Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Long Ranger

The Hunting Party (Don Medford, 1971)

With the likes of  The Great Silence (1968), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968 )and The Wild Bunch (1969) trailblazing a morally grey and violently grittier direction for the Western, the seventies proved to be a decade where the genre would swing to various extremes: from slapstick comedy to supernatural horror, to pessimistic nihilism. Don Medford's The Hunting Party (1971) would be one of the films which opted for the latter.

You're in for a tough and unapologetic Western when it cold opens with a real life scene of a cow having its throat cut. If that isn't shocking enough, it's intercut with Candice Bergen being raped by her sadistic husband played by Gene Hackman. Calamity Jane this ain't. While Hackman is away on a hunting trip (which involves torturing an Asian prostitute) with his rich pals, Bergen is kidnapped by a permanently perspiring Oliver Reed (still rocking the Urbain Grandier look) and his gang of outlaws, where she's also raped by him. There really are no good guys in this film, in case you were wondering. The outlaw posse is oblivious to who her powerful and sadistic husband is and only snagged Bergen to teach Reed how to read.

The outlaws are at a distinct disadvantage to Hackman's hunting party since they're picked off from afar with the aid of very long range rifles. This leads to some absolutely horrific and dishonourable killings, including one person slain whilst taking a dump. As the film progresses, both men exhibit their stubborn ignorance in recognising the self-destructive paths they’re headed. Thus, it’s generally a downbeat affair as far as Westerns go. The one moment of light relief is the brief peaches scene highlighting the blossoming Stockholm Syndrome between Bergman  and Reed.

This is a morally grey film with no real heroes... anywhere. Hackman is the films villain. Bergen is nothing more than a trophy wife to him; her abduction is seen as a slight upon his manhood rather than motive to rescue her. To add further to this, Bergen’s feelings for her captor is makes her another target in Hackman’s sights. On the morality scale, 'good' is completely absent. In one notable scene where Hackman wastes away various outlaws upon a bell tower, Bergen yells for Reed to take her with him while making a getaway. This wounds Hackman's  pride even further; spurring him even to follow the pair through a desert during the film's memorable downbeat finale.

Outside of television work, Don Medford only helmed one other theatrical film, The Organisation (1971), which was the third entry in the Virgil Tibbs movies with Sidney Poitier - also released in the same year. A shame really, as the downbeat Corbucci veneer would have been a perfect fit for the rest of the nihilistic seventies. There's also Riz Ortolani's superb theme furthering the strong Spaghetti Western influence on the film.

Definitely not a film for everyone, in fact, it isn’t an understatement to consider The Hunting Party as a highly offensive film for today's sensibilities. Definitely not for a "modern audience". Personally, I was hooked by this bleak Western; its virtual two hour run time flew by, it was that engrossing. It's possibly in the same league as Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent's notoriously violent Cut-Throats Nine (1972) and Lucio Fulci's utterly miserable The Four of the Apocalypse... (1975) as far as depressing Westerns go. That lot make The Great Silence look like Way Out West (1937) by comparison, but The Hunting Party is better than either of those. Worth checking this out for Hackman’s and Reed’s performances; particularly the latter, as it was his one and only Western.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Picks of 2014

Despite not caring for critical and popular favourites like Birdman, Whiplash, John Wick and Gone Girl, 2014 was still a very strong year for your host: it was a great mix of domestic and international releases; a healthy balance of mainstream and independent titles; incredible directorial debuts from Jennifer Kent, Dan Gilroy and Ana Lily Amirpour. Even Wes Anderson made a film that I enjoyed. Crazy!

'71 (Yann Demange)

 Alléluia (Fabrice Du Welz)

As Above, So Below (John Erick Dowdle)

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)

The Guest (Adam Wingard)

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn)

The Lego Movie ( Phil Lord & Christopher Miller) 

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

Paddington (Paul King)

The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco) 

The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans)

The Rover (David Michôd)

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller)

Spring (Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson)

Starry Eyes (Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer)

The Taking of Deborah Logan (Alan Robitel)

What We Do In the Shadows (Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement)

Wild Tales (Damián Szifron)

Wolf Creek 2 (Greg McLean)

Revisiting It Follows last month was a reminder how I still don't own what's arguably the best film soundtrack of the 2010s:

Disasterpeace  - Title
It Follows OST, 2014
 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Romancing the Stone

"It's a relationship... of sorts. But we manage. We've even got a bit of a love life."

