Sunday, June 24, 2012

Meltdown 02: Fashionable Werewolves

Paul Naschy (1934-2009) is, to some, the great unsung horror screen icon. An excessively prolific actor, writer, and director, Naschy has a credit on nearly one hundred productions over five decades of work in Spanish cinema. Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing have all received their fair amount of widespread acclaim, yet Naschy is only a household name in houses like mine (where the Tenebrae wall art is the classiest among those hanging because it features neither a throat slashing nor a rotted corpse). Why so, we ask? There are probably quite a few reasons: 1) though fairly well-known in his native country, it's understandable that his many films of variable quality aren't promoted as Spain's chief cultural export, 2) many of his films have been totally commercially unavailable since the heyday of VHS, and even then a good few of them have never landed on English-speaking shores, 3) although heavily indebted to the classic Universal and Hammer horror shows, Naschy's numerous spins on Gothic monsters and scenarios have a decidedly European flavor that, for some, can be difficult to digest. Gaudy, garish, sleazy, cheaply-made, and frequently illogical are all totally valid labels to place upon even the finest of Naschy's films (Hunchback of the Morgue, Horror Rises from the Tomb, Werewolf Shadow, El Caminante), but the most important adjective missing from such a list is "passionate." Naschy's films express a passion and adoration for classic monster movies that elevate them far above their occasionally shoddy production roots and end products. He was a man who made monster movies for the love of monster movies, producing them long after audiences stopped caring about the subgenre. He almost always cast himself in the lead roles, less out of narcissism or ego (though let's not say there isn't any of that fueling his work) than what came natural: being the screenwriter on most of his own monster films, it's fitting that he would be the only actor able or willing to step into the makeup again and again, always facing the risk of laughter or derision from horror audiences who, by the '70s and '80s, had moved on to bleaker, gorier, more lurid stock. Who else would dress up as the same werewolf in fourteen different films over thirty-six years? Only Naschy. So, in celebration of the life and work of Spain's horror legend (and a pretty smart way to allow me to queue up all those back episodes of the Naschycast that I've been missing out on), I spent 48 hours watching 12 previously unseen Naschy films. The highs were delightful and the lows were staggering, and here (in viewing order) are twelve chilly nightmares from the man who found such melancholy terrors a comfort.

Night of the Howling Beast (La malidcion de la bestia) (1975) dir. Miguel Iglesias


An anthropological team goes in search of a yeti, runs into a descendant of Genghis Khan, and has one of their crew, the famed Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy), get turned into a werewolf for the eighth time in his storied career. Night of the Howling Beast is a bit schizophrenic: it begins fairly obviously as a creature feature (see: lame opening yeti attack), segues into a supernatural cult film (with Naschy being held captive in the glowy cave from L O S T while two beautiful women take turns seducing him), and ends up somewhere closer to an adventure picture (with Daninsky, in non-werewolf form, dismantling Sekkar Khan's control over the region by heroically killing everyone in sight). In fact, this film is sort of an anomaly in the Daninsky canon when considering the fact that his personal battle with lycanthropy is relegated to secondary importance, probably because the film has so much going on otherwise (although, it's also fair to say that this divided attention affects each aspect of the story; take, for instance, the yeti, who shows up only in the first and last scenes. Let us call him Chekov's Yeti). The focus on the adventure elements is noticeable all over the place: the aforementioned lack of werewolf, the presence of a character named Wandessa who is not a witch or a vampire, gunfights, more deaths by duplicitous torture than monster mayhem, and a happy ending. That last piece is most jarring of all; Naschy's Daninsky films never have happy endings. The cure for Daninsky's particular brand of lycanthropy usually involves a loved one either shooting him repeatedly or sacrificing herself to destroy him at the moment he takes a big chunk out of her neck. This type of ending stresses the tragic nature of the character--a noble, self-sacrificing monster who must know love only to die by it. In Night of the Howling Beast, Daninsky's curse is broken by the horticultural powers of a magic flower, mixed with a little bit of blood from his ladyfriend (not even all of her blood; just a little! pfft). It's clear that, eight films deep, Naschy was looking to play around with his trademark character and try something a bit lighter. What could be fluffier than a climactic yeti/werewolf smackdown partially obscured by tree cover? As a perverse adventure film, it pretty much succeeds--we can call the many supernatural elements that crop up "additional flavors."

The Vengeance of the Mummy (La venganza de la momia) (1973) dir. Carlos Aured


Only two films in and I'm graced with a Naschy classic. I wouldn't rank The Vengeance of the Mummy among his best (a few too many issues with the script and production to grant it that level), but I would call it one of the better mummy movies I've seen. It's not a particularly inventive film, instead tending to follow the template outlined in the Universal and Hammer offerings, but it has the boon of an awfully violent and menacing villain. Mummies have generally been depicted in film as incredibly physical beings with great strength (playing in contrast to the often frail physical appearance of a bandaged thousands-year-old corpse), and Naschy's Amenhotep looms over them all as the most brutal--he's the type of petrified guy who will smash a young woman's skull to pieces (leaving behind what could best be described as "brain casserole") only to prove the point that his own bride should have a hardier constitution. Like most of Naschy's monster movies, Vengeance of the Mummy is a variation on the classic film tale with the exploitation knob turned way up, much to the pleasure of all. Director Carlos Aured is responsible for four Naschy collaborations in total (two of which--Horror Rises From the Tomb and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll--are among his very best; another--Curse of the Devil--I'll be watching later in this marathon). All four of the Naschy/Aured films were completed in only two years (1973-1974) and, fittingly, they all display that same frantic pace in their storytelling. What's more noteworthy about their joint efforts is how stylish, unpredictable, and bleak they can be. It's easy to forgive Vengeance of the Mummy's rough edges (say, the repeated cuts to fast zooms closing in on a burn victim's face while a woman screams in response for far too long, Spanish-speaking Egyptians, or Amenhotep meeting his second doom because of his failure to duck a swinging bubbling cauldron) by the time it reaches its denouement, one falling easily amongst the grimmest I've witnessed. Unexpectedly, even after his defeat, Amenhotep emerges with a sort of victory, and what's worse than that is how quickly the survivors acquiesce to a phony story in order to avoid questions or complications. Brutal, bitter end.

Howl of the Devil (El aullido del diablo) (1987) dir. Paul Naschy

 

Howl of the Devil is an uncomfortable, off-putting film-- I think I liked it. Maybe I'd be better off saying "I admired it" or "I sat in awe of it." It's full of anger, vitriol, perversion, and unabashed misogyny-- although its premise is perfectly constructed for the inclusion of irony or satire, the film is uneasily free of both. No stranger to multiple roles, Naschy here explodes all reasonable limitations, playing something like (by my count) twelve different characters, including a set of twin brother actors and several of the major horror film baddies of the silver screen (Rasputin, Frankenstein's Creature, Mr. Hyde, Phantom of the Opera, Bluebeard, Waldemar Daninsky, Fu Manchu, Quasimodo, Zombie, Satan). One of the twin brothers, a washed-up alcoholic horror film actor, "commits suicide" before the film begins, and his more distinguished brother (he acted in Shakespeare!) wiles away his days by having his butler (the great Howard Vernon, here somewhat subdued) round up prostitutes that he can drug and play out elaborate costumed S&M scenarios with. Unfortunately, we watch as those same violated women are then murdered by a black-gloved killer. Who is the culprit? As writer, director, and star, Naschy is the guilty party. It's possible that this film is Naschy's most blatant ego-service, but at the same time it contains the seeds of a self-effacing, reflective glance backwards at a career that has been a disappointment (although he casts himself as a famous actor, there's also the admission that this actor was only "a nobody under his makeup" who wasted his life in horror movies; shades of JCVD) But, in other ways, the straight-faced horror aspects are abundant and the relentless misogyny is awfully tough to stomach-- if there is humor or commentary here, it's not simply at the expense of horror films but is actively rallying against them. When, at the film's conclusion, Naschy casts himself as the-actor-as-Satan, whose horror films have inspired a murderous rampage in his own son/the Antichrist (played by, who else, Naschy's real-life son, Sergio), what exactly are we meant to take away from all this? It's a film that seems torn by commingled self-delusion and self-hatred, resulting in a piece both fascinating and repulsive.

Fury of the Wolfman (La furia del Hombre Lobo) (1972) dir. José María Zabalza


Naschy's fourth outing as the perpetually-cursed werewolf Waldemar Daninsky is a poor showing, even if its premise sounds like a fair dose of mindless entertainment. I'm wary that the notes I took for this capsule review will make it sound better than it truly is: Daninsky is manipulated into wolfing out on his wife, ending up dead, and being resurrected and mind-controlled by the a literally sadistic lady scientist, Dr. Ilona Alman, of the nefarious Wolfstein clan. Even its constituent parts are appealing: creaky pseudo-science (Daninsky must use his beastly will to overcome the influence of the brain-seducing Chemitrodes!), requisite kinky Gothic S&M (Dr. Ilona ties up, whips, and otherwise tortures a bunch of circus freaks/failed experiments in her dungeon laboratory), and a more-than-usually morally-questionable protagonist (let us not elide the fact that Daninsky intentionally uses his knowledge of his own werewolf affliction to dispose of his wife, forcing her into bed as the full moon rises overhead, gruffly informing her that he's about to make love to her like never before). But--all assembled--it's plodding, hurried, and sloppy. Scenes jump around with little care for continuity or plotting (one werewolf attack in particular, on a sad pair of anachronistic peasants, I'm convinced must have been poached from an earlier Daninsky film). The story, particularly the Wolfstein family's back story, is needlessly convoluted and elongated (to the point where I'm not even sure we're given Dr. Ilona's motivation. I suppose she thought a werewolf would make a reliable pet?). Worst of all, Daninsky in werewolf mode hasn't an ounce of screen presence. He's filmed by Zablaza ambling about confusedly, as if he's perpetually unsure of his mark. For a werewolf film to have a boring, awkward werewolf is the greatest crime. Do, however, watch out for a soundtrack cue that very obviously rips off the Twilight Zone theme.

