Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Monday: The White Dawn

I asked my friends on my Facebook page to recommend movies for me to review, now that I've posted all the archived ones from 2008-2010. Many good suggestions were made, and I decided to start with a film I'd never even heard of before: the 1974 action/drama The White Dawn.

The White Dawn is directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, the underrated Philip Kaufman, and stars the always-enjoyable Warren Oates, as well as Louis Gossett Jr. and Timothy Bottoms, as three whalers in the late 19th century who, after they capsize their boat, find themselves stranded and are taken in by a native Inuit tribe.

The film opens in black and white, using a grainy, older version of the Paramount logo (an unusual touch) and a newsreel-esque prologue (complete with old school iris ins and outs, also in black and white), explaining what whaling consisted of during this time.

Thanks to Warren Oates' Billy's carelessness, the small boat he, Daggett (Bottoms) and Portagee (Gossett) are hunting in overturns, and they have to crawl onto the icy land nearby. You get an idea of what kind of movie this is going to be right from the beginning, when a fourth whaler, walking along with Daggett and Portagee, simply collapses from exhaustion and cold, and the other keep walking, not giving their companion a second look.

As someone who hates the cold weather like I do, this opening scene is...well, chilling. Icicles form on the beards of all the men, and in one close up you can even see them on Bottoms' eyelashes.
This is a cold, hard land: the tribe that finds these strange men wastes no time stripping the dead man of all his possessions, leaving his naked corpse on the ice as they carry the other three back to their village. Once there, they mock these strangers as "dog children", but nevertheless feed them and nurse them back to health.

Daggett, the youngest, seems the most interested in learning from the Eskimos who have taken him in, while Billy wants nothing more than to leave as soon as possible. In the meantime, he makes every effort to one-up these people, like arranging wrestling matches (Portagee beats a husky young man from a neighboring tribe, much to the everyone's dismay after Billy engages in a bit of trash-talking). Billy also talks about returning to "civilization" and then coming back to exploit the tribe for profit.
The White Dawn was shot entirely on location, with real Inuit tribes, not actors, so much of what you see seems to real--which means there's a lot of animal-killing on display: a polar bear*, a seal, and a goose (in a particularly gruesome, zombie movie-ish scene) all get it, and while of course that's simply what life is when you're living out in the wild, it didn't make the movie easy to watch.

Daggett eventually falls in love with a native girl (how anyone event thinks of sex in this brutally cold climate is beyond me), and begins to believe he could stay with the tribe for the rest of his life.

For their part, Billy starts to lose it, as does Portagee. The tribe starts to believe the spirits of dead animals are rising, and a respected shaman believes they are cursed, departing the tribe.
This causes things to get even worse between the tribe and the men, and among the men themselves. I don't want to spoil the film's ending, suffice it to say the tribe, in its attempt to rid itself of the "dog children", will never be the same.

The White Dawn is a particularly hard film to recap, because its not really about plot: sure, there's a through line, but the film is really more about little moments, subtle realizations and the interplay between people. Its not a fun film to watch, by any stretch of the imagination.

But it is wonderfully acted and directed, and presents a compelling story about an extreme clash of cultures. Also, you have to admire a film crew willing to shoot a film in an unforgiving climate like this: you have to really want to tell this story just to even try and make a movie like this. I'm sure if this script (based on a book, supposedly from a true story) was pitched nowadays, studio execs would say "Can't we move it somewhere more commercial, like Hawaii? Let's call it 'Hula Dawn'!"

I'm going to try and post a new film review every Monday, so if you want to make a recommendation, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page. Thanks!

This week's film suggested by Dan O'Connor!

(*I am relieved to learn, via director Philip Kaufman's audio commentary track, that the polar bear death scene is fake)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Film Review: Black Sabbath - 2010

The last of the series of movie reviews I did for an earlier, now-defunct blog. Good thing I went out on a winner...

This month's movie is the 1963 anthology Black Sabbath, "hosted" by and starring Boris Karloff!

