suspect. In charge of the inquest is Dr. Bienert (Albert Bassermann), who happens to be Walter’s father. The denouement is a surprise. In many ways, INQUEST is a “Strassenfilm”, Kracauer’s definition of films where the middle-class protagonist is in love with a sexy prostitute, but goes home to roost, marrying a bourgeois girl of his own class. Some of the main scenes of the film are shot in the staircase of the house where Erna lives, the shadowy lighting clearly foreshadowing Siodmak’s Noir period. Sexuality is the enemy of bourgeois society here, and Bassermann’s Dr. Bienert is a blustering patriarch, who would sacrifice anyone to save his son.

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THE BURNING SECRET (BRENNENDES GEHEIMNIS) is based on a novel by Stefan Zweig. Shot in 1932, it was to be Siodmak’s last German film for 23 years. In a Swiss Sanatorium, the twelve-year old Edgar (H.J. Schaufuss) is bored, and pleased to befriend Baron Von Haller (Willi Forst), a racing driver. But he does not know that Von Haller is using him to get close to his mother (Hilde Wagner). Soon Edgar gets suspicious, the two adults always want to be alone. He surprises them in flagrante and runs home to his father, although he does not give his secret away. When his mother arrives, he looks at her knowingly, but stays ‘mum’. Siodmak has sharpened the edges of this coming-of-age story, the novel concentrating more on romantic and psychological aspects. There is real violence between Edgar and Von Haller, and the lovemaking of the adulterous couple, which Edgar interrupts, is more vicious than affectionate. When the film was premiered in March 1933, Siodmak was already living in Paris, and Goebbels denounced the film as un-German, not surprisingly, since both the author of the novel and the director of the film were Jews living abroad in exile.

Hatred_1 copyWhen Siodmak shot MOLLENARD (1937) in France, it would be the penultimate of his French-set features. (In 1938, he would finish “Ultimatum” for the fatally ill Robert Wiene; and in the same year he is credited with “artistic supervision” for Vendetta, directed by Georges Kelber). MOLLENARD (HATRED) is the nearest to a film Noir so far: it is a fight to the death between Captain Mollenard (Harry Baur) and his wife Mathide (Gabrielle Dorziat). Captain Mollenard is a gun runner in Shanghai, he is shown as a hero, a good friend to his crew. When he returns to Dunkirk and his wife and two children, illness renders him powerless to his vitriolic wife, who tries to turn the children against him. Mollenard attempts to use his strength to re-conquer his wife, but fails, unlike during his days in Shanghai. The son takes the side of his mother, the daughter tries to drown herself, but Mollenard saves her. In the end, his crew carries the dying man out of the house, he would end his life where he was most happy – at sea. MOLLENARD is a contrast between utopia and dystopia for the main protagonist: the sea, where he is free (to commit crimes), and the bourgeois home, where he is a prisoner of conventions. He is unable to survive in this which cold, emotionless prison. MOLLENARD is seen as his greatest film in France, a dramatic version of Noir.

Snares copyPIÈGES (1939) was Siodmak’s last French film before emigrating to the USA – and his greatest box-office success of this period. Whilst most of Siodmak’s French films featured fellow emigrés in front and behind the camera, PIÈGES only has the co-author, Ernst Neubach, as a fellow emigré– the DOP, Ted Pahle, was American, and the star, Maurice Chevalier, already an legend was very much a Frenchman: Siodmak had established himself. (A fact, which would count for nothing at the start of his US career.)  PIÈGES is the story of a serial killer who murders eleven women in the music-hall world of Paris. The police, whose main suspect is the night-club-owner and womaniser Fleury (Chevalier), chooses Arienne (the debutant Marie Dea), to lure the murderer into the open. But Arienne falls in love with Fleury’s associate Brémontière, only to find out that he is the murderer. In the end the gutsy Arienne (Dea is a subtle antithesis to the French heroines of this period) has to risk her lift to save her husband Fleury’s. There are more than a few clues to the later “Phantom Lady” in PIÈGES.  Eric von Stroheim is brilliant as a mad fashion czar who has lost his fortune and adoring women.

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SON OF DRACULA (1943) was already Robert Siodmak’s seventh film in Hollywood, his first for Universal. Scripted by his brother Curt, SON OF DRACULA was a great risk for Robert, it was his first outing in the classical Horror genre, not to mention the great ‘Dracula tradition’ started by Ted Browning in 1931. The film is set in the bayous of Louisianna, where Katherine Caldwell has inherited the plantation “Dark Oaks” from her father, who died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. She gives a party, and entertains Count Alucard (Lon Chaney jr.) an acquaintance  from her travels in central Europe. She discards her fiancée Frank and marries Alucard. Frank shoots the count, but the bullet passes through him, killing Katherine. In prison, Katherine visits him as a bat, turning into her human form (a first in film history), and asking Frank to kill Alucard, so they can live together forever as vampires. Frank grants her wish, but also burns her in her coffin. SON OF DRACULA is pure gothic horror, but suffered from Lon Chaney jr. being miscast in a role created by Bela Lugosi as his Alter Ego. Strongest are the scenes in the bayous, where the evil still lurks after the death of Katherine and Alucard: everything seems toxic, the spell of the vampire lives on.

Cobra_Woman_1.jpg_rgb copyCOBRA WOMAN (1943) was Robert Siodmak’s first film in colour, shot in widescreen Technicolor. Its star, Maria Montez, an aristocrat from the Dominican Republic, whose real name was Maria Africa Garcia Vidal de Santo Silas, would later gain cult status after her early death at the age of 39 from a heart attack in her bathtub in Paris. Maria plays Tollea, who is whisked away just before her wedding to Ramu, to her birth island where her evil twin sister Naja (also played by Montez) holds sway. Ramu and his helper Kado follow her, but Tollea has decided to sacrifice her love for Ramu to become the new ruler of the island, so as to prevent an eruption of the volcano provoked by Naja’s sins. COBRA WOMAN is pure camp, Siodmak said “it was nonsense, but fun”.

Phantom_Lady_1 copyIn 1943 Siodmak was on a roll: he would make four film that year, and PHANTOM LADY (1943) was also the most important of his American period to date: the first of a quartet, which would form with The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross, the classic Noir films of their creator.

PHANTOM LADY is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich (William Irish), a prolific writer, whose novels and short stories were the basis for twenty films Noir of the classic period. They also provided the basis for Nouvelle Vague fare. Pivotal in Woolrich’s novels is the race against time. Scott Henderson, an engineer, is accused of murdering his wife. He proclaims his innocence, but is sentenced to death. His secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines) is convinced he is not a murderer, and together with inspector Burges, she sets out to find the real culprit. Henderson’s alibi is a woman with a flamboyant hat, he meets in a bar, and spends the evening with, while  his wife was murdered – but they promised not to reveal their identities. The mystery woman  is illusive and when Carol tries to unravel her identity, the barman, who to denies having seen her at all, is run over by a car shortly after interviewed by Richman. Another witness, a drummer (Elisha Cook. Jr.), is also murdered, before Richman corners Franchot Tone, an artist, and Richman’s best friend as the murderer: he had an affair with Richman’s wife. German expressionism and Siodmak’s customary near documentary style dominate: New York is a bed of intrigue, where shadows lurk and footsteps signal danger. The majority of scenes could be watched without dialogue, particularly Cook’s drummer solo, which fits in well with the impressionist décor. With PHANTOM LADY, Robert Siodmak had found his (sub)genre.

Christmas_Holiday_10CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), based on a novel by Somerset Maugham, has a most misleading title and is perhaps Siodmak’s most exotic film Noir. Lt. Mason, on Christmas leave, is delayed in New Orleans, where he meets the singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durham) who tells him her real name is Abigail Manette, and that her husband Robert (Gene Kelly) is in jail for murdering his bookie. In a long flashback, we see Robert’s mother trying to cover up her son’s crime. After Jackie leaves Mason, she is confronted in a roadhouse by Robert who has escaped from jail. Before he can shoot her, a policeman’s bullet kills him. Like “Phantom Lady”, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is photographed again by Woody Bredell, New Orleans is a tropical, outlandish setting and the film has much more the feel of a French film-noir than an American. Siodmak uses Wagner’s “Liebestod” to frame the love story of the doomed couple.

THE SUSPECT (1944) is one of Siodmak’s less convincing Noirs. Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton), a sedentary middle-aged man, is driven out by his heartless wife Cora, and falls in love with the much younger Mary (Ella Raines). Philip becomes a different person, and thrives with his new love. But Cora finds out about the couple and threatens Philip with disclosure, which would have ruined him professionally. He kills first Cora, then his neighbour Gilbert Simmons, who blackmails him. Inspector Huxley has no proof against him, and Philip could start a new life with his young wife in Canada, but he decides to stay and give himself up, just as Huxley had predicted. Shot entirely in a studio, THE SUSPECT lacks suspense, and is only remarkable for Laughton’s brilliant performance.

The_Strange_Affair_of_Uncle_Harry_3 copyTHE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945) features a semi-incestuous relationship between brother and sister: John “Harry” Quincy (George Sanders) lives a quiet life in New Hampshire with his sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester. When he meets the fashion designer Deborah Brown (Ella Raines), he falls in love with her. Lettie is jeaulous, and feigns a heart attack. Harry wants to murder her, but Hester drinks the poison intended for Lettie, who is convicted for Hester’s murder, but does not give away the real culprit, since she knows that her death will prevent Harry from marrying Deborah. To mollify The “MPAA code agency”, Siodmak found a new ending: Harry wakes up at, having only dreamt the events; producer Joan Harrison resigned from the project in protest. Lettie is a psychopath in the vein of the murderer in Phantom Lady and Olivia de Havilland’s murderous twin in The Dark Mirror. But there is more ambiguity to the narrative than is obvious at first sight: there is a vey clear resemblance between Lettie and Deborah – they might have been exchangeable for Harry. THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY is one of the darkest Noirs, because all is played out on the background of a very respectable family, in small town America.

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THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) is Siodmak’s most famous Noir, a classic because of its old-dark-house setting and the woman-in-peril theme. In a small town in New England, handicapped women are being murdered. Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is watching a silent movie in town, where a lame woman is strangled. Helen then hurries home, to look after the family matriarch Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), who is bedridden. Since Helen is mute, she is in mortal danger: the killer lives in the house. When Helen finds the body of Blanche, who was engaged to Albert Warren (George Brent), after having left his half-brother Steve, Helen suspects Stephen and locks him in the cellar; then she tries to phone Dr. Parry, but she cannot communicate. Too late she finds out that Albert is the killer, who chases her up the spiral staircase, but his mother gets up and shoots him, causing Helen, who lost her voice after witnessing the traumatic death of her parents, to cry out loud. Very little of the background to the narrative has been mentioned: the theme being eugenics, a concept the late President Theodore Roosevelt was very keen on. Albert Warren has taken this concept a step further; he kills “weak and imperfect” humans because he believes his father would be proud of him. Like T. Roosevelt, Albert’s father was a big-game hunter. In his mother’s bedroom is a poster with a Teddy Roosevelt lookalike and the initials “TR” above an elephant’s tusk. Considering the Nazi Euthanasia programmes, this aspect of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has often been neglected by critics.

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THE DARK MIRROR (1946) reflects Hollywood’s interest in Freud. Two identical sisters, Terry and Ruth Collins, both played by Olivia de Havilland, are suspected of murder, when one of the women’s suitors is found dead. Inspector Stevenson is fascinated by the two woman, but would not have solved the crime without the help of Dr. Elliot, a psychoanalyst. He finds out that whilst Ruth is a very adjusted and loving person, Terry is just her opposite: a ruthless psychopath, who fabricates clues, to make Ruth look like the murderess, whilst at the same time is planning to kill her sister, before Dr. Elliot is able to expose her. Siodmak deals with the “Doppelgänger” theme, which was explored as early as in the silent film era of expressionism, by using Freudian theory to explain the perversity of the “evil” sister: rejection, confusion and lastly alienation let her spin out of control, allowing only “herself” to survive. Unlike in The Spiral Staircase, the interior is totally unthreatening, which makes Terry’s murderous lust even more terrifying.

TIme_Out_of_Mind_2 copyTIME OUT OF MIND (1946/7) is more melodrama than Noir. Chris Fortune (Robert Hutton), the son of a heartless and ambitious shipping tycoon, falls in love with the servant girl Kate (Phyllis Calvert). But in 19th century New England, this was not the social norm. Kate encourages Chris to marry a lady of his class, who turns out to be a beast and drives Chris more into alcohol dependency. Chris fancies himself as a composer, but only Kate believes in his talent. The Noir aspect is the family constellation: Chris is obviously weak, and his overbearing father (Leo G. Carroll) rules over his life. More to the point, Chris’s sister Rissa (Ella Raines) seemingly protects her younger brother, but is in reality totally obsessed by him. She represents the semi-incestuous theme running, not only through Siodmak’s, noir films.

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CRISS CROSS (1949) is perhaps Siodmak’s most personal Noir. Reworking elements of The Killers – and casting Burt Lancaster again in the role of the obsessed lover -, CRISS CROSS is the story of an “amour fou”, its emotional intensity on par with Tourneur’s classic Out of the Past. Steve Thompson (Lancaster) is still in love with his ex wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who now lives with the gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). But when the two of them meet in a bar, the whole things starts up again. Dundee surprises them, Thompson comes up with an excuse: he needs Dundee’s help for an armed car robbery. But Dundee is suspicious: he and his gang kill Thompson’s partner and wound him after the robbery. When Anna goes missing with the money, Dundee suspects the couple have double-crossed him. Dundee has Thompson abducted, but Thompson bribes his captors and finds Anna. She is terrified by the thought that Dundee will find them and wants to abandon the wounded Steve, but Dundee arrives and shoots them both, before running towards the police. The final scene, when Anna’s and Steve’s bodies fall literally into each other, bullets flying as the police siren’s grow louder, is the apotheosis of everything that’s gone on since the scene in the bar. From then on, in true Noir fashion, all is told in flashbacks and voice-over narration. Anna is the quintessential Noir heroine, telling Steve: “All those things which have happened we’ll forget it. You see, I make you forget it. After it’s done, after it’s all over and we are safe, it will be just you and me. The way it should’ve been all along from the start”. CRISS CROSS is my personal favourite: dark, expressionistic, melancholic and wonderfully doomed.

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THE GREAT SINNER (1948/9) is an awkward mixture of high literature and low-brow melodrama. Based partly on Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Gambler” and some autobiographical details of this author, Siodmak struggles to bring this expensive “A-picture” to life. The stars Gregory Peck (Fedya) and Ava Gardener (Pauline Ostrovsky) – in the first of three collaborations – do their best, but Christopher Isherwood’s script is a hotchpotch of the sensational and sentimental, tragic events unfold fast and furiously, logic and characterisation falling by the wayside. Told in a long flash-back, Pauline receives a manuscript from the dying writer Fedya, in which he tells the story of their first meeting in 1860 in Wiesbaden. Then, Fedya met Pauline on a train journey from Paris to Moscow, but follows her to the casino in Wiesbaden, to study the effects of gambling on the whole Ostrovsky clan. When Pitard, a gambler and friend of Pauline, steals Fedya’s money, the latter tries to save Pitard from his fate, and gives him the money so he can leave the city. But Pitard loses in the casino and shoots himself. Strangely enough, Fedya, who has fallen in love with Pauline, also becomes addicted to gambling – but telling himself, that he wants to win the money, so that Pauline’s father can pay back his debts to the casino owner Armand, and thus free Pauline from the engagement to the ruthless tycoon. But after some early success, Fedya looses heavily, tries to in vain to pawn a religious medal, which belongs to Pauline; finally, he wants to commit suicide, before he looses consciousness. Recovered, he finishes his novel and Pauline forgives him. In spite of a strong supporting cast including Ethel Barrymore, Melvin Douglas, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Huston, THE GREAT SINNER flopped at the box-office, having cost 20 m Dollar in today’s money, it lost 8 m Dollar. Siodmak, according to Gregory Peck, did not enjoy the responsibility of the big budget production, “he looked like a nervous wreck”.

The_File_on_Thelma_2 copyWith THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949) Siodmak returned to the safe ground of Noir films. Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck) is unhappily married to Tony Laredo (Richard Rober), but is attracted to his animalistic sex-appeal. When she discusses burglaries at her wealthy aunt’s house, where she also lives, with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Correy), the two fall in love. When the aunt is killed, and a necklace stolen, Thelma is the main suspect, because Tony has been away to Chicago. Thelma is put on trial, and Cleve pays her lawyer and plans the trial strategy with him, even though he has learned about Thelma’s past, and is convinced that she is the murderer. The aunt’s butler has seen a stranger at the crime scene, but did not recognise him. Thelma, who knows that the person is Cleve, does not give his name away. She is aquitted and wants to leave town with Tony, when Cleve confronts them. Tony beats Cleve up and the couple flee, but Thelma causes an accident on purpose, in which both are killed – but not before she has confessed to the murder. In spite of this, Cleve’s career and marriage is ruined. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON is a neat reversal on Double Indemnity, which also starred Stanwyck as the Queen of all femme fatales. But here, Thelma and Cleve really love each other, and Thelma pays for her crime with her life, and Cleve will be ostracised by society for a long time. Whilst Wilder’s couple was evil from the beginning, Siodmak gives his lovers a much more human touch. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON was Robert Siodmak’s last American Film Noir. He would later direct two more films, which are in certain ways close to the subgenre; but he would never again achieve the greatness of his American Film Noir cycle, even his directing output would run to another 18 films.