Assignment Terror (Los monstruos del terror) (1970) dir. Tulio Demicheli


The B-movie masterpiece that wasn't. Again, we have a can't-go-wrong concept that instead of going right or wrong goes nowhere. The film concerns a group of handsome aliens (lead by Michael Rennie) who descend to Earth from their dying planet and take over the bodies of some dead scientists. They decide to conquer the human race by resurrecting various folkloric beasts and creatures of yore, creating a veritable monster mash, because it sure will be easier to conquer those silly earthlings if they're frightened. I think that's why? Can't be sure; it's rather incredible how the exposition in a film like this eludes my every attempt at comprehension. Naschy is in this one as old faithful Waldemar and goes uncredited (some sources claim that he also plays the Frankenstein's Creature, but I'm less than convinced of this considering a) he's way too short, b) the actor under the Creature makeup looks nothing like him, and c) his dual presence would make certain scenes featuring both unnecessarily difficult. This does not strike me as the type of film that bothers taking the unnecessarily difficult route). Ostensibly the hero, Naschy has little to do here other than seduce a brainwashed female alien with his trusty musk and save the human species from badder alien invaders by beating up a feeble Mummy and Creature near the end, proving that werewolves possess not an ounce of sympathy. We are provided some groovy '60s flourishes, locales, and soundtrack cuts, but truthfully the film is more concerned with exhuming the graves of cheapo '50s sci-fi. We have the presence of Michael Rennie (The Day The Earth Stood Still) as a much more aggressive Klaatu figure, of course, but also all the kooky SF gadgetry that the aliens use, which in Naschy's scripting hands take on a perverted twist. The kinky brain-torture devices ensure that I won't be able to escape sadism this evening. Fittingly, none of the classic monsters go by their classic names, Naschy instead supplying them with knock-off sound-alikes (Tao-tet, Count de Meirhoff, Dr. Farancksollen). The mummy kills by hugging people. Whatever.

The People Who Own The Dark (Último deseo) (1976) dir. León Klimovsky


Somehow, the marathon's list randomizer knew that if I called it quits immediately after that hat trick of blandness, day two would be a struggle. So, in lieu of putting me through that, it shoots me an absolute gem under the title of The People Who Own the Dark (literal translation of Spanish title: The Last Desire/Final Desire). This one is an unconventional post-apocalyptic yarn set in the strangely intimate setting of (surprise) a sadistic pleasure villa for the incredibly wealthy. What's fun is that the film sets us up over its opening twenty minutes for something completely different-- we'd much sooner expect some giallo-style slayings to occur at the villa over a series of nuclear explosions in the distance, placing the villa's inhabitants into a Night of the Living Dead-styled struggle for survival, but it's the latter that the film turns to. It's an exhilarating decision, producing an engaging, suspenseful little number that doesn't have to go big and loud to convey its altered landscapes (both human and physical). The town in question exists outside of the blast radius, so the survivors are dealing the threat of encroaching radiation and mad villagers made blind by viewing the explosion, both of which are more repellingly effective than decimated buildings and smoldering bodies. The social criticism here-- the healthy wealthy stealing from and murdering the blind, directionless poor in the aftermath of a conflict that is obviously the result of the lechery and disinterested dealings of the powerful-- is a bit easy (as is the sort of justice dealt out by the blind mob throughout the third act and the government in the final moments), but it also adds a welcome layer of depth to the otherwise effective suspense scenario. Working with his frequent collaborator Leon Klimovsky, it's initially surprising that Naschy is here only in a prominent supporting role (and, to note, looks more burly and ruggedly handsome than usual). The film properly belongs to Alberto de Mendoza (of Horror Express and numerous gialli), who turns in a conflicted, sympathetic performance (more development of his character might have given the social critique the nuance it needed). Also, fun fact: in Horror Express, Mendoza plays a character who looks almost exactly like Naschy does in his Alaric de Marnac getup. This is a strong film and the perfect way to lop the head off of my first day. I'll be ecstatically surprised and pleased if any of the following films eclipse this one in my estimation. Which is all to say that Naschy works just as well (if not maybe sometimes better?) in other people's films.

Exorcism (Exorsicmo) (1975) dir. Juan Bosch


Released only two years after Friedkin's The Exorcist in 1973, it's not as if Exorcism is obscuring its inspiration. That's okay, because it's also hardly a direct plagiarism if we discount its last ten minutes. But those final ten are particularly egregious-- a possessed girl spurting fluids (excess saliva rather than split pea soup), priestly hallucinations (best here: a snake head running out of a faucet in place of tap water), and a battle over the young woman's eternal soul (which here concludes in a tussle between the Reverend and a demonic dog, demonstrating that The Omen is ripe for swiping, too). It's too bad that Exorcism has this title, bringing along with it certain expectations that are fulfilled in the closing moments but fail to sync up to the otherwise interesting movie that had been unfolding prior. Because what's left when you strip away The Exorcist's influence is actually quite decent: a young girl gets into a car accident and starts acting peculiar and aggressive, Moreover, people close to her are ending up dead with their heads twisted 180 degrees the wrong way. Is the girl responsible? Has someone been hypnotizing her to commit evil deeds? Is there an actual possession or is that only what the real killer wants us to think? These are all questions the film posits, but any interest they could generate is deflected due to the fact that the film is called Exorcism, has that poster up there, and leads up to no more adventurous a conclusion than both the title and poster imply. Why spend so long building a mystery when there inherently isn't one? Casting some light suspicion on Naschy's Reverend Dunning seems a waste of time in this context, as does anything that comes before the young girl develops Linda Blair's skin condition and starts levitating-- which is too bad, because the former story was preferable. We are thrown a bone in the revelation of who is possessing young Lila, which is a gratifying answer that makes a bit of the previous hour and twenty worthwhile. Naschy is believable as the benign Reverend, even if he's a bit flat-- at least Father Karras had his mother issues. Recommended on the relative strength of the first hour alone.

Night of the Executioner (La noche del ejecutor) (1992) dir. Paul Naschy

 

We enter the '90s with this surprisingly enjoyable vigilante revenge picture that-- regardless of its actual decade of release-- belongs snugly among similar fare from the '80s, like Savage Streets, Class of 1984, The Exterminator, and the Death Wish sequels. Just listen to its opening theme-- a cross somewhere between Chopping Mall and bluesy jazz-- and try to convince yourself this is 1992. Another one that Naschy writes, directs, and stars in, Night of the Executioner sits so well with its earlier '80s brethren because of matters of content in addition to style. The exposition and character development are about as clunky as you'd expect in this sort of venture, bluntly communicating exactly as much information as you'd need to know in order to sympathize with the vigilante's plight (consider the opening sequence in a grocery store, where Naschy's vigilante and his family gush about how much they love each other on this day, his 50th birthday, as their future rapists/murderers leer on). The action elements are rough and gritty for a picture that came out in the same year as slick non-Spanish action films like Hard Boiled, Under Siege, and Universal Soldier, to the point where it's almost impossible to imagine these were made in the same universe, much less the same year. The film is also sleazy as can be; we have rape, strangulation, tongue-sawing, and castration. Moreover, Naschy's vigilante even goes through the signature Rocky training montage. And, no joke, there are actually characters in the film with the names Rocky and Rambo (Rocky being a young boy played, once again, by Naschy's annoying son Sergio, who rather unexpectedly and hilariously is gunned down near the film's end). Naschy is decent here and in impressive physical condition for his age, but I question the decision to remove his chatacer's tongue, hence making it a silent role. A neat touch in theory (a man who literally cannot communicate the injustice done to him through anything other than action) that is sort of ruined by the fact that Naschy's acting can be rather flat even when he's speaking. He fails to communicate much about his character other than mechanistic determination. Maybe that's appropriate? Anyway, its trashy qualities (signature quote: "I'd stick these beer cans in their elegant asses") fade away as it progresses, resulting in it ending up as a more-or-less standard crime film. Regardless, an enjoyable and competent romp from the man who would fill all roles if he could.

Curse of the Devil (El retorno de Walpurgis) (1973) dir. Carlos Aured


Another collaboration between Naschy and director Carlos Aured, and their sole Daninsky picture together. It's a good one, and the only Daninsky film I've seen that is decidedly a period piece (others mingle with the past in opening prologues, but always segue quickly into a contemporary setting). Furthermore, it's probably the most traditional werewolf picture that Naschy ever made, choosing to deal simply with a man's growing awareness of his lycanthropic affliction (there are no vampires, yetis, or Dr. Jekylls here-- Countess Elizabeth Bathory appears in the prologue, but only to bestow a curse upon the Daninsky family). This streamlining leads to a much more cohesive story than is usual for Daninsky films, while unfortunately dropping the wanton adventurousness of the other installments. While everything about Curse of the Devil is competent, we also have a fairly definite idea about where everything is heading, allowing a beleaguered viewer like me (already eight films deep) the guilty luxury of checking out mentally. I followed and enjoyed the film, but the impression it left on me was negligible. Its most enduring image is its last: a little boy's furry wolf hand clutched in his human mother's as they walk away from the camera. The Daninsky legacy will live on, and-- in the context of this marathon-- receive at least another chance to win me over...

