Thursday, November 30, 2023

Viewings: November 2023

Discovering the films of Peter Watkins was something of a revelation for me. Both Punishment Park and The War Game were the best films I watched in November. Eager to check out his other films when things get quieter.

Two recent gems which won my approval and revealed 2023 hasn’t been a total write off were When Evil Lurks and LOLA

Lastly, the lavish 4K of the Italian horror Black Magic Rites and a VHS rip of the rare British thriller Deadly Strangers were two holy grails that I finally got to tick off the list. Both of which being captivating films.



Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Fritz Lang, 1922)* 

Fear and Desire (Stanley Kubrick, 1952)*

Beyond the Time Barrier (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1960)*

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Val Guest, 1961)

The War Game (Peter Watkins, 1965)*

Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971)*

Black Magic Rites AKA The Reincarnation of Isabel (Renato Polselli, 1973)*

The Internecine Project (Ken Hughes, 1974)

Deadly Strangers (Sidney Hayers, 1975)*

The Killing of America (Sheldon Renan & Leonard Schrader•, 1981)*

King of New York (Abel Ferrara, 1990)

Divergent (Neil Burger, 2014)*

The Creator (Gareth Edwards, 2023)*

Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein, 2023)*

How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Daniel Goldhaber, 2022/2023)*

LOLA (Andrew Legge, 2022/2023)*

The Killer (David Fincher, 2023)*

When Evil Lurks (Demián Rugna, 2023)*



Doctor Who - Various Episodes (Donald B. Wilson & Sydney Newman, 1963 - 1989)*

Doctor Who - Season 1: The Daleks in Colour (1963 - 1964)*

An Adventure in Space and Time (Terry McDonough, 2013)

Doctor Who "The Star Beast" (Russell T. Davis, Pat Mills & Dave Gibbons, 2023)*

Louis Theroux Interviews - Series 2 - Episode 3: Dame Joan Collins (Louis Theroux, 2023)*

Mastermind - Episodes 11 - 14 (Bill Wright, 2023/2024)*

Only Connect - Series 19 - Episode 19 (Chris Stuart, 2023)*


*First time viewings.

• Uncredited.

Dada Debaser Notes:

  • The two positive things about Kubrick's first feature film are its cinematography and Virginia Leith making her acting debut in it. Her final role was as the eponymous brain from The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). A far better and less pretentious film, in my opinion.
  • Took three sittings to get throught the four and half hours of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. Definitely appreciated it for its innovation, but it's needlessly way too long.
  • The new Dungeons & Dragons film borrows heavily from James Gunn's movie making formula. Not a bad film, but the best live action representation of this I.P is still from a Brazillian car commercial.
  • Found How to Blow Up a Pipeline a disappointment after Goldhaber’s tech thriller Cam (2018). Gavin Brevik’s Vangelis/Tangerine Dream synth style score made it bearable, however.
  • Can't help but think The Creator is more like a two hour VFX tech demo rather than an actual film. Visually phenomenal, but completely let down by its bland and clichéd script.
  • The Killing of America was a major blind spot for me. Would have hit harder had the documentary with the God tier narration dealt with more contemporary examples of the nation’s decline.
  • Watched a veritable gaggle of Doctor Who episodes (mainly the very first season of the show) in celebration of its sixtieth anniversary. The Sensorites turned me into an instant fan of them thanks to their creepy faces, combover beards and dinner plate looking feet:

Other highlights this month were: drizzle's 20 films of the 2020s list; The Martorialist's 50 One Song Wonders; and Messer Chups' cover of the Blood & Black Lace theme. Zombierella still the finest bass player. ♥︎

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Children of the Corned Beef

When Evil Lurks (Demián Rugna, 2023)

Hollywood has commonly been lacking the required mean-spirited streak to appease desensitised fans of  horror cinema. In order to cast a net and attract the majority, the output is usually safe, soft and homogenised. Thankfully, there are foreign and independent film makers out there to counter the Disneyfied dross being churned out; Rob Jabbaz's The Sadness (2021/2022) and Damian Leone's Terrifier 2 (2023) are recent examples. Argentinian film maker Demián Rugna's When Evil Lurks (2023) is the latest to balance the scales with what's probably the best horror film of the year.

