Friday, 22 April 2016

The Ego Death - Rough Cut 4 (2016)

A short film by Ludvig Gür that, in this rough cut, lasts 11:42.

The film opens with a man (Jonas) staring intensely into the camera/mirror, which is then followed by the text "7 Days Till The World Ends". We then follow Jonas over the next several days while he is groomed by and cult and waiting for his world to end.

Superficially, it seems that The Ego Death is about how cults and religions can control a person by preying on their weaknesses - in this case Jonas' mental state after his girlfriend leaves him. Looking a little deeper and, as the title describes, it's about the ego and what happens to us if that much needed layer that controls our behaviour is removed? What if the id is all that is left - our base instincts and primitive urges? Does the cult even exist or is this Jonas' method of dealing with his mental collapse?

The B&W photography is stark and the shots are very nicely framed with a good feel for space. There is minimal dialogue, which is good as Gordon Woodward's (Jonas) delivery is a little stilted and this is highlighted by the strong performance given by Robert Prowse as Evan, the cult leader. The soundtrack provides a continual feeling of tension and reminded me a little of Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening Band with their long, circular drones.

Overall, a well-shot and interesting film. If there is a problem it would be that it's a little "on-the-nose", a little too obvious. A simple solution would be to retitle the film - this way you're not leading the viewer from the outset.

Letterboxd Review

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975)

As there is still no legal release of The Werewolf and the Yeti, I watched a very good quality bootleg DVD with a dubbed English soundtrack.

On a trip to the Himalayas to search for the yeti, Waldemar is separated from his party and turned into a werewolf by a pair of half-naked, vampire-witches! Will Waldemar find the yeti? Will the characters realise that hiking the tallest mountain range in the world in nothing but ski jackets and slacks is not a good idea? Will Wandesa's (a Vapirella clone) dress fall off?

Okay, onto the werewolf design. Yes, it is just a man with a hairy face and fangs but at least it was better than the yeti, which reminded me of a partially-balding, meowing, teddy-bear. It wasn't even white! Paul Naschy's transformation into the werewolf was old school, stop-motion, which was fine. There is still the problem of a werewolf wearing clothes, although I can see why they did this: the costume is cheaper and there's no need to re-clothe a naked man after every transformation, which would be an issue in the Himalayas where shops, washing lines full of clothes and small children with a handy collection of balloons are pretty rare. No matter how poor the yeti was, I'd still like to have seen more of it and the final fight between werewolf and yeti was pretty funny - it looked more like two Care Bears cuddling than a pair of ravenous beasts tearing each other apart.

The Werewolf and the Yeti was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. The photography was good with some nice lighting. Performances were fine, if a little hammy, with Naschy doing his usual hirsute man type of werewolf. The dialogue was okay (favourite line: "You're not an ordinary woman, you've got personality!"). The score was discordant and threatening when required although it was a little loud. There is a reasonable amount of gore including an impaling (a la Cannibal Holocaust), a flaying and some slashed throats - nothing too nasty. The film is pretty well paced with regular action sequences and at 80-odd minutes it never really outstayed its welcome.

As I mentioned at the start, I was watching a bootleg DVD and the quality really surprised me. The picture was clear and bright and the sound was excellent with a little background crackle and hiss. This was obviously not a VHS rip and if there's such a good source available then why doesn't someone do a proper release?

A decent, low-budget werewolf film that's worth an hour and a half of your time.

Letterboxd review

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Giallo Buying Guide (Part 2)

There is now a Giallo Buying Guide (Part 2). This list contains all the films from Troy Howarth's So Deadly, So Perverse: 1963 to 1973 that are not already in Part 1 of the Giallo Buyer's Guide.

At some point I will buy volume two of So Deadly, So Perverse and add further pages.

You'll find a link to the Buying Guides in the "Pages" section in the right-hand column and I've also included a link in this post that goes directly to the Giallo 2 list.

I hope you find it useful and if you spot any errors or know of better releases, please let me know.

Buying Guide: Giallo (Part 2)

Friday, 8 April 2016

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

This review is for the Severin Blu-Ray (UK edition) with German soundtrack and English subtitles in the film's native ration of 1.66:1, which leaves narrow black bars at the sides of the picture.