The_Crimson_Pirate_3In the THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1951/2) Siodmak was reunited with Burt Lancaster, who also produced the film. Set in the late 18th century in the Caribbean, Captain Vallo (Lancaster), is a pirate, who tries to make money from selling weapons to the rebels on the island of Cobra, lead by El Libre (Frederick Leicester). On the island, Vallo falls in love with El Libre’s daughter Conseuela (Eva Bartok). Later he has to rescue her father, and support the revolution – even against the wishes of his fellow pirates, who do not see the reason for such a good deed – since it is totally unprofitable! In a stormy finale with tanks, TNT, machine guns and an outstanding colourful airship, our hero, now in drag, wins the revolution and Consulea’s heart. What is most surprising is the humour and lightheartedness of the production. Everything is told tongue-in-cheek, the action scenes are overwhelming and Lancaster (the ex-circus acrobat) dominates the film with his stunts. It seems hardly credible Robert Siodmak, creator of gloom and doom, dark shadows and even darker hearts, would be responsible for such an uplifting and hilarious spectacle, 15 years before Louis Malle’s equally enchanting “Viva Maria!”. Ken Adam, the future “Bond” production designer, earned one of his first credits for this film.

It will never be absolutely clear why Robert Siodmak decided to leave Hollywood after he finished THE CRIMSON PIRATE, to work again in Germany (with a one-film stop in France, so as to repeat his journey of the thirties backwards). In the USA, he was offered a lucrative six-film deal and had shown with his last film, that he could now also handle big productions successfully. There are rumours of pending HUAC hearings, because of his friendship with Charles Spencer Chaplin, but Siodmak himself never mentioned these as a reason for the return to his homeland. Rather like Fritz Lang and Edgar Ulmer, it can only be assumed that “Heimweh” was the reason for Siodmak’s return. True, he lived in Ascona, Switzerland, but he worked nearly exclusively in Germany. What he, and other “Remigrants” did not reckon with, was the political and cultural climate in the Federal Republic of Germany. When these directors had left Germany, the Nazis had just started the transformation of the country. But in the early fifties, the democracy of the country was not chosen, but forced on the population by the Allies. Old Nazis were still in many powerful positions, and the majority of the population still grieved, full of self-pity, about their defeat. The Third Reich, and particularly the Holocaust, were more or less Taboo, both in daily life and in all cultural referenced. The film industry also suffered from the lack of a new beginning; even Veit Harlan, director of Jud Süss, was allowed to restart his career. It is no co-incidence that neither Lang or Ulmer produced anything notable after their return.

The_Devil_Strikes_at_Night_4 copyThe same can be said for Robert Siodmak, with one exception: THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (NACHTS WENN DER TEUFEL KAM), which he directed in 1957 was, deservedly, nominated for the “Oscar” as “Best foreign film”. Set during WWII in Hamburg, the film tells the story of the serial killer Bruno Lüdke (Mario Adorf). When caught by inspector Kersten (Claus Holm), the latter’s superior, the Gestapo Officer Rossdorf (Hannes Messmer) points out that another man had already been ‘convicted’: Willi Keun (Wolfgang Peters), a small-time party member, had “been shot whilst escaping” – without informing the population about the murders, since just a monstrous criminal did not fit in with ruling ideology of the Aryan supremacy. Both, police man and Gestapo officer, now have the difficult task to start to convince the authorities that a German serial killer was on the loose for over a decade. Both will be sent to the Eastern front, to cover up the case. The film is based on real events, Bruno Lüdke (1908-1944) was mentally retarded, but may have confessed to more murders than he actually committed – to clear up unsolved murder cases. Siodmak re-creates the atmosphere of his best Noir films: the city is darkened, the image dissolves from an omniscient perspective to a particular one – particularly in the scene where Lüdke is caught in the headlights of a car. Fear and excitement permeate like a black stain throughout. Kesten’s obsession with the case create a fragmented world, where the images seem to splinter. Chaos rules, and nobody seems to be safe: the hunt for Lüdke, which frames the film, is shown like a haunting parable on the destructive nature of the 3rd Reich. Unfortunately, Siodmak fell short of this standard in the other 12 films directed in West Germany between 1955 and 1969.

The_Rough_and_the_Smooth_1In 1959 Siodmak worked in the Elstree-Borehamwood studios, to direct THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, based on the novel by Robin Maugham. Robert Cecil Romer, 2nd Viscount Maugham, nephew of Somerset Maugham, was the enfant terrible of his family. Socialist and self-confessed homosexual, he was a very underrated novelist: The Servant, filmed in 1963 by Joseph Loosey, with Dirk Bogarde in the title role, is one of the classics of British post-WWII cinema. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH shows similarities: Mike Thompson (Tony Britton), an archeologist, is engaged to Margaret (Natasha Parry), the daughter of his boss, who finances his work. Mike feels trapped in a loveless relationship, and falls for Ila Hansen (Nadja Tiller), a young and attractive woman. But she has a secret: not only is she in cahoots with the tough gangster Reg Barker (William Bendix), but there is a third man in her life, who has a hold over her. After Barker commits suicide, driven by Hansen’s demands, the latter tries also to blackmail Mike and Margaret. The ending is quiet original. There are very dark undertones, particularly for the late 50s, when Ila comments: “I don’t cry much, I have been hurt a lot”. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH is a subversive film considering the context of its period. The camera pans over stultified Britain of the last 50s, where there seems to be no middle-ground between boring respectability and outright perversion. When the two worlds collide, the conflict is fought on both sides with grim, violent determination. With THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, Siodmak, would, for the last time, come close to his American Noir films, for which he was called “Prince of the Shadows”: referring not only to the quality of the images, but also to a society, where, to quote Brecht, “we are only aware of the ones in the light, the ones in the shadows, we don’t see”. Robert Siodmak made sure that the ones in the shadows played the major roles in his Films Noir career. Andre Simonoviescz ©

MASTER OF SHADOWS | A RETROSPECTIVE OF ROBERT SIODMAK

Masters of Cinema home video release of CRISS CROSS; Robert Siodmak’s influential film noir masterpiece; to be released on 22 June 2020.

 

 

 

The Old Dark House (1932)

Dir: James Whale | Wri: Benn Levy/J B Priestley | Cast: Boris Karloff| Charles Laughton | Eva Moore | Gloria Stuart | Melvyn Douglas| Raymond Massey | Horror / Comedy |US  75′

James Whale’s greatest film was arguably The Bride of Frankenstein but The Old Dark House comes a near second with its spine-tingling blend of thrilling suspense piqued with deliciously dark humour, cleverly sending up the horror genre in a subtle and brilliant way, thanks to Benn W. Levy’s script based on J B Priestley novel, Benighted. The storyline is secondary to spirited performances from a superb cast led by Raymond Massey, Mervyn Douglas and Gloria Stuart as a trio forced to take refuge in a macabre household presided over by sinister siblings (Ernest Thesiger and Elspeth Dudgeon). Things go bump in the night and Boris Karloff plays the monstrous hirsute butler off his rocker – hinting at an early version of Frankenstein himself. But it’s the quirky characterisations that make this supremely entertaining, along with an eerily evoked Gothic atmosphere. Another threesome soon emerges – a ménage à trois between Charles Laughton’s bumptious  Yorkshire mill-owner and his gal (Lilian Bond) who is chivalrously courted by Douglas whispering sweet nothings in the gloaming. Good fun all round. MT

New 4K restoration of THE CHILLING LOST CLASSIC from the director of FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN & THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN | and on dual format from 21 May 2018 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS of CINEMA | ALSO SHOWING AT THE CINEMA MUSEUM, LONDON on FEBRUARY 23  

 

 

Arracht | Monster (2019) Bfi Player

Dir/Wri: Tom Sullivan; Cast: Donall O Healai, Saise Ni Chuinn, Dara Devaney, Elaine O’Dwyer, Elise Brennan, ROI 2019, 86 min. (In Gaelic with English subtitles)

Tom Sullivan sets his melancholic feature debut in 1845 Ireland, just before the outbreak of the potato famine known as the Great Hunger. A fisherman gives sanctuary to a stranger at the behest of a local priest. This former soldier arrives just ahead of ‘the blight,’ a disease that eventually wipes out the country’s potato crop, contributing to the death and displacement of millions.

Narrative-wise this is a nebulous and enigmatic mood piece that recreates this unsettling period of Irish history, helped along by a brilliant cast and the haunting intensity of its remote countryside setting in the costal region of Connemara. Donall O Healai is particularly impressive as the dogged Colman Sharkey who lives with his wife Maggie (O’Dwyer) and young son in a small but cosy coastal cottage. When the local priest introduces him to Patsy (Devaney), who might be a deserter from the British Army from the Napoleonic Wars, Colman takes him in. It soon becomes clear that Patsy has an uncontrollable temper: when Colman is visited by two British soldiers collecting the rent for the British landlord, he explains his reluctance to pay as – like all the other locals – he has been forced to sell his fishing boat and is nearly starving.

So Colman pays a visit to the English Landlord’s lavish abode to request a stay on rent increases that predicted to destroy his community. His request falls on deaf ears and Patsy’s subsequent actions set Colman on a path that will take him to the edge of survival, and sanity. After the mayhem Colman then takes refuge in a sea cave, where near starvation sends him to the edge. It is only upon encountering an abandoned young girl called Kitty (Ni Chuinn) that Colman’s resolve is lifted. Just in time for the darkness of his past to pay another visit.

Sullivan relies on symbolism is this often surreal fable with its striking visual allure, and echoes of poems by Seamus Heaney, and Defoe’s lyricism. AS

NIW ON BFI PLAYER

The Nest (2019) *** Locarno Film Festival

Dir. Roberto De Feo. Italy. 2019. 107 mins

Roberto De Feo’s moody, Gothic chiller sees a mother’s obsession go to extremes with a sting in the tail not quite nasty enough to keep horror fans piqued. 

In lakeside Torino De Feo establishes the brooding scenario that has all the tropes of classic horror fare. A dank and creaky old lakeside mansion is the grim home of these morose characters that come straight out of Lovecraft or Le Fanu. In a pre-title sequence we witness the death of the father in a tragic accident that leaves his son a paraplegic, and this is where 11-year-old sickly Samuel (Alexander Korovkin) now spends his days confined to a wheelchair, his draconian mother Elena (Francesca Cavallin) ruling with a rod of iron judging by the echoing sound design. A saturnine Dr Sebastian provides medical assistance, although there’s no sign of improvement in the boy’s condition. Samuel is miserable but resigned to his fate of running the family estate, until the arrival of a flirty new maid brightens this dour existence. Denise (Ginevra Francesconi) gives him the power to stand up to his mother -not literally, or course – but things start to look up, although Elena is clearly hiding more that a few skeletons in the closet. Occasionally raising a titter from the audience with its increasingly ludicrous narrative, this genre piece will doubtless find a cosy nest in the festival circuit.  MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

November (2017) ****

Dir/Writer: Rainer Sarnet | Cast: Rea Lest, Jorgen Liik, Arvo Kukumagi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Dieter Laser, Jette Loona Hermanis | Fantasy Horror | 115′

Rainer Sarnet’s wickedly weird adaptation of an Estonian folklore infused fairy tale is flawed but enthralling and full of magic moments of ethereal black&white beauty.

This is a film that wears its Baltic credentials proudly on its delicate fashioned sleeve – set in the deepest, creepiest snowbound forest in a remote region it features the Devil, ghosts and all kinds of mysterious and often mischievious characters. Adapted from Andrus Kivirahk’s best-seller ‘Rehepapp’, NOVEMBER is an endlessly fascinating film that has you gawping in terror and disbelief despite its rather enigmatic narrative that scratches at the edges of horror, fantasy and dark comedy. At it’s core NOVEMBER is a love story based on the premise of human survival in hard times.

The inhabitants of a distant Estonian village desperately eek out a living in frosty and threadbare poverty. The fantasy element strikes fearfully from the opening sequence that pictures a spiky mechanical creature flies through the air and into a stable where a slumbering calf is transfixed with fear as the creature, called a ‘Kratt’, lassoos it with a sturdy steel chain, transporting it through the night sky and into the barn of a nearby farm. And this is how the inhabitants survive by robbing and cheating each other with their supernatural robotic aids.

In this legendary land of dour and often demonic doings where characters often come back from the dead to join the living, young Liina (Rea Lest) is hoping to marry her sweetheart Hans (Jorgen Liik) while desperately avoiding the clutches of a gruesome farmer. Meanwhile Hans is in thrall to a newcomer to the village in the shape of a gorgeous German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis), whose beauty is unrivalled and unsullied by hardship. But there’s a secret going on with both these women, and caught in a love triangle, they seek out magical ways to capture the hearts of the one the desire.

The only criticism here is that NOVEMBER is chockfull of strange and outlandish characters that fail to serve the central narrative robbing the drama of much of its delicious tension and often detracting from Sarnet’s dark humour. There’s simple too much going on. But Jacaszek sinister score provides just the right note of chilling concern to keep us waiting, and fearing that there may not be a happy ending. NOVEMBER is an arthouse gem that begs to be seen, along with Sarnet’s 2011 adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. MT 

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MONTAGE | https://amzn.to/2CiMCB3

BEST FILM; RIGA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2017  | BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2017

 

Werner Herzog Retrospective at VISIONS DU REEL 2019

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Throughout 50 years of filmmaking, one of the greatest directors of all time, Werner Herzog,  continues to impress with his unflinchingly creative vision of humanity and its future.

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My_Best_Fiend-e1374580306483The retrospective will also screen My Best Fiend (on his volatile relationship with collaborator, Klaus Kinski); Grizzly Man; Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Into the Abyss, that further examine his probing reflections  “why do people do bad things?”, an attempt to get to the core of the human condition. MT

VISIONS DU REEL 5-13 APRIL 2019 | Nyon, Switzerland

Die Kinder Der Toten | Children of the Dead (2018) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Dir: Kelly Copper/Pavel Liska | Horror | Greta Kostka, Andrea Maier, Klaus Unterreider | Austria 2019, 90′

Based on the mammoth ghost novel by Austrian author and Nobel-prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, Kelly Cooper and Pavol Liska direct, write and shoot this Super 8mm moral tale of Zombies, transposed to a contemporary Austria still haunted by its Nazi past and neo-Nazi present.

The filmmakers cleverly conflate a migration satire with a ‘herimatfilm (or homeland film) a style popular in Germany, Switzerland and Austria from the 1940s until 1970s, radically rejecting classical cinema to create instead a moody meditation on contemporary Austria, co-produced by the National Theatre and The Steirischer Herbst ensemble, The disonnant sound of the brass band is as disturbing as the mannered acting, reminiscent of silent cinema, and logically complimented by Inter-titles, whilst the macabre actors mouth their words.

At the ‘Alpenrose’ guesthouse in the Austrian region of Styria, Karin Frenzel (Meier) and her mother (Kostka) are eating dinner. The two are bitter enemies, and make no secret of it, their animosity overheard by the other guests. Suddenly a group of Syrian refugees appear asking if this is a Syrian restaurant, but are turned away by the fiercely nationalistic landlord and his wife.  Soon afterwards, Karin and her mother die in a road accident. But this is not the only tragedy to occur. A distraught forester (Unterrieder) has lost his two sons, and is scouring the woods in search of them, to no avail. This home-movie horror immerses us in the universe of the text – and somewhere else at the same time. The parade of zombies in the supermarket recalls the genre films Jelinek herself mentioned as an inspiration, only giving greater credence to the sense that this blend of text, performance, and film, was a terrific idea. Meanwhile the Syrian refugees are seen transformed into zombies, along with Karin, who is chasing her double. Whilst Karin and her double fight, the innkeeper’s wife falls prey to the Syrian Zombies, who speak in lyrical verse. Back at the Alpenrose Inn, now transformed into a gastronomic Michelin star restaurant by the Syrians, Karin and her mother have it out for the last time.

An understanding of Austrian history is somehow necessary to appreciate the finer details of why the Zombies wear yellow Jewish Stars, and other emblems of the Third Reich. The inter-titles are crafted in old fashioned German script which contrasts with   banal mise en scene. Somehow, Jelinek’s anger is channelled into a bluntly outrageous film language by the debut filmmakers in their startling unsettling fantasy horror, which leaves no room for compromise. The duo are from the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and it’s no accident that their producer is Ulrich Seidl.

Children of the Dead won the Fipresci Prize for the Forum section of the 2019 Berlinale.

 

 

 

   

 

Crucible of the Vampire (2018) **

Dir: Iain Ross-McNamee | Cast: Neil Morrissey, Charles O’Neil, Katie Goldfinch, Angela Carter | 96′ | UK Horror, Vampire.

Crucible of the Vampire is a rather pale attempt to re-create the traditional fare made by Hammer in the 1960s and early 1970s. The plot is familiar (but required three writers, Ross-McNee, Darren Lake and John Wolskel, who penned Blonde, Busty & Keane) – a naive, young blond (Goldfinch) goes to a 17th century Manor House in rural Shropshire. This time the blond’s clever too, some kind of minor archeologist sent there by her boss to examine the remains of a broken 17th century pot whose owner, a putative sorcerer we witness being accused of all sorts of Devilry, and strung up, in the opening scene. Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) is apparently oblivious to the goings on in the house where she is made to drink a potion on her first night with the resident couple and their coquettish daughter, who appears to be lesbian, and later has no trouble seducing Isabelle, who has so far resisted the advances of her boyfriend, wanting to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. Clearly, it was just his technique that was lacking, rather than her resolve. More dark revelations unfold with Neil Morrissey’s friendly local farmer offering his manly protection to our heroine, who is seemingly unaware of the dangers surrounding her, until it’s too late. A nice try, and quite watchable. Iain Ross-McNamee certainly succeeds to a degree. But where’s the tinkly organ music, and some of the acting is predictably as twee as the premise. But that’s the whole point, I guess. MT

OUT ON  1 FEBRUARY 2019

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Edgar Pêra – A genuine original | Retrospective IFFR 2019

There is no filmmaker like Edgar Pêra (b.1960). His work may be an acquired taste but it is always inventive and Avant-garde referencing his heroes in creative ways and keeping the past alive. The Portuguese auteur often pays tribute to Dziga Vertov, Branquinho da Fonseca and Fernando Pessoa – but always in an ingenious way – transforming their ideas into bizarre and refreshing features, some will screen in a retrospective at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2019

Edgar Henrique Clemente Pêra first studied psychology, but soon realised his vocation in Film at the Portuguese National Conservatory, currently Lisbon Theatre and Film School.  But it was the work of Russian director Dziga Vertov that made him pick up a camera in 1985, and his strange visual style and quirky dark humour found an outlet in twisted arthouse fare that is completely unique. He has made over 100 films for cinema, TV, theatre dance, cine-concerts, galleries, internet and other media, and his latest mystery drama Caminhos Magnetiykos screens at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2019.