When Evil Lurks stands out from many of its peers for having the cojones to have all its characters as fair game to the horrors that unfold. As a result, it's still shocking when certain scenes are acutely telemarked and still landing a haymaker on your senses. This is a deeply nihilistic film; evoking the anything goes attitude of 1970s horror like Who Can Kill a Child? (1976). There is no safety barrier, it's pure destructive brutality. Critics will list some of Lucio Fulci's films as obvious inspirations, but I spotted traces of other notable horror films, such as Prince of Darkness (1987) and Hereditary (2018) in there, too.

Set in a rural Argentenian province where folks are deeply superstitious, the film's two major characters; brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jimi (Demián Salomón) encounter a grossly bloated individual named Uriel, who is said to be one of the rotten. This is the colloquial term for demonically possessed. The brothers, along with neighbouring land owner Ruiz (Luis Ziembrowski), are given the unenviable task of dealing with Uriel. Like every horror film, things don't go to plan. 

The film introduces seven golden rules which must be adhered to when dealing with the rotten. If they aren't dealt with properly, and more importanly, by an expert, then the demonic evil spreads. Thankfully, with this being a horror film, the rules are constantly broken. As beasts and humans are possessed this allows Rugna to showcase some shockingly extreme moments that you don't see very often in contemporary horror. It's almost farcical watching Pedro making bad decision after bad decision and leaving a trail of death in his wake, but they do lend to a compelling film. Children being subjected to either being victims or perpretators are easily the most disturbing highlights of the film. One scene involving a mother carrying her infant son along a road is pure nightmare fuel. Definitely not something that will be forgotten easily.

It's not a perfect film, however. When Evil Lurks can feel disjointed at times, as it plays a balancing act with its cumbersome handling of multiple characters and locations for the sake of keeping everything breezy, along with a second ending that feels almost trivial in comparison to what occurs earlier. Still, these flaws don't ruin the film, as Rugna's main focus seems to be all about bringing back some utterly nihilistic and misanthropic brutality that's evidently missing in many of today's contemporary horror films. As such, the film is a triumphant success.

Really hope the film gets a physical release and not rot on Shudder like Deadstream (2022) has been doing in my region.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

An Artist for Jennifer

How uncanny is it that three of the Dirty New Yorker films which featured on my physical media wish list earlier this year have now become a reality? For the unaware those are: After Hours, Blood Sucking Freaks and now A Gun for Jennifer. I was doubly prophetic by also naming Vinegar Syndrome as the film's licensed distributor. Neglected genre classic! Prestigious restoration label of forgotten cinema! A match made in heaven.

Don’t mean to sound a snob, like the late art critic Brian Sewell, but why does this release have such unsuitable and lacklustre artwork? It really doesn’t fit the dark and gritty nature of the film, neither does it look on par with the rest of the top notch package art from Vinegar Syndrome’s releases.

Vinegar Syndrome's A Gun for Jennifer front cover and reverse cover artwork. Gutted!

Beggars can't be choosers, I'm still coppin’ it; the picture quality for the new trailer alone looks better than my old German DVD of the film. Considering how many years I've been praying for a high definition release of this, it would be a bit rich avoiding this just for its disappointing new art.

In hindsight, considering the newly commissioned comic book style artwork, I ought to have also wished for an illustrator who would have been a far worthier candidate; like the legendary master of graphic sex and violence, Tim Vigil. Alternatively, I wouldn’t have minded the O.G. art from the nineties; evoking the omnipresent popularity of the erotic thriller from that era:

Original artwork for A Gun for Jennifer from 1997.

Friday, November 24, 2023

That's What I Like! Little Things, Hitting Each Other!

Time Bandits (Drunk Napoleon Scene)
Terry Gilliam, 1981

Had secretly been hoping Ridley Scott's Napoleon (2023) biopic would be the final must see film before the end of the year. Under Scott's direction and experience, it would be a safe bet we'd get to see more of Joaquin Phoenix showing off his acting prowess and not his plums, unlike in Beau Is Afraid (2023).

