Posts Tagged ‘Arthouse horror’

Boris Karloff: The Man behind the Monster (2021)

Dir: Thomas Hamilton, Wri: Ron MacCloskey | With Caroline Munro, Guillermo del Toro, Ron Perlman, Christopher Plummer, Peter Bogdanovich, Stephanie Powers, John Landis, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Sara Karloff | US Doc, 99′

Ron MacCloskey has poured 23 years of his life into this comprehensive 99 minute romp through the life and times of Boris Karloff, directed by co-writer Thomas Hamilton and based on the 2010 biography ‘Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster’ by Karloff’s official biographer Stephen Jacobs.

Enlivened by copious clips and archive material, the film takes us through the early years of Karloff’s debut in the 1920s, his breakthrough as Universal’s ‘monster’ Frankenstein during the 1930s and ’40s, up until to death in 1969, after a dazzling career as one of the icons of horror cinema – along with Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Vincent Price.

Although best known for his ‘monster’ roles Karloff was also a fully fledged actor of stage and radio: his mellow bass voice, saturnine looks and striking bone structure lending itself well to a multitude of characters. Far from just a sinister, terrifying screen presence Karloff also exuded masterful integrity, and even managed to be vulnerable in many of his horror roles, notably in Frankenstein itself where as a creepy but kindly creature he is befriended by seven-year-old Maria (Marilyn Harris) who he subsequently throws into the lake.

A little top heavy on talking heads: the most entertaining here are Joe Dante, John Landis, and Roger Corman although a laconic Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, and Christopher Plummer also have their say sharing their extensive knowledge on the subject of Karloff’s career which spanned 150 films. Clearly Karloff made a big impression on his audiences; daughter Sara waxes lyrical with gratitude to her father’s considerable fan base: memorabilia and personal letters continue to flood in, 50 odd years after the actor’s death.

Film-wise most intriguing of Karloff’s appearances are in The Black Cat (1934), The Body Snatcher (1945) Isle of the Dead (1945); Howard Hawks prison thriller The Criminal Code (1930) and George Schaefer’s made for TV version of Joan of Arc, The Lark (1957) in which he stars as Bishop Cauchon alongside alongside Eli Wallach, Basil Rathbone and Denholm Elliott.

The Man Behind the Monster serves as a vigorous and definitive tribute to Karloff himself and traces back through the history of horror cinema in the early part of the 20th century, and although production values could have been stronger, the meat on the bone is certainly enjoyable. MT


The Tag-Along (2015) ** UK Taiwan Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Cheng Wei-hao; Cast: Wei-ning Hsu, River Huang, Liu Yin-Shang, Ming Hua-Pai; Taiwan 2015, 93 min.

Cheng Wei-hao’s horror flick is a decent debut feature but horrific it is not. Based on an old rural myth and written by Shih-Keng Chien, it set up Wei-Hao up for greater things, including a sequel, Tag Along II (2017), which scored at the box office. While the original is low on thrills, its horror elements being far too benighted,  monsters being rather too benign, Ko-Chin Chen’s atmospheric camerawork help to keep us all interested.

Estate agent Wei (Huang) lives with his grandmother Ho Wen (Shang), who spoils him rotten. His long-time DJ girlfriend Shen(Hsu) is keen on her independence Wei wants to marry and have children. The feature opens with a ‘Missing Persons’ poster of Wei’s auntie Shui (Pai), one of many who suddenly disappear. But in her case, she returns seemingly unharmed, only for Ho Wen to disappear under stranger circumstances, involving a girl in a red dress. Wei meanwhile has mortgaged his grandmother’s house to buy a luxury apartment in order to keep Shen on side, but it has the opposite effect, and then Wei disappears with his grandmother later re-appearing. Shen discovers Wei in the depths of the forest, where he is captured by evil-doers the guise of babies and monkeys.

All well and good but certainly not remotely scary and the mixture of hyper realism and horror fails to catch fire: the creepy little critters are more cute than frightening. Finally, the finale is like an advert for marriage and childbearing, somehow spoiling a diffuse project even more. 

Tag-Along II is more of the same with the director, scriptwriter and DoP collaborating once again. This follow-up sees four women in search of their missing children; again the emphasis and directive is on childbearing: any women not taking part will be punished. Needless to say the ending opens the possibility for a third part. AS


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.

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