Mark of the Wolfman (La marca del Hombre-lobo) (1968) dir. Enrique López Eguiluz

 

Which it immediately does. Mark of the Wolfman is Naschy's first Daninsky film and the one responsible for launching his career as a horror movie star. It also has the peculiar distinction of being (to my knowledge) the only horror movie to be filmed and projected in 70mm. Which paid off: it's a very nice looking film and contains the exact amount of stylish abandon that helps Naschy's monster films succeed. It's a werewolf vs. werewolf vs. vampire showdown with style to spare: see Daninsky's first transformation through some smudged plastic wrap over the camera lens, or the sudden reveal of the vampires in the dense fog of a train station. This isn't to say the film isn't occasionally sloppy-- I'm thinking particularly of a moment when the male vampire knocks over a vase with his cape. Ultimately, a fun film with a message no more complicated than "vampires are jerks." Naschy has a strong, youthful, brooding charisma in this one, managing to look stylish and attractive even when dolled up in a bonkers masquerade costume. More notably, his physical performance as the werewolf is remarkable in its intensity, containing a frantic and frenzied energy that is absent from his subsequent portrayals. It's a shame that the later growly, shambly Waldemars never learned to possess this sort of enthusiasm-- you can almost feel Naschy's glee to be in the makeup for the first time. It's a special moment. And, for the record, I was correct: Fury of the Wolfman steals its random peasant attack from this film. Called it.

The Frenchman's Garden (El huerto del Francés) (1978) dir. Paul Naschy


For my penultimate entry we take a look at a much different dramatic role for Naschy. Again here he is writing, directing, and starring, this time in a historical/biographical film about an actual casino/orchard/bordello owner who murders his especially wealthy patrons in order to collect enough money to purchase his land in his own name. While technically new ground for Naschy, he doesn't exactly play the role any differently than he would Daninsky or one of his giallo characters. Its a potentially complex character with a contradictory, sympathetic nature, but it seemed like Naschy's limited range (or, maybe more specifically, my pior exposure to Naschy's other performances) harmed its development. Moreover, the film is lensed exactly like any of his more conventional horror and suspense pictures would be (for example, to show the Frenchmen's inner turmoil at moments of high emotion, Naschy has a red light start pulsing over his blank face-- the exact same lighting trick he uses in similar situations in the supernatural El Caminante for his role as Satan-in-the-flesh). Worst of all might be its clunky, exposition-heavy opening ballad (it's horribly translated, but it can't be much better in Spanish) wherein the film's entire story and character motivation are laid bare, as if the film can't trust us to glean these details from the narrative itself-- I rarely find ballads appropriate even in Westerns, but here it's an even odder match, trying to talk up a tale about a small, pitiful man to mythic proportions. Perhaps a slave to historical accuracy, The Frenchman's Garden does arrive at a curiously undramatic climax and a queasy, prolonged final scene. Both of these scenes are confident and understated. Naschy steps up his game both in front of and behind the camera, leaving me with positive parting feelings for the film. What it really needs it a legitimate, restored release-- the beyond-degraded VHS source I viewed obliterated any visual or audio talent the film may have contained.

Night of the Werewolf (El retorno del Hombre-Lobo) (1981) dir. Paul Naschy

 

It's difficult to express exactly how wiped out I am as I approach this, our final entry in the event. Sitting through twenty-one gialli was a lot easier, perhaps because the variety was greater. In the case of this marathon, I'm on werewolf movie number seven, and it's not as if they're all that diverse from one another. I suppose that someone reading through these entries might find me overly critical of a man whose other films I have such a fondness for. But, I think what I've discovered is that a little bit of Naschy goes far-- I'm almost certain my opinions of some of these films would be more favorable if they had been spaced out from each other by a matter of weeks or months. That said, I'm also convinced that some of those I've watched in this marathon are of a lesser quality than those that I've enjoyed outside of its constraints-- a man makes a wagon-load of horror pictures, and one can't reasonably expect them all to be winners. I am pleased to report, however, that Night of the Werewolf definitely is. I'm watching the sadly-defunct BCI's Blu-ray release, which makes it far and away the nicest looking print of the past two days, giving my eyes a break from squinting. Besides the film being an unusually enjoyable semi-remake of Naschy's own classic Werewolf Shadow, Night of the Werewolf also has the honor of being released in 1980, the year before werewolves re-entered mainstream horror with An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. Those films' groundbreaking practical visual transformation effects and creature design would make Naschy's tried and true still-frame dissolves and furry suit look positively quaint and old fashioned-- outmoded, sadly. It's no shock that this was one of the last werewolf films that Naschy made, but its pleasing that he had such a successful final fling before the werewolf (the beast he had been ceaselessly and single-handedly resuscitating long after the horror genre at large had abandoned it) was to discover a new lease on cinematic life. I suppose I could talk more about the film's specific qualities, but why bother? This film is a farewell of sorts, to the fuzzy friend who made Naschy a star and to my movie-watching meltdown. So if you ever find the time, sit down, enjoy the pilfered bits from Stelvio Cipriani's Tentacoli soundtrack, and howl along.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Deadly Blessing (1981) dir. Wes Craven

Logline: Somewhere in a small, isolated farming community, a man lies dead, squished by his own tractor. Is the religious cult that the man formerly belonged to somehow responsible? Or is it--as the cult claims--the dastardly work of a lustful, demonic incubus? The man's wife would like to find out, because she sure is sick of whoever is putting all those snakes in her bathtub.

Deadly Blessing never quite sticks, which is a shame because it really ought to when one considers all the fine elements worked into its composition. Mysterious deaths, a fanatic religious cult, an isolated community, demonic night visitations, various animals used as agents of intimidation, and Ernest Borgnine's beard are all pieces that (if well played) could have made this a worthy hidden gem. Instead, the conglomeration we're left with is rather bland. The film is missing the sort of ruthless touch Craven placed upon his earlier Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Sandwiched between Stranger in Our House (1978; his TV movie with Linda Blair) and Swamp Thing (1982; yes, that one) in his filmography, it's probable that Craven was going through a bit of a creative rough patch during the making of this piece. With themes of religion, sexuality, and fanaticism at the forefront, one would imagine Deadly Blessing having some smidgen of commentary of its own to deliver (much like Last House and Hills had concerning human nature and violence). But, it doesn't: the cult's religious beliefs are neither confirmed nor denied and the film's pair of transgressive lovers is snuffed out before the third act.* Rather, it focuses its efforts on being an effective mystery/suspense film, which it isn't. The culprits are immediately obvious among the possible suspects, and the suspense is drained out over its rather long running time when placed in relation to the amount of stuff that happens in the narrative (which is far too thin). The occasional strong scene of suspense, like when Michael Berryman brings his always threatening physicality to bear while chasing a young girl, calling her an "incubus," and threatening to do who-knows-what, ultimately fails to make up for the lack.**

But the biggest wasted opportunity in the film is its negligence in engaging with its own supernatural elements. No lie: Deadly Blessing has an incredible ending, one that is in no way earned by the film that precedes it. It is there that the supernatural elements explode onto the screen (in the most bombastic fashion conceivable). It's a jaw-dropping moment, and will immediately remind moviegoers of similar reality-bending effects that Craven would employ in the later A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). It's also a much-maligned conclusion, and it's easy to see why: this was never a supernatural mystery; the culprits were decidedly human (Borgnine & co. seem fairly satisfied that the discovery of this human menace has rid the town of demonic influence). But, at the same time, the ending isn't totally incongruous; after all, we do spend most of the movie hearing the cultish Hittites railing against just such a corporeal incubus that they're certain is hiding in town, and we are also privy to Sharon Stone's nightmare wherein she is molested by hairy demon arms and has a spider dropped in her mouth. That's about it, though. Is that enough to justify what we can otherwise chalk up to the desire for a shock ending? If more subtle supernatural flourishes were judiciously placed throughout the film, it would make such a conclusion significantly more palatable (with the added benefit of livening up the mostly mundane central story). An incubus lurking in the peripheries, steadily building up to his grand entrance after a false conclusion is far preferable to an incubus crashing the party unannounced, having taken a cab over from somewhere, probably Rosemary's place, where they were shooting an entirely different film.

Tangentially, a much better picture that this one recalls for me is Charles B. Pierce' The Evictors (1979). Pierce is the fellow behind the fascinating-but-clumsy faux documentary/fiction hybrids The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976). In contrast to those two lovably schlocky, intentionally-comedic films, The Evictors plays for real suspense and terror, to which it admirably succeeds. Aided by the ample talents of Jessica Harper and Michael Parks in front of the camera, it deftly creates the air of a quietly-threatening rural mystery surrounding a young couple that Deadly Blessing appears to aspire to. The film's vaguely supernatural undertones and 1940s period setting elevate its ambitions, which are both fulfilled and resolved satisfactorily in its grim final moments. The Evictors and Deadly Blessing weren't made all that far apart from one another, and their budgets seem to be roughly comparable, so: what is Deadly Blessing's excuse?

*the film's other engagements with sexuality are about as complex as that poster up there or its scene of Michael Berryman as a sexually-repressed peeping tom. Read: not very.