Love is in the air, so I'm compelled to share one of Russell T. Davis's most bizarre episodes from his original stint as writer and showrunner on Doctor Who (1963 - 2024).

Largely considered as one of the weaker episodes from the noughties relaunch, Love & Monsters focuses on a small collective of people obsessed with the titular Time Lord, while presented like a mockumentary. The concept is sound; the execution, not so much. What was originally intended as a lighthearted filler episode, especially after the Prince of Darkness (1987) and Event Horizon (1997) callbacks from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit two parter, became nightmare fuel, thanks to its villain and disturbing epilogue.

With its human disguise, an alien villain known as the Abzorbaloff (Peter Kay), quickly takes leadership of the group and gradually consumes them for sustinance. The victims end up like the trapped souls within Freddy Krueger's body. The Doctor eventually saves the day (or does he?) and manages to give Ursula (Shirley Henderson), the last of the Abzorbaloff's victims, a fate worse than death by placing her within a slab of concrete. Adding to the disturbing mix is Elton (Marc Warren) and Ursula's relationship blossoms romantically and sexually.

The Abzorbaloff was a winning design by a nine year old on the long running children's BBC show Blue Peter. Therefore, it's a safe bet that Doctor Who was really cashing in on its family show rep at the time. Now, imagine the shock horror of the parents watching that particular episode knowing that it signs off with the hint that a man is having sex with a paving slab.

"Garlic bread?"

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Signora Weaver

The Spider Labyrinth (Gianfranco Giagni, 1988)

The tragedy of Italian Horror will always be its finite lifespan. Michele Soavi's existential zombiefest, Dellamorte Dellamore (1994), was arguably the last classic entry before it all died. Revisiting various other Italian Horror films from around this era feels like you're attending a coroner's inquiry at times. With all that out of the way, we come to the first great Italian Horror film I've discovered in Lord knows how long. Gianfranco Giagni's obscure debut and one and only horror film, The Spider Labyrinth (1988), is a rare anomaly. What's equally remarkable about it, is the fact I didn't know of its existence until it was announced as a 4K UHD release by Severin Films late last year.


Professor of Oriental Langauages, Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga) is sent on assignment to Budapest by his superiors to meet with fellow researcher, Dr. Leo Roth (Attila Lõte), after going excommunicado during his work on the Intextus Project. While there, Whitmore is warned by various folk, including a mysterious stranger played by spaghettic western veteran William Berger, to leave the Hungarian capital as his life is at stake. During the first half of the film, the Hitchcockian vibe is more than evident, evoking James Stewart's quintessential fish out of water from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Furthermore, the film comes replete with an atmospheric Bernard Hermann style score courtesy of its composer Franco Piersanti. Similarly, there's an obvious gothic aesthetic to the film as it incorporates the beautiful old world vista of Budapest along with stuffy, dimly lit set interiors. These elements lend well to the slowburn mystery aspect before it adopts more familar horror territory.

Events really kicks off when a killer resembling Faye Dunaway in Supergirl (1984) with dodgy chompers, begins dispatching various folk by drooling over them with her web drool and then fatally stabbing them. Pick of the bunch, is Maria (Claudia Muzii), a hotel maid who winds up with a knife in her skull during a stunning set piece which is obviously inspired by Suspiria thanks to the numerous on screen props and its colour palette.


Roland Wybenga's performance might come across a little wooden, especially as he lacks the emotional range of the far talented James Stewart, but the supporting cast are rather good and help compensate this issue. The best performance being played by Stéphane Audran as Mrs. Kuhn, the sinister manageress and owner of Hotel Starvas. There's also Paola Rinaldi, who is effective as Dr. Roth's assistant, Genevieve Weiss. She's great as the seductive femme fatale, having you second guessing where her allegiances really lie.