Made in Italy by Mario Bava, apparently this film was vastly fiddled with for its American release. The version I saw is the original, subtitled-in-English Italian one, titled I Tre Volti Della Paura:
This film opens with a wonderfully vivid, hyper-colorful shot of Boris Karloff, standing, apparently, on the edge of a dimensional vortex:
Boris does his typical (but still entertaining!) slightly-humorous-yet-creepy style of introduction, warning us of the scary stuff we're about to see.

The first segment is called "The Telephone", and it stars the ravishing Michele Mercier. Coming home after an evening out, Mercier's Rosy answers the phone, but no one's on the other end.

The phone rings again, with the same result. Finally, when it rings a third time, Rosy is told that she's being watched. Not only that: she will die tonight!
What follows is a trip through Rosy's quickly crumbling sanity, as the man on the other end--an ex-lover named Frank, now escaped from jail--is apparently able to see Rosy and everything she does.

Finally, Rosy calls a friend, Mary, who she hasn't spoken to in years, apparently ending the relationship on bad terms. Mary is a bit smug about Rosy calling her again, but after Rosy's pleading, she agrees to come over.

Mary arrives, and its fairly clear that this relationship is a little more than just a friendship, though in 1963 this could really only be hinted at. Mary stays the night (in the same bed, yet) to comfort Rosy.

Morning arrives, and Mary is writing a letter as Rosy is still sleeping. Mary confesses that she has been waiting for years to hear from Rosy. Unfortunately, she's there just as Frank breaks into the house...and for those of you haven't seen the movie, I'll leave it at that.

The second story is "The Wurdulak", starring Boris Karloff. Set in an undetermined time and place, a young man on horseback wanders into a tiny village, and meets a family haunted by the vampire-like Wurdulak, a creature that stalks the forest, drinking the blood of its victims.

The family's father is played by Karloff, who has been gone for days. He finally returns, in the middle of the night:
...I have to mention the astonishing art direction and set decoration for this movie. The colors and the staging are just gorgeous to look at. They're creepy and scary, yet have a pulpy, comic book-esque feel that give the movie a slightly lighter tone, something that will come into play at the end.

"The Wurdulak" is my least favorite of the three stories (I feel like it drags a little bit, and the hero is so thick-headed I wanted to punch him), but it has some amazingly creepy moments.

When Karloff's Wurdulak puts the bite on his grandson, Ivan, his parents are divided in the grief over what to do. The Father, believing every bit about the Wurdulak curse, wants to stab his son in the heart so he does not rise from the grave.

But Ivan's mother can't do it, so they bury the boy as is. That night, Ivan does indeed rise from the grave, and knocks on the door, meekly pleading to be let inside because he's cold. The father tries to convince his wife of the danger, but she can't bear the idea of her son being outside in the cold. It ends like you expect it would, when you ignore an ages-old curse.

The "hero" gets away with another member of the family, a woman he's in love with, but they don't get away for long.

The final segment is "The Drop of Water", about a nurse who is called in to dress the corpse of a woman who has recently died. The dead woman's meek sister can't bring herself to do it, so she begs the nurse to come over and do it for her, much to the nurse's annoyance.

While dressing the corpse (looking pretty ghastly), she sees that the dead woman is wearing a beautiful ring on her hand. While the sister is out of the room, she steals the ring. Bad idea.
The nurse heads home, but quickly begins to get creeped out the endless sound of dripping water, coming from various sources in her house.

Finally, the dead woman appears in the house, seemingly wanting her ring back. The nurse is so terrified, she strangles herself to death...or does she?

The next morning, the police find the nurse's dead body. The woman's neighbor--the one who found the body--tells them she heard the nurse scream in the middle of the night, broke the door down to find the nurse dead.

One of the police examines the body, and sees that someone has forcibly pulled a ring off the nurse's finger! We cut to the eyes of the neighbor, who begins to hear the sound of dripping water...

The film wraps up with Boris Karloff, this time dressed in his Wurdulak costume and riding the most fake horse you've ever seen. He wishes us good luck getting home, and "takes off" on his horse. Its here that Bava pans back, way back, and lets us peek behind the curtain:
Dear God, did I love this final scene. Despite all the genuinely scary stuff in this movie, Bava lets us in on the joke, in one of the most audacious ways I've ever seen in a movie. I found it utterly charming, yet it didn't take away from the creepy stuff that came before it.