His love of music influenced his work in the mid 1980s, and he filmed Portuguese rock bands in a Neo-realist, ‘neuro-punk’ style. In 1988, Pêra shot a film in the Ruins of Chiado, a neighbourhood in the heart of Lisbon, decimated by a large fire that year. In 1990 Reproduta Interdita was shown at the Portuguese Horror Film Festival, Fantasporto. In 1991, his documentary short raised the profile of Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco – The City of Cassiano, (Grand Prix Festival Films D’Architecture Bordeaux). But from thereon his penchant for the weird and radically different took over.

In 1994, Pêra’s first fiction feature Manual de Evasão LX 94/Manual of Evasion (for Lisbon 1994 Capital of Culture), channelled the aesthetic legacy of soviet constructivist silent films, with what the filmmaker called “a neuro-punk way of creating and capturing instantaneous reality”. The film has divided the critics in Portugal and abroad. It will be also screened at the retrospective Rotterdam Film Festival 2019.

In 1996 Edgar Pêra started an ambitious project which would take four years to edit. The surreal comedy feature entitled, A Janela (Maryalva Mix)/The Window (Don Juan Mix), premiered at the Locarno Festival in 2001. From then on Pêra’s work, veered towards a more emotional style, but still kept the emphasis on non-realist aesthetics and eccentric humour. Pêra’s 2006 retrospective at Indie Lisboa won the festival prizes for Best Feature, Best cinematography and Audience Award: Running at just over an hour,: Movimentos Perpétuos/Perpetual Movements is a cine-tribute to legendary Portuguese guitar composer and player Carlos Paredes. Critic and programmer Olaf Möller wrote that “Pêra is too different from everything which we regard as ‘correct’, ‘valid’ within the culture of film, ‘realistic’ in a cinematic, socio-political way. Put more precisely: Edgar Pêra is different from everything that we know about Portugal”.

O Barão  is an adaptation of Branquinho da Fonseca’s short story, premiering in 2011 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam it won the Gold Donkey Award. In 2011 he also started experimenting with the 3D format. His most controversial film yet, Cinesapiens is a short drama, a segment of 3x3D , described by our critic Michael Pattison as “an assaultive triptych that caused walkouts when it premiered at Cannes in 2013”. It forms part of a trio with two other films by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway at La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes.

In 2014 Pêra directed two 3D films, Stillness and Lisbon Revisited. Stillness was considered by many as  “astonishingly offensive”. Lisbon Revisited, with words by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, premiered at the Locarno Festival. Pera’s first commercial success came in 2014 with pop comedy feature Virados do Avesso/Turned Inside Out. This was followed by Espectador Espantado/The Amazed Spectator, a “kino-investigation about spectatorship” which premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival, 2016 and was also the title of his PhD thesis. In 2016 his Delirium in Las Vedras, about the Portuguese Carnival in Torres Vedras, premiered in Rotterdam and São Paulo 2017.  And in 2018, O Homem-Pykante Diálogos Kom Pimenta, about the poet Alberto Pimenta, was shown for the first time at IndieLisboa. Caminhos Magnéticos/Magnethick Pathways, starring Dominique Pinon, will also be shown during his retrospective this year at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

The Baron (2011) O Barao *** | IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Edgar Pêra   Script: Luis Costa Gomes  Novel: Branquinho da Fonseca |Cast: Nuno Mela, Marcos Barbosa, Leonor Keil, Marina Albuquerque | 94mins   Portugal   Neuro-Gothic Horror

Dark, demonic and weirdly witty: Edgar Pera’s The Baron is an experiment in neuro-Gothic horror based on the novel by Branquinho da Fonseca and inspired by a film destroyed in the 1940s by the Fascist dictatorship under Salaza – who in the same amusing vein met his death falling off a deckchair.

Edgar Pêra shot the images and then apparently waited for the footage to lead his imagination into a world of ghastly horror surrounding a visit of a school inspector to the strange and beastlike Baron played masterfully by his longtime collaborator Nuno Melo whose hypnotic chant ‘Aqui Quem Manda Sou Eu’ (I’m the one in charge here) will haunt you, pavlonian-style long after the closing titles roll.

To Edgar Pêra sound is a vital element in his films: here in this low budget piece, the soundtrack is crucial in conjuring up a highly mystifying atmosphere to a simple storyline that echoes Mary Shelly’s Dracula. Pêra has Costa Gomes’s script to hand but uses it for reference only so the dialogue is largely improvised. The Baron himself is a Portuguese Nosferatu with Nuno Melo’s butch bone structure playing the leading role in contrast to Klaus Kinski shard-like talons and tombstone teeth. Rather than a hovering, tentative ghoul, he has a frighteningly dominatingly physicality and Kafkaesque presence and is clearly also a womaniser strangely under the thumb of his maid Idalina, played with succubus-like charm by Leonor Keil. If you do get a chance to see this one, grab it! MT

NOW SCREENING AT ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019| The Baron won the Gold Donkey at Rotterdam Film Festival 2011 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suspiria (2018) ***

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Swinton in a miraculous double act spoof), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Suspiria from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The Devil’s Hand (1943) La Main du Diable | Halloween Classic

Dir: Maurice Tourneur | Writer: Jean-Paul Le Chanois | Cast: Pierre Frenay, Josseline Gaël | Fantasy Horror | France 78′

Jean Cocteau was not the only French director making wartime fantasy films on a limited budget. Jacques Tourneur’s father Maurice (Ship of Lost Men) directs this tightly effective Faustian horror fantasy laced with political undercurrents. Made during the time of the Vichy government, when France was still under German occupation, the film was a subtle attempt to finger those Frenchmen who sold their souls to the Nazis in return for favours, although the narrative is based on Gérard de Nerval’s short story written in 1832.

In a remote mountain hostellerie on the Franco-Italian border, a harried stranger (Pierre Frenay) blows in from the rainy night. All dressed in black, he is the Parisian artist Roland Brissot. He carries a small package and a hunted look. As the evening takes a sinister turn, enhanced by a power cut, the packed dining room is plunged into semi-darkness, and the one-handed painter tells a macabre tragedy. The previous year he had bought a supernatural talisman for the princely sum of a penny. The man who sold it to him was the owner of the famous Melisse restaurant (Noël Roquevert). And the mysterious object looked like a human hand. Overnight he developed extraordinary artistic skill and became a success, both romantically (he marries the demanding beauty Josseline Gaël), and professionally – under the pseudonym of “Maximus Léo,” But there’s a price to pay, not least, because the object comes with a sinister stalker in the shape of a bowler-hatted midget (the devil, played by Pierre Palau with a blood-curdling laugh). And that’s not the end of it all.

Elegantly crafted by Armand Thirard (Les Diaboliques) in alluring black and white, La Main du Diable is endowed with the signature Tourneur shadow play, and this is particularly haunting during the final puppet scene. Andrej Andrejew’s distinctive innovative set design gives the drama a lyrical beauty that sweeps it into the realms of fantasy, despite its realistic setting. Pierre Dumas’ evocative soundtrack drives the intrigue forward as Pierre Frenay plays the classic Tourneur hero, a desperate man struggling against the tide and brought down by his emotional frailty and desire. MT

ON RELEASE AT THE BFI | 3 NOVEMBER 2018

 

Sicilian Ghost Story (2017) ****

Dirs/scr Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza| Italy/France/Switzerland, 2017. 122′

Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza made their names with Mafia thriller Salvo at Cannes several years ago, and returned in 2017 with another Sicilian-set slow-burner that adds teenage romance and Gothic fantasy to their signature Mafiosi mix to create this modern day Romeo & Juliet styled fantasy drama.

This is a stunningly crafted, magical fairytale enriched and heightened by the visual wizardry of Luca Bigazzi (The Great Beauty) but despite its touching storyline and convincing performances SICILIAN GHOST STORY is slightly overlong in telling the truth-based tale of teenager Giuseppe Di Matteo (Gaetano Fernandez) who was kidnapped in 1993 in order prevent his Mafia supergrass father, Santino, from spilling the beans. His ordeal is seen through the eyes of little Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), who holds a constant candle for her schoolfriend so bright, that the two form a psychic connection throughout his captivity, as he clings to her letter as his guiding light to salvation.

With its echoes of Grimm’s Fairytales (the enchanted wood) and Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (through the girl’s red duffel coat) the directors pay homage to best examples of fantasy meets reality. The film also recognises the fact that children escape into a world of fantasy when reality becomes too traumatic for them to cope.

Bigazzi intensifies the drama with his masterful techniques enhancing the vibrancy of Sicily’s landscapes and interiors with heady and luscious hues. At atmospheric soundtrack harnesses the ambient sounds of the forest to amazing effect. And newcomers Julia Jedlikowska and Gaetano Fernandez bring extraordinary intensity to their roles as Luna and Giuseppe in this thematically well-managed and haunting slice of Sicilian recent history. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 AUGUST 2018

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

Truth or Dare (2017) **

Dir.: Jeff Wadlow; Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violette Bene, Hayden Szeto; USA 2018, 100′.

Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow is behind the popular Purge franchise with together  Blumhouse Productions, and has tried the same thing with Truth or Dare with an that ending hints at a sequel, but is its audience gullible enough. On present form, the answer is probably yes.

On their final Spring Break, a group of college students take a vacation in Mexico, where they are lured into a Truth or Dare game by a mysterious stranger in a spooky church cellar. Retuning home, they soon discover that the game has followed them. If any of the participants refuses a challenge; lies or fails a dare task, she/he is dead. The first victim, Ronnie sets the tone: he is dared to show all, standing up on the pool table, but chickens out. The demon punishes Ronnie with sudden death: he falls of the table and crashes his head in. Perhaps not the most sensational start to a killing spree; but even though blood is not spared, it soon turns out that Truth or Dare is more interested in the hidden secrets of its participants. Does goody-two-shoes Olivia (Hale), who rather would have rather spent a week doing humanitarian work than go to Mexico, really fancy Lucas (Posey), the philandering boyfriend of Olivia’s best friend Markie (Beane)?. And has Olivia also a hand in the suicide of Markie’s father? And then there is Brad (Szeto), who can’t confess to his homophobic cop-father that he is gay, and is duly killed by his Dad’s fellow-cop. Finally. Olivia gets on a trip to Mexico to interview a mute ex-nun, the sole survivor of a massacre in the church where the ordeal first started.

Symbolic for the whole enterprise is a scene where one of the afflicted has to drink a bottle of spirits whilst walking on the roof of the house, spikes looming, and her helpers running along the house with a mattress. Truth or Dare is anything but frightening – very much Scooby Doo meets Gossip Girl. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 APRIL 2018

The Innocents: Madness and Desire in Gothic cinema

Madness and Desire in The Innocents 

We lay my love and I, beneath the weeping willow,
But now alone I lie, and weep beside the tree.

Singing O Willow Waly, by the tree that weeps with me,
Singing O Willow Waly, ’til my lover returns to me.

We lay my love and I, beneath a weeping willow,
but now alone I lie, Oh Willow I die, Oh Willow I die.

So begins one of the most chilling films of all time: Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). The tune repeats throughout, a recurring refrain of terror, still capable of sending a chill down the spine over fifty years after the film’s release.

Although now rightly held as a great masterpiece of cinema, it wasn’t always so for The Innocents: upon release, the film was not an immediate hit – perhaps because it failed to feature either the camp fun of the early haunted house drawing room mysteries, or the shocking thrills then so in vogue. The film starred Deborah Kerr as the prim and proper governess hired to look after two children who she becomes convinced are haunted by a former governess Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and a valet played by Peter Wyngarde, in one of his early film roles.

In the late 1950s, Hammer Films had redefined horror with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), smashing onto the Gothic scene with blood, gore, sex – and colour. By contrast, the black and white restraint of The Innocents seemed to owe more to the psychological horrors of Val Lewton’s Snake Pit unit, who had created a spate of low budget masterpieces over at RKO Pictures during the 1940s. However, upon inspection, there may be more similarities between the Hammer output and The Innocents than there first appears.

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In Dracula, for instance, Hammer had focused on the sexual undertones of Bram Stoker’s novel, using the tale to explore the unfulfilled and unexpressed sexual desires of women living within a repressive, patriarchal Victorian society. In its story of a vicar’s daughter becoming governess to the estranged niece and nephew of a dashing playboy, who subsequently succumbs to either madness, desire or ghosts (depending on your interpretation), The Innocents can be read as a similar exploration into Victorian values and repression. In other words, Dracula and The Innocents share both genre and theme, and even their stylistic differences have perhaps been overplayed: like Dracula, The Innocents is both shocking and frightening, and even Jack Clayton felt that his portrayal of the beastly Peter Quint owed too much to Hammer (and many purists of Henry James – who wrote The Turn of the Screw, the novella on which The Innocents is based – appear to agree, rejecting the film as a cheapening of its source material).

It would seem, then, that what really distinguishes Dracula and The Innocents is their varying degrees of obliquity: where Dracula is hiked skirts and girls on beds, The Innocents is half-glimpsed men in misty towers. In making his film, Clayton was reportedly influenced by the essay The Ambiguity of Henry James (Edmund Wilson, 1934), the first part of which gives itself over to a detailed exploration of a theory which claims that ‘the young governess…is a neurotic case of sex repression, and the ghosts are not real ghosts at all but merely the hallucinations of the governess’. Freud, it’s fair to say, was in the air. Wilson also states that ‘nowhere does James unequally give the thing away: almost everything from beginning to end can be read equally in either of two senses’ – and thus we have the ambiguity of the essay’s title and, perhaps, the defining characteristic of Clayton’s approach to the material. For him, it was vital not to succumb fully to either interpretation, but instead to preserve this ambiguity.

To this end, then, he degraded film, shot through mist and frosted windows, and on many occasions (though not all, as is sometimes stated) shows first the governess’ terrified face, and then the ghosts – therefore implying the ghosts may well be only in her head (this ambiguity was also a key component of Deborah Kerr’s superb performance as the governess). Again following Wilson, we can note ‘that there is no real reason for supposing that anybody but the governess sees the ghosts’. Perhaps, therefore, what we are watching is not a ghost story, but a descent into madness. In some senses, this ambiguity (and specifically the refusal to posit the ghosts as real) ties The Innocents back into the original lineage of haunted house drawing room mysteries, in which natural answers were ultimately posited to explain away supernatural elements. Of course, the governess’ potential madness and the undercurrents of desire also tie the film into two other distinct strands of Gothic cinema.

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In the Gothic tradition, madness has been there since the beginning. It’s already there in early works of both literature (Jane Eyre, 1847) and cinema (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, 1920). By the early 1930s, it’s a staple of the Classic Universal Horror cycle, simultaneously responsible for, and a response to, the monstrosities at the heart of Frankenstein (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933). It’s there too in Dracula (1932), as it had been in Stoker’s novel (interestingly, in their streamlining of the text, Hammer chose to jettison Renfield, the Count’s crazy underling, who, as performed by Dwight Frye, remains one of the most effective elements of Universal’s adaption; prior to Hammer, the character had also featured memorably in Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), as he would do again in both Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)).

If, in Dracula, Renfield’s already mad mind is corrupted further by his dealings with the vampire Count, elsewhere madness is shown as the result of more natural and human causes. For instance, in The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Gaslight (1940), nefarious criminals strive to drive others to madness for the sake of – what else? – financial gain. Gaslight, though, can also be seen as belonging to what some have termed ‘Female Gothic’, a strand descended from the likes of the Brontë sisters, which serves to explore the subjugation of women to patriarchal authority (especially within the home). Gaslight’s director, Thorold Dickinson, has spoken of how he wished to undermine Victorian values and attitudes to women within the film, and thus a second clear link with The Innocents is formed: where Hammer’s Dracula ultimately reasserts the importance of Victorian family values, in The Innocents these values lead only to death.

The Shining

Death too, of course, is the fate ultimately suffered by Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980), surely still the greatest on-screen Gothic exploration into the disintegration of a mind. As Torrance, Jack Nicholson gives the performance of his career, so extreme a gurning gargoyle of a madman that cinematic madness is left with no place to go (or, indeed, to hide).

Much like madness, the theme of desire also dates back to the founding texts of the Gothic canon (we’ve already seen how it’s present in Dracula, and The Turn of the Screw itself dates back to 1898). The fact that much early Gothic fiction was written for, and by, women perhaps helps explain the recurring themes of sexual desires kept at bay by male-dominated Victorian society (let’s not forget that the turning point for the suffragettes was not until 1912). However, it’s also true that there was a tendency in early Gothic work – especially that belonging to the ‘Male Gothic’ tradition – to feature the female characters in minor roles, or as part of an ensemble. In cinema, this (male) tradition is perhaps best represented by the notion of the Scream Queen – the screaming heroine who faints when confronted with the beast, as most famously exemplified by Fay Wray in King Kong (1933).