Nino Celeste's cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and major highlight of the film; the Argento-esque scenes are particularly breathtaking. Considering its low budget, the film is stunning to look at from start to finish; a stark contrast to some of the other Italian Horror films from the late eighties. Its aesthetic beauty is definitely a reason why I'm smitten by this film.


Love the Lovecraftian theme involving an ancient cult of spider worshippers known as the Weavers. This revelation instills paranoia and fear upon Whitmore, who just so happens to be an arachnophobic. For fans of horror, it's an intriguing concept which spoils us rotten with fantastic subterranean locations and a scene which borrows very heavily from Rob Bottin's legendary and unsurpassed effects work from The Thing (1982). Sergio Stivaletti's attempt at replicating Bottin comes across a Lidl equivalent, sadly. On a positive tip, that's a fairly minor issue as the rest of the effects are very good; particularly found the stop motion spider scenes very endearing as they evoked vintage Ray Harryhausen greatness.

Legitimately shocked that I had no prior knowledge of The Spider Labyrinth's existence until recently. Definitely deserves a spot as one of the best late game Italian Horror films, in my honest opinion. An absolute treat of a film. So glad it's been rescued from obscurity. Makes me wonder if there are any other lost Italian Horror gems out there awaiting discovery.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

In-A-Grigio-Da-Vida

The 'Swinging Sixties' might have brought to the world free love and hairy hippies, but it was also responsible for some ridiculously long songs like The Chamber Brothers' The Time Has Come Today and The Doors' hilariously named The End. Iron Butterly's seventeen minute black mass opus In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is a prime example of a song desperately needing an editor like a Christopher Nolan movie, as it's particularly ruined by a singer who fancies himself as some kind of demonic hippie and a tuneless improv session with an organ and a screeching guitar dominating much of the song. 

Much like the medium of film, for anything that's a hit, there's the Italian rip-off. Therefore, I'm thankful there's a version which addresses my issues with the original by ditching the creepy pub singing and impromptu tune testing and opting for a short and swift, funkier instrumental instead. Originally appearing in Massimo Dallamano's film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, Peppino De Luca's (bootleg) soundalike of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is a much more tolerable version of the song. It doesn't require the aid of Francis Dolarhyde shooting cops in Manhunter (1986), Bart Simpson replacing the hymn sheet, or Nas to rap over it just to maintain my interest like the original.

Peppino De Luca (AKA Giuseppe De Luca) - Rito a Los Angeles (3° Version)
Dorian Grey OST, 1970
 

It's too bad this bootleg version ended up being used for a scene in the all-star ridden, heist comedy Ocean Twelve (2004) as it inevitably brought about a bunch of internet know-it-alls in the comments section claiming it was produced by David Holmes, Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band and of course Iron Butterfly.

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Maestro Comes Around

Ennio Morricone - Dies irae psichedelico (Versione lunga)
(Escalation OST, 1967)

Roberto Faenza's Escalation (1968) is another one of those nonsensical and wacky, class satire films that were common at the time. Despite Claudine Auger (a top ten Bond girl, imo), being in the film, she can't do much to alleviate it from being a dud. Fortunately, the late great Ennio Morricone blessed it with one of my favourite deep cuts which hasn’t been plundered by Quentin Tarantino.

Had been familiar with Dies irae psichedelico prior to seeing Escalation thanks to an old soundtrack blog that's no longer around. Not knowing anything about the film at the time, I pictured some biblical scenario like the Rapture occuring given its chanting and church organ sounds. Lo and behold, it was another drugged up, hippie party scene with the doe-eyed Hammer actress Maddie Smith looking high as a kite. Nowhere near as fun as Valmont's Gogo Pad scene from Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik (1968), sadly.

Not sure how Morricone became the go-to guy for scoring hippie raves, but il maestro also produced Adonai from the film Il giardino delle delizie AKA Garden of Delights (1967). This particular piece sounds like an early forerunner to what he would compose for The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977); namely the utterly insane Magic and Ecstasy.

Ennio Morricone - Adonai
(Il giardino delle delizie AKA Garden of Delights OST, 1967)
 

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Viewings: January 2024

Crammed almost the entire run of Nu Who (stopped at Chibnall's reign of terror) along with bouncing around the classic era. Thus, January’s films took a significant hit.