I really enjoyed Black Sabbath, enough that it makes me want to see the Americanized version, just to see the differences (according to the commentary track on the DVD, the American version re-orders the stories, adds a supernatural element to "The Telephone", eliminates that segment's lesbian subtext, uses an entirely different opening with Karloff, and features Karloff himself on the English dubbing--whew!). And, aside from the all scary stuff, it is one gorgeous movie to look at!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Film Review: The Wicker Man - 2009

Probably--nah, definitely--the best film from this series of reviews...

This month's movie is the 1973 classic The Wicker Man, starring the late Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, and Ingrid Pitt.

Before we start, I feel the need to preface my remarks with a warning that I'm not going to get too deep into the plot--unlike a lot of the other films I've reviewed for the Final Girl Film Club, this one's a genuine classic, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should.

I will reveal some things about it, but I'm going to try and be as vague as possible. But, WARNING: if you don't want the ending ruined for you, don't read too much further.

The opens with this weirdly unsettling card:
The film opens in a very mellow fashion, with shots of a plane heading towards Summerisle. Inside we see its piloted by a police officer, played by the late Edward Woodward:
Woodward's character, named Sgt. Howie, has arrived to investigate a case involving a missing little girl. He is met by some seemingly harmless islanders, who all claim they've never seen the little girl in question.

From this early moment, something feels amiss. It may be just a group of older guys, but there's something about the way they stand so close to one another, and seem so disinterested in the missing girl, that immediately tells you they're not telling Sgt. Howie everything they know.

Howie later checks into an inn, run by another islander and his comely daughter, played by Britt Ekland. Here, too, something's amiss: the locals get together to drink and sing, but there's something about the forced gaiety that's unsettling. Even more weird is a fairly raunchy song they sing about an Innkeeper's Daughter, directed right at Ekland, who laughs and plays along.

Sgt. Howie finds all this odd and even a little disgusting, a feeling he's going to experience a lot on this island. Later, he wanders outside and sees this:
sg a field outside, several couples are copulating, seemingly indifferent to a police officer wandering by. Next door to this, he sees a naked girl wrapped around a tombstone. What the hell is going on here?

What's really unsettling with this scene is how the movie just passes right by one mentions it, and you start to wonder, what did I just see?

Sgt. Howie goes to sleep, and next door he is tempted by the Innkeeper's Daughter, who sings a song, naked:
The next day Sgt. Howie meets Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), who gleefully admits to the naked prayer circles and other assorted weirdness. He even full out states that the citizens of Summerisle aren't Christian, and believe in a sort of hodge-podge of Paganism, Wicca, and other nature-related religions.

He cheerfully disregards Howie's Lord and Savior, and Howie is horrified.
As if all this wasn't weird enough, the townsfolk don't seem particularly scared of Sgt. Howie's threats to continue the investigation, leave the island to get more reinforcements, etc. They all just sort of smile and agree, and Sgt. Howie is left to storm out.

They start messing with his head, like leaving this nifty item next to his bed:
...later, Sgt. Howie tries to hop back in his plane to get more police, but someone has fiddled with its engine and it can't take off.

Finally, he goes undercover as part of the harvest ceremony, which Lord Summerisle promises will produce a bountiful food crop next season...if the proper sacrifice is made.

Sgt. Howie, convinced that the missing girl is the sacrifice, tries to stop it, only to learn that the young girl is fine and in no harm. Rather, its he who was the sacrifice all along!

I found this scene especially chilling, because, for a few moments, the stiff and brave Sgt. Howie starts to cry out in utter terror:
I can't think of too many examples in movies where the hero is allowed, even for a moment, to become a weak, almost-blubbering know, like most of us would be if we learned we were the victim of a giant, island-wide plot to use me as a human sacrifice.

Its here we get to see, finally, who or what The Wicker Man is:
Sgt. Howie is thrown inside the Wicker Man, and burned to death, as he prays to his Lord. And that's the end of the movie!