**also, while it's quite possible that I simply missed the explanation for this, it is confusing that the Hittites refer to the women as "incubus," or a male essence-sucking, sexual demon. Perhaps they simply mean to yell "you are being visited by an incubus!" but find that to be too much of a mouthful? This reading would help explain the ending, in any case.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers / III: Teenage Wasteland (1988; 1989) dir. Michael A. Simpson

Loglines: Five years after she racked up quite the body count at Camp Arawak, Peter/Angela Baker has received a sex change, been released from psychiatric care, assumed a new last name, and taken up her favorite hobby: creatively murdering naughty teens at summer camps. Let's all sing the happy camper song.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland are the well-titled late '80s direct-to-video sequels to 1983's Sleepaway Camp. Both share the same creative team (director Michael A. Simpson, writer Fritz Gordon, star Pamela Springsteen) and, despite being low-budget slasher productions in the era of video, have the distinction of being shot on 35mm. Neither film is particularly good, though their attempts to elevate Angela to the top-tier of the pantheon of slasher villains is admirable (if flawed and partially unsuccessful).  

Unhappy Campers is far more enjoyable than its continuation, Teenage Wasteland.* The relentless stupidity on display in this first sequel is just about matched by the relentless entertainment it provides. The film is brisk and perfectly watchable; one of the more enjoyable latter day slashers I've seen (while still in no way equaling the quality of the dawn-of-the-'90s slash epics like Soavi's Stagefright (1987) or Spiegel's Intruder (1989); this is decidedly cheap art, after all). The film is gory with a bile black sense of humor (a drunken young camper waking up tied down in a barbeque pit next to the charred corpse of her sister is played for laughs), and of course needlessly crude ("Tit Patrol"; "Shit Sisters") and exploitative (unsurprisingly, most of the featured campers are female and around 20 years old. This may make it difficult to accept them as realistic campers, but makes it very easy for the film to encourage them to repeatedly flash their chests). Moreover, it looks and feels about as scrappy as a film can, and the visible talent-- both in front of and behind the camera--is paltry. Pamela Springsteen, as Angela, is probably the best case for why this absence of talent does not necessarily make the picture a bad one: an almost sublime non-actor, she monotones through her numerous one-liners and zingers with the enthusiasm of dried sap, and yet we still find her appealing. She, and the film itself, exude a certain je ne sais quoi attitude towards the whole affair, as if they are keenly aware that their endeavor is a silly one and so are able to squeeze every bit of deadpan fun out of it without possessing formidable skills or the desire to try hard. This is, whether consciously or not, a postmodern film, and it benefits from its metareflective moments (say, for instance, when Angela admits that she really ought to have killed her top adversary first, as if acknowledging the restrictions of her narrative) and, more importantly, its intertextuality with the slasher canon.

This leads me to a brief discussion of what I found most interesting about these sequels: their attempt to launch Angela as the first bonafide female slasher villain. Now of course, there are numerous instances wherein the killer in a slasher film is revealed to be a woman (Happy Birthday to Me (1981), Friday the 13th (1980), Curtains (1983)), but none of these killers would go on to recur in their own franchises--it seems absurd to imagine the Friday the 13th sequels featuring a reanimated Mrs. Voorhees donning the iconic hockey mask. But why does it seem absurd? Why do we need a hulking, monstrous male as the unconquerable madman? Carol Clover's theories on the slasher film and their interactions with gender provide us some help here: the rage and brutality of slasher killings is most easily embodied by a form of masculinity in crisis and run amok. It would be tough--though, as we'll see, not impossible--to capture that same masculine confusion in the body of a woman. Unless, of course, we are presented with a situation akin to what the original Sleepaway Camp's coda left us with: a boy ideologically trapped in a girl's body. And so in saunter the Sleepaway Camp sequels, attempting to rectify these gendered matters with curious results. Besides some more subtle touches (like the graffiti wall at the opening of Teenage Wasteland that reads "Angela is Back!" as if we were all patiently waiting), this attempt is explicit: a scene in Unhappy Campers plays out as a nascent Battle of the Slasher Titans, as Angela (dressed as an amalgam of Michael Myers and Leatherface) quickly dispatches two boys dressed as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees with some finger blades and a chainsaw, respectively. As this scene and the VHS box art (above) make abundantly clear, in the Sleepaway Camp films we are presented with a villain exactly if not more monstrous than the baddies we're used to, but all the more threatening because of the disarming external appearance she presents to the world. Angela is a pretty young woman, not a beefy, scarified zombie killer--you might actually invite her into your cabin. Yet the films also take pains to remind us that Angela's homicidal tendencies derive from her transgender status--it is the male raging within her that compels her to kill, or so we are led to believe. While her transgendered status allows her to at least present the image of a memorable, recurring female slasher villain, it's unfortunate that this also leads to some curt vilification of transgendered people (as Angela's story is being told around a campfire, one camper spits that her doctors "gave him a sex change... and our parents' taxes paid for it!"). We may never be blessed with an uncomplicated female slasher icon, but (her troubling origins aside) I believe these films amply demonstrate that such an icon is feasible. In the end it's not her conflicted masculinity that makes Angela such an appealing villain, but her hokey clear-cut moral compass--only she would make a statement like "weeding out the bad kids" and mean it literally. All that, plus her quips are funnier than Freddy's.

 *I have nearly nothing to say about Teenage Wasteland, and so will relegate it to a footnote, out of spite. The film carries over the appealing elements of Unhappy Campers (the groan-inducing humor, the creative bloodshed, the Angela myth-making), but everyone present seems to be simply going through the motions. Where is the inspiration or enthusiasm behind the shoddiness? With only a little over a year separating it from its predecessor, it's possible that the team behind these films didn't really have an idea for a proper third entry but rushed this one out because Unhappy Campers had been a rental success. Everything feels like an afterthought. The campers are older and more deplorable than ever. Springsteen plays Angela as over-the-top nutty, rather than the slightly-more-restrained and sympathetic moralist of Unhappy Campers (unraveling the second film's development of her wise-cracking Norman Bates persona). Worst of all, it's dull: while almost exactly the same length as Unhappy Campers, Teenage Wasteland crawls like a grievously wounded camper to the end of its running time. It does, however, have a couple good lines, which I will now repeat: 1) "You look older than the rest of the campers..." "Massive drugs." 2) "I like films that really make America look great. Like Rambo III."


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Twixt (2011) dir. Francis Ford Coppola

Logline: A nearly washed-up horror fiction writer arrives in a foggy, off-kilter small town for a book signing. He sticks around to solve a mystery, write a collaboration, dream a few dreams, hang out with E. A. Poe, and battle some (personal) demons. 

Twixt, Coppola's latest digital feature film/experiment, has not been very well received on the festival circuit. On the one hand, this reaction makes a sort of sense: the film has an extremely idiosyncratic visual style that borders on the inept, supporting a narrative that is purposefully pulpy when not obscured by the haze of dream logic. On the other, the negative reactions reek of dismissal based on rather impermeable definitions of how a film should look and operate. What I find: Twixt is a brilliant, fascinating film, as personal as it is quietly revelatory.

But it's not really a horror film. To be sure it has all of the trappings and atmosphere of one: ghosts, vampires, child murders, foggy towns, midnight strolls. However, these elements serve as a sort of associative window dressing, rather than agents of fright or unease. At its core, Twixt is a lovely, melancholy exploration of the creative process and the perversion that creativity must suffer when transformed into physical product.

So Val Kilmer plays Hall Baltimore, a "bargain basement Stephen King" who arrives in the town of Swann Valley for a book signing. Swann Valley, being itself a third-rate Twin Peaks infused with a bit more mundanity, has no bookstore but instead a hardware store with a book section. The book signing fails to be a complete bust, for while there Baltimore meets the local sheriff (Bruce Dern) and learns of the recent murder of a young girl, harkening back to the town's proud tradition of child slayings. Soon enough, Baltimore and the sheriff join their untalented minds together to craft a novel about the case, with the surefire title The Vampire Executions. The film, the book-that-is-being-written-during-the-film, and the book itself intertwine across the running time, creating a metacollage that makes it difficult--and maybe superfluous--to pin down which events are happening in which text. The film's loose reflections on creativity and the construction of artistic narrative (guided by the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe) are butted up against the pulpy mystery of the novel's plot/the film's plot. This is disorienting and is probably partly to blame for some of the negative reaction the film has garnered: if one mistakes the peripheral mystery plot as What It's All About, one is strapping one's self in for collision with disappointment.

Even though it may look that way (especially visually; see below), Twixt is not a film all too concerned with surfaces. It's not a film about a mystery, but about the reason behind why one is carried along by its clues and revelations. And for a film that is ostensibly about a writer writing a book, it's worth noting how little time is actually spent on the process of writing. Instead of the written product, the film values the imaginative process of creating that narrative in the mind and unconscious--to actually put the imagination down on paper, if possible at all, is not tenable without a cheapening, an abasement of the original vision (either due to natural inability or the forces and expectations of the market consuming your writing). We are privy to one actual scene of Baltimore composing, a straight-to-the-camera montage wherein he drunkenly struggles to put down the first words of his outline (Kilmer is in top form here, and throughout). He finds himself unable to do so--the previous night's dream, in all its subtle melancholy and eccentricity, cannot be conveyed by "The night was humid." When Baltimore finds his moment of redemption and completes his character arc it is through his dream, not through his completion of the manuscript. His novel, a product, can only go on to do "okay business." The film seems to find this state of things inevitable, and brushes it off as smilingly as it can--perhaps you have to sell out your dreams a little, choke them up with stock plots and resolutions, in order to get by. But this turn doesn't have to ruin what can be gained through the imaginative construction of narrative. The film's resolution devolves into a hokey pulp horror moment, but it's done with a grin. The narrative's real conclusion was back in the dreamworld (a conclusion that autobiographically mirrors a tragedy in Copolla's own life), and we're allowed to indulge in it. It's hard for me to see the film as making a case against the written word and its limitations. Rather, it seems clear in its argument that while our words may be corrupted, the purity of our visions remains.