Burt Lancaster’s quest to swim his way home in the psychological drama The Swimmer was the best film discovered this month.

Another notable highlight was the Japanese thriller Door, which has made me curious for Banmei Takahashi’s other films.

 

Film:

The Violent Years (William Morgan, 1956)

Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)*

The House by the Cemetery (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

Door (Banmei Takahashi, 1988)*

Gleaming the Cube (Graeme Clifford, 1989)*

Doctor Who (Geoffrey Sax, 1996)*

eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

At Dawn They Sleep (Brian Paulin, 2000)*

Shredder (Greg Huson, 2001)*

Visible Secret (Ann Hui, 2001)*

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

Project Wolf Hunting (Kim Hong-sun, 2022)*

 

Television:

Doctor Who - Various Episodes (Sydney Newman, 1963 - 2023)*

Mastermind - episodes 18 - 22 (Bill Wright, 2023/2024)*

Masters Snooker Final (2024)*

 

*First time viewings.

 

Dada Debaser Notes

  • Other than seeing Christian Slater pretending to perform skate tricks, the funniest thing about Gleaming the Cube was seeing him thirsting for his dead brother's girlfriend. Couldn't be arsed to dress appropriately at his own brother's funeral, but made the effort for her, though. 
  • Spent the majority of my time drunkenly explaining Project Wolf Hunting's plot to my confused mate. The action horror hybrid narrative didn't really work, but its ultra gory violence kept us entertained.
  • Snow based slasher Shredder was a decent time waster. Hardly original, though.
  • Copped the 4K of It Follows and I couldn't spot a blind bit of difference with the picture quality from my old blu-ray. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Paul McGann’s performance as the Doctor and the cozy interior design of the TARDIS were the best things about the lacklustre and lore breaking 1996 Doctor Who.
  • Biggest highlight about the disappointing Visible Secret was Anthony Wong getting decapitated by a tram, and that was at the very start of the film.
  • Easily the weakest of Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy, The House by the Cemetery still has a lot to like about it:
The House by the Cemetery (Bat scene)
Lucio Fulci, 1981

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Demoness Souls

eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

Amongst film critics and cinephiles, Crash (1996) is largely regarded as Canadian director David Cronenberg's best film from the nineties. As good as it is, personally, I prefer eXistenZ (1999) over it, as its subject matter is more appealing than a feature focusing on a bunch of pervs turned on by being involved in car accidents. That's just me, though.

The tragedy of Cronenberg's sci-fi body horror was it being overshadowed by the Wachowski's popular blockbuster The Matrix (1999) at the time. Both films tackle the concept of simulated realities; it's just one had Keanu Reeves in school-shooter trench coat swagger and the appeal of bullet time visual effects (a gimmick which would be nauseatingly copied and parodied throughout the following decade), while the other was either remained oblivious to most people, or seen as far too niche for mainstream crowds.


You've got to admire Cronenberg unique artistic vision; eXistenZ has his indelible mark all over it. Aesthetically, the film has the worn, post-modern dystopian look about it which is synoymous with many of his films. Love the organic looking consoles made from mutated amphibian organs with what look like umbilical cords plugged into a bio port at the base of the spine. That's unmistakably so Cronenberg. This is all coming at a time when the Sony PlayStation had shifted the cultural belief that gaming was only meant for a very young demographic. There was also the popular influx of virtual worlds; notably the MMORPGs which were growing popular at the time, where players were completely sucked into.

The plot is a fairly linear affair; security guard Ted Pikul (Jude Law) is tasked with escorting to safety games guru, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), after a botched assassination attempt on her life by a fundamentalist. From that point, the film goes down a rabbit hole of Cronenberg's perception of what immersive gaming might entail and extremes of industrial espionage. It's a meta affair, where our leads traverse through the realms of reality. Hardly a unique concept in a Cronenberg film as it's familiar territory for the auteur with the surrealist techno, body horror Videodrome (1983) as it also blurs worlds.