I had heard so many good things about this movie before I saw it, so I expected it to be pretty damn good.

And it was, except not in the way I expected. The film is less in-your-face than I thought, and its sheer mundanity in certain scenes really throws you off the trail, leaving you wondering just what the hell is going on here?

And the ending is a kicker. Part of me now wants to see the remake, just to see how badly they screwed it up--there's
no way a major movie studio let Nicolas Cage die the way Edward Woodward does here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Film Review: Slaughter High - 2009

I really got goofy in this 2009 review, but as you'll see the film doesn't quite rate serious analysis...

This month's movie is the 1986 cheapie Slaughter High, a tale of revenge, incoherence, unwanted nudity, and bad lighting. Let's get started!
Slaughter High was directed by three people: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, and Peter Litten. It took only one guy to direct Citizen Kane, but it took three people to direct Slaughter High.

The film opens with a shot of its ostensible star, Caroline Munro:
...this immediately made me kinda sad, to see the ravishing Ms. Munro appear in a Grade Z movie like this. The woman who helped usher me into puberty (via her appearances in films like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and The Spy Who Loved Me) should not have to earn her keep in schlock like this. Oh well.

Her character is leading on an uber-ned named Marty (Simon Scuddamore), seemingly to a tryst in the girls' shower room.

But turns out its all a big practical joke--and I mean a really big one: look at all the other people involved, who follow them both into the showers:
sg, Ben-Hur didn't have a crew that large!

Anyway, trusting but stupid Marty gets naked, thinking he's going to get a shot at Caroline Munro's Carol. But instead, the gang sprays him water, poking him with sticks, and giving him a nasty, head-first dunk in the toilet, where we see way
too much of Mr. Scuddamore:

The gang even partly electrocutes(!) Marty, but then they are stopped by the gym coach. Later, they pull another gag on Marty, which leads to an accident in the chemistry lab, causing a fire and burning Marty to a crisp. As he's carried off on a stretcher, he tries a half-hearted attempt at strangling Carol.

Cut to: years later, and we see all the rotten teens(even though Caroline Munro was 36 when she shot this!) as adults. Carol is a sort of skin-flick actress, haggling with her shifty agent:
sg just know this had to be one of the producer's houses. Just imagine how much coke was done in this room!

Anyway, all of them get invited to a high school reunion, which they improbably show up to, even though the high school is now a creepy, abandoned, dank building.

After they all show up, "accidents" start happening. When one of them is killed, they find they're all trapped in the building thanks to a series of death traps laid out for them. One of them does manage to escape, but before he can get far he's stabbed in the gut by a masked maniac!

At this point, the movie just kills off the cast one by one--one woman takes a bath(!), burning to death when acid starts shooting out of the faucet instead of water, and two of them are electrocuted while having sad, grubby sex (where we see another male cast member's naked butt--what's with all the man ass in this movie?).

Slaughter High is a classic example of the cheesy horror movie where every improbable thing that needs to happen does--Marty, now a (presumably) deformed killer, is some sort of mechanical genius, having arranged a series of complicated death traps that would make a Batman villain proud.

Finally, only two women are left, and he dispatches one of them when she falls into a tiny hole leading to a gooey pit--somehow, she managed to walk into the exact right spot. Better to be lucky than smart, I guess.

Finally, there's just Carol, who Marty hunts for about twenty minutes. Every time Carol gets a good shot in on Marty, she then drops the weapon in question (a bat, a sharpened spear), only to have Marty pick it up and chase after her again.

Marty then corners Carol in the exact same shower all this got started in (oh, the irony!), and stabs her to death. The end.

Or is it? Marty then starts hearing spooky voices, and he meets all his victims again, as ghosts, looking like extras from Thriller:
...Marty then wakes up, bandaged, in an insane asylum. Ah--it was all a dream!

Marty is approached by a nurse, and then we see an alarm go off. A doctor out in the hall looks to see what the trouble is, only to get stabbed in the eye with a needle, held by Marty who has switched clothes with the nurse for no good reason:
...presumably this means Marty will escape, and begin his plan of revenge, for reals this time. Ooh, Slaughter High 2: The Wrath of Marty! was not to be. Actor Simon Scuddamore, who played Marty, apparently killed himself right after completing his work here, making this his only film appearance. This gives this movie an even more sad, depressing vibe to it.