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King Kong, of course, was made by RKO – the studio which, with producer Val Lewton, would help move horror away from the monster movies of Universal, and towards a more psychological approach. Indeed, Lewton’s 1942 Cat People (directed by Jacques Tourneur) concerns a young bride who believes she is cursed to turn into a killer cat whenever she becomes sexually aroused. If the premise and the studio-saddled title make it all sound rather daft, the film in fact remains one of the most haunting and beautifully played explorations into repressed desire, and the effects of such repression upon the repressed, in cinema history – second only, perhaps, to The Innocents.  @ALEX BARRETT

AVAILABLE THROUGH EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | AMAZON.CO.UK, TALKING PICTURES TV

Silence of the Lambs (1991) | BFI Thriller Series | Oct-Dec 2017

 Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv ) 'THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' - Anthony Hopkins - 1991 VARIOUS


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991
VARIOUS

Dir. Jonathan Demme; Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Jame Gumb, Anthony Head, Brooke Smith; USA  114′

Jonathan Demme, who died this April at the age of 73, made some excellent films such as Philadelphia (1993) and Swimming to Cambodia (1987). But he will be best remembered for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris and written by Ted Tally, SILENCE is one of the few feminist thrillers of its era.

Centred around FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster) who is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Glenn) to interview imprisoned mass murderer and psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). The idea is to get his imput with a new case: a serial killer, called Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims. In a cat and mouse game, Clarice gets Lecter to tell her the name of the killer who once his patient. After having kidnapped Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the daughter of an US senator, Buffolo Bill (Gumb), is tracked down by Clarice.

Clarice is much more emancipated woman than she appears in the film. She is well aware that the older Crawford has an Electra crush on her but still calls him “Sir”, knowing she has the upper hand emotionally, slipping out of his command even though she is just a trainee in the last stages of her studies. Howard Shore’s score provides a foreboding undercurrent, reminiscent of Bernhard Herrman, throught her prisom encounters with Lecter which plays out as a cat-and-mouse game. Crawford has warned her never to disclose any personal information to the psychiatrist, Clarice makes a bargain with Lecter: she answers his questions, while he has to answer hers regarding the identity of Buffalo Bill. The outcome justifies her strategy, since Lecter is extraordinarily vain and fancies himself as her Svengali.

Buffalo Bill has a long history of childhood abuse, and is not happy in his body; he tried for a sex change operation, but was rejected because of his violent nature. He dresses as a woman, but feels only contempt for the female species. Catherine is held prisoner in a well, and her captor talks to his poodle about her, objectifying her with the impersonal  ‘it’. He takes great pleasure in making her use skin cream and starving her: all necessary for the skinning operation, which is his way of keeping a trophy. The use of a moth, which he pressed down his victims throat, brings Clarice closer to his whereabouts: a moth is a symbol of transition, something the killer wanted for himself. The American flag is a freqently occurring motif through the film: Clarice always finds one in Buffalo’s former dwellings. The last flag, which she discovers in the lair where he has killed and skinned his victims and skinned is small version, made for a child. AS

ON RE-RELEASE at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 3 November 2017 to headline their THRILLER SERIES | BFI THRILLER: WHO CAN YOU TRUST October – December 2017 

Photo Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991

Dracula (1979) | Bluray release

194d48829a1a19cf8f41b9030ba98ff4--horror-films-draculaDir: John Badham | Writer: W D Richter | Cast: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasance, Kate Nelligan, Trevor Eve, Jan Francis, Tony Haygarth | UK | Gothic Horror | 109′

In 1979 two very different screen versions of Dracula appeared. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and John Badham’s Dracula. Nosferatu has attained cult status as one of the cinema’s great vampire films, whilst the more traditional Dracula still remains in a bit of a limbo. Herzog employed Klaus Kinski to play the count. Whilst Badham’s choice was Frank Langella. Dracula is visually a throwback to Tod Browning’s 1931 film. However Bela Lugosi was not a role model for Langella. Of the three actors Langella is the most romantic and undoubtedly the sexiest Count Dracula. (Christopher Lee in the Hammer Dracula projected a dark primal eroticism but not couched in the Byronic style of Langella). Badham’s film exudes an energy that is enjoyably theatrical. Frank Langella had played the part hundreds of times on the Broadway stage. By the time Dracula went into production he’d honed his sophisticated performance. Thirty eight years on, Langella still manages to bestride the widescreen with vigour and conviction. Take for instance an early dinner table scene where Dracula is asked to more fully explain the meaning of the word Nosferatu. A guest says “Undead”. To which the count replies, “Ah, it means not dead.” At that moment a servant cuts his finger whilst carving a joint of meat. The man sucks his bleeding thumb. Langella observes him with a natural and heightened seriousness. Blood is Dracula’s vital life source. I doubt if today such a scene could be played so straight. A mannered jokiness would inevitably ensue. Now our times for Dracula, as well as the TV Sherlock, are too knowing.

Dracula is romantic but not romanticised. It’s handsomely mounted, intelligently scripted and well acted. The film has genuine “Romantic Agony values” and gothic spirit. It’s pleasingly anti-Victorian; covertly criticising social progress and the repression of any contrary and liberating energy that hints at the satanic. The count’s not the only sexy animal to be found on board here. His attractive admirer Lucy (Kate Nelligan) has a feisty strength. Her fiancé Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve) proves loving but rather stolid, failing to satisfy her once she’s experienced the count’s charisma. And after she’s been bitten by Dracula, Harker, Dr.Seward (Donald Pleasance) and Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) cannot physically restrain her from joining her dark soul-mate.

Dracula’s production values are impressive. The set design is authentically spooky (all those candles lighting the count’s residence). John William’s exciting music is charged with atmosphere, while Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography has been corrected to achieve the more monochrome look that the director intended.

At the home of Dr.Seward, Dracula expresses a desire to throw himself into the rush of humanity. To that Mina van Helsing (Jan Francis) declares, “You have a great lust for life, Count.” His reply is simply, “How well you phrase it.” Dracula then gives Mina a piercing look causing her to faint. If you like your Dracula to be irresistibly handsome and seductive then Frank Langella is the actor for you. This Dracula is a treat and one of the best screen outings the count’s ever had. Alan Price.

NOW OUT ON BLURAY

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Legendary GET CARTER composer, Roy Budd is to have his lost score for Rupert Julian’s silent classic film, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA premiered at the London Coliseum, 24 years after his untimely death in 1993. On October 8th 2017, Budd’s masterpiece score will be performed by the 77 piece Docklands Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Spencer Down, alongside a screening of the silent film in a world premiere event.

British jazz musician and composer Roy Budd, is best known for the film scores of Get Carter with Michael Caine and The Wild Geese with Roger Moore and Richard Burton. In 1989 Budd acquired the only surviving original 35mm reel of Rupert Julian’s silent 1925 film, The Phantom of the Opera, and lovingly restored it to its former glory before composing his own score to the film, a sweeping romantic symphony. Phantom is the sound of Budd blossoming from jazz virtuoso to classical maestro.

img014 A self-taught pianist and child prodigy, in 1953 aged six, Budd performed his first concert at The London Coliseum on the same bill as Roy Castle and went on to perform with stars such as Aretha Franklin, Bob Hope, and Antonio Carlos Jobin as well as scoring 40 feature films.

Throughout his childhood Budd, who has perfect pitch, won a number of televised talent competitions, before releasing a single, “The Birth of the Budd”, when he was still a teenager, and becoming the resident pianist at one of London’s jazz meccas, the Bull’s Head pub in Barnes. In 1971, he sealed his place in film history when, aged 22, he was hired by Mike Hodges to score his grim revenge drama, Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. The music budget was a mere £450, but Budd, along with a bassist and a percussionist, recorded a spine-tingling harpsichord motif which is now iconic. In 1981 The Human League covered the theme from Get Carter on their multi-million selling album Dare.

Phantom Dancers_SmIn 1989 Budd acquired an original 35mm film print to the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera from a collector. He restored the film to its full glory using an experimental two colour process and original tints from the film’s original release. Budd completed a full orchestral score for the film using an 84-piece orchestra and recorded this with the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra. In 1993, with five weeks to go before a London premiere at the Barbican in partnership with UNICEF and European tour, Budd suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage and passed away at just 46 years of age. The concert was cancelled and Budd’s widow Sylvia was asked to foot the bill. Sylvia has fought for 24 years to give the score the public airing it deserves.

Phantom of the Opera is arguably Budd’s greatest achievement: a grand soundtrack for full orchestra with several themes and leitmotifs that pay tribute to the great composers of the concert hall and screen, while at the same time unmistakably the work of its inspired creator.

LONDON COLISEUM | 8 OCTOBER 2017

Stalker (1979) | Criterion Bluray release

Dir.: Andrej Tarkovsky | Cast: Alexander Kaidanovski, Alisa Fejndlik, Natasha Abramova, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko | USSR 1979 | 163 min.

STALKER based on the novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ by Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky, was Andrej Tarkovsky’s fifth feature and imagines a mystical and enigmatic journey. Open to all kinds of interpretation, the production itself and the aftermath was fraught with strange incidents and tragic deaths. After filming the exterior scenes for over a year, it emerged that Tarkovsky wanted to re-shoot with a new cameraman Alexander Knyazhinsky, after falling out with his original DoP Gregory Rerbery (Mirror). But the controversy didn’t end there. It was also rumoured that much of the footage was actually lost. This was due to processing problems in the Moscow film laboratories who were not used to dealing with Kodak products. The shoot itself took place near Tallinn, Estonia (then part of the USSR), in a chemical plant that pumped poisonous liquids into the air that could well have contributed to the death of the actor Anatoli Solonitsyn from lung cancer. Tarkovsky himself died only seven years later in Paris, aged 54, of the same bronchial cancer as his wife Larisa Tarkovskaya – twelve years later.

STALKER has much in common with Solaris and although both portray a dystopian version of the future, STALKER is not an apocalyptic one. The camera introduces us to a room where a family of three are lying on a bed: Stalker (Kaidanovski), his wife (Fejndlik) and his legless daughter Martha (Abramova). This takes the form of a tableau vivant where the figures move. Stalker is a scout who leads visitors into ’The Zone’, an eerie moonscape of horror and beauty where something otherworldly has clearly happened. This could have been the result of a meteor, or the presence of Aliens, or simply natural forces requiring it to be cordoned off by police and soldiers. Whilst his wife does not want him to return to the Zone, Stalker is fascinated by the area and drawn involuntarily to it. His next two ‘clients’ are a writer (Solonitsyn) and a scientist (Grinko). They set out from a hostelry, and are nearly gunned down by police. By the time they enter the Zone, the black-and-white images are replaced by colour, but only for trees, fields and flowers, in contrast to the litter of an industrial wasteland ruining Nature’s beauty.

The trio’s odyssey could be termed a “journey of souls”, because Tarkovsky makes no difference between the inner and outer world of his protagonists. Whilst Stalker is obsessed by individuality, the Zone being the only reflection for his yearning for spiritual purity, the writer is full of nihilism and sees mankind from a cynical perspective. He has lost faith in himself, in his writings and is depressed because of his writer’s block. The scientist only wants to destroy what they are all looking for: A room, where the darkest wishes come true. Stalker and the writer are able to overpower the scientist, who wanted to make sure, that nobody could use the ‘Room of wishes’ for evil purposes. None of the three will enter the room after all. When they return, they seem to have not changed much: the three are the archetypes of the 20th century: the nihilist, the man of science and Stalker, the (lost) individualist.

At the end, Stalker’s wife raises a the question:“How would a life without any suffering work out? A life without suffering would also be one without happiness and hope.” This is as close as we come to an answer: an existence without highs or lows, based on technology, materialism or belief in scientific progress is doomed to an utter mediocrity. To be unreasonable, is to be alive. The myriad symbols of STALKER leave just one interpretation given by Tarkovsky himself: “In the end, everything can be reduced to one single element, which is all a person can count upon in his existence: the capacity to love”.

STALKER – available to buy on Blu-ray from 24th July 2017.
Credit: The Criterion Collection UK | @Criterion | #CriterionUK

The Mummy: Gothic Cinema and the Expressionist Stage

Gothic Cinema and the Expressionist Stage 

Just like the Old Dark Houses of the Gothic tradition, Gothic cinema is a haunted abode, plagued by the undead spectres of theatre and expressionism. Alex Barrett lights his torch and goes to investigate. 

In 1931, Universal Studios kick-started classic horror cinema with the release of Dracula and Frankenstein, two of the most influential and iconic films of all time, derived from two equally important works of literature. Significantly, however, neither film came to the screen direct from the page, but were instead based upon pre-existing stage adaptations of the original texts. Indeed, it had been the success of Dracula on Broadway (and at the Little Theatre in London) which had encouraged Universal to make their film. Though officially credited to Tod Browning, the film is now widely considered to have been co-directed by its cinematographer, Karl Freund – a key figure in both 1930s horror, and what is now commonly referred to as ‘German Expressionism’.

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Debates still rage as to what defines ‘Expressionism’, and as to which films can be truly considered ‘Expressionist’, but here it seems sufficient to characterise Expressionist films as works which seek to express their characters’ subjective inner turmoil in an objective outward fashion through the mise-en-scène. The movement (if one can call it such) spread across the arts, infecting not only cinema, but painting, sculpture, literature and – yes – theatre. Among the most important of those working in theatre was director Max Reinhardt, who drew upon Expressionism’s rejection of naturalism in his attempt to create an all-encompassing theatre (he was influenced by the theories of Richard Wagner). Perhaps most importantly, Reinhardt placed special emphasis on décor and pioneered the use of chiaroscuro lighting. He was also responsible for creating the Kammerspiele, a ‘chamber theatre’ for works featuring intimate psychological portraits. A distinction is often made between Kammerspiele and Expressionism (as Expressionists reject psychology and motivation), though the line becomes a little blurred when Kammerspielfilms seek to convey their protagonists’ subjective feelings objectively (and hence the on-going debates).

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Whether one accepts the Expressionist tag or not, it’s true that many German films from this period emphasised mise-en-scène and focused on character psychology. What’s also true is that many of the key players from this era worked with Reinhardt before moving into cinema – including, for instance, F. W. Murnau, Ernst Lubitsch, William Dieterle, Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss and Paul Wegener. Wegener, a pioneering actor, writer and director, had begun making Gothic features as early as 1913, with his Edgar Allan Poe-inspired The Student of Prague. In 1915 he teamed up with writer (and former Reinhardt assistant) Henrik Galeen to make The Golem, the first in a trilogy of films Wegener made about the Jewish clay automaton. For the trilogy’s third part, The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920), Wegener and Galeen teamed up with yet another former Reinhardt collaborator: Karl Freund. (Freund was cameraman on two of Reinhardt’s early flirtations with film: Isle of the Blessed (1913) and A Venetian Night (1914).) Although it’s impossible to say for sure what influence Reinhardt left on Freund and the other German filmmakers of this era, it certainly seems that many of his techniques and theories remain discernible in their work.


Following in the footsteps of many of his contemporaries and collaborators (including Murnau and Lubitsch), Freund emigrated to the USA in 1929, taking the influence of Reinhardt and expressionism with him – influence he clearly brought to bear on Dracula and his other horror films of the 1930s. So as to not overstate the case for Freund’s contribution, however, it may be worth noting that émigré director Paul Leni had already made The Cat and the Canary for Universal (in 1927), and that the Studio probably saw Leni’s film as one of the works that paved the way for Dracula. Back in Germany, Leni had made the seminal expressionist film Waxworks (1924) – which was written by Galeen. Interestingly, though, Leni himself never worked with Reinhardt, despite starting his career as an avant-garde painter and theatrical set designer in Berlin. The Cat and the Canary, meanwhile, was adapted from a 1922 play of the same name.

Following the success of Dracula, Universal assigned Freund to direct The Mummy (1932) – a film which can be seen as harking back to German Expressionism in several ways. For instance, film historian Paul M. Jensen has noted that the The Mummy’s use of camera movement and pacing reflects the German idea of ‘stimmung’, in which action becomes secondary to the unstated, and images evoke psychological atmosphere. Jensen also has compared the content and construction of the sequence in which Helen Grosvenor answers Imhotep’s call to the moment in Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) in which Ellen responds to Orlok (and Nosferatu, let’s not forget, was directed by Murnau and written by Galeen, and starred a third Reinhardt steward, Max Schreck).

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Other links between The Mummy and Expressionism emerge too, such as the way the flickering to life of the mummy itself recalls both the awakening of Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and of the titular creature in the 1920 The Golem. (The impact of these two German films is also felt elsewhere: for instance, the sideshow element of Caligari also seems to have influenced Universal’s 1932 Freund-shot Murders in the Rue Morgue, while Frankenstein owes much to The Golem.) The Mummy’s torchlight search through the museum, meanwhile, seems to recall the chase through the catacombs in the Freund-shot Metropolis (1927) – though Jensen has compared it to a scene in The Last Laugh (1924, also shot by Freund).

Freund’s work in The Last Laugh is likewise felt in his 1935 directorial effort Mad Love, which contains a subjective point of view shot – something pioneered by Freund in both The Last Laugh and 1925’s Variety. Interestingly, Mad Love was also a remake of a German Expressionist film (Robert Wiene’s 1924 The Hands of Orlac) and was written by John L. Balderston, who had worked on the stage adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein that Universal had drawn from in 1931. Balderston also wrote The Mummy for Freund, and there are elements which recur through both films, as well as through Dracula (such as a strange, foreign interloper who threatens the central relationship). The constancy of these ideas seems to suggest that Balderston, like Freund, should be considered a major player in the Classic Horror cycle of the 1930s.

It’s perhaps worth noting that Mad Love was not a Universal production (it was made by MGM), and that Universal were not alone in taking influence from the stage (see, for instance, Paramount’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which follows Thomas Russell Sullivan’s stage adaptation). The practice was also not limited to the 1930s: for instance, Henry James’ classic Gothic text The Turn of the Screw came to the screen via the stage – as The Innocents – in 1961. The influence of expressionism, too, is detectable beyond the 1930s, notably in the work of Tim Burton, whose skewed, angular set design seems to owe much to the legacy of silent German cinema (Burton, of course, also paid explicit homage to Frankenstein in both Sleepy Hollow (1999) and his two Frankenweenies (1984 and 2012)). It seems only fair to say, then, that Gothic cinema owes much to both the theatre and expressionism, and to the legacy of Reinhardt, Freund and Balderston.

