Thursday, February 29, 2024

Viewings: February 2024

Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is not only the pick of the month, it’s also the highest rated film from the 2020s I've awarded since the blog’s creation. 

Other recent hightlights were Gianfranco Giagni's obscure, Italian horror gem The Spider Labyrinth and Don Medford's bitterly bleak The Hunting Party.



The Ghost Train (Walter Forde, 1941)*

The Secret Cinema (Paul Bartel, 1966/1968)*

The Hunting Party (Don Medford, 1971)*

The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (León Klimovsky, 1971)*

The Crazies (George A. Romero, 1973)

Boss Ni**er (Jack Arnold, 1974)*

The Bitch (Gerry O’Hara, 1979)*

The Spider Labyrinth (Gianfranco Giagni, 1988)*

They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)

Carlito’s Way (Brian De Palma, 1993)

Self Catering (Robin Lefèvre, 1994)

Belly 2: Millionaire Boyz Club (Ivan Frank, 2008)*

Open Graves (Álvaro de Armiñán, 2009)*

Divinity (Eddie Alcazar, 2023)*

Dario Argento Panico (Simone Scafidi, 2024)*

Out of Darkness (Andrew Cumming, 2022/2024)*

Night Swim (Bryce McGuire, 2024)*

The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, 2023/2024)*


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

Mastermind - Episodes 23 - 26 (Bill Wright, 2023/2024)*

*First time viewings.

Dada Debaser Notes:

  • For decades I've wondered if Richard France from The Crazies (1973) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) was the voice on the intro to Dr. Dre's Lyrical Gangbang. Still not sure.
  • Night Swim is a contender for one of the worst films released this year already. The latest example of a short film that should not have been turned into a feature length.
  • Shout out to all the blind buyers who copped the boutique blu-ray of the lo-fi, B&W, sci-fi borefest Divinty when they should have checked out LOLA instead. I did like the Kool Keith song from it, however.
  • Other than they sound completely different, you can tell another actor was used to narrate the Game's character in the awful Belly sequel as he wasn’t name dropping anyone.
  • Went film detective trying to identify a TV movie I watched back in the day where John Gordon Sinclair was cooked and eaten. Turned out to be Self Catering and still on Channel 4's website.
  • Can’t believe people risked their lives during the Blitz to watch humourless Arthur Askey comedies.
  • Nearly forty years after Opera (1987) and Cristina Marsillach is almost reduced to tears when reminiscing over her experience with Dario Argento in the latest documentary about him. Feeling the same way about Asia Argento's awful tattoos, to be honest.
  • On paper, The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman has all the elements I look for in a great Paul Naschy film, but it pales in comparison to its quasi-remake, The Night of the Werewolf (1981).

And finally:

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Night School

Exploitica/Exploitica Rides Again - Curfew Breakers!
Channel 4 Television, 1999 - 2000

An unsung gem of late night TV was the short lived Channel 4 show Exploitica. In a similar vein to MST3K, the show mocked various B- Movies of the past, but with its own indelible British humour; often as problematic as the films it ridiculed.

Much like Moviedrome, Exploitica, and its second season, retitled to Exploitica Rides Again, would serve as film school for devotees of psychotronic cinema. Material was ofteen sourced from Something Weird's legendary back catalogue like The Violent Years (1956). Also, the show wasn't afraid to laugh at sacred genre cows like Deep Red (1975), either. Its lampooning of various educational/propaganda films from the past, was another reason why the show hit all the right notes for me.

Sadly, its dedicated and ancient YouTube channel appears to have even less clips available than I last visited it; maybe it's due to licensing and ownership issues. Feeling a lot like Roy Batty in Blade Runner whenever I get nostalgic over this classic late night show - all those moments will be lost in time.

Exploitica/Exploitica Rides Again - The Violent Years
Channel 4 Television, 1999 - 2000

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Nobody Beats the Riz

Having heard Riz Ortolani's theme from the very downbeat The Hunting Party (1971) for the first time recently, makes this a good opportunity to list some other joints I dig from the composer. Despite scoring soundtracks for some notorious films from the world of cinema, his music has often been a universal positive to soundtrack heads like myself.

I Giorni Dell'ira / Day of Anger (1967)

Miami / Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)

Il Ricordo di Serena / Confessions of a Police Captain (1971)

Web of the Spider / Web of the Spider (1971)

Seven Bloodstained Orchids / Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972)

Cyclone / Cyclone (1978)

Il Corpo di Linda / The Pyjama Girl Case (1977)*

Adulteress Punishment / Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Roma Imperial Rock / Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984)

Riz Ortolani - Do It To Me
House on the Edge of the Park OST, 1980

Fave Ortolani cut will always be Do It To Me off  Ruggero Deodato's thoroughly mean-spirited nasty House on the Edge of the Park (1980), which was hilariously titled wrong in the film and its trailer. It's been a disco themed earworm that could have played at Fontaine Khaled's swanky London club back in the day. The song being associated with the most amusing scene from House on the Edge of the Park, before things go very sour for its uppity class party hosts, is probably another reason, too.