Not that I don't enjoy a good (read: bad) cheesy slasher flick, but this movie was so grubby, so cheap looking, and so dull that I found it a slog to get through. Its only 92 minutes, but it feels like it goes on a lot longer than that. And it made me sad to see Caroline Munro have to waste her time in something like this. Oh well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Film Review: The Devil's Rain - 2009

A 2009 review of one dilly of a horror movie, if you can forgive my extreme language. As the poster ungrammatically says, "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!":

This movie is a goodie--The 1975 film The Devil's Rain, starring a Love Boat-esque cast: Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, William Shatner, Ida Lupino, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn, and, in his first film, John Travolta!

The opening credits run over a series of Hieronymous Bosch paintings, a nice touch:


...ok, there is one credit in this movie that you probably wouldn't see on
The Love Boat:
Not only is High Priest of the Church of Satan Anton LaVey the technical advisor to this movie, he's also in it! I'm trying to picture Anton LaVey applying for a SAG card.

Anyway, the movie is about a cult of devil worshippers operating out in the desert. It opens with Ida Lupino (that makes me sad, typing that) distressed that her husband has disappeared. She calls her son, Mark (William Shatner), to try and find him--she's worried he's been grabbed the weird cult that's hanging around.

Mark dismisses this, but pretty quickly we see that, yep, Dad's in a lot of trouble:

...I hope you like this melting effect, because you're going see a lot of it in this movie.

The father dies, melting into a puddle in the rain. Shatner and Lupino go back inside, where he prepares to find the leader of the cult:

"I'll show that punk J.J. Abrams a thing or two."

The next day, Shatner drives to the spooky ghost town where the church resides, and pretty quickly he meets the head of the cult, Jonathan Corbis, played by Ernest Borgnine, in an intro scene that is mostly about cowboy hats:
Turns out the reason the cult is targeting this family is that they possess an ancient book that is an artifact of the cult, and they want it back. The cult eventually grabs Shatner and Lupino, turning them into mindless zombies.

After that, the family's other son, Tom (Tom Skerritt), investigates to see what's going on, along with his wife Julie (Joan Prather). They snoop around the town, and are attacked by another member of the cult, Danny, played by John Travolta:

...we never see the future Vinnie Barbarino without his creepy black eye sockets, so its hard to see that it is Travolta. And he really doesn't have any lines outside of grunting, so it was hardly an auspicious start.

Anyway, it turns out that Julie is some sort of psychic, and has the ability to see into the past. Looking into the eye sockets of Danny, she sees the past, back into the 1600s, when the cult ran afoul of the local, God-fearin' townspeople.

This sequence is pretty goofy, what with Shatner wearing a puritan-style wig, but the way the movie chooses to visually represent Julie's ability to see the past is nifty:

...that's a great, simple way to convey this: just having Julie, in her modern clothes, sitting by as if she's watching all this transpire. Another nice touch.

Like I said, the cult runs afoul of the townspeople, and they show up to burn the cult and its hideout to the ground:

"We're here to discuss healthcare reform!"

Turns out this past lives version of Mark Preston had a wife that double-crossed the cult, to save her own life and her husband's, so as they burn Jonathan Corbis he laughs and promises revenge.

Back in the present day, Tom decides to infiltrate the cult, and sends Julie off to where its safe. But they grab Julie, and prepare to use her as a sacrifice. Its here the movie really breaks the Goofy Meter.

During the ritual, Jonathan Corbis transforms into...

(Wow, those McHale's Navy wrap parties got wild!)

Tom gets the help from a Dr. Richards (Eddie Albert), who is an expert in the occult. While sneaking around the cult's church, they find a giant orb that seems to house all the souls of all the people the cult has enslaved (looking a little like The Phantom Zone from Superman II).

They grab it and, when in a face off with Corbis and his cult, threaten to destroy it, releasing all the souls and "the devil's rain" which will kill all the cult members.