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F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is also available throug EUREKA, MASTERS OF CINEMA: SPECIAL BLU-RAY, DVD AND DUAL FORMAT STEELBOOK EDITIONS.

The Entity (1982) | Eureka Bluray release

Dir: Sidney J Furie | Cast: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, George Coe, Cindy Nash | Horror | 125min | US

Barbara Hershey plays the convincing heroine of Sidney Furie’s aptly-named THE ENTITY. Seduced, abandoned, widowed and unemployed (it could only happen to a woman, naturally) the mother of three then becomes the victim of a poltergeist-like malign spirit who repeatedly mugs and rapes her in the privacy of her own bedroom, and later further afield. The saturnine figure of Ron Silver’s bearded psychiatrist then steps in to save her but his professional balm fails to sooth troubled waters and soon he becomes emotionally involved in the story.

Based on a book by Frank DeFelitta – who also writes the script – THE ENTITY is inspired by apparently ‘real events’ that happened in mid Seventies Los Angeles, calling into question an ordinary woman’s dodgy state of mind until it  eventually admits defeat in this line of reasoning. Pity rather than horror is the overriding feeling as the tedium starts to grow during the second hour. Although the tropes are effective THE ENTITY is not a particularly scary horror film,  an erotic thriller or a satisfying psychiatric procedural but it’s well made – if overlong. And Hershey is remarkably convincing and watchable. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT DVD FROM 15 MAY 2017

We are the Flesh | Tenemos la Carne (2016)

Dir.: Emiliano Rocha Minter | Cast: Noe Hernandez, Maria Evoli, Diego Gamaliel, Gabino Rodriguez; Mexico/France 2016, 79min.

Director/writer Emiliano Rocha Minter has certainly learnt a great deal from producer Carlos Reygadas (Silent Light): his debut feature is a darkly subversive and enigmatic sexual tour-de-force with shades of Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room and even fellow Mexican Amat Escalante’s The Untamed. Teenage siblings Fauna (Evoli) and Lucio (Gamaliel) looking for a place to stay in post-apocalyptic Mexico City find refuge with the rather demonic Mariano (Hernandez), who lives in a derelict and dark cellar apartment. He offers them drinks laced with mind-enhances, and encourages them to build a womb-structure from wood and masking tape. Then, out of the blue, Mariano makes the siblings sleep which each other, much against Lucio’s. Watching and masturbating, Mariano suddenly dies. The intercourse awakens Fauna’s sexuality, but her brother wants nothing to do with it. Turned on by it all, Fauna has sex with Mariano’s body. Somehow, a Mexican soldier finds his way into the place and is killed by the siblings, to the tune of the National anthem of Mexico. But the main theme of the film is illicit sex and, Fauna soon finds a willing female  partner, passing her over to her brother and writhing in ecstasy whilst watching the two. As a grand finale, Minter serves up a phenomenal sex orgy, leaving us in no doubt that he is the Wilhelm Reich of filmmaking.

Shame then that this short version of the narrative fails to give Minter’s films the credit deserves, it is an illuminating exploration of sexuality serving as a coda to the nuclear family, which is finally destroyed by the chaos brought from the outside. There are echo’s of Bataille; and certainly Gaspar Noé, but Minter also captures a certain opaque quality which is very much his own style: the roving camera of DoP Yollitl Gomez Alvarado roams around 360 degrees finding new angles to explore the escalating sexual frenzy. Switching from almost colourless black and white to luminous primary colours, Minter develops a permanently changing environment where Fauna staggers wildly like a huntress in search of pray. Bach’s harpsichord concerto has never been heard in a less peaceful place; and exclamations like “Neither the Sun, nor Death can be looked at steadily” suddenly make sense in this context. Minter somehow pulls it off: WE ARE THE FLESH is certainly one of the most innovative and original debuts of recent years. AS

COMES TO SHUDDER ON 20 APRIL 2017  | THE FILM HAS BEEN BANNED BY OTHER STREAMING PLATFORMS IN THE UK

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder | BFI Retrospective | Classics now on Dual Format

6a00d8341ce04153ef01b8d08dfdb6970cFASSBINDER_PACKSFassbinder’s LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH | LIEBE IST KÄLTER ALS DER TOD made a low-key feature debut at Berlinale Film Festival in 1969, heralding the prolific career of one of Germany’s greatest auteurs of the second half of the 20th century. Critics talked about the stylish black and white aesthetics of DOP Dietrich Lohmann (who would go on and shoot ten more Fassbinder films); were puzzled by the rather simplistic but enigmatic storyline and liked the performances including the director’s turn playing his own fallen hero Franz, a pimp, who does not want to cooperate with the Mafia and falls in the love with Joanna (Hanna Schygulla), who works for him. Ulli Lommel is the killer Bruno, a sort of German version of Alain Delon in Melville’s Le Samurai, complete with sunglasses. Fassbinder commented at the Festival “I want the audience to formulate their own personal take on the film. That’s all I’m interested in. That’s much more political than forcing them to believe that the police are the worst aggressors. I am not interested in that sort of cinema, I am against the idea of people marrying and producing children without thinking or having any idea why they love each other”. His statements were as enigmatic as his film, and one Berlin critic wrote “Fassbinder does not care if he makes another film, he just wanted to make statement”. How wrong he turned out to be.

katzelmacher_1969_2KATZELMACHER was shot in only nine days during August 1969, just four months after Love is colder than Death. Based on Fassbinder’s play of the same name. Fassbinder against the central protagonist, Jorgos, a Greek ‘guest-worker,’ who falls foul of the youthful German machos, living a desperate existence in the backstreets of Munich. In much the same way as Fear Eats the Soul, (which he could go on to make in 1974), the drama uses Jorgos’ romantic encounters in the city to evidence the political undercurrent of racism, particularly amongst the sub-proletariat. Love and money dominate this male world where men have to buy their women, because of their inability to love. Katzelmacher – again shot by Lohmann in stunning black and white – is just a variation of Fassbinder’s debut, but shows the role of the immigrant worker, a theme that would dominate many of his films.

UnknownBEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE (WARNUNG VOR EINER HEILIGEN NUTTE) Fassbinder turns the camera on himself in this semi-autobiographical feature about filmmaking. Shot in 22 days in Sorrento, Italy, during September 1970, the film had his premiere at the Venice Film Festival a year later, where no “Lions” were awarded. For no obvious reasons the narrative is set in Spain where a film team is waiting for the director and the subsidy money from the Federal Government. When the director Jeff (Lou Castel) arrives, he immediately becomes the centre of total chaos. The ageing star of the production (Eddie Constantine as himself) seems lost in the much younger crowd and starts a relationship with the actress Hanna (Schygulla). Jeff explains a very tricky shot to the cinematographer, and the simple idea of the film to Constantine: “Patria o muerte” is about the government’s brutality, which is legitimised by the state. But crew and cast are still fighting arguing, drinking and Jeff is beaten up. bewareofaholywhore1But in spite of everything, the shoot finally gets underway. Michael Ballhaus’ widescreen images echo Raul Coutard’s work for Godard’s Le Mépris, and Fassbinder’s own lousy, little line producer Sasha could have been equally at home in Godard drama. For Fassbinder, BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE was a good-bye to collective filmmaking: “The film is about the production of a film, but it is much more about how a group works, and how the leading status of the director develops and is used by crew and cast. I am not sure, if the film was a new beginning, but it was a surely an endpoint. With this film, we have buried our idea of collective work which we started [before filming] with the Anti-Theatre group in Munich. I did not know, how we would go on in future, but I knew we could not go back. This film is about what happened in Whitty (1970), when too many people relied on me, and I had to take on more and more responsibilities. During the shooting of Whity, everything collapsed: BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE is a about what happened on the set of Whity.”

The_Merchant_of_Four_SeasonsBy 1971 Fassbinder had a prodigious oeuvre to his name and THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS (HÄNDLER DER VIER JAHRESZEITEN) was his twelfth feature film, a tragic melodrama shot in eleven days in August of that year. Set in the ’50s, like many of his later films, The Merchant is a story of a loser during West Germany Economic Miracle. Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) has been a soldier in Foreign Legion, and a policeman. But now he is reduced to selling fruit and vegetables in a street market  – in a country where wealth and prosperity is an easy game. His wife Irmgard (Irm Herrmann), is financially aspirational, pushing her husband to the limits with emotional coldness. He suffers a heart attack and afterwards employs an old army friend Harry, to do the physical work. But Hans does not give up on Irmgard, he wants to be loved. The triangle becomes a trap for Hans. Fassbinder was impressed by the films of his fellow German director Douglas Sirk, and admitted that he integrated some elements of Sirk’s Hollywood melodramas into The Merchant. “In the beginning, I Ioved to create cool, detached films. Then I got interested in dramatic films, now I prefer melodrama.”

BITTER_2D_BDTHE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant), a psychological drama, followed in the wake of The Merchant and was shot in ten days during January 1972. Control-freak fashion designer Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen) lives with her servant and assistant Marlene (Hermann) in a symbiotic relationship: Petra uses Marlene in every way, but Marlene takes this all on board, feeling a masochistic pride in her subservient status. When Petra falls in love with the much younger Karin (Schygulla), she soon finds out that the young woman is only after her money. When Karin’s husband returns from Australia, Karin leaves Petra and returns to her husband. Petra admits she only wanted to possess Karin, as she does Marlene. She is contrite, and offers Marlene a position of equal rights in her business, but Marlene simply packs her suitcase and leaves. Suffering and subservience is her raison d’être – She did not want equality. Fassbinder later commented “Marlene leaves Petra because there is a certain power in being subservient: being in charge herself involves a degree of risk and responsibility. Many interpreted the outcome as a liberation for Marlene, but that is not the case: those who have willingly accepted the yoke of subservience for 30 years, often find total freedom and the responsibility it entails, a poisoned challice

imagesCHINESE ROULETTE (CHINESISCHES ROULETTE) By the summer of 1976, Fassbinder was taking more time to direct. 1976 also saw the making of Satansbraten and Bolwieser and he took over a month to shoot this thriller in Beyreuth and Thurnau Castle in Bavaria. CHINESE ROULETTE is the nearest Fassbinder would get to Claude Chabrol, one of his early heroes. Ariane (Carstensen) and her husband Gerhard (Alexander Allerson) pretend to leave Munich for separate destinations for the weekend, but they soon reunite in their Bavarian castle. Ariane meets her lover Kolbe (Lommel), while Gerhard is looking forward to seeing his lover Irene (Anna Karina). Their handicapped daughter Angela also turns up with with her teacher Traunitz (Macha Meril), who is seemingly unable to speak. When Angela starts to play a kind of truth game called Chinese Roulette, the adults fear and mistrust of each other suddenly becomes palpable. For Fassbinder, it was a new beginning: “This is the first film where I don’t use the actors to tell the story. The main theme is ‘better the devil you know’: the protagonists all cling to their relationships, even though these are dysfunctional. There is a certain comfort in routine and core misery, which in itself is a kind of happiness.

Fassbinder_BRD_Trilogy_2003_CCTHE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN (DIE EHE DER MARIA BRAUN) Shot in just over a month during the winter of 1978, this tragic love story was rejected by Cannes Film Festival but premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 1979, where it won a Silver Bear, and Hanna Schygulla Best Actress. Maria (Schygulla) has married Hermann (Klaus Lowitsch) during WWII but he fails to return after the war. Working in an American bar, Maria discovers her husband is dead and she falls in love with the much older American GI Oswald (Ivan Disney). Out of blue, her husband turns up when she is about to go to bed with Oswald, forcing her to make a difficult decision. In the interim, she has discovered personal freedom but Herrmann simply wants to control ‘the old’  Maria. Marriage is perhaps Fassbinder’s most mature film, influenced mainly by Godard, Brecht and Wedekind, it is poetic realism on an epic scale. Fassbinder’s critique of the crass materialism in West Germany after WWII is again a strong component. Schygulla had obviously matured very well since 1969, and became an international star. Fassbinder was emphatic about his latest outing: “It is a multi-layered film, much is hidden beneath the simple storyline. The audience has the chance to enjoy a love story, or something much more complex”. AS/MT

NOW SCREENING AS A MAJOR RESPECTIVE AT THE BFI DURING APRIL- MAY 2017 AVAILABLE AS A SELECTION OF TEN CULT CLASSICS on DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM 28 MARCH and 4TH APRIL 2016 

 

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

Writer|Dir: Nicolas Pesce Cast: Kika Magalhaes, Will Brill, Olivia Bond, Paul Nazak, Diana Agostini, Clara Wong

Nicolas Pesce cut his teeth in the world of music videos and his feature debut – an intense and stylish psychological thriller – is embued with the melancholy moodiness of Portuguese Fado laced with macabre American Gothic.

Set in a remote forested backwater THE EYES OF MY MOTHER could easily have lost its way but a clever script never allows the film to wander too far off the beaten track, eventually reaching a rather satisfying ending, while keeping our attention fixed on its mesmerising central character Francisca, played with captivating nonchalence by Kika Magalhaes. We first meet Francisca as a little girl (played by Olivia Bond) who whose slightly bohemian mother (Diana Agostini) has fetched up in a cattle farm in the wilds of New York State with her strong but silent husband after a lifetime’s practising eye surgery in her native Portugal.

Nicolas Pesce could be the US answer to Jonathan Glazer in his stylish ‘less is more’ approach to directing with a slowly mounting atmosphere of dread deftly complimenting the pristine look of the film. Zach Kuperstein’s elegantly composed black-and-white visuals turn what could have been a gory film into a gracefully poetic arthouse chiller: blood and bodily fluids ooze like obsidian ink and a chiaroscuro aesthetic transform the story into a modern classic with the same unsettling dread of The Night of the Hunter with Magalhaes’ subtle psychopath replacing Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell, and a switcheroo male/female dynamic that appears in third act. Apart from the film’s strong visual appeal, the paucity of dialogue allows us to retreat into the deepest corners of the psyche to ponder over the implications and possibilities of a narrative that leaves so many questioned unanswered.

Bilingual Francisca is extremely close to her mother who has taught her all about anatomy and surgery not only leaving her skilfully au fait with dissection, but also making the process of carving up bodies completely natural. This will be crucial when her mother is murdered by a creepy stranger (Will Brill), not only leaving Francisca unfazed by her brutal death but also seemingly untraumatised in the aftermath (where he father keeps the man chained up in the barn), allowing Francisca to practise her surgical skills.

Her distant but respectful relationship with her father seems to have unleashed some kind of attachment anxiety in Francisca when she becomes an adult. Clearly she aches with loneliness, but rather than seek out an amorous encounter to avoid being alone, Francisca uses her talents to make sure nobody ever leaves her.

Most of the violence is tactfully alluded to rather than overt, and where brutality does occur it is often in silent scenes where Francisca demonstrates a tender and almost religious devotion. Ariel Loh’s atmospheric occasional score makes unsettling intrusions into the quiet moments without disturbing the sinister sense of terror. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE from 24 MARCH 2017

The Love Witch (2016)

imagesDir/Writer: Anna Biller | Cast: Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley | US | Fantasy Drama | 118min

Anyone who enjoyed TVs Bewitched will appreciate this hyperrealist technicolour drama where the harmless Elizabeth Montgomery is replaced by a mysterious modern day minx who mixes potions and plots to make men fall in love with her, forever. Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is gorgeously winsome and perfectly poised until she retreats behind closed doors to a boudoir bursting with lurid love games and sexy underwear and where she shamelessly seduces her prey leaving a trail of dying and distraught menfolk wondering what on earth happened. Anna Biller’s clever script has nailed men’s egos to a cross and brazenly exposed their deepest anxieties of losing control, falling in love and ‘drowning in the oestrogen’ of their new found perfect playmate. Set in an imagined kitsch community in 1960s California, there’s also a whiff of Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale and Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers to Biller’s dark and mocking humour which also has a pop at women folk and their machiavellian ways when it comes to romance. Weird and possibly the most watchable satire you’ll see this week. A cameo from the wonderful Agnes Moorehead would have been the icing on the cake. MT

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NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 10 MARCH 2017.

 

 

 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) | bluray steelbook | 2 disc

photoDAS KABINETT DES DR. CALIGARI

Director: Robert Wiene

Cast: Werner Krauß, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover, Freidrich Feher; Germany 1919, 73 min.

Few films have been the object of so much secondary literature as CALIGARI, but the production itself came together more or less by accident. To start with, Fritz Lang was supposed to be the director but he did not finish his production of Die Spinnen in time, and Wiene was chosen to direct, even though Lang was still involved, being the author of the sub-plot, which framed the main narrative. Carl Mayer Mayer and  Hans Jannowitz, the script writers, both believed that the new structure watered the message of the film down (as did Siegfried Kracauer, but more about that later). But most important, Wiene did replace the symbolist painter Alfred Kubin, who was supposed to design the film with Hermann Warm, Walter Röhrig und Walter Reimann, members of the Berlin expressionist group “Der Sturm”. The rest, as they say, is history.