Some of the reviews have been mixed; describing it as "boring" and "anti-French"; even calling Napoleon as "history's most accomplished cuck". Speaking of which, Poncey Pete happened to be delighted with it. The film received five stars in his glowing review in The Guardian. That's all well and good, but how can I take any film critic seriously when they devote a whole paragraph listing a bunch of other silver screen depictions of Napoleon and not include Time Bandits (1981) and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) into the mix? Ian Holm portrayed Napoleon three times and it's always the one from Time Bandits that everyone remembers.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (Bowling Scene)
Stephen Herek, 1989

Decades after seeing it, I still feel pity for Napoleon from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). Despite him cheating at bowling, the scene where he's abandoned and left alone at night to wonder the streets of San Dimas always gets me in the feels. If Ridley Scott can make me feel the same way for the petulant man-child, then maybe Napoleon will be a notable highlight amongst 2023’s films.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Our Flag Means Death

Punishment Park (Peter Watkins, 1971)

Andrew Legge's LOLA (2023) has had me fiendin' for other alternate timeline films lately. With some digging, a name synonymous with this theme is Peter Watkins. Only managed to catch two of his films so far, and they've both turned out to be amazing discoveries. The once banned BBC mockumentary The War Game (1965) is a shocking film regarding a nuclear attack happening in Britain; an eye-opening pre-cursor to the utterly terrifying eighties docu-drama Threads (1984). The other film is Punishment Park (1971), a cinéma vérité take on US dissidents and alleged insurrectionists being tried by a tribunal court; followed by them being hunted by police officers and the National Guard. Both highly impressive films, but Punishment Park gets the dedicated coverage here as it's the most intrguing of the two for your host. Also, it's because I'm a fan of films where people are being hunted, like Turkey Shoot (1982).

Like the film's diametric political factions, Punishement Park is divided into two groups: one is about  a collective trial in a military tent; the other, is about a previously sentenced party, deprived of food and water, on a three day hike in the dangerous heat in the Californian desert; their attempt is to reach the Star-Spangled Banner. If they capture the flag within the allotted time they are acquitted of their crimes. This is Punishment Park. Prior to this, the prosecuted party are offered the choice: serve their sentences in a federal penitentiary, or take the three day run? Punishment Park is the obvious choice for them all. If they fail; it's straight to jail, regardless, or a fate that's much worse.

Cinéma vérité to the core. The cast is comprised of both professional actors and amateurs playing it unrehearsed and improvised. Their words are their true opinions. Well done to folk singer and defendant Nancy Smith, for being so excrutiatingly annoying during her hearing that any sympathy I felt for her comrades went completely out the window; even after defense attorney, James Daley went all Perry Mason with his killer closing statement:

James Daley, Defense Attorney: Ladies and Gentlemen of the tribunal, I would like to read you something: "The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might and the republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order or our nation cannot survive". We might all be forgiven for supposing those to be the words of our President. But they are not. Those words were uttered in 1932 by Adolf Hitler. 

Defendent Lee Robert Brown: Sieg motherfucking Heil!

The sense of realism is further enhanced by the choppy edititng and Watkins's film crew capturing everything in a fly-on-the-wall manner. For a dystopian mockumentary, it looks and feels remarkably genuine. The anger and frustration between both parties highlight the brick wall which seperates them. Worryingly, both have the common belief that violence is the only solution to resolve their problems.

While filming, Watkins pretends to remain impartial in all the madness. However, as the film progresses, it becomes obvious which side he's really rooting for. It's a loaded film. The authorites lie over water being available at the mid point of the course for the parched hippies. Watkins also drops the act once the bullets start flying. None of this is a real problem, if you're able to accept Punishment Park for its obvious left wing bias with the same regard as Ron Ormond's unintentionally comedic, Christian fundamentalist propoganda film, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971) happens to serve the right. However, despite the latter being an inferior film, it does at least get genuine props for being upfront with its ridiculous bullshit.

Looking forward to checking out some other titles in Watkins's filmography; particularly his one and only non-documentary film, Privilege (1967). The film revolves around a pop star becoming an avatar to control the minds of the British population. Forerunner to The X Factor? Don't really know yet, but it definitely sounds like my cup of tea.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Seven Rips for Seven Rippers from the Seventies

The best thing about discussing films from the 1970s is how much of an incredible decade it was for cinema; the worst thing about discussing films from the 1970s, is it's always the same films brought up ad nauseam. What about the little guys? Therefore, here are seven films from the seventies streamable for Lord knows how long on YouTube that deserve some shine. 

Links are in their respective titles:

And God Said to Cain (Antonio Margheriti, 1970)

It might be lacking the epic scope of Leone or Corbucci's visions, but Margheriti's gothic style spaghetti western ticks all the right checkboxes for an entertaining revenge movie. Klaus Kinski plays a wrongly convicted protagonist out to dispense justice on those who betrayed him. Strong horror tones here, as Kinski comes across as a supernatural entity during the night well before his star turn in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).  Werner Herzog once claimed that Kinski hardly made any good films without him; And God Said to Cain is one of those good ones.

Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel, 1971)

Lesbian vampires; who doesn't love 'em? Daughters of Darkness is perhaps the classiest entry in the erotic horror subgenre. Big fan of the art deco look of the film, from the grandeur of its beach hotel setting, to Delphine Seyrig and Andrea Rau styling themselves on silent era screen sirens Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks, respectively. Big fan of François de Roubaix's soundtrack, too. Always get a kick whenever I hear music from the film being sampled on songs.

Tower of Evil (Jim O'Connolly, 1972)

This is it; Year Zero for the modern day slasher formula. If there's an earlier example, I still haven't found it yet. Blessed with a fantastic atmosphere thanks to its derelict lighthouse on a remote island location, Tower of Evil has all the goods that I love about British horror. Surprisingly sleazy and gory, even for its time, but the biggest surprise is its unexpected twist. Cool recognisable cast in this lost gem; including Dennis Price, Jill Haworth, Candace Glendenning and hairy lothario Robin Askwith delivering a hilarious American accent.

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Sergio Martino, 1972)

Positive proof that a great film consisting of highly unlikeable characters can be made. Martino's giallo is a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat and probably my favourite version, too. Amazing performance by Anita Strindberg as the long suffering wife of a degenerate author (Luigi Pistilli) shacked up in a crumbling rural estate that's home to wickedness and debauchery. Martino is reunited with the iconic numero uno giallo queen Edwige Fenech (sporting a bob cut) and unmistakable henchman character actor Ivan Rassimov. There are murders, depravity and an annoying bastard cat called Satan. A personal favourite in giallo cinema.

The Internecine Project (Ken Hughes, 1974)

Before being assingned his top governmental position, a shady economics professor (James Coburn) needs to bump off his former associates in his industrial espionage ring. This is accomplished via an ingenious plan where he has them all bumping each other off. The first half is essentially the set up, while the remainder are these actions being carried out. Coburn is icy cold here with his killer moustache. Lots of palpable tension just watching him pacing around his room drinking scotch and waiting for the telephone to ring. Plenty of suspense in this smart thriller laced with a devilish ending, and it's punctuated even further by a great score from Roy Budd.

Massacre at Central High (Renee Daalder, 1976)

Personal fave amongst all the juvenile delinquent themed movies (to my shame, I still haven't covered yet). The beauty of Daalder's Massacre at Central High is how it deceptively comes across as a fluffy after school special whilst really being an exploitative take on the bullied becoming the bullies. The film inspired Heathers (1988) since many elements appeared to have been borrowed; the obvious one being its protagonist. It lacks Christian Slater's hyper realistic Jack Nicholson impression and that quintessential, eighties high school charm, but it's got that mean-spirited anything goes attitude inherent in seventies cinema which really does it for me.

Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, 1978)

Eggleston's Australian eco-horror which spells out mankind being a continuing blight on the environment is essentially a vegemite movie for many fans of horror. Not sure what they might have been exepcting, but Long Weekend is laden with immense dread as part of its eerie atmosphere, that makes it a winner in my book. Its ecological message is just as prescient now as it was when it was originally released. Never bothered watching its remake, though.

Not sure why, but rips of films prior to the 1980s seem to last longer on YouTube for whatever reason; including those not in the public domain yet.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Knick Knack Patty Wack

The cold-blooded and methodical protagonist. The hit that goes wrong. The friend or foe dilemma. The big payback. Stop me if you've seen this one before, but the premise of David Fincher's latest offering, the imaginatively titled The Killer (2023) is like every other hitman movie ever made.

Always enjoyed Michael Fassbender's performances, but the reason for even bothering with this entirely generic film was based squarely on him wearing a bucket hat. A real shame that the titular character's music playlist consisted entirely of songs by The Smiths when it really ought to have been those stalwarts of the aforementioned head gear EPMD.