There's also the film's visual aesthetic to grapple with. To say the least: it is a style that will not immediately appeal to all. The film has been shot on medium-grade digital cameras and has that slightly bland, cheap consumer feeling to it in certain scenes. Baltimore's dream strolls through the town at night are shot primarily in black and white (with garish red accents applied to certain objects (mostly blood), like in Sin City (2005) or Schindler's List (1993), but it's more effective here when subtle: a pink rouge coloring the cheeks of Elle Fanning's lonely character). Significantly, these dream sequences are composed of live action video with static, rendered backgrounds that give one the feeling of watching actors moving around in a Windows 98-era video game (some shots look uncannily like screencaps from the classic, atmospheric point-and-click adventure Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland).* Visually, it's a logical extension from the work Coppola was doing in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) (with its towers of blue flame and superimposed silhouettes of the hairy-palmed Count), but here it's so much more endemic to the environment and material. Twixt is a dream--it looks like one, operates like one, and resolves (or fails to resolve) itself like one. Like the best of dreams, it fades only partially upon waking, its images and spirits continuing to mull around behind our eyes.

*Apparently these dream sequences were filmed in 3D (or maybe post-converted?) and projected that way theatrically. I did not see the film this way, so can only imagine that the 3D makes these sequences appear even more jarring (I have trouble believing that the 3D would soften the images' peculiarity).


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Piranha 3D (2010) dir. Alexandre Aja / Piranha 3DD (2012) dir. John Gulager

Loglines: Prehistoric piranha attack college spring break vacation town. Then, primordially insatiable: prehistoric piranha attack tacky "adult" water park. 

Last night I curated a private double feature of the recent Piranha 3D and its even-fresher sequel, Piranha 3DD (both of which serve as remakes of the original Joe Dante and James Cameron films, which to begin with were cheeky take-offs on Jaws. Therefore, this duology comes to us through more layers of irony than most). Despite every attempt of Dimension Films' advertising campaigns to convince otherwise, the films are reasonably entertaining and contain only about one half of the crass, lewd, meatheaded worldview that their titles and premises imply. I'd stop far short of calling them intelligent entertainments, but they are extremely self-conscious pieces of nouveau-exploitation cinema and almost always use this awareness to their advantage. In numerous scenes, the films demonstrate their cognizance of the total ridiculousness of what's being displayed; they're not only poking fun of the audience's expectations for and enjoyment of what's on screen, but their own roles in putting it there. We might call it "ashamed filmmaking," rather than "shameless." It's amusing how often the films choose to interrupt the buildup during scenes of sexuality or titillation: tequila body shots are interrupted with projectile vomiting, topless hang gliding with legs being munched off, the loss of virginity with a less-than-literal form of vagina dentate. Moreover, neither film celebrates its degenerate partying fraternity brothers and coeds, but slaughters them mercilessly. Yet this obvious loathing is offset by the incessant ogling: kill 'em all, but gawk at 'em first. But, again, the voyeurism seems more perfunctory than genuine. You want breasts, the film says, so here's the biggest breasts we've got. Seeing such sights so banally displayed, we start to wonder whether we ever wanted them at all. In a twist that would set Laura Mulvey's head spinning, the women of the Piranha films are objectified without being sexualized. It's as if the sexual potential has been evacuated from the women based upon both the context in which they exist (incessant piranha-induced bodily carnage) and the manner by which they're presented. The films put nearly zero effort (stylistic or narrative) towards rendering women sexually: they are shot flatly with no definition, bobbing as fleshy, plastic buoys in the water. It's telling that the most prolonged scene of nudity in either film is Piranha 3D's "naked mermaid water ballet," which, set to its score of the Lakmé "Flower Duet," is almost tasteful. I wouldn't call this direction for female representation in trash cinema a positive one (after all, the distinction is a slight one; what we're talking about is the difference between women being "sexy" fish bait rather than sexy fish bait). It is, however, an interesting one.*

The larger topic that these films sparked up in my thoughts was the continually sad fate of the comedy horror film. Historically, the comedy horror subgenre has been one to suffer extraordinary blows both critically and financially (for example, Piranha 3D barely made back its $24 million budget domestically, while Piranha 3DD is only playing in 86 theaters during its opening week of release); the biggest issue seems to be that films classified in this manner simply don't connect with audiences. It's no surprise that those few comedy horrors that have broken through to achieve mainstream success (Ghostbusters (1984), Beetlejuice (1988)) are more easily labeled as pure comedies in horror set dressings. Others (Shaun of the Dead (2004), An American Werewolf in London (1981)), while successful in blending the two genres and deserving of their reputations, only gained them after the fact-- these films didn't particularly storm the box office, instead being the beneficiaries of home video. Regardless of financial success (rarely a clear indicator of anything other than the filmgoing audience's current tastes), there do appear to be a few different approaches to staging a comedy horror film, which we can see the Piranha films wading around. Films like the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, and others like Trick 'r' Treat (2007), Return of the Living Dead (1985), and Hatchet (2006) fare the best: they balance their laughs with genuine scares and thrills (even the exceedingly goofy Return has the horrifying Tarman and the queasy notion of zombies eating brains to relieve the pain of death; Hatchet, perhaps the closest to the Piranha films in its lowbrow humor, never fails to make its villain Victor Crowley a legitimate agent of terror-- in this regard, Hatchet 2 (2010) is a miserable followup). Some comedy horrors take a slightly different track: being uncertain of their ability to provide genuine scares, films like Tremors (1990), Fright Night (1985), and Night of the Creeps (1986) frame their comedy around a general tone of lighthearted adventure that, if handled with the appropriate care and jocularity, can almost always carry them through. Still others go the gross-out route: something like Dead Alive (1992) is composed entirely of goopy punchlines and visual gags, and is clearly less concerned with the horror (and sometimes even the comedy) in deference to the excess of ludicrous carnage. 

No approach to the comedy horror is necessarily better than another, but the trouble lies in when a film fails to commit to or understand these options. Piranha 3D seems to hover unsteadily somewhere between all three-- it can't be taken too seriously or build much suspense with its silly, poorly-rendered CGI piranha, but the scenes attempting tense rescues (or adventurous ones; see: Adam Scott on a skidoo, Ving Rhames with a motorized propeller) clash with the chum-filled mayhem that it simultaneously nails. Such a blend places an uneasy tone over the film, allowing it work only intermittently. This is an issue mostly resolved in Piranha 3DD, which absolutely understands what it wants to be: a trivial, preposterous bloodbath. More Troma than Corman, the humor takes precedence, and its hokey tenor was more amiable than I had expected (how did Ving Rhames afford a prosthetic leg that can double as a shotgun? asks Paul Scheer. With all the money he saved on socks, Ving answers dryly). Not unexpectedly, the more creatively conscious and successful of the two is the one that won't even have a chance to recoup its expenses or gain wide exposure (recall: 86 theaters on opening week). But the studio was probably right. Who would want to see smirking junk like Piranha 3DD anyway? 

You and me.

*To their credit (I guess), both films do feature strong female protagonists in Elisabeth Shue and Danielle Panabaker. These women are independently assertive and headstrong, requiring neither the impetuses of men or adversity to become that way. While both characters are still about as flat and thick-skulled as the plot demands, this is a more welcome representation.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meltdown 01: Yellow Days and Nights

Inspired by the wonderful Moviethons and Giallo Meltdowns that Richard over at Doomed Moviethon and Cinema Somnambulist regularly partakes in, I decided to parlay my current unemployment into just such a daring venture: I would watch 21 previously unseen (by me) Italian giallo films over the course of only 72 hours (6/1-6/3). By the time I emerged from my J&B-induced cocoon on Sunday evening, I was battered and bruised, the couch was sinking a little deeper, and I'd witnessed more human carnage than most emergency rooms during a full moon, yet I slunk off into the fading sunlight (to pick up a pizza, of course) feeling elated--I had completed an entirely unnecessary and excessive act, but, heck, I did it. The following is a record of my experience, composed of brief-ish thoughts on each film and whatever physical/emotional/psychological trauma I was going through at that time in this marathon event.