Unfortunately, Dr. Richards is a hapless foe, and about two seconds after his threat, some cult members grab the orb from him. ends up in the hands of Mark, who is only recently converted to the cause.

Richards pleads with Mark, trying to tap into the real human inside, telling him that if he smashes the orb, it will free him from Corbis' control. Mark pauses, thinks, and then smashes the orb! Yay, I love it when William Shatner gets to be the hero!

That blows a hole in the church's roof, and the devil's rain starts to fall, melting everyone in sight:

sg, I admit, this is a great, gross-out effect. The F/X crew should have been proud.

The only problem is, F/X-wise, this is the only trick the movie had up its cloaked sleeve, so they wanted to get their money's worth out of it, and they do: there's approximately fifteen minutes of footage of people melting, writhing, melting, and writhing some more. It goes on and on and on, until you're like, Okay, enough with the melting people already!!

Tom and Dr. Richards escape, just as the church blows up. They grab Julie, but she's acting a little odd. She embraces Tom, and he reciprocates, but when he turns we see that Julie is actually...Jonathan Corbis!!

Somehow, Corbis escaped and is inside Julie, while she remains trapped in some version of hell:

She screams, pounds, all to no effect, as the credits roll. Finally, after they're over, she stops, and just blankly stares into the camera.

Sure, its kind of a cheat of an ending (how did Corbis escape?), but it is genuinely creepy nonetheless, especially with how quiet it is--like Julie has just accepted she's trapped in Hell. *shudder*

I saw this movie once years ago, and watching it over again I see that its really not that bad--its got a nice paranoid feeling, and the cheap sets actually give it a sort of grubby realness that something with a bigger budget might not have had.

The only minus to me is the cast: I'm sure the movie makers were thrilled to have all those "names" in the cast, making the movie easier to sell, but...sorry, I just can't take Ernest Borgnine in a goat mask seriously. Maybe if they had given a couple of the bigger roles to unknowns it would've felt more "real" to me. In any case, there's a lot of potential here.

And maybe a little less melting people. That might have helped too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Film Review: Burial Ground - 2009

A 2009 review of one of the most upsetting horror movies I have ever seen. You'll know what I mean when you get to it...

This month's movie is a "good" one--the Italian zombie movie Burial Ground!

The movie opens with some sort of archeologist guy digging in an ancient cavern:

...Topol is Rasputin in Burial Ground!

No, no, that's not Topol. Its just some guy--typical in horror movies--who is messing around with forces he doesn't understand.

He finds some stone slab with some writing on it, brings it back home and does some research using ancient texts. He mutter something about it being "the answer" or something, and returns to the cavern to dig some more. But this guy is no Indiana Jones--he basically grabs a pick-axe and just starts wailing away at these sacred ruins.

That upsets a tomb, which slides open to reveal: zombies!!

The zombies attack the guy, one of them biting his ear off. We then get a big juicy close-up of zombie munching on it, letting everyone know exactly what kind of movie they're about to see.

We then cut to the credits of
Burial Ground:
...okay, The Nights of Terror. These Italian movies have more names than Prince's drivers license (bada-bum!). Despite this title card, this movie is known to most people as Burial Ground, so Burial Ground it is.

The credits are your standard list of Italian names, with one or two American ones thrown in. And then you get to this:

In all of the movies I have seen (The Omen, The Cat From Outer Space, The Joy Luck Club, etc.), I have never seen an actor or actress get a credit that screams out "special" as much as this one. Of all the Big Deal Appearances I have seen--Marlon Brando in Superman, Frank Sinatra in Cannonball Run II, etc.--I've never seen anyone get their name in a box during the credits. Ms. Giordan must be pretty special!

Anyway, the movie opens with three cars of people visiting an old Italian castle. They are three sets of couples, one of whom has a son. All of a sudden, this film felt familiar to me.

The couples all check into their rooms, and then it hit me--I had seen this movie before. It was this scene--when the mother of the young boy puts her son to bed--that clinched it for me:

You see, this little boy isn't a little boy at all--it's an adult male playing a little boy. He's not a "little person" per se, he's more the size of your typical jockey, with a little boy wig slapped on him. It was this really laughable yet creepy touch that I remembered discovering back when I saw this movie in a theatre, part of a double feature put on by my friends at Exhumed Films.