In an asylum, the patient Francis (Feher) sees Jane (Dagover) walking past him, and he starts telling her story to another patient: On a fair ground in small a north German town, Dr. Caligari (Krauß) shows his medium Cesare (Veidt) to the paying audience. Cesare is supposed to know the future but after a civil servant, who has mistreated Caligari, is found murdered, Francis and his friend Alan suspect Cesare. When Alan inquires how long he would go on living, Cesare answers “till the next morning”. Alan too is murdered and Francis finds out that it is not Cesare who is sleeping in a box in Caligari’s tent, but a doll. Cesare now (unsuccessfully) kidnaps Jane, with whom Francis is in love. Caligari escapes, hiding in an asylum, where Francis finds out that he is really the Chief Warden. When Caligari is shown Cesare’s corpse, he looses his mind. After ending his story Francis meets Caligari, the real Chief Warden, and accuses him of being the mad fair ground proprietor. But Caligari explains calmly to a co-worker that, after hearing Francis story, he would be able to cure him.

The Expressionism of the design is supported by the actors, mainly Krauß and Veidt. The design, exclusively painted, is dominated by distorted perspectives and painted shadows, also synonymous with the jaggedness of the Expressionist movement, confusing the audience even more with their unrealistic angles and sinister atmosphere. Intricate convoluted levels negate the realistic conceptions of space. Inter and subtitles are part of this strange world: when the psychiatrist is driven by his madness to become Caligari, letters are dancing across the contorted roofs of the town forming, in the end, the sentencing “Du mußt Caligari warden” (You have to become Caligari”).

It is true that the sub-plot takes much away from effect of the main narrative. Instead of being a dangerous madman, masquerading as a Chief Warden, Caligari becomes a positive character, only wanting to help the disturbed Francis. In “From Caligari to Hitler”, Siegfried Kracauer, a film critic who emigrated to the United States after the suicide of his friend Walter Benjamin, researches film characters in popular German films between 1918 and 1933, and comes to the conclusion that Caligari was more or less a prototype Hitler, a mentally ill person, who incited others to murder for his own ends. The distorted reality of the film set was for Kracauer also a sign of the madness of the fascist system, which orchestrated great spectacles to trick the masses into following Hitler.

Having said all this, CALIGARI is even today, after nearly hundred years, a very frightening film. Whatever the interpretations, it may well be the first true horror film in the history of the seventh art. AS

ON 16 JANUARY EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT ANNOUNCES A LIMITED EDITION BLURAY STEELBOOK INCLUDING THE DOCUMENTARY FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER (2014) AS PART OF THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES

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Dracula through the Ages | Halloween

D R A C U L A   T H R O U G H   T H E   A G E S : Leaves from Stoker’s Book 

First published in 1897, Bram Stoker’s DRACULA is now seen as one of the canonical texts of Gothic literature, but it was only long after Stoker’s death that the work took on iconic status – thanks in no small part to the numerous films that proliferated as the Count’s cultural clout increased (there have now been over 200). To explain the appeal, one need only look at a list of possible readings: there have been almost as many interpretations as there have been films. In short, Dracula, as the archetypal vampire, can be made to reflect the fears (and the desires) of every generation.

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It was F.W. Murnau who, in 1922, gave the world its first great onscreen Dracula – even if, in an unsuccessful bid to escape infringing copyright, Murnau changed the Count’s name to Orlok and retitled it Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. Stoker’s widow saw right through Murnau’s ploy and duly sued, causing the majority of prints to be destroyed. Luckily, one survived.

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Seen today, Murnau’s film has lost none of its power. Murnau shot much of Nosferatu on location, adding a contrasting sense of realism to the film’s expressionistic tropes, thereby creating an ominous, otherworldly foreboding. Right at the start we read that this is ‘a chronicle of the plague of Great Death’: unlike Dracula’s victims, Orlok’s do not become vampires – they die, and Orlok is their death. Murnau strips Stoker’s text of its erotic and religious force: here, Orlok is a metaphysical harbinger of death, an unstoppable force of nature. German cinema of this period is famous for its detailed mise-en-scène, and Nosferatu is no exception, but the film also makes startling use of montage. Not only does Murnau use parallel editing to increase tension, but the moment in which Ellen awakes as Orlok feeds on Hutter, their disparate locations joined together in a single eye-line match, is truly breath-taking filmmaking.

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Stoker’s widow, frustrated by unauthorised adaptations, sold the dramatic rights for Dracula to British playwright Hamilton Deane, whose adaptation was later reworked by John L. Balderston for Broadway. It was this play, rather than Stoker’s novel, that formed the basis for Tod Browning’s stodgy 1931 Dracula, a film that never quite transcends its drawing-room mystery origins – despite begin well shot by cinematographer Karl Freund, who had worked with Murnau back in Germany. The film’s theatricality extends to its hammy, stage-derived special effects, which add little dread to the proceedings. Bela Lugosi had played the role on Broadway, and his version of Dracula remains the most iconic and influential. An invention of Deane’s, this Dracula may be a far cry from Stoker’s heavily-moustached old man, but it’s also the version that has most thoroughly penetrated public consciousness.

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Taking its cue from Deane and Balderston’s play, in which Lucy ‘registers attraction’ to Dracula, Browning’s film has Lucy express her fascination to Mina, who will herself later receive a midnight call from the Count – much to the chagrin of her fiancé. With his thick accent and ponderous pronunciation, Lugosi’s Dracula is every bit the outsider, readable as both the invading immigrant and the suave, sexually appealing ‘other’.

It’s the latter reading that director Terence Fisher brings to the fore in his excellent 1958 adaptation for Hammer. Here, an ill and pale Lucy excitedly removes her crucifix, opens the doors, hikes up her skirt, and lies on her bed expectantly. Dracula is no invader, but a welcome jolt of sexual energy, a manifestation of the Victorian woman’s hidden (and unfulfilled) sexual desires. We are told that the crucifix symbolises good over evil, and that Van Helsing will succeed ‘with God’s help’. Once more, Dracula is the evil other, a force of adultery who needs to be dispatched so (holy) matrimony can be resumed. If the script at times owes little to Stoker’s original narrative trajectory, the film perfectly condenses his sprawling story and captures the spirit, the dread and the disgust of the original text.

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In 1979, Werner Herzog returned to Murnau’s Dracula-as-death symbolism for his dreamlike Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. As the film’s opening images of mummified bodies help establish, this is cinema as memento mori. Lucy screams and wakes from a nightmare, but the phantom of the night is coming: death is unavoidable and cannot be escaped. A portentous dread hangs in the air, even throughout the later, joyous scenes of revelling plague victims. These scenes suggest that life can be given meaning only when placed under the shadow of death, thus rendering Dracula‘s eternal undead life both joyless and meaningless.

In the book, Mina begs the vampire hunters to feel pity for their prey, and Herzog makes this feeling manifest. Herzog’s ponderous, almost languid tone leads us to feel the profound weight of an endless life without love. Once more, the erotic undertones rise to the surface: Dracula wants love, and his lust for Lucy will ultimately be his undoing. Herzog’s vision is highly romantic, and therefore archly Gothic. Present too is the religious conflict: Lucy declares that ‘God is so far from us in the hour of distress’, and if the later use of the Host in combating Dracula seems to contradict this, it’s worth remembering the line ‘Faith is the faculty of man which enables us to believe things we know to be untrue’. There is no happy ending in Herzog’s godless universe, despite what we try to believe. Lethargic though it sometimes feels, this may well be the most philosophically rich adaptation of the material – and the one with the most monstrously mesmerising portrayal of Dracula himself.

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It’s perhaps significant that Herzog returned to Murnau as his source, given that Gothic derives from a return to – and a fear of – the past. Interestingly, two other significant adaptations have likewise drawn on early cinema for inspiration: Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Guy Maddin’s 2002 Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. In fact, Coppola’s film seems to draw as much on past adaptations as on the novel itself, pulling in shadows from Murnau, dialogue from Browning, bloody gore and bawdy sex from Fisher, and a sense of introspection from Herzog. The film uses a glut of early cinema techniques, resulting in a breathless barrage that feels closer to baroque excess than ornate gothic purity.

Coppola seems to delight in the carnal aspects of the novel, going beyond even Fisher in his uninhibited depictions of violence and sex. In an early scene, Mina studies an explicit illustration in the Arabian Nights. She calls it ‘disgustingly awful’, but can’t take her eyes off it. Here, Dracula is an embodiment of desire and openly represents an exciting alternative to the tedium of puritanical marriage. But with this excitement comes danger: this is the age of both civilisation and syphilisation, and the women will be condemned for their promiscuous exchange of blood. Coppola mines the AIDS metaphor for all its worth, and equates the rise in decadence and sexual liberation with the end of the old (Christian) world. If the film’s excess verges at times on the ridiculous, it nonetheless remains a richly delirious and intoxicating work.

Much like Coppola, Maddin furrows cinematic history to create an erotic work of kinetic excess, but goes one further by making his film silent. His sets are skewed, stylised and symbolic, his Dracula a story of female lust and male jealousy – but also of paranoia and xenophobia (an early title card reads ‘Immigrants – others from other lands’). Dracula is a foreign invader, come to steal our wealth and our women. Maddin reminds us that Dracula ‘has the brain of a child’ and fills his lair with money stolen from England, thus emphasising the racists roots of the novel’s portrayal of the immigrant outsider. Maddin’s film, based on an adaptation by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, makes literal the novel’s dances of death and attraction. For Maddin, Dracula’s dispatch at the hands of Lucy’s frustrated suitors serves not only as the removal of the alien body, but also as a reassertion of male dominance over female desire.

At the end of the film, the victors open the doors of Castle Dracula and walk towards the light of a new day. Inside, Dracula lies bent backwards, impaled on a phallic spike. Somehow, it seems there may still be life in him yet. After all, some things never die, and Dracula remains the King of the Undead. AB

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (RE-MASTERED) AND NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORRORS (HD RESTORATION) IS AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA, as is NOSERATU THE VAMPYRE

HAMMER’S RE-RELEASE OF DRACULA IS AVAILABLE ON DVD

Dracula (1958) on blu-ray 18 March 2013

 

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Men & Chicken (2015)

Writer| Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

Cast: David Dencik, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kass, Søren Malling, Nicolas Bro,

Fantasy | Comedy | Horror

Anders Thomas Jensen is best known for strong storytelling and screenwriting both in his native Denmark (Brothers | In a Better World) and the UK (The Duchess | Love is All You Need). His latest film is almost impossible to define: a lyrical blend of tragicomedy, fantasy and horror with dynamic performances from the best of Denmark’s acting talent all go to make this film an unforgettable experience in tonal weirdness. CHICKEN & MEN is best described as a grotesque Danish version of the BBC’s League of Gentlemen with undertones of Cold Comfort Farm. 

Family dysfunction is at the core of a story set in the glorious island seascapes of Ork (the Danish isle of Fyn) where three retarded and cleft-paletted half-brothers (Franz (Soren Malling), Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Josef (Nicolas Bro) occupy the rambling stately ruins of a manor house (Beelitz, Brandenburg Germany) overrun with a range of hybrid farm animals (some alive, some preserved in formaldehyde) adding a twist of quirkiness to its Gothic splendour. The film opens as two other ‘brothers’ Elias and Gabriel (Mikkelsen and Dencik) arrive on the estate having found out from their dying adoptive father, that their birth father, an eccentric scientist, is still living in the stately pile.

From this bizarre narrative, a strangely philosophical parable emerges which is by turns hilarious, macabre, romantic and even tender in its fairytale pretensions. Mads Mikkelsen swaps his signature sexual allure for one of sad sexual disfunction in a role that is gruesome and at times even demeaning: rocking brassy curls and a lopsided grin, his strange affliction forces him to wank involuntarily every time he comes into contact with a woman. The ‘maguffin’ here is a well-used role of loo paper. Each character gives a nunaced interpretation of madness and physical deformity that keeps us entertained and intrigued in disbelief and horror. At the end Gabriel is the brain behind the brothers delivering the philosophical thread that weaves the story together giving it a meaningful integrity. Bak and Kaas’ sweepingly romantic score elevates the film in a poetic way and combined with Sebastian Blenkov’s wildly bucolic cinematography MEN & CHICKEN is both entertaining and memorable whether you buy into its grotesque humour or not.MT

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 18 OCTOBER 2015

The Wicker Man | Robin Hardy tribute

Director: Robin Hardy               Writer: Anthony Shaffer

Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland

88mins   Cult/Mystery Thriller        UK

THE WICKER MAN is not actually a horror film, more an occult drama of brooding malevolence with a total lack of blood and gore. Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth) purposely set out to script a film that was devoid of  carnage, yet one that succeeds in provoking an unsettling feeling and a palpable sense of dread from the opening sequences when Edward Woodward, as Sergeant Howie, arrives in the small and remote Scottish fishing community.  A man alone in an unknown and hostile place, a missing child, a secret couched in suspicion and folklore are the simple elements that slowly coalesce to fuel our atavistic fears. Hardy weaves a web of uncertainty and unfamiliarity, sending messages of alarm and shivers of discomfort as we are drawn in to this dread-filled drama which went on to win the Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in 1979. Even that has a sense of weirdness to it.

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Of course, no one will forget the eerie soundtrack of haunting tunes written and performed by Paul Giovanni or Britt Ekland as Willow, the coyly seductive daughter of the publican. Music plays an important role in the film, often leading the narrative forward as when Willow dances naked in her bedroom. Edward Woodward goes from a confident and commanding police officer to a whimpering, doubt-ridden wreck and Christopher Lee is masterful as the flamboyant and powerful Lord Summerlisle, head of the pantheistic pagan clan.

The story is plausible. Woodward arrives to investigate a missing girl and, being a stalwart Christian bloke,  has no truck with the locals and their flimsy suspicions and Druid and Celtic Gods. But then there’s the sexual twist.  Couples make love openly in the street and Ekland offers herself to Woodward without any sense of shame and posing winsomely in ‘Baby Dolls’.  The investigation turns tricky, hampered by lack of information and anybody in the village admitting the girl’s actual existence.

Naturally, we take the Policeman’s side although he’s not altogether an appealing character or an endearing one, for that matter. The religious zeal of the locals is what starts to give a sinister twist to the proceedings as it dawns that these people will go to any lengths for their beliefs. And that, as recent history has shown us, is ultimately the most frightening element at play.

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The final shocking scenes will remain burnt to the brain cells of everyone who has ever seen this thriller.  But more than that, the universal appeal is that it raises questions that are existential and evergreen in nature and that link us to our distant past and to our future in a way that’s memorable, unnerving and relevant to all our lives today. MT

THE WICKER MAN IS NOW OUT ON BLURAY

 

 

 

Tale of Tales (2015)

Director: Matteo Garrone

Cast: Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson

125min  Fantasy Drama   Italy

Matteo Garrone’s TALE OF TALES is an orgiastic fairytale romp in sumptuous costumes far away from the real world. Based on the fables of the 16th-century Neapolitan poet and scholar Giambattista Basile, this splendid offering is an imaginative blend that echoes Beauty and the Beast, The Singing Ringing Tree, Immoral Tales, Dante’s Divine Comedia  and every other trip to fantasy that literature has offered since the beginning of time. To watch it is to surrender to a mythical realm of the senses steeped in madness, magnificence and medieval bodily fluids – a dark and sinuously sensual world of pain and wicked pleasure.

Three fables intertwine from neighbouring imagined kingdoms drawn from the Pentamerone, a 17th-century book of Neapolitan folk stories compiled by the Italian poet Giambattista Basile: In Selvascura (Dark Wood) Selma Hayek and John C Reilly play a troubled King and Queen desperate for royal offspring. Their efforts to procreate lead them to a soothsayer who offers a remedy that results in ghastly albino twins.

Meanwhile, in Roccaforte (Strong Wood), a aptly-cast Vincent Cassel plays a corrupt and sex-obsessed King who has slept with all the available maidens in his pleasure-filled kingdom. When he becomes bewitched by the singing of a old woman, who he imagines to be a sexy nubile girl, he goes in hot pursuit of his prey. When she finally agrees to entertain him during the hours of darkness, Dora (played successively by Hayley Carmichael and Stacy Martin) emerges in her full glory, to his utter horror.

In the third Kingdom, Altomonte (Top of the Mountain) a tearful and cheerful Toby Jones plays a deranged King who decides to challenge his daughter Viola’s suitors with a bizarre test involving a giant flea the size of a cinquecento, reared tenderly in his palace. You can’t imagine the horrific outcome here.

Despite this extraordinary spectacle of grotesque black comedy – some of which is quite outlandish – the tone of TALE OF TALES is completely serious and dead pan and there are clearly stark moral lessons to be learnt from the wise Basile’s writings: Selma Hayek has the ridiculous task of devouring a giant bleeding heart, with utter dedication rather than horror. And Toby Jones is simply wonderful as the detached and mournful King, offering his daughter in marriage to the man who guesses the identity of a bizarre animal hide. Peter Suschitzky’s inventive cinematography sets this fantasy world on fire and Dimitri Capuani’s set design conjures up jewel-like contrasts from glowing candlelit interiors to sun-filled set pieces where Massimo Cantini Parrini’s gorgeous cossies glow vibrantly in gem-like crimson and indigo against pristine white and woodland green. A sumptuous treat. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE  \ CANNES REVIEW 2015

Pride and Prejudice Zombies (2016) | Home Ent release

Director: Burr Steers

Cast: Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Lily James, Jack Huston, Lena Headey

107min | UK | Horror drama

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a household classic successfully adapted for screen on various occasions. Zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead have also garnered much popularity, so why not meld the two together in a lavishly mounted period romp with a solid British cast and you cannot fail to win at the box office, right?

Wrong. With the best intentions Seth Grahame-Smith has over-complicated his script for P&P Zombies: this stylish low-budget affair has all the right credentials: ravishing settings; decent actors; (Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Jack Huston) and some sumptuous costumes and accoutrements – and created a fantasy horror that imagines the appearance of zombies in the quaint 19th century location of Hertfordshire (well-known for its Wicked Lady – but she was very much alive).

Lifting vast swathes of the original page and blithely inserting the word ‘zombie’ in an opening scene, he contrives a zombie tale that pales into insignificance compared to the original, thus bleeding the film dry of any amusement with the absurd and insulting premise the aristocracy rise up and wage war on their zombie interlopers whilst the proles are ravaged to death.