* Other than Il Corpo di Linda, the soundtrack to The Pyjama Girl Case is ruined by French singer Amada Lear sounding like a heavily sedated Marlene Dietrich struggling to remain conscious and in tune. If only the much preferred trailer music was included instead as it knocks, before Lear’s awful song plays near the end. No idea if Ortolani was responsible for it, though.

Friday, February 23, 2024

House of Glazer

The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, 2023/2024)

Jonathan Glazer's long awaited film, The Zone of Interest, a loose adapatation of Martin Amis's titular novel, is a powerful viewing experience. Horrific atrocities that occur in the film are largely implied, heard and viewed from afar. Therefore, much of the horror is left to our imagination. Adjacent to the unseen nighmare, we're privvy to the domestic life of  Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, living next door to "the zone of interest" with his family.

Witnessing the commandant's family living with complete apathy right next to what can be best described as Hell is what makes this an incredibly powerful and chilling film. Höss isn't portrayed as some completely deranged pyschopath making it easy to differentiate from. He behaves like a normal individual towards his family; even feeling sad for his horse who he needs to leave behind due to work commitments. That's what makes this such a compelling experience; what appears like a normal individual being capable of committing monstrous actions. Two scenes which really highlight this is where he's having a mundane chat in bed with his wife, Hedwig, about a possible vacation in Italy, and it's immediably followed by a close shot of him overseeing prisoners being processed after their arrival at the death camp. The sounds are truly distressing and haunting. Not something that will be easy to forget any time soon.

Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller), the matriarch of the family, is also complicit with the horror. She takes extreme pride of her dream home. She even considers herself  "the Queen of Auschwitz", claiming that she would have to be dragged away the paradise she lives in. Her staff, work in abject fear. One of whom bearing the burden of Hedwig's annoyance is threatened with, "I could have my husband spread your ashes across the fields of Babice." Chilling. There are hints throughout the film that Hedwig came from poverty and is of a low class. Prisoners' personal belongings are amusingly said to come from "Canada" by Hedwig and her friends. Her callousness is spawned from the jealousy and resentment she harboured before fascism gave her and her family prosperity.

Smoke from steam engines carrying its human victims can be seen from the walled perimeter of the Höss's home. The dark and acrid smoke from the crematorium chimney can be observed both day and night. It's the final straw during a restless night for Hedwig's visiting mother. She realises that her former employer, Esther Silberman, might have suffered a horrific fate on the otherside of the wall. Ash is mixed with top soil by a prison labourer in the commandant's garden. The flowers looks beautiful. These sequences respectfully allow the audience to fill in the gaps.

Sound is integral to the film's disturbing atmosphere. Our eyes might not witness the horror, but our ears ghive some insight with what might be occuring offscreen. Barking guard dogs, crackfire from a gun and the screams of helpless people are very harrowing. The ghastly gutteral sound of furnaces at work is also unsettling. These are all ambient sounds in the background of the Hoss family dream home. What's more, it's the norm for the children. Claus the oldest son, a collector of gold teeth, has fun at the expense of his younger brother, Hans, by locking him in the greenhouse and mockingly making the sound of hissing gas. It's rather obvious, the children know exactly what is going on beyond the proximity of their grounds.

Micha Levi's soundtrack also plays a huge part. It's minimal, and otherwordly modern, but complimentary and never out of place. Glazer bravely begins the film by focusing on nothing but a black screen for a few minutes. Once the viewer begins to adjust to the cinematic depravation, a haunting choral and a strained string arrangment can be heard in the darkness. It's followed by chirping birds and other familar woodland sounds, before the opening shot of the Höss family enjoying a day out by a picturesque lake. 

While sound plays such a large part, visually, it's a stunning looking film. For such a horrific event in history, everything looks sharp with some superb composition. High resolution close-up shots of various flora in the garden show beauty all while you're hearing the horrors past the garden wall. Another example of the contrasts Glazer utilises in the film. Certain scenes involve a young Polish girl placing apples and various other food around a construction site in the darkness of night for the starving prisoners to eat. These moments are shot with the aid of thermal vision cameras. The effect looks ultra modern and somewhat alien for a period piece, but it works remarkably well within the context of the film. 

Always annoying when all the wannabe Eberts, all-access shills, culture journos narcissists spew massive heaps of praise towards undeserving films. Words like "classic" and "masterpiece" are often unwarranted and used far too liberall. Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest exemplifies these two descriptions during a time when they had real value. This is a tough and harrowing film to watch, but a supremely powerful story in modern cinema.

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


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)