Friday

 

The Killer Has Reserved 9 Seats (L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone) (1974) dir. Giuseppe Bennati 


Nine rich people who hate each other follow a guy who looks like Ralph Bates in Taste the Blood of Dracula (and who may be a ghost??) back to an old, abandoned theater that one of them owns (dubbed by one character as "Dracula's summer home") because the party they were at was too boring. Where this film goes right is in its expression of the utter loathing and hostility these characters feel for one another--it's wall to wall snarkiness for the most part, with everyone mercilessly deriding everyone else to their faces and very calmly and glibly accusing each other of murder (one of the guests quips, "you're so civil while tearing each other to pieces"). I'd placed all the films I wanted to watch during this Meltdown into a list randomizer to determine the viewing order, and somehow this was the best possible option that could have wound up in the initial position. It has a wonderful mood and atmosphere that's sucking me right into the spirit of things (the musty theater is a superb location; see, for instance, the sequence wherein a handheld camera explores the eerie, wind-jostled curtains of the empty stage for nearly a minute). There's talk of a 100-year-old birthday curse taking its inevitable vengeance on the guests, which gets me excited because mixing a sense of the paranormal (even a misleading Scooby Doo sense) or Gothic elements into the giallo formula is a nearly surefire way to have me grinning. We get moving mannequin and suit of armor gags, a killer wearing a mask featuring an obscenely bushy unibrow, and one of the very best surprise murder scenes I've seen in some time (in cheeky fashion, the conclusion of Romeo & Juliet is turned actual rather than dramatic). As the film ends, I have the feeling that 20 more like this would be breezy. Body Count: 8

Phantom of Death (Un delitto poco comune) (1988) dir. Ruggero Deodata


And then Ruggero Deodata (Cannibal Holocaust, The House at the Edge of the Park) goes and ruins all my hopes and dreams with Phantom of Death, which--while never less than decent--is not the creamiest yellow crop. In fact, it's tough to even call it a full steam giallo--there's a brief mystery element in the first 20 minutes (by way of a bizarre opening montage featuring Michael York playing at a piano recital, a fully-regaled ninja practicing with his sword, and a lab technician being murdered after tinkering around with a microscope), but it's rather quickly discarded in favor of a fun but tension-less cat-and-mouse police procedural between the literally diseased killer and the inspector tracking him. That inspector is played by the inimitable Donald Pleasence, who in every scene looks as if he was just woken up from a nap. It's a weak showing on Pleasence's part and you can tell he's not overly engaged in the material, which is problematic considering so much of the film's latter half rests on him. To make up for it, we do get a bit of the lovely giallo stalwart Edwige Fenech (in, sadly, her only Meltdown appearance) who looks really great here, far removed from her typical early 70s milieu, barring her dreadful late 80s fashion and hair styling. If nothing else, the film has an abundance of gushing arterial bloodspray (which is rarely a detriment) and a swell Argento-esque body-crashing-through-mirror scene (which, little could I have guessed, would become a recurring image as my days wore on). Also, as far as I know, it's the first Progeria exploitation film, so there's that. Body Count: 6


You Will Die at Midnight (Morirai a mezzanotte) (1986) dir. Lamberto Bava


This Bava schlockfest begins with the goofiest Claudio Simonetti score my ears have ever been blessed with; it's got the real bright idea of mixing classical strings with a New Wave beat, and I'm pretty sure later on Simonetti even cannibalizes musical phrases from his own score for Deep Red. Visually, it begins with a skeevy dude peeping on his wife shopping for underwear and witnessing her engaging in an illicit liaison. Naturally this leads to some marital strife which quickly devolves into the laziest murderous marital struggle ever committed to celluloid. When the wife soon after winds up all dead, of course the husband is the prime suspect. But is he the killer? Is he!? Several pickled snakes and missing pipe jokes later, the answer is who cares. The film's late highlight is when a girl attempts to ward of the killer with a whirring electric mixer but simply crumples and waits for death after the plug is pulled from the power outlet (after dispatching of her, the killer then grinds a bit of her into some blood stew with said mixer and pours it out on the kitchen counter. Just because). There are some effective moments as the films winds down: I'm thinking particularly of the killer's unnerving physicality when chasing after the heroine and a pretty neat scene on a foggy beach. To bring it all home, we end with the socially responsible message that being the victim of rape almost inevitably leads to one becoming a psycho-sexual killer. The more you know! You Will Die at Midnight is entertaining enough in part, but not exactly up to Lamberto Bava's usual cheesy standards (for that I tip my hat towards a few of his other gialli: Delirium: Photos of Gioa, A Blade in the Dark, and the legitimately great Macabre). After a quite abrupt ending (which will be another transfilmic motif) and as the credits rolled, my eyes started burning. This turn of events did not bode well for my endurance, being only 1/7th of the way through my journey. After draping a hot, wet towel over my eyes, it was time to move on. Body Count: 7


Plot of Fear (E tanta paura) (1976) dir. Paolo Cavara


Paolo Cavara's wonderful Plot of Fear heals my ailment: it's an incredibly fun, loopy mystery that sets off at a brisk pace and carries it throughout (we have two seemingly unrelated murders within the first five minutes, one of which features a prostitute strangling her masochistic client--now there's a neat reversal for you). What else helps make it a winner is that the film is very jokey: we have a bored convict offering the police a psychological profile of the killer, a cuckolded husband getting all hot and bothered over covert photographs of his wife and her lover, a maid loudly masturbating while standing in the bathroom as her employers stand outside, and (strangest of all) a cartoon pornography screening party with a chimpanzee in attendance (this also with the acknowledgment that the aforementioned cartoon porno is the craziest thing I have ever seen). This is the type of film where the central inciting crime involves a group of party-goers "jokingly" attempting to feed a prostitute to a tiger, only to have her die of fright on them (and that's simply the cover story). There's also a good cast backing it up. Eli Wallach and Tom Skerrit are in attendance in smaller roles. Corinne Clery (The Story of O) brings her skillset to bear in the film's primary love scene, enthusiastically jamming her tongue into the lead detective's mustache. That detective, Insp. Lomenzo, has his own off-kilter eccentricities that brighten the proceedings. He's the type of guy who hates macrobiotic food, loves gigantic bowls of spaghetti, claims that his "frontal lobes are highly developed," and has a framed print of Snoopy howling "BOOOOOOOOOO!" hanging in his living room. The mystery plot loses me a little bit in the final moments, but it's probably my own fault. This is a good one. Body Count: 9 (+ 1 pig)


Crimes of the Black Cat (Sette scialli di seta gialla) (1972) dir. Sergio Pastore


The title of Pastore's film literally translates to Seven Shawls of Yellow Silk, which is a) a much better title and b) puts it in league with all those other gialli that are part of the unspoken agreement to transform "7" into the unluckiest number of all (see: Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Seven Notes in Black, etc). Released in 1972, Crimes of the Black Cat hit Italian cinemas the year after the genre reached both its creative and popular peak, and it's a film that rides far off the fumes. Besides the requisite rash of killings, the film has another creative mystery angle focused around the killer's methods: somehow a cat jumping out of a wicker basket is frightening people to death, and the interested parties must find out why. The film also features two separate investigations (and primary investigators) of the crimes with each given equal attention by the narrative, which is a choice that appears somewhat unique in the gialloverse (at least based on my viewing record). Add to that the fact that one of the investigators is a suave, wealthy blind man who never loses his ingenuity or his cool, even when accidentally bumping into corpses (and who also easily out-handsomes Karl Malden in The Cat O'Nine Tails), and we're left with a hero pretty close to a vigilante crime fighter (shades of Matt Murdock/Daredevil). Crimes of the Black Cat probably isn't as accomplished as a film like Plot of Fear, and yet it's still emerging as my favorite so far. It has an inspired lunacy and sense of reckless, stylish abandon that earns it a place slightly higher in my personal giallo hierarchy. We receive such visual treats as countless fast zooms into extreme closeups of growling cats, a man falling into a vat of boiling milk (?), and a tonally-inappropriate shower slashing that serves to unnerve (even more so due to the fact that, as brutal as it is, the print I saw looked to be missing some frames). After another crazy-abrupt resolution and a slow-motion Argento plunge through a window, we're on to the next course. Body Count: 8 (+ 1 cat)

 

Watch Me When I Kill (Il gatto dagli occhi di giada) (1977) dir. Antonio Bido


Director Antonio Bido would helm the somber and skillful Bloodstained Shadow a scant year after Watch Me When I Kill, so it's a bit off-putting to find the latter so lacking in the merits of the former. I'm going to chalk at least some of this disappointment up to the quality of the version I'm watching; its sub-VHS picture and excessive cropping on all sides of the frame--producing little more than a series of extreme, claustrophobic closeups--are tough to absorb yourself into. Regardless, it's not without its charming quirks: one woman suffers death by green slop and potatoes, an old man takes a bath in Drano, and the hero works his detection through doodling. Speaking of the hero, he's sort of unique, too, in that he's not sparked on in his investigation by egalitarian ideals; he's not as interested in stopping the killer and bringing him to justice as in convincing him to buzz off and leave his girlfriend alone. It's a rare, pragmatic position for a protagonist in one of these films to take, and not unappreciated. The film begins to resemble the Bido of a year hence in the third act, where the motivation behind the killings takes on a strangely serious tone, bordering on the exploitative. See, it's actually all about Jewish revenge against Nazi collaborators. This revelation is about as left-field as it reads, but it leads to a conclusion more compelling than the film that has come before it. And, even with the stiff competition, Watch Me When I Kill also holds the crown for the most abrupt ending of all (one that did not fail to make me laugh so hard that it came out more as a snort). Onward to the end. Body Count: 6


Murder Rock (Murderock - Uccide a passo di danza) (1984) dir. Lucio Fulci


I end my first night not with a bang, but a sweaty dance routine in aerobics gear. A dance and slash epic conducted by maestro Lucio Fulci starring Ray Lovelock and Olga Karlatos sounds like an incredible composition on paper, but the end result is hardly a tune worth whistling. It's a dull, lazy picture that features not nearly enough dancing or slashing to sustain its running time. Viewing it around one in the morning, I was having difficulty paying attention to begin with, and the film offered little to remedy this. This said, it's not completely devoid of interest. Some fun things: the dancing is suitably energetic, though there is far too little of it; the killer's M.O. provides some much-needed creative suspense, even if it's far from medically accurate (he chloroforms his victims and then sticks a long pin into their hearts (or left collarbone, more precisely) to stop them); and we have a couple-few moments with the creepy child actress from Fulci's own House by the Cemetery, here playing a similarly creepy bug-collecting, wheelchair-bound weirdo. The film is a non-starter, and by the time it inanely flashes a quote from John Huston on screen before the closing credits I find myself actively disliking it. Coming from the man who directed some of the best gialli out there (Don't Torture a Duckling, Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Seven Notes in Black), Murder Rock is a sore disappointment and a real bummer to end my night on. For now, I must sleep, and perhaps tomorrow will provide yellower pastures. Body Count: 5 (+ 1 bird)