Lizzie Bennet (Lily James) and Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) fall in love while trying to combat the enemy who talk and even think, making them irritating to outmoeuvre as well as difficult to quell. Despite his young age, Sam Riley’s acting chops seems to have peaked and he is sullen and buttoned in the role of Colonel Darcy, rather than dashing and suave. Lily James, meanwhile, shines as gutsy go-getter Lizzie Bennet. The straight scenes come alive thanks to a patrician Charles Dance and darkly dishy Jack Huston, but Austen devotees will not appreciate the original vixen Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Lena Headey) becoming a feisty zombie slayer in this version, which nevertheless retains its early 19th century period detail down to last bonnet with some sexy lingerie peeping through.

The problem with P&P Zombies is that not even the solid cast and Steers’ competent direction can make sense of the cumbersome and rather silly storyline which is mired down in zombies’ mess whenever it tries to offer something fresh and entertaining.  If you’re going to re-make the original then at least make it original – and entertaining. MT

OUT ON DVD | HOME ENT FROM 27 June 2016

 

Tales of Terror (1962) | blu-ray release

Director: Roger Corman  Writer: Richard Matheson

Cast: Vincent Price, Maggie Pierce, Leona Gage, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget

89min   US   Horror

Roger Corman is well known for his contribution to American independent cinema. Innovation is born out of conflict and hard times and Corman knew both in his life having grown up during the Great Depression. Thrift was his watchword and after a brief career at 20th Century Fox, he began with a debut feature Monster from the Ocean Floor (195 . Filming and producing his auteurish fare on a shoe-string budget, he always delivered on time and garnered critical acclaim from the members of the Nouvelle Vague and Cahiers du cinema: he was the youngest director to have retrospectives in London, Paris and New York and was awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 2009.

But he didn’t only feather his own cap: Martin Scorsese, Jonathan and Francis Ford Coppola all benefitted from his wisdom and experience until he became a distributer in his own production company New World Pictures in 1970. Later he took on occasional acting parts in The Godfather II and The Manchurian Candidate to name but a few, working with directors who had been his long-term collaborators.

The seven Edgar Allen Poe films he directed in lush Cinemascope for American International Pictures (the eighth The Haunted Palace was partly an H P Lovecraft story) were slightly more gung-ho in nature and built up from the original sets – a bit added each time to a monstruous mansion or spooky seascape. These three stories feature Vincent Price in Morella playing a man who is in conflict with his estranged daughter whose mother died in childbirth. Humour enters the fray in the second story, a farcical and macabre thriller, The Black Cat which features deliciously comical turns from Peter Lorre and Vincent Price as witty and winsome wine buffs who compete to the grim death and The Case of Mr Valdemar, in which a terminally man (Price) hires a hypnotherapist (a suavely sardonic Basil Rathbone) to give him pain relief and prolong his life with disastrous consequences for all concerned including his vivacious wife (Debra Paget in fine form). A highly entertaining trio. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

 

 

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | blu-ray release

Director: Roger Corman       Screenplay: Richard Matheson

Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, Antony Corbone, John Kerr, Patrick Westwood

80min   Horror   US

“The agony of my soul found vent in one loud long and final scream” Poe

There’s an ethereal and otherworldly quality to Roger Corman’s impressively mounted opening sequence to his second gothic outing. Loosely based on Poe’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, it has a young English man John Kerr (South Pacific) arriving at an eerie sixteenth century hilltop castle soaring above the choppy seas of the Palos Verdes coast, (California) to visit the grave of his sister. This Spanish themed outing is set in the aftermath to the dreaded Spanish Inquisition – a time of torture and religious persecution – hence the title. Once again Vincent Price plays a suavely elegant aesthete (Don Nicholas Sebastian Medina) deeply disturbed by a woman’s influence: his beautiful (dead) wife, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), a woman he passionately adored beyond extremes (“Life was simple, quiet; richly pleasurable”) and became obsessed with after her mysterious death. It later emerges that she was buried alive due to the error of Dr Charles Leon (a rather spivvy Antony Carbone).

Elegantly scripted by pulp writer Richard Matheson (Duel), it benefits from Floyd Crosby’s widescreen colour visuals – that frequently cut back to turbulent seascapes – and the opulently authentic set designs of Daniel Haller, which belie its modest budget. The film was shot in 15 days. Matheson constructs his own narrative for the first two acts, the third more accurately reflecting the Poe story that culminates in a horrendous denouement involving the titular instrument of torture.

This is a richly atmospheric chiller scored by Les Baxter’s cleverly composed score that hovers between high romance and spine-tingling strings. As the cursed Don Medina, Price  gradually morphs into menacing madness as Italian giallo actress Barbara Steele makes her Hollywood debut as his darkly spooky revenant wife (to benefit European distribution). The Blu-ray edition ramps up the images giving the pendulum scene an almost 3D makeover with the set design reeking of German expressionism. MT

* Superb extras include Vincent Price reading a selection of Poe stories to a live audience.

* Commentary and insight by Roger Corman on making the film

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO

 

A Haunting in Cawdor (2015)

Dir.: Phil Wurtzel

Cast: Shelby Young, Cary Elwes, Michael Welch

USA 2015, 101 min.

Writer/director Phil Wurtzel (Chameleon) tries the trusted formula of setting a horror film in a production of a classic play, in this case Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Unfortunately, he is not able to make anything memorable out of this pairing, let alone create something original.

Vivian Miller (Shelby) is part of a group of young offenders, spending time in a rural correction institution in the Midwest. Vivian has ben convicted of murder at the age of fifteen, and is on medication. The camp is run by Lawrence O’Neil (Elwes), a failed Broadway director with a murky past. Vivian (“I am afraid of what I don’t know”) is chosen to play Lady Macbeth. The reasons for her issues, as O’Neill points out to her, are “all the things you are holding inside”.

After this pop-psychology offering, Vivian finds an old tape of a Macbeth play, directed by O’Neill, where the female lead is killed by a stranger. A lamp falls from the stage ceiling, nearly killing Vivian and then Brian, one of the offenders, is found dead after an attack. One female member of the old stage play visits O’Neill, to warn him that the play is haunted. But he doesn’t listen and Vivian, who does not trust anybody in the institution, puts her trust in Roddy (Welch) the local outcast, to solve the mystery and save herself from the vengeful ghost.

What could have been at least an enjoyable horror flick with tongue-in-cheek vibes, is played straight with awful pathos and jump cuts, which frighten no one. B/w video clips are far too prevalent and dodgy colour clips of the old play are just second-hand. The cast tries in vain to escape the clichéd lines. Overall, A Haunting in Cawdor not only uses Shakespeare, but sells him woefully short. When O’Neill comes down heavily on one of the offenders for calling Shakespeare boring, with a vicious: “Shakespeare is talked about 300 years after his death, but nobody will think about you three minutes after your death”, he is unwittingly drawing a parallel with himself. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 OCTOBER 2015

The Skull (1965) | DVD BLU

Director: Freddie Francis

Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Patrick Magee

97min | Horror | UK

THE SKULL opens with a scene as creaky as the skeletons who haunt its graveyard setting. But don’t be dismayed, this soon morphs into first class Horror due to a some fiendish tropes and a stylish cast of sterling British acting talent in the shape of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett and Patrick Magee. Director, Freddie Francis took the story and adapted it with Milton Subotsky from Robert Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”. This literary underpinning gives the film considerable gravitas and a certain piquance particularly when the real descendants of the French nobleman complained about the original title The Skull of the Marquis de Sade – whereupon it became known as THE SKULL.

Peter Cushing plays Dr Maitland, a collector of rare and occult antiques who is offered a skull – purportedly that of the French nobleman – by Richard Widmark’s slightly disreputable but debonair dealer, Marco. A series of murders ensue and appear to be connected to the skull which possesses strange powers during certain phases of the moon whereupon the object literally glows with a ghastly spectral pallor in some scenes. The film features a stylised noirish dream sequence that takes place in a courtroom and is directed with much skill and panache by Francis with the help of John Wilcox (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and is enhanced by a percussive score from Elisabeth Lutyens, the first woman to compose music for British feature films and daughter of Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Francis was a talented director whose skills ranged from early sixties Sci-fi with The Day of the Triffids to horror outings such as Tales of the Crypt, Paranoiac and The Ghoul . He also offered his talents as a cinematographer on more mainstream hits such as The Elephant Man, Cape Fear and Dune. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY | DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA FILM AND VIDEO ON 26 OCTOBER 2015

 

Videodrome (1983) | 4-disc DVD | Blu-ray release

Writer|Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Combining the bio-horror elements of his earlier films whilst anticipating the technological themes of his later work, VIDEODROME exemplifies Cronenberg’s extraordinary talent for making both visceral and cerebral cinema.

Max Renn (James Woods) is looking for fresh new content for his TV channel when he happens across some illegal S&M-style broadcasts called ‘Videodrome’. Embroiling his girlfriend Nicki (Debbie Harry) in his search for the source, his journey begins to blur the lines between reality and fantasy as he works his way through sadomasochistic games, shady organisations and body transformations stunningly realised by the Oscar-winning makeup effects artist Rick Bakeailed by his contemporaries John Carpenter and Martin Scorsese as a genius, VIDEODROME, was Cronenberg’s most mature work to date and still stands as one of his greatest.

In this 1983 cult classic Cronenberg outing, James Woods is the standout and Debbie Harry is convincing as his sexually experimental girlfriend in a visually audacious and stunningly disorienting drama that sees the director exploring dangerous sexuality and technological obsessions in collaboration with his cinematographer Mark Irwin. Howard Shore’s haunting score strikes a conjures up a similar atmosphere of dread as Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind achieved in The Shining 

OUT ON SPECIAL FORMAT DVD | Blu-ray digipak | 10th August 2015 | Courtesy of ARROW

4 disc pack includes short films Transfer (1966) & From the Drain (1967) and newly restored early features Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). Alongside a wealth of archival content, this lavish new edition will feature a stunning newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the unrated version of Videodrome, approved by both Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin.

The DVD includes new documentaries – David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme, a documentary programme featuring interviews with Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Alex Cox on Cronenberg’s cinema, censorship and the horror genre and Forging the New Flesh, a documentary programme by filmmaker Michael Lennick on Videodrome’s video and prosthetic make up effects.

Other features on the discs include brand new interviews with cinematographer Mark Irwin and producer Pierre David, alongside the feature AKA Jack Martin in which Dennis Etchison, author of novelizations of Videodrome, Halloween, Halloween II and III and The Fog, discusses Videodrome and his observations of Cronenberg’s script.

CAMERA (2000) Cronenberg’s short film starring Videodrome’s Les Carlson will also feature on the discs bonus content alongside the complete uncensored Samurai Dreams footage with additional Videodrome broadcasts with optional commentary by Michael Lennick. Two additional featurettes by Michael Lennick, Helmet Test and Betamax, which look at the effects featured in the film will be also be included.

Therapy for a Vampire | Der Vampir auf der Couch (2014) | Edinburgh Film Festival

Writer|Director: David Rühm

Cast Tobias Moretti, Jeanette Hain, Cornelia Ivancan, Dominic Oley, Kark Fischer

87min  Gothic Horror   Austria

Austrian auteur David Ruhm adds a stylish and witty contribution to the blood-bloated canon of the Vampire genre here with a Freudian-themed thirties pastiche THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE.

In his Viennese consulting rooms in 1911, Dr Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) is conducting an early experiment using Art Therapy to explore his patients’ dreams. Naturally, given the title, one of his most illustrious patients is experiencing some challenging ‘issues’. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) is suffering from a generalised ennui: having lived for thousands of years, he’s simply tired of life and the sex with his wife, the strikingly sultry Gräffin Elsa (Jeanette Hain) has simply lost its bite. He is also haunted by the premature death, centuries earlier, of his true love, Nabila.  When he sees a portrait of a woman painted by Viktor (Dominic Oley), Freud’s inhouse artist, he is struck by a mysterious ‘deja-vu’ between the subject of the painting, Lucy (Viktor’s girlfriend played by Cornelia Ivancan), and his own long lost lover.

Back in their bijoux castle in the wooded suburbs of Vienna, Count Geza enthuses over Viktor’s artistic skills to the emotionally needy and narcissistic Graffin Elsa, who is having serious problems with her image. Unable to see herself in a mirror, she implores Count to commission Viktor to paint her portrait.

Rühm has crafted two very appealing vampires here, who are not only stylish and drôle but also have lost none of their dark weirdness, in echoes of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, although this is a far more stylised drama. Drinking blood from transfusions they are able to define the exact profile of their victims – young Virgin, aged Diabetic – and so on – without the inconvenience and mess of blood spurts and uncontrollable haemorrhaging on their beautifully hand-tailored attire. They are endowed with all the traditional Vampire capabilities of bestial transformation, they quail away from crosses, garlic and wooden stakes but they also embody the more playful attributes of irony and self-parody as seen in The Munsters. But it is their obsession with counting objects that is their final downfall.

Beautifully-crafted and sumptuously staged, the success of Rühm’s Gothic horror piece lies in this combination of sinister weirdness and seriously dark humour, and there are some unexpected quirky laugh out loud moments that make this really entertaining. And although it never fully explores the Freudian premise, it pays homage to the legendary therapist in its themes of unrequited love, vanity and sexual obsession. Performances are consistently good: the two female leads are far from pliant, adding a foxy feminist streak to their Gothic horror credentials. Viktor is sensitive and appealing and Count Geza sneeringly wicked and elegantly masculine.  MT

THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE | EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 28 JUNE 2015

Spring (2014)

Directors: Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead

Writer: Justin Benson, Caste: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar, Shane Brady, Francesco Carnelutti

104mins   US    Horror/Sci-fi

You can run but you can’t hide, is the message that American Co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead deliver in this curio. Their low budget indie mix of mumblecore and mystery takes place in a picturesque seaside cove in Apulia (southern Italy) where a recently-bereaved American (Evan) has fetched up following his mother’s death and a string of bad luck back home. Almost at once he strikes up a relationship with a strange and sultry local girl whose enigmatic behaviour is the recipe for a ‘head over heels’ love affair.

Lou Taylor Pucci is compelling as the naive chancer who strays into Paradise and gets more than he bargained for. Finding a job and a billet with a local olive farmer (an unconvincing and poorly-drawn sketch of what Americans imagine Italian country life to be), Evan pursues his elusive paramour Louise with a vengeance. Meanwhile, she is struggling with a rare ‘skin disease’ that requires her to drink the blood of local cats and even her pet rabbits. As Louise, Nadia Hilker’s ill-pitched American twang and foxy confidence take a great deal away from her character’s potential mystique, making her feel more like the ubiquitous teen vampires of recent dramas rather than an intriguing European muse. What’s more, Evan is so lacking in any direction or judgement on this aimless jaunt, that he is prepared to tune out of reality and take Louise’s perpetual signals to back off (is she a ‘vampire, werewolf, zombie, witch or alien’): he just rolls over like a proverbial lamb to the slaughter.

Moorhead’s bleached out visuals contrast and alternate with occasional vibrant frames which, combined with shaky camerawork, are intended to create a sense of disorientation, but just feel ill-advised and slapdash and special effects echo Aliens. And despite a theme of recurring insect close-ups and a crypt vignette, the filmmakers disregarded the naturally sinister locale that could have added so much more by way of texture and atmosphere . Sharply-scripted early scenes give way to slackness in the later stages: conversations between Louise and Evan lose their acuity and pithiness, descending into endless ‘folkloric’ nonsense. All in all, this feels more like a teenage boys’s ‘wet dream’ territory with Sci-fi undertones than affectingly immersive and spooky Gothic horror. MT

THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014

The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death (2014)

Director: Tom Harper

Writers: John Croker from the novel by Susan Hill

Cast: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox, Leanne Best, Ned Dennehy, Andrian Rawlins

98min   UK   Thriller

Tom Harper’s well-crafted adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel fails to inject any real fear into our hearts despite brave attempts and a sterling British cast of talent. True to the book, John Croker places his narrative in the midst of the Second World War and, in particular, the Blitz, a time when school children were being evacuated from London to the provinces. His select group of kiddies are led in their well-polished StartRight shoes to an abandoned mansion appropriately located in atmospheric marshland somewhere in East Anglia. But Eel Marsh House is already occupied dark presence far more disturbing than Germans Bombs. Placed in the care of a sensitive young student Eve (Phoebe Fox), who appears to have mental problems of her own, and a strict and uncompromising School Mistress, Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory), their new home is by no means the cosy bolthole they were hoping for.

Harper carefully contrives the cold and haunting ambience at Eel Marsh House with a series of appropriately ghoulish props and spooky sound effects that attempt to chill us to the bone at regular intervals. But gradually we become inured to the well-worn Gothic Horror tropes: creaking floorboards, howling winds and judiciously-placed shoes at the bottom of curtains. The marshy location of is wonderfully evocative and miserably melancholy and each characters’ fears are played upon to conjure up their own private Hell in on Earth here, evoking the presence of darkness embodied by the restless ghost of the house. Helen McCory produces another winning portrait of stiff-upper-lipped pragmatism as the hard-bitten School Mistress and Phoebe Fox, who starts as a gentle and calming presence for the children, gradually reveals her troubled side as she falls for Jeremy Irvine’s failed fighter pilot, Harry Burnstow, who have issues of his own to deal with. Irvine is convincing as the dashing young airman, broken and destroyed by the tough responsibilities of wartime leadership. But the story more or less ends there.

Ultimately Harper fails to bring any fresh spookiness to his film and the storyline has no real dramatic tension beyond the odd scary moment; the dramatic punch is derived more from the pathos and anguish we feel for the individuals and their plights and this does illicit a haunting feeling, in the true sense of the word. In fact, THE WOMAN IN BLACK works best as a tribute to those who suffered emotionally and mentally during wartime, as a contrast to the many stories of physical injuries and death that more often come to light in the War genre. As such, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is more of a psychological thriller than a true horror or ghost story.