At the time, I wondered why the producers had gone for such a weird, creepy touch as this--trying to pass off some 30ish man as a little tyke, floods and all. As I watched the movie, it became sickeningly clear, as we'll get to in a moment.

Anyway, the plot of this movie is pretty typical for a 1970/1980s Italian horror film--zombies attack, for vague reasons. You really don't need to know more than that. The professor guy upset the zombies' tomb, and now they've risen, and they're attacking the people who are staying on the grounds above the tomb. Simple--elegant, really.

There are 2-3 scenes in a row of the various couples getting it on as soon as they arrive (
"You look like a whore--I like that about you!"--actual line of dialog). To give you another hint how friggin' weird this movie is going to be, we see that the son overhears his Mom and her boyfriend getting it on.

He sneaks into their room, bursting the door open, surprising his Mom and her boyfriend in mid-copulation.

Once they see who it is, instead of putting the sheets up, the mother gets out of bed, giving us--and her son--a glimpse of her in full-frontal nudity, runs across the room, and grabs a sheet to cover herself.
Boundaries, anyone?

Anyway, soon after, the zombies start to attack:

One couple is attacked outside, and barely escapes. Another couple is attacked, and meets up with the first couple.

They make it all inside the castle, but the zombies start finding a way to get inside. They manage to kill a few people, including a maid that works at the castle.
During all the chaos, the little boy runs to his mother for comfort, and she cradles him in her lap.

They get so chummy that the son starts nuzzling her, sticking her hand up her skirt!
He actually manages to get half up her leg before she wakes the hell up and slaps him for this atrocity. He runs away.

Eventually, though, the zombies get him, and he becomes a zombie, meandering around the castle. Some more of the adults get picked off, leaving just two of the women and one man left.

After escaping a room full of zombies munching on one of their friends, the mom finds her son and calls out to him. Her friends tell her not to do that, because its clear he's now a zombie.

But she won't listen, and she cradles her son again. She then flat out lets the son fondle her, so much so she lets him pull open her blouse, and starts...doing something he hasn't done since he was a baby, let's say.

At this point in the film, any food you might have eaten during the movie has now come up on you. So you hit the Pause button, clean yourself up, and resume the movie.

The zombie son clamps down on Mom, biting off a particularly sensitive hunk of flesh. Now we know why they didn't hire a little boy for this part--it would've been a Federal Crime.

We cut to this Says It All Shot:

When being attacked by zombies is not the weirdest thing you've seen recently, you know you're having one hell of a day.

Anyway, these two are the only ones left--they scream, run away, but are caught by some more zombies in the basement. As the woman is about to be torn apart, the movie ends with this uplifting quote:

...the end!

I don't know, maybe I'm missing the point, but I'm not that afraid of any prophecy that features spelling mistakes ("nigths"?).

Whew, what a film! Zombies, gore, an ancient curse, bad dubbing, horrible mustaches, incest, and then zombie incest. Just think: while the poor actress who had to play the Mom was suffering the indignities of being in a scene where her zombie son--played by an adult man--was biting off her nipple, Meryl Streep was on the other side of the world making Sophie's Choice.

That said, this is film is enormous fun, in its own sick, sick way. The zombie stuff is hard to make new, so the producers and director tried to add as much sick stuff as they could to make this movie memorable. And at that, they succeeded.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Film Review: The Anti-Christ - 2009

Yet another horror film review, for one of the odder films I've ever seen...

This month's selection is The Anti-Christ, an Italian film that was...well, ok, let's face it: it's a cash-in on the wave of exorcism films that were made in the wake of William Friedkin's classic The Exorcist.

There--now that we've admitted that up front, we can now proceed and see what thrills this film has to offer. And, as you'll see, the makers of The Anti-Christ clearly decided they needed to go even further than The Exorcist.

Here's the very spooky title card:

The film's main character is named Ippolita, played by Mia Farrow-ish actress Carla Gravina, who will be put through the ringer in this movie.