Doubt I'll ever bother watching The Killer again; even if I did enjoy Fassbender's Patrick Bateman-esque internal monologues. Regardless, this is an opportune reason to post a scene from John Woo's hitman classic (and Red Heat soundtrack jacka) also imaginatively called The Killer (1989):

The Killer (Church Shoot Out Scene)
John Woo, 1989

Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Art of Watching Without Watching

There are a multitude of reasons why Sight and Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time list sucked harder than the cabin pressure in Auric Goldfinger's plane. Accepting nominations made by a film critic who hadn't even watched Enter the Dragon (1973) until its fiftieth anniversary, and taking them remotely seriously, has got to be a major one.

Your host wouldn't have Enter the Dragon on his list either, but is still a fan regardless; copping an uncut bootleg during the BBFC regime era, and even owning the classic OST by Lalo Schifrin. The question is: how could any professional film critic have a movie blindspot as massive as the one that's associated with turning Bruce Lee into a global superstar and still be respected?

This example really does give validity to Paul Schrader's claims in an IndieWire interview that the poll was rigged by "not actual film critics", regardless of it coming off like unapologetic film snobbery. Additionally, in that very same piece, he loosely blamed the current state of film criticism on Quentin Tarantino's attitude and opinions being constantly regurgitated by the masses. As much as I enjoy QT's thoughts on film rather than his own recent material, he did piss off Shannon Lee, Bruce's daughter, and ended up doubling down on his negative portrayal of the martial arts legend in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). Might not be on a critic's payroll, but even I know that indulgent, meandering mess was greatly inferior to Enter the Dragon. Shame on any film critic thinking otherwise.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Can You Hear Me, Major Thom?

LOLA (Andrew Legge, 2022/2023)

Last year's Deadstream proved that no matter how passé first person/found footage films have become, a winner can still be produced today. Andrew Legge's forewarning from a dystopian timeline, LOLA (2023) shot on 16mm Bolex, is the latest film to follow suit.

Set in the late 1930s and 1940s, Legge's low budget, high concept, sci-fi feature is about a pair of orphaned and self-sufficient sisters, Thomasina (Emma Appleton) and Martha (Stephanie Martini) Hanbury, who build LOLA (named after their mother), a machine that is able to receive radio and television signals from the future. They become fans of David Bowie's music and eke out a living by visiting the bookies. With the onset of  World War II, the Hanbury sisters can't remain idly silent and opt to warn the public the times and locations of the Blitz bombings. With the accuracy of these prophetic reports, they become known as the Portabello Angel and soon draw the attention of the British Army.

Under coercion, LOLA becomes even more integral in aiding the British war effort. However, the continuous tampering with the future causes a butterfly effect that reshapes the rest of the twentieth century. So long, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Stanley Kubrick! And hello, fascist popstar Reginald Watson! The miraculous invention proves to have other devastating consequences in the current timeline, too; a morally questionable decision made by Thomasina (commonly referred to as Thom throughout the film) results with the US withdrawing from the Allied powers. Further to this disaster, the over reliance of LOLA causes the Nazis to feed false information; leaving the port of Dover undefended against in the invasion. With the Germans marching through England, the sisters are branded as traitors. Martha (nicknamed Mars), goes on the lam and attempts to right the wrongs her and her sister have committed. She films a message in the vain attempt for it to be received by LOLA at an earlier point in time to end the nightmare.

This is the type of time paradox related sci-fi that greatly appeals to me. All the more impressive are the doctored newsreels embodying the alternate timeline, edited with the sisters' home movies in pushing the story. These tidbits, which are peppered throughout are the reason why the film feels so mesmerising. It's a similar effect to the the vintage docu-news reels from Zelig (1983) and Forrest Gump (1994). There are also small nuances like the sisters' language, dress style and behaviour being more modern and out of sync with 1940s England. Way less enthused about the latter, however. I can accept the constant cursing and Thom's blokish appearance, but does the viewer really need to watch Mars taking a piss while standing?

While LOLA ought to be applauded for its technical proficiency, the film's writing is somewhat wanting. The releationship between Thom and Mars doesn't give the impression that they're siblings. At times they act like a lesbian couple; which is very evident with them both sharing a bath together. Not exactly sisterly, is it? There's also Mars becoming romantically involved with a British army officer called Sebastian (Rory Fleck Byrne), which strains the relationship between the two sisters. Oddly enough, Thom seems to act like a jealous ex lover at times. The issue with the writing doesn't stop there sadly, as the finale culminates with a ridiculous rescue that reminded me of the castle scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). It might have worked on a big budget, all-star adventure flick helmed by Steven Spielberg back in the day, but on a more cerebral, grainy looking, sci-fi drama made today, it comes across as rather cringeworthy. This tarnishes the film, in my opinion. Thankfully, LOLA gets back on the right track with its poignant final message; even though the Kubrick hommage ending (you'll know it when you see it) is a tad heavy-handed.