Saturday

 


The Girl in Room 2A (La casa della paura) (1974) dir. William Rose


The start of day two and we're immediately back on track. We begin with some jaunty music and a ritual stabbing. Good morning! This is a spoiler, but: I ended up liking The Girl in Room 2A quite a lot. A bit of an oddity, it's a giallo filmed in Italy and starring Italians but produced and directed by Americans (the producer was Dick Randall, that wonderful bozo behind Pieces). Regardless, it fits seamlessly into the wider body of gialli being produced in the mid 70s. It's slow and moody, working on its own internal logic that you have to come to accept (for instance, it's not rational for the heroine, after moving into a new room, to clean up a puddle of blood she finds under a rug instead of, you know, inquiring about its origins, and yet that is what she does. And, in the moment, it almost makes sense). Again, it's an example of a giallo employing Gothic horror elements to great effect: we find weird mannequins, mini-guillotines, medieval torture dungeons, and carpets spurting blood of their own accord. The script also has a bit of a chip on its shoulder in re: the fallibility of the justice system and the need to punish criminals and sinners outside of the law--many of the speeches it gives to its cult member villains sound all too earnest. Makes you wonder. Body Count: 7

Nothing Underneath (Sotto il vestito niente) (1985) dir. Carlo Vanzina


Nothing Underneath is the sort of silliness I had wanted from You Will Die At Midnight. Like that film, it's coming way late in the giallo cycle (for all intents and purposes, the genre was dead by the time the 80s rolled around), but it uses the new decade's cheesy extravagance to its advantage. Donald Pleasence makes his second Meltdown appearance, this time sporting an accent and more vigor (see, for instance, the dedication he imparts into chowing down on a burger at Wendy's while rocking a napkin bib, in the film's tastiest scene). The film's premise concerns fashion modeling (naturally) but also a psychic connection between twins--when a country bumpkin has the psychic twinge that his sister is in trouble, he quick hops onto a jet to Milan and spends the next hour and half doing a fish out of water routine. Tom Schanley has some pretty dreadful chops, but he somehow manages to make the character come across as the endearingly clueless type (and anyway, Worst Actor goes to the Asian photographer, who both receives the honor of delivering the titular line and is the worst goddamn actor I've ever seen). The generally fluffy proceedings are bolstered by a great Pino Donnagio score and a strong final act, but this (like so much of the 80s stuff) is too easily dispensable. Unbelievably, we end on another slow motion broken window jump (although this time with an extra corpse in tow). Body Count: 5

Weekend Murders (Concerto per pistola solista) (1970) dir. Michele Lupo


I appreciate the title's sort of bland frankness ("Yes, Nigel and I were just about to pop off to the cottage this weekend for some murders"), and it's fitting considering the film's dry humor (its literal title translates into something like "Concerto for Solo Gun," which explains the film's insistence in placing lots of nondiegetic gun blasts over the audio track whenever a body is discovered, even when it's a stabbing victim). Weekend Murders is an enjoyable romp, even though it falls far closer to an English parlor mystery than a giallo (it even ends with a great "round up all the suspects" reveal and explanation). Fittingly, it is trying awfully hard to appear English, and sort of succeeds despite itself. Even though casting the beefy Italian Gastone Moschin (Ugo Piazza in Fernando Di Leo's incredible Caliber 9) as a bumbling constable seems misguided, he totally pulls it off, winding up as a supremely likable accidental detective. His two man comedy act with the untalented, credit-hogging Scotland Yard detective ("I've filled up ten expensive looking little notebooks and now know even less about this case than before") propels the film through any rough patches. Though, as luck would have it, there aren't many--the mystery suffices, and the comedy hits more than misses (my favorite quip, coming immediately after the discovery of a strangled corpse, is when Georgie, the sexually repressed momma's boy, laments that the killer is "not very imaginative"). Chalk me up as pleased. Body Count: 5


Orgasmo (1969) dir. Umberto Lenzi


No three day stint of brain damage is complete without a touch of Lenzi. I can't recall ever experiencing such a 180 degree turn in my opinion of a film while in the process of watching it. For the first half an hour, Orgasmo felt unbearable. Aided by a go-nowhere romance plot and Carroll Baker's histrionics, I was ready to start slamming my head against the table to stay awake. Then, out of nowhere, Lou Castel's character starts to take on some menace, and when joined by his "sister" that menace actualizes itself. This movie is incredible. Perhaps it's simply my sadistic pleasure in watching Baker be psychologically tortured for forty minutes, but I was riveted. For a film that's so openly melodramatic (thanks, Carroll), the number of quiet moments of suspense is impressive. Moreover, it discovers its own sick sense of humor (watch out for my favorite scene of overacting, as many pitchers of liquid are thrown and overturned for desired effect). A fantastic resolution with some predictable comeuppance for the guilty parties, and I couldn't be happier. This is my favorite film of the Meltdown. How did this happen? Also: I believe (if nothing has been overlooked) that Orgasmo provides our first J&B sighting. Drink 'em if you've got 'em. Body Count: 3


The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (La sanguisuga conduce la danza) (1975) dir. Alfredo Rizzo



How can a film with such a title be so very dull? We've hit a low with Bloodsucker, which I'm going to try very hard to find something nice to say about (to challenge myself), but which in fact discovers new levels of tedium. So let's be nice: 1) the period setting is welcome and the sets/costumes are competent, 2) it's utilizing the same legend/history as Paul Naschy's excellent Horror Rises From the Tomb and Panic Beats, 3) the characters conveniently dig visible graves for the deceased so I could easily keep track of the body count while my attention drifted up and away. Bizarrely innocent lesbian exploitation and a paper-mache severed head do little to elevate this dreck. And that was me trying to be generous! Blech. Body Count: 3


Death Walks on High Heels (La morte cammina con i tacchi alti) (1971) dir. Luciano Ercoli


I won't bury the lead: Death Walks on High Heels was a disappointment. I adore Ercoli's other Susan Scott giallo vehicle, Death Walks at Midnight, but this one lacked the panache and levity of that little yellow gift. This said, High Heels is decent enough, with a good cast in support of it: Frank Wolff, Susan Scott, and the ever-oily Luciano Rossi (here doing his best Dr. Claw impression over a decade before Inspector Gadget first hit airwaves. Rossi was always literally ahead of his time). It's pretty gory in certain sections and makes the surprising choice to kill off one of its leads about halfway through. Still, there's just not much else here to latch onto. However, it does possess one of my favorite goofy endings so far, as the picture freeze frames on the tableau of two inspectors staring lovingly into each other's smiling eyes as the younger lights a cigarette for his superior. But if that's the most interesting thing to end up in my notes, I'm less than convinced that this one is a gem. I'll always have the impeccable Stelvio Cipriani score to persuade me that my memories of it should be fonder than it deserves. Body Count: 4

Giallo a Venezia (1979) dir. Mario Landi


Perverted trash. That statement is not so much an insult as an accurate reading of this film's concerns. Giallo A Venezia is more or less a poor softcore porn film with the occasional scene of a prostitute being stabbed in the groin or a man being burned alive (his eyeballs unnervingly still rolling after the flames die out on his charred corpse). A Radley Metzger-level softcore giallo might be something to reckon with, but pretensions towards art is a truly foreign concept to this film. This said, there's still something sadly appealing about it, rendering it a more honestly enjoyable romp than either of the last two entries. For one, Jeff Blynn's Inspector DePaul is one of more amiable detectives I've encountered, and he deserves a place in a better movie. Looking like a shaggy, mustachioed, blonde Richard Gere, he woos me with his habit of keeping hard-boiled eggs in his coat pocket at all times, peeling them and chowing down at every inopportune moment. But, naturally, the procedural elements take a distant backseat to the sleazy sex stuff, which couldn't get much sleazier: marital rape set to big band music, female masturbation segueing into a brutal whipping, public exhibitionism, and (strangest of all) the massaging of the folds of a vagina-like mussel in a shell with an unlit cigarette. Moreover, the VHS composite cut I viewed even contains a scene where a man actually whips it out and starts jerking it in a movie theater. Classy stuff. It ends, and we and DePaul discover that the central mystery was no mystery at all. Figures. Regardless, this was an odd film to end the night on. I dread what dreams may come. Body Count: 5


Sunday



The Sweet Body of Deborah (Il dolce corpo di Deborah) (1968) dir. Romolo Guerrieri


Let day three commence. We start here, with this fun early entry in the genre. First off, check out this cast: Jean Sorel, Luigi Pistilli, a bearded George Hilton, and... Carroll Baker. Well, maybe it'll be like sweet and sour? Actually, she's fine here, and it's more Sorel's show anyway, despite the title being in reference to her character. Sorel plays a recently married man whose old girlfriend may or may not have killed herself because he took some of her money and then bolted in order to marry Baker instead. Pistilli plays an old friend who follows the newlyweds and tries to guilt Sorel/drive Baker insane (which, as her filmography has taught us, is not a particularly difficult task), and Hilton is a suave artist lodging in the villa next door. I don't know, but I think somebody is up to something! In fact, almost everyone is up to everything, as The Sweet Body of Deborah is almost entirely composed of double crosses in its homestretch. All of it is fairly standard twisty-ness (no revelation will surprise or bewilder), but it's handled if not with skill or flair then at least with competency by director Romolo Guerrieri. It reaches for the Gaslight angle with some ghostly happenings at the "dead" ex-girlfriend's house, and grasps for the crazy straw with a musical Twister love scene. Featherweight entertainment, and a solid beginning to my end. Although brace yourself for this body count: Body Count: 1