That said, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is worth watching for its excellence performances from a solid British cast. A worthy tribute then to the Second World War and to the great British House of Hammer, the producer, being it’s first equel since Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JANUARY 2015

The Man in the Orange Jacket (2014)

Writer: Aik KARAPETIAN

Producer(s): Roberts VINOVSKIS (Locomotive Productions)
Cast: Maxim Lazarev, Anta Aizupe, Aris Rozentals

71min   Latvia/Estonia   Cult thriller

Although Latvian cinema is not well-known, one of the legendary directors, Sergei Eisenstein (Ivan The Terrible) was born in Latvia when it was still part of the Russian Empire and the first Latvian feature film, Lacplesis, was released in 1930. After the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940, Vilis Lapenieks (The Fisherman’s Son) became an internationally-acclaimed director and during this time the cinema was mainly a propaganda tool to depict the benefits of Sovietism. During the fifties, artistic expression flourished with increased funded from Goskino, the Soviet State Committee for Cinematography and after the country’s independence in 1991, the most successful directors were Janis Streics, Janis Putnins, Viesturs Kairiss and Laila Pakalnina, a winner of several international awards at Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ in 1998 for Kurpe (The Shoes) and a contender for the Berlinale ‘Golden Bear’ in 2006 for short film Udens (The Water).

With its pared-down minimalism and finely tined moments of cognitive dissonance The Man In The Orange Jacket is a promising if chilling introduction to contemporary Latvian cult horror from Armenian-born director, Aik Karapetian. In a vast shipyard somewhere along the Baltic coast, a wealthy shipyard owner has just made 200 workers redundant. But one of his victims is unwilling to accept his fate. Tracking down his former boss to his extenuative and beautifully furnished country mansion, he sadistically murders him and his young girlfriend within minutes of the opening titles. Setting up residence in the villa he then assumes the lifestyles of its unfortunate owner, wearing his clothes and enjoying his wine cellar and pantry. With minimal dialogue, slow motion sequences and a atmospheric soundtrack that’s both brooding and blood-curdling, Karapetian evokes a ambience of unsettling terror as the murderer descends into a world of paranoia, hovering between reality and a dreamlike demi-monde where he consorts with prostitutes, imagines sightings of a man in an orange jacket across and frozen lake and receives a visit from one of his victim’s business colleagues.

Despite the its well-worn horror tropes, this is a slick and well-crafted debut with some suggestive visual compositions and inventive touches particularly with sound: the gurgling of a woman drowning in her own blood is particularly evocative. Newcomer Maxim Lazarev gives a capable turn as the baby-faced psychopath in a thriller that combines elements of mystery, horror and cult cinema.

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014

 

Blackwood (2013)

Director: Adam Wimpenny

Cast: Grey Wise,

Gothic horror/Fantasy

With a modest budget, a respectable cast of minor British acting talent and a quaint Oxfordshire setting, Adam Wimpenny has made a piece of fantasy horror that looks rather good.

It has Ed Stoppard as Ben Marshall, a high-flying Oxford professor whose recent mental breakdown has forced him into a less pressurised role in a minor university. With his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and young son Harry (Isaac Andrews), he hopes the change will help him recover and save their marriage and family life. But their move to Blackwood, a deserted manor house deep in the English countryside, gets off to a inauspicious start after a series of unsettling things that go bump in the night, and during the daytime too.

Local vicar Father Patrick (Paul Kaye) doesn’t exactly calm Ben’s fears by suggesting that the house may indeed be haunted by the victim of an unsolved murder. Their neighbour Jack (Russell Tovey), an ex-soldier, doesn’t instil Ben’s confidence either: he too is suffering emotional trauma. But it’s the arrival of Rachel’s flirty ex, Dominic (Greg Wise), that finally sends Ben into turmoil-  suggesting that he may be cracking up again.

Cinematographer Dale McReady does a brilliant job of lensing this good-looking Britflic with its Autumnal hues and lush countryside. Gorgeously shot on digital 35mm, Blackwood has the feel of a much more expensive production. Lorne Balfe’s atmospheric score also conjurs up some very unsettling vibes deep in the shires.

The problem is the story and characters feel very predictable, pushing all the right buttons, but staying in very safe territory narrative-wise: weird animal masks; lightening flashes; clocks that stop and start; mentally unstable loners: these cliches all are all textbook tropes in the horror arsenal, so Blackwood doesn’t feel very scary. The cast perform their tricks well, but they are predominantly known for their TV work; making this feel very much like a decent episode of ‘Midsomer Murders’.

So, Blackwood is a reasonable and well-made debut but let’s hope that Adam Wimpenny will really set the night on fire with something really different next time around. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 AUGUST 2014

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013) East End Film Festival 2014

Directors: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani     Writers: Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet

Cast: Klaus Tange, Ursula Bedena, Joe Koener

102 mins  French, Dutch   Origin: Belgium, France, Luxembourg  Colour and Black and White  Thriller

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In their new film The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, co-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani build upon the giallo-inflected style and themes of their previous work, considerably upping the ante to create an even headier mix of colour, sound, sex, fetish and murder. To some it will be intoxicating, to others nauseating. This is cinema as visceral experience. The enigmatic story at its centre concerns Dan Kristensen (a blank but effective Klaus Tange) and his attempts to discover the whereabouts of his missing wife. As the film begins, we witness Dan asleep on an airplane, the camera creeping slowly towards his eyes. Is everything that follows a dream? It certainly feels like a nightmare made flesh.

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is horror by way of the avant-garde, a spell of uneasy atmosphere, a vision full of Anger. The frame of the screen dissects alongside the (often sexualised) bodies it shows us, the split-screen images becoming mirrored, kaleidoscopic, double exposed. New faces form out of extreme close-ups of multiple actors, and strong colours mix with negative images and black and white stills brought to life through stop motion pixilation. Combining, as they do, such a breath-taking barrage of visual tricks with an equally active soundtrack, Cattet and Forzani certainly risk overloading their viewers. But the effect also imbues the film with a dense dreamlike atmosphere, mirrored in the fractured intensity and surrealist logic of the narrative itself. At one point, Dan becomes trapped in a loop of false awakenings, the visuals repeating, making us feel his pain: just as he is trapped, so are we. There are hints elsewhere that maybe his wife too felt trapped – in her marriage to Dan – and the film can perhaps be taken as a metaphorical examination of entrapment, with us, as viewers, also trapped within the confines of the screen.

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But this is storytelling placed through a Surrealist blender. Narratives within narratives begin to form, and it seems storytelling itself might be the subject. The walls – of the apartment and of the cinema – come alive with the sounds of heavy breathing. People hold stethoscopes against ceilings and peer through holes they have drilled. Voyeurism, yes, but perhaps also watching and listening, trying to make sense of the stories forming around them. One story, told to Dan by a detective, is pointedly cut short by Dan asking ‘What does that have to do with my wife?’ It seems there is a dark humour at play here too. The film may be a game. Certainly, it is a challenge. Events are fractured and told in close up, so even the screen space isn’t clear. Faced with such an onslaught, how are we, as viewers, meant to decode it? Or aren’t we? Multiple meanings proliferate, but perhaps we are simply meant to experience it.

But as the rich, layered and decadent experience continues, a new question arises: what is it all amounting to? And then the film begins to drag, and the feeling increases. Another iris dilates in close-up, and the effect slips towards the comical (and the tedious). Interpretation slides further away from us. But, nevertheless, the overall experience remains visceral, exciting and experimental. Coming at us in a world (and a genre) where the same old clichés are thrown out time and time again, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is, ultimately, refreshing and invigorating filmmaking.  ALEX BARRETT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 APRIL 2014 and during the EEFF 2014

 

 

 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director/Writer: Jim Jarmusch | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska

Jim Jarmusch adds another dimension to the vampire genre with this quirky tale of centuries-old lovers Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton). Still blissfully inseparable despite living in different corners of the globe; Eve is in exoticly bohemian Tangiers, Adam in rain-washed mo-town Detroit. Their long lives and artistic leanings have allowed them acquaintances from Pythagoras to Bryon and Shelley and they share an intimate command of literature, science and music while taking pleasure in daintily imbibing the purest blood (sourced through medical contacts) from cut-crystal glasses.

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There is nothing sinister or threatening about Jarmusch’s light-hearted luvvies in this droll comedy of social mores with its langorous pacing:  These are elegant, uber-vampires of considerable finesse whose own artistic endeavours have been the inspiration for Schubert and Shakespeare: Eve is still on personal terms with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) who lives nearby. Despite their rather ridiculous names they are coltish, cool and extremely cultured.  While visiting Detroit (on a first-class night flight from Tangiers, naturally) Eve dreams of her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who then blows from LA to disturb their loved- up twilight reverie with her intrusive irritating chatter. After threatening to empty their coffers of precious supplies of pristine blood, she queers the pitch with Adam’s assistant ‘zombie’ (Anton Yelchin).

Eventually, the runs out of steam. Jarmusch attempts to inject a serious twist to proceedings as it bleeds to death but by this stage our exhausted protagonists are finding (as we are) the going rather hard: the two-hour running time feels far longer. The lovers offer a fascinating perspective on the last thousand year captured in widescreen cityscapes, an atmospheric soundtrack of electronic and Renaissance lute music and the captivating performances of the gently-spoken leads. MT

NOW ON MUBI

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1921) DVD/Blu

securedownloadDir.: Fritz Lang; Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Alfred Abel, Aud Egede Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Bernhard Goetzke, Robert Forster-Larrinaga, Paul Richter;

Deutschland 1921/2, 270 min (2 Parts)

Scripted by Lang and his wife Thea van Harbou together with the author of the original novel Norbert Jacques, this is the first of Lang’s trilogy of Mabuse films. In 1932 he filmed Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, which was banned a year later by the Nazis, whilst Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960) was Lang’s last feature, produced in Germany after his return from the USA.

Looked at superficially, DR MABUSE DER SPIELER is a sensationalist movie: Dr. Mabuse is is a man with many faces (literally), he slips easily into different identities, he can be an expert of the stock market, lectures about psychoanalysis and is equally at home as an scientist. But all he wants is power and money, and he uses his girl friend, the dancer Cara Carozza, to get to the moneyed Hull, whom he puts under hypnosis and robs him of millions at an illegal gaming club. Later he puts Count Todd under hypnosis, to make him cheat in the same club, than he kidnaps his wife. In the second part of the film, Dr. Mabuse is a psychoanalyst, hounding his rich clients into suicide. In the end, he acts as a magician on  stage, and tries to lure Wenk, his arch enemy and public prosecutor, onto the stage, to hypnotise him too.

Dr. Mabuse is not so much interested in wealth or status, but we wants to denounce the state and all it stands for. He sees himself as a creator, even though his actions are destructive. He is an evil romantic, trying to become the “Übermensch”. He is the star of his own great play, but not interested in power itself, but only in permanent destruction. This way he has to prove himself over and over again, continually finding new ways to show his superiority. He is fascinated by himself, by his status as a super star, inventing permanently a new stage for dramatic appearances. He does not really wear masks, he is one.

Aesthetically DR MABUSE DER SPIELER is somewhere between ‘Dr, Caligari’ and ‘M’, meaning that the expressionism of certain shots is reigned in by an overall feel for realism. The trap doors and theatrical tricks are very much make-believe, but the reality of the Weimar Republic, the fear of total chaos, the poverty and the political rivalry are very much real. It is interesting in this context, that Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou was an early Nazi sympathizer (she would work actively in Nazi Germany, whilst Lang emigrated to the USA), the director himself being somewhat on the left.

The film if often seen as an allegory on the early days of fascism, seeing the Mabuse character as an early incarnation of Hitler, but knowing about the different political leanings of the film’s creators, one wonders how much of this is true. Nevertheless, DR MABUSE THE SPIELER is a monumental work, which entertains and surprises the viewer at every turn – like the enigmatic Mabuse himself, the film is never quite what we think it is. AS

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Available to pre-order from:

Amazon (SteelBook Blu-ray) http://amzn.to/16CPmGh (Blu-ray) http://amzn.to/19PbNEh

The Hut (SteelBook Blu-ray) http://tidd.ly/4c81fee3 (Blu-ray) http://tidd.ly/d84bd855

MovieMail (SteelBook Blu-ray) http://bit.ly/1bVvOxL (Blu-ray) http://bit.ly/16CPqWi


SPECIAL FEATURES

• New, officially licensed transfer from restored HD materials

• New and improved optional English subtitles with original intertitles

• Exclusive feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat

• Three video pieces: an interview with the composer of the restoration score, a discussion of Norbert Jacques, creator of Dr. Mabuse, and an examination of the film’s motifs in the context of German silent cinema

• 32-PAGE BOOKLET featuring vintage reprints of writing by Lang

Gothic: The Dark Heart Of Film October/November 2013

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Madeline Smith (Theatre of Blood), Charlie Higson (King of the Ants), Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentleman) and Jane Goldman (scriptwriter) sharing some Gothic moments from their childhood at the press conference for GOTHIC: THE DARK HEART OF FILM that runs at the BFI Southbank until early in 2014.

Dracula (1958) *** On DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Terence Fisher

Script: Jimmy Sangster (Bram Stoker)    

Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt

UK                                    84mins                     1958             Horror 

Terence Fisher came to filmmaking extraordinarily late, directing his first feature at the grand old age of 43, through the J Arthur Rank Studios. And he helmed a fair few films with some notable stars such as Jean Simmons, Dirk Bogarde and Herbert Lom.

However, his big break came when in 1957, Hammer Studios asked him to direct a remake of Frankenstein, aged 52. The Curse of Frankenstein was a box office smash, sealing his fate as the horror go-to guy for the rest of his career. This Hammer debut also created bankable careers of Cushing and Lee, who reunited for Dracula the same year, made also basically for peanuts.

John Van Eyssen plays Jonathan Harker, the man on a mission to kill Dracula under the pretence of being a librarian employed by Lee’s Count Dracula to catalogue his extensive library. When the cavalry fails, it’s Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing who goes in to clear up the mess. 

The film has definitely aged, in terms of style and content. The acting style is more theatrical than today’s tastes will allow for without parody and, by today’s standards, the content is staid, the effects naïve, but the power and commitment of the performances, particularly Cushing and Lee are undeniable. At the time of its release, this kind of horror with attendant bloodletting was revolutionary and caused quite a stir. Something almost unthinkable now, when one considers the gallons of blood used in Chainsaw Massacre 3D, or the Saw franchise.

It is however heartening to see that it has been singled out for restorative treatment for many more generations to enjoy. I’ve no idea what sort of condition the original was in and there are still a few places at which one can tell the film must have been in a parlous state, but in the main, it feels very fresh and clean. The two disk DVD has an armoury of extras, including alternative versions of the full film. I suspect in the end this may be one for the interested and the collector, but a fine piece of work nevertheless by filmmakers, cast and restorers alike.

A classic then, but a classic ‘B’ horror, not on a par with a Lawrence Of Arabia say, so not without interest, but it was never made to look classy. This is Hammer House of Horror’s Dracula, after all, for Satan’s Sake. AT

DRACULA IS OUT ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

FOUR BRAND NEW FEATURETTES.

DRACULA REBORN. New 30 min. featurette about the film’s creation and history, featuring, among others: Jimmy Sangster, Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby and Janina Faye (Tania in the film).

RESURRECTING DRACULA; New 20 min. featurette about the film’s restoration, from the BFI’s 2007 restoration through to the integration of “lost” footage, featuring interviews with key staff at the BFI, Molinare and Deluxe142. Also covers the February 2012 world premiere of Hammer’s interim restored version including “vox pop” interviews with fans after the event.

THE DEMON LOVER: CHRISTOPHER FRAYLING ON DRACULA  New 30 min. featurette.

CENSORING DRACULA; New 10 min. featurette on the original cuts to the film ordered by the British Board of Film Censors.

 


Vampyr (1932) 90 Anniversary Blu-ray release

Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Fantasy Horror | 83 mins

Deep, dark and undeniably disturbing Carl Dreyer’s 1932 experimental feature based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘In A Glass Darkly’ was actually financed by the main actor, Baron Gunzberg.

As young traveller Allan Grey, he comes across an old castle in the village of Courtempierre and decides to stay there, entranced by a series of weird and inexplicable events that capture his imagination or is it his imagination?:  A grim figure carrying a scythe, a ghastly landlady who appears at nightfall, shadowy figures flitting across walls, revolving sculls and a nightmare where he is buried alive. Events come to a head when the elderly squire of the village voices his fears for the safety of his young daughters and gives him a strange parcel to be opened after his impending death.  According to local folklore, souls of the unscrupulous haunt the village as vampires, preying upon young people in their endless thirst for blood.

Dreyer evokes an eerie and supernatural beauty to all this as the camera sweeps gracefully across luminously-lit rooms and chiaroscuro passages in the ancient castle. Curiously disembodied shadows counterbalanced by a soundtrack of strange voices, primal screams and periods of unsettling silence add to the feeling of otherwordliness. To create the curious half-light, filming took place during the early hours of misty dawn with a lens black cloth.

The performances are really strong considering the only professional involved was a household servant. Sybille Schmitz as daughter Leone, gives a bloodcurdling series of expressions when she realises her vampire fate ranging from abject fear and misery through to madness and finally menace (see clip). Grey’s burial scene is also eerily evocative as he looks up through wild and staring eyes as the lid is screwed down on his coffin and a candle is lit on the small window above and he is carried through the streets looking up at the drifting clouds and lacy treescapes on the way to his macabre interment.  This is a film that stays to haunt you a long time after the Gothic titles have rolled.  MT

90th Anniversary Blu-ray release through www.mastersofcinema.com 

 

 

 

 

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