Legge's debut feature is an extension of a similarly themed, short film narrated by Jeremy Irons, The Chronoscope (2009). The twenty minute featurette, featuring fake historian talking heads, is a more amusing take on alternate history compared to his debut feature. Much prefer LOLA over it, however. Regardless of its already listed flaws, the gravitas of such a real and monsterous evil actually conquering the world will always be a terrifying concept. For this reason alone, LOLA resonates hard with me.

LOLA ultimately depends on your appreciation for alternative timeline films. As evident with the gold standard set by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's It Happened Here (1964), the concept is hardly a new one, but it's a theme that I've found equally fascinating and disturbing; therefore, I'm more likely to overlook its various glaring faults to a certain degree. To think, if a bit more care was spent in it avoiding some typical fanfic levels of writing, which is at odds with some seriously impressive effort everywhere else, LOLA might very well have been one of the best British films in recent years. Still a very good film, regardless.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Brief Thoughts on the New Thanksgiving Trailer

The O.G. Thanksgiving trailer featured in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's spectacularly indulgent Grindhouse (2007) double-bill (and later split into two separate films; Planet Terror and Death Proof, respectively) was perhaps the best thing helmed by Eli Roth, in my opinion. Evidentally, I wasn't alone in thinking this way as calls for Thanksgiving to be made into an actual movie like Machete has eventually winded up a reality after sixteen years.

Sadly, this new Thanksgiving trailer lacks the saturated and scratchy charm of the original trailer (along with John Harrison's classic Creepshow score). The replacement of vintage filters for a more contemporary and generic look are the least of my concerns, however. What it truly lacks are the humour and mean spirited nastiness from the original. Hopefully, the feature film will prove me wrong.

This has always been the proverbial ace up the sleeve in Roth's career; no matter how lacklustre the 2010s and early 2020s have been for him, Thankgiving has always been considered his potential comeback film.

Time will tell whether Thanksgiving is a turkey or not, but Damien Leone's Terrifier 2 already set the benchmark in what brutal, holiday themed slashers ought to be like today, and Thanksgiving really needs to serve all the trimmings in sharing a spot with Art at the table.

Thanks for introducing me to Ana de Armas, though!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Lost in Reincarnation

Black Magic Rites (Renato Polselli, 1973)

Many moons ago, I foolishly bought a Danish DVD of Renato Polselli's follow-up to his ultra sleazy giallo Delirum (1972) without realising there weren't any English subtitles for it. Black Magic Rites (1973), AKA The Reincarnation of Isabel, was way more obscure back then, and your host was desperate to check it out on account of its reputation of being completely insane. With complete naivety, I figured I could at least cobble together a semblance of the film's plot according to the actions on screen. No chance! Gave up very early into the film as I didn't have a clue what the hell was going on. Fast forward to the present day and Indicator Films has released a very lavish 4K UHD of the film; more importanly it has English subtitles! Turns out the film gods struck their cruel blow upon me once more as Black Magic Rites is still an incomprehensible film even with the subtitles.

I wasn't alone in finding Black Magic Rites a confusing experience, both critics, David Flint and Kim Newman, were equally perplexed by it when I rewatched it with their commentary. It became all the more amusing with them trying to keep their professional composure during the film's excessive moments of unbridled sleaze and gory sacrificial goings on. Stephen Thrower, AKA Jess Franco's #1 Stan, who can talk a good one regarding the Spanish pervy midget's softcore Eurotrash films being neglected cinematic masterpieces, was equally as befuddled with Polselli's opus as the rest of us. What is an absolute certainty, is the unified acknowlegment that Black Magic Rites is a thoroughly entertaining psychedelic acid trip for die hard fans of Italian exploitation cinema.

I wonder if Peter Strickland's fictional movie The Equestrian Vortex from Berberian Sound Studio (2012) was inspired by Black Magic Rites.