Despite its modest budget, eXistenZ boasts an impressive cast - Ian Holme, Christopher Eccleston and Willem Dafoe as a dodgy mechanic/bio-porter, makes some of the supporting cast. Both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law display great chemistry together. The highlight for me is when the pair order a special platter of mutated amphibians at a restaurant. Jude Law instinctingly assembles a high powered pistol from the bones of his disgusting meal, capable of firing human teeth for its bullets. It's also worth noting that eXistenZ might be the only film where I've found Jennifer Jason Leigh remotely hot.

Can't help but admire the uniqueness of Cronenberg's grotesque gaming pods parasitically leeching off its human host to be powered. The umbilical cord is also a nice touch. There's also the casual manner of having a bio-port jackhammered into the base of your spine and being compared to having your ears pierced in this dystopian setting. There's also the religious like fervour of Allegra's enemies who see her game as a threat to our world - "Death to the demoness Alllegra Geller!" Everything about it so distinctively Cronenberg, innit?

Sadly, Cronenberg's film was a commercial flop. That might have been the reason why he took an extremely long hiatus from making sci-fi body horror and broadened his wings with A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). He didn't return back to the fold until relatively recently with the impressive evolutionary tale Crimes of the Future (2022). Still, can't knock any film maker for branching out whilst not selling out.

Today, eXistenZ is something of a cult film. It's aged incredibly well. The subject matter is still relevant today with tech lizard moguls like Mark Zuckerberg championing virtual reality and trying to make the Metaverse a thing. Lord knows how much money he's pumped into that. eXistenZ also serves as a more palatable precursor to Christopher Nolan's metaworld concept from Inception (2010). Proof eXistenZ was way ahead of its time.

gg!

Friday, January 26, 2024

These Creatures Are Nothing but Pure Motorised Instinct

R.I.P. David Emge, who recently passed away! Horror nerds might have been familiar with the actor for playing Stephen "Flyboy" Andrews in The Empire Strikes Back of horror film trilogies, Dawn of the Dead (1978).

The tense finale, where a zombie Flyboy shuffles his way to his former hideout, was effectively forshadowed earlier in the film when his desperate comrades set up base in a shopping mall. Peter Washington (Ken Foree) yells, "Hold it, Flyboy! Don't go into the stairway! Don't open that door, baby, you'll lead them right up with you." which he inevitably did in his zombie state.

The news of Emge's death has once again triggered the age old question for horror geeks like myself: did Flyboy betray his friends? Much like his skin complexion, it's a grey area. To some, his zombie state might have made him exempt of responsibility; to others, his final goal while alive was to reach his girlfriend Fran Parker (Gaylen Ross) and their unborn child, which persisted in his undeath.

Romero made it clear in his zombie films that the undead occasionally exhibited lingering memories and actions in their past lives, hence the answer as to whether Flyboy is on the same level of despicable characters from a previous post related to traitors, is clouded like a zombie's eyeballs (except Flyboy's for whatever reason).

Monday, January 22, 2024

Let's Do the Time War Again

Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor ("Gallifrey Stands" scene)
Nick Hurran, 2013

Fan-servicing is occasionally considered a lazy practice by some critics, although it really shouldn't; after all, if you're not catering to your fans, where would any creative property be without them? 

Having binged an obscene amount of Doctor Who episodes over the last couple of months, a good example of fan servicing executed well is its 50th anniversary episode - The Day of the Doctor (2013).

Despite some convoluted subplots, like the shapeshifting alien Zygons storyline, there is a lot to like about The Day of the Doctor. It successfully bridges the past, present and future of the franchise, along with tackling the often hinted epic backstory of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. A favourite example from this episode is seeing eleven incarnations of the Doctor, along with John Hurt cast as the War Doctor - an offshoot in between the eighth and ninth Doctors - all working together to save the planet Gallifrey from obliteration. That scene alone, represents the fifty years of the show to marvellous effect. There's also a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi as the future twelfth Doctor well before officially beginning his tenure as the titular protagonist; a stroke of genius from its writer Steven Moffat.

Was inspired to revisit this particular episode after returning show runner Russell T. Davis's 60th anniversary fell flat in comparison to its spectacular predecessor.

It was also Tom Baker's 90th birthday a few days ago, so a Doctor Who blog post felt appropriate.