But before we meet her, we are thrown into the middle of a religious gathering, as throngs of people come to a statue of Mary to be healed of their afflictions or repent for their sins. Some people are there are for other, less clear reasons:

Anyway, after much writhing and speaking in tongues, Ippolita arrives, along with her father, played by Mel Ferrer. Ippolita is crippled, and she seeks to be healed by Mary:
It doesn't quite work, and she falls onto the floor in a crumpled heap. Her father takes her away, but not before she sees another person, who seems deathly ill, turn against Mary, which angers the crowd.

He runs away from them angry mob, up onto a cliff, and he comes face to face with some really bad matte work:
Its clear that Ippolita has some Daddy issues, because she is enraged and hurt to see that her Father is now seeing another woman. This woman tries to be kind to Ippolita, but she's having none of it.

Meanwhile, there's talk a devil cult lurking in the area, leaving sacrifices to the devil around, like a headless frog (ew! again) on a church's altar (discovered by Bishop Oderisi, played by American actor Arthur Kennedy, who appeared in such films as The Desperate Hours and Lawrence of Arabia, picking up some easy lire here).

There's also a creepy monk guy hanging around, played by George Coulouris (who played Mr. Thatcher in a little film called Citizen Kane):
Anyway, Ippolita is so distraught that her family and friends take her to a hypnotist/psychiatrist, and we learn that in a previous life, she was a witch burned during the Inquisition. We get to see glimpses of that life in some scenes that features extraordinary set-design:
Ippolita gets worse and worse, getting more and more hysterical. She turns against her friends, and in a sequence of, well, questionable taste let's say, she gives in to the demons who want to take control of her.

That is represented by a sequence featuring a cult, the head of which wears a goat mask and climbs aboard the Ippolita Express:
There's also a scene where Ippolita has to, um, return the favor to an actual goat, and while we don't see exactly what's happening, the movie doesn't go out of its way to try and obscure it either. Man, do I hope Ms. Gravina got some decent money for this.

Now that she has accepted Satan into her body, she is seemingly cured of her paralysis. Surely there will be no downside to this.

Now cured, Ippolita steps out on the town, and one of the first things she does is eye up a (very) young man on some sort of school trip:
While there, she sidles up to him, puts her hands all over him, and soon enough they're doing it in a back alley.

But of course, the great sex comes at a cost for our Italian Leif Erickson:
...I hope his parents signed a permission slip.

Anyway, from here on, I have to admit, the movie meanders a lot. There's more footage of Ippolita getting weird, moaning on and on, and I was desperately hoping we'd get to the part(s) I knew were coming, the Exorcism Scene.

After about thirty more minutes of footage, Father Mittner (Coulouris) arrives to perform the exorcism. We get the customary Projectile Vomit Scene:

There's lots of furniture thrown around, paintings flying off walls, loud sounds, and pretty soon Ippolita is looking pretty bad:

Eventually Ippolita bursts out of the chair she is strapped to, and her Father grabs her and ties her to a giant cross that is outside in the courtyard. Lightning flashes, thunder strikes, rain pours:

...but eventually the demon is driven out, and Ippolita is no longer possessed. A happy ending for all involved...sort of., would I loved to have been able to take this film into an editing bay. It runs just a little under two hours, which to me was just way too long.

I guess the argument could be made that all the non-goat-sex scenes were building character, and that makes sense in the beginning. But once Ippolita is possessed, I think it would've been a lot more fun to keep ramping up the tension and craziness that Italian horror films do so well. Once you've had your character willingly have sex with a guy in a goat mask, don't waste my time with more dialog, you know?

That said, The Anti-Christ was fun to watch, and some of the effects and sets were quite creepy and well done. Poor Carla Gravina really gave it her all in this movie--I hope this movie bought her a nice villa on Lake Como or something.

The film was directed by Albert de Martino, who also directed the wonderfully goofy Italian superhero movie Puma Man, as well as Operation Double 007, an Italian James Bond movie starring Sean's brother Neil Connery. No, I'm not kidding.

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