Psychout for Murder (Salvare la faccia) (1969) dir. Rossano Brazzi


Psychout for Murder is a fantastic, melancholy little film--and one of the better films I've watched so far. Can't really call it a mystery so much as a Hamlet revenge plot, with the entrancing Adrienne Larussa feigning madness in order to covertly punish her family for their crimes against her. Larussa has a remarkably strong screen presence in the film--she looks like an equal blend between Franco muses Soledad Miranda and Lina Romay, while displaying the distinctive traits of each (Miranda's sensuality and Romay's doe-eyed innocence). She carries the film well as it escalates into a an ending that eschews the typical third act bloodbath in favor of the establishment of an understated private hell for both the heroes and villains (discounting the fact that the film makes it awfully tough to distinguish between the two). Psychout for Murder also has a lot of style (several classy quasi-montages of fast cuts set to trippy music) and creativity (Larussa's character constructs several ingenuous death and seduction traps that MacGyver would envy). The only thing that might irk some is the almost constant reprisal of the film's theme, an icky little tune sent from a daughter to her "daddy." Body Count: 2

Smile Before Death (Il sorriso della iena) (1972) dir. Silvio Amadio


Despite the presence of the lovely Rosalba Neri (in her second Meltdown appearance), Smile Before Death doesn't do all that much for me. Directed by Silvio Amadio of Amuck! fame, I suppose I expected something a bit more engaging. It's by no means a bad film, just a little tame. It's weird and pervy without being weird and pervy enough. A teenaged girl's mother commits "suicide," so she is sent to live with her stepfather and his mistress (a photographer--now the title makes sense to you). Almost immediately, the mistress (Neri) is getting the teenaged stepdaughter all naked to model for her lens ("Turn to me like a quivering faun in the woods") and the stepfather is playing creepy tickling games with her. On reflection, I guess it is a pretty weird and pervy film, but after Giallo A Venezia most of this stuff feels a little pedestrian. It has a slew of similarities to immediately previous Meltdown entries: absurd overuse of main theme (Psychout for Murder), double crosses galore (Sweet Body of Deborah), closing car crash karmic justice (Orgasmo). Unique to this film is a pretty neat locking-a-door-from-outside-with-string trick that I'm pretty sure couldn't work IRL. Oh well, it's probably worth a watch if for nothing else than the goofy photoshoots, replete with the silliest wigs and outfits that the early 70s had to offer. Body Count: 3

Puzzle (L'uomo senza memoria) (1974) dir. Duccio Tessari


All around solid mystery thriller. I enjoyed this one a ton. It has a nice classical style and sense of professionalism to it--lacking rough edges, Puzzle is some straight ahead no bullshit suspense. The premise may be tired but it's delectable in this context: a man with amnesia resurfaces after nearly a year of being MIA and quickly becomes embroiled in a botched heist that he is said to have been a part of. Is he responsible, or are we dealing with a case of mistaken identity? Is his amnesia real or a put-on? His abandoned wife and previous partners in crime are eager to find out, and, heck, so was I. What else takes the film above its standard plot is the emphasis it places on the redemption and revitalization of the two protagonists' marriage. It's a sweet touch for the story to have and one that is, thankfully, unspoiled by any final act plot twists. Fun things from my notes: is naming your dog "Whiskey" the sign of a serious drinking problem? ("Good, Whiskey," "Fetch, Whiskey," etc.); the sharing of an apple/kiss feint; zipper-to-straight razor reveal; chainsaw vs. chair; "New York? Ah yes, that's in America isn't it?" Body Count: 4 (+ 1 dog, RIP Whiskey)

The Flower with Petals of Steel (Il fiore dai petali d'acciaio) (1973) dir. Gianfranco Piccioli


I'd call The Flower with Petals of Steel a victim of my exhaustion if not for my overly positive feelings for the two films that follow it in this patience-testing marathon. Something about this one failed to connect with me. It's slow-going, and the central mystery/dilemma never gains any momentum, considering that anyone with half a cinematic-brain understands that something is awry in the inciting accidental death--although, to give the film credit, when the solution is provided in the film's coda it's more preposterous than anyone could have ever imagined (brace yourself: underwater scuba diving lesbian love scene). If the film was skewed a bit more towards this brand of inanity, at least I'd have something to write about. As it is, there's not much here. Gianni Garko (Night of the Devils) and his Wrong Man Who Sleeps with Everyone routine is only cursorily compelling. Carroll Baker is here (again; how did I let this happen?), but in a weary, subdued, barely there performance--I almost missed the rambunctious version of her; a little bit of CB at full blast could have livened up the picture. There's another J&B sighting, a surgeon disposing of a corpse himself by first removing the spine in order to prevent rigor mortis, and the aforementioned scuba diving euphoria, but otherwise I'm spent. Of all the films I was lukewarm on, this is the one I'd be most anxious to revisit at a later date and with a clearer head. Maybe its appeal is too subtle for a psyche as damaged as mine was entering into it. This is film 19 after all. Regardless, I adore the above poster. Body Count: 2

Death Steps in the Dark (Passi di morte perduti nel buio) (1977) dir. Maurizio Pradeaux


The penultimate stop on my journey, Death Steps in the Dark is easily the most fun I've had so far. Like Plot of Fear, it's almost as interested in the comedy elements as it is with the bloodletting, although I'd argue the humor is more successful here if only because of how lighthearted and off-color some of it is (a lot of near slapstick, flavored primarily with misogyny and peppered with a little bit of homophobia. None of it comes off particularly hateful so much as misguided and almost charmingly juvenile. Like a giallo meant to hold the attention of children. Approximation of choice line: "A man doesn't buy another man a first class train ticket unless he's gay. Wait a minute... was he gay?!"). The premise is standard murder mystery fare (a light goes out in a crowded train car, and when it flickers back on a passenger lies dead), and it's competently strung out across the film's running time. Leonard Mann plays our supremely weaselly hero, Luciano Morelli, who seemingly hates his adorable--if a little airy--girlfriend Ingrid. At one point, he also has the bright idea of crossdressing in order to prevent detection by the police (he has at least one outfit change in this phase. Both choices aptly demonstrate a complete lack of fashion sense). The Looney Tunes antics escalate as Luciano and Ingrid pick up a young and beautiful female accomplice named (Little) Baffo, whose father was such a master safe cracker that he wrote a book about it. The antics the three of them get into involve, among other things, a gorilla mask. By the end, I had decided that I'd happily watch another hour and a half of Ingrid and Baffo doing their confused comedy routine with Luciano whimpering somewhere in the corner. In short: five bloody stars. Body Count: 5

A White Dress for Mariale (Un bianco vestito per Mariale) (1972) dir. Romano Scavolini


And here we are. A White Dress for Mariale is very nearly great, and, as is, is pretty darn good. Although coming fairly early in the giallo cycle, it's closer to being an out-and-out slasher (the title fits it better than it does the next year's Torso, which is oft-cited as the Italian proto-slasher par excellence, but only lives up to it in the last 20 minutes). But Mariale's slasher stampings make sense, considering director Romano Scavolini would go on, nearly a decade later, to craft the video nasty slasher classic Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (which I really need to sit down and watch someday soon). This is a film of abundance. Almost as if it were trying to make up for the paucity of Sunday's bloodshed, A White Dress for Mariale features eleven murders, three of which occur in the film's first two minutes. Practicly running out of the gate, the film never quite stumbles--the major issue is that the narrative is a bit undercooked. The central mystery behind Mariale and the cloistered treatment she receives at the hands of her paranoid husband (the great Luigi Pistilli) is intriguing, but the narrative finds little of interest to expand upon in the backgrounds of the numerous party guests invited to Mariale's masquerade (chief among them the dashing Ivan Rassimov, who--though the film's protagonist--has very little to do here. It's a waste, because he genuinely is the best dude). Instead, they serve as fodder for the lightspeed bloodbath that hits the last 20 minutes. But isn't that the point of a slasher anyway? Why am I griping? There's so much to feast upon here: an absolutely wonderful Gothic horror element (including a perplexing scene involving corpses and gale force indoor winds), a gorgeous Bruno Nicolai score, and a very satisfying circular ending. There's even a surplus of beloved absurdities, including the seduction of a suit of armor and the demise of a mechanical snake, expertly blasted off the ankle of a partygoer with a revolver. I think I'm changing my mind as I write all this. This film might actually be perfect. But who can tell? There's no way that I'm the best judge. I just watched 21 movies in a row and am assuredly a lost cause. Now: what to watch next weekend? Body Count: 11 (+ 1 bird, 1 mechanical snake)

Final Body Count: 109 humans, 2 birds, 1 dog, 1 cat, 1 pig, and 1 mechanical snake.
Favorite Films: Crimes of the Black Cat (Friday), Orgasmo (Saturday), Death Steps in the Dark (Sunday)
Blech Films: Murder Rock (Friday), Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (Saturday), The Flower with Petals of Steel (Sunday)
Highest Body Count: A White Dress for Mariale (11 humans, 1 bird, 1 mechanical snake)
Lowest Body Count: The Sweet Body of Deborah (1 human)
Best Mustache Insp. DePaul in Giallo a Venezia
Most in Need of Mustache: Ray Lovelock in Murder Rock