As far as the main plot goes, Black Magic Rites appears to revolve around a collective of vampires performing Satanic sacrifices to resurrect a buxom witch and Dracula's beloved known as Isobel (Rita Calderoni). With the aid of choppy editing, the viewer is repeatedly transported from the fourteenth century to the modern day (the 1970s, in this case), to the point you're flummoxed with what time period certain scenes are set. Equally confusing are the cast (many from Delirium) appearing in both eras as reincarnated descendents of the angry mob who witness Isobel's burning at the stake. Extremely out there seventies clothes and hairstyles also muddy the waters as you're still left wondering if the scene you're watching is set in the Middle Ages or the decade that taste forgot.

Despite all these bewildering factors, Black Magic Rites is a deeply alluring oddity for anyone vested in Italian horror: on the one hand it starts off as a retread of Mario Bava's The Mask of Satan (1960), AKA Black Sunday; while on the other, it's a hallucinogenic departure form any sense of normality. You're never really sure whether the red body stocking clad vampires are performing their sacrificial rituals in a dungeon below the film's gorgeous castle - the same one from Massimo Pupillo's Bloody Pit of Horror (1965) - or in some kind of dimensional limbo. They're my favourite scenes from the film; gruesome as they are, they look gorgeous thanks to their technicolour lighting and jet black backgrounds; bizarrely reminding me of a school disco. Stylistically, the film evokes the ethereal and erotica vibes found in Jean Rollin's works, and also the influence of celebrity Satanist Anton LaVey. Coincidentally, LaVey used to mingle with the actress Jane Mansfield, who was once married to the film's male lead Mickey Hargitay.

Italian horror tends to be perceived as part of the wild and wacky side of horror cinema, and in Black Magic Rites' case it's more than undeniable. I've seen more than my fair share of utterly batshit Italian horror and Polselli's film has to be one of the more out there offerings. Much of it is inexplicable, e.g. why does one of the characters have a hilarious facial twitch? Even the film's dialogue, which was also written by Polselli, is abstract; lines like, "Vampires need blood that's not contaminated by human semen" doesn't make a shred of sense. The only real restraint is Gianfranco Reverberi's melodic, yet tame score. Imagine if the ritual scenes had a similar dark hippie vibe like what Bruno Nicolai delivered for the cultist scenes from Sergio Martino's All the Colours of the Dark (1972).

It's not often when a genre film I can barely understand wins me over this way. Most tend to fail and come off as pretentious art house in sheep's clothing. Black Magic Rites is a phantasmagoric and captivating entry in genuine Italian horror canon, which explains why it's so appealing despite its incoherentness.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

King and Abel

King of New York (Abel Ferrara Commentary Highlights)
Abel Ferrara, 1990

Despite all the films watched, I've barely made a dent in checking out any of the audio commentaries available. Mostly given up on them on account of them being nowhere near as entertaining as the ones John Carpenter has done with his cast in the past.

Took a gamble with Abel Ferrara as I was itching to revisit his classic gangster thriller King of New York. Other than him recollecting how some of the scenes were shot and lit (for all you budding film makers lurking out there, Congo Blue was what used for those night shots), along with his suprisingly pervy comments regarding some of the female cast members, here are some of the new things I learned about the film:

  • The $5,000 Ferrara charged for the audio commentary.
  • Ferrara's commenting on the film's fashion aesthethic consisting of everyone being dressed in black and likened to "They dropped the neutron bomb and all the colour of New York (was) gone", and "How can you be cool if you don't have shades on?" 
  • Ferrara in hysterics everytime Steve Buscemi showed up on screen.
  • The memorable hotel dance scene being summed up by Ferrara as "This is as phoney as you can get".
  • James Russo turned down the role of Jimmy Jump. It's impossible even trying to imagine any other actor playing what's possibly Larry Fishburne's most iconic role.
  • Did not realise that Jennifer, Frank White's lawyer girlfriend, was the female lead in Paul Lynch's sophomore slasher, the criminally underrated Humongous (1982). It also didn't click for me until now that the newly wed cop was played by the same actor who was Jeffrey Franken in Frankehooker (1990).
  • The night of the film's premiere at the New York Film Festival, it was given a very positive reception. The very next morning with Larry Fishburne in attendance, it was booed. Talk about a totally different crowd!
  • Michael Mann telling Ferrara to end the film with Frank ascending the subway steps to suggest a possible sequel 
  • Ferrara playing his acoustic guitar and singing a multitute of "N" bombs during the end credits while ruining my enjoyment of Schoolly D's Saturday Night:
Schoolly D - Saturday Night
Saturday Night! - The Album, 1986