Vampyros Lesbos starts with a sexy, trippy striptease with the beautiful Soledad Miranda (playing Countess Nadine Carody) writhing away to an organ (fnarr, fnarr), whilst Linda (Ewa Strömberg) and her boyfriend Omar (Andrés Monales complete with "Just for Men" styled hair) ogle from a table. With her hallucinatory dance act the Countess places Linda under a spell and, in the following days, haunts her dreams. Sexy, vampyric shenanigans ensue.

The bones of the Dracula story are tucked away under layers of sex and psychedelia. Linda meets with the Countess to discuss a property left to her in a will rather than the purchase of a house in the novel. She hires a boat to get to the Countess' island instead of a coach to the castle. Then we have the haunting of dreams, the locals warning Linda not to visit the island, a Renfield type character, Linda Westinghouse instead of Lucy Westenra and Doctor Seward (who is a bit of a dick). You get the idea. I think Franco must have been reading the, admittedly pretty dry, book and thought "hey, it's the 1970! Let's sex this up! Nicole, bring me my mescaline".

The relationship between Linda and the Countess is not based on any form of hypnosis but is the result of Linda's frustrated love-life and the Countess' need for more than just blind obedience. Watch the first bedroom encounter between the pair and note that Linda's expression is not of someone under control but that of someone who is nervous and excited. The scene is very similar to a famous scene in the uncut Hammer Dracula (1958). in fact the control in this film tends to come from the male characters, although there are the  Countess' previous victims to consider, who are reduced to dolls in the strip scenes. The Countess later admits her love for Linda when she says "But then I met Linda. Now I'm under her spell". If it wasn't for the gratuitous tits-and-ass I'd never call Vampyros Lesbos an exploitation film and most definitely not a horror film. This is as much a love story as Lady Chatterley's Lover!

The photography is beautiful with deep landscape shots cutting to macro shots of insects. Sure we get loads of zoom shots, but would it be a Jess Franco film without them? The colours are vivid; full of bright reds, deep blues and burnt oranges. They really give the film a Mediterranean feel. Where most vampire films use black as the predominate colour and red as a highlight, Franco reverses this and black is used sparingly, but when used it stands out wonderfully. There are a few shots that are really out of focus but these are few and far between and seem to be the fault of the focus-puller during Franco's frequent zooms.

The soundtrack? It's like distant conversations picked up by a ham radio enthusiast, looped, distorted and played back alongside some R&B/jazz Hammond organ and trippy sitar. Not just one of the classic exploitation soundtracks but one of the greatest film soundtracks of the 1970s.

The performances are, on the whole, excellent and above Franco usual standard. Miranda is great; at times fragile and then cold and aloof, whilst Carody (as Linda) is suitably naive and insecure at the start but slowly develops into a strong assertive woman. Michael Berling is excellent as the patriarchal and controlling Seward.

For gorehounds there is very little blood in Vampyros Lesbos and for those wanting tits-and-ass, there's frequent boobs and bush, one sub-softcore moment and a couple of very nice stripteases - the second being quite brilliant as the Countess slowly removes her clothes and dresses her living doll in them. Just don't watch the film expecting a Jess Franco sex frenzy.

The quality of the picture is very good with strong colours that pop off the screen without being over-saturated. The sound is clear and without noticeable hiss and the subtitles seem accurate.

A story of control versus love and sexual liberation. Seductive, sexy, beautiful and quite brilliant.

"The Queen of the Night will bear you up on her black wings"

Letterboxd Review

Monday, 4 April 2016

Things (1989)

This review is for the Intervision DVD.


Remember the old days when Plan 9 from Outer Space was considered the worst film ever made? These days it seems that milestone is being passed on an almost daily basis. We've had Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, The Room and more recently, the nil-budget, monster-movie exploitation of Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The appetite for shit is apparently still very healthy in an age of masturbatory, Spandex and cape-wearing explodavision.

I wasn't sure how to review Things, so I thought I'd try a method I had already used for Demons in My Head and pretty much list everything that happens in a low-rent, stream-of-consciousness type way. This seems to work well with these "what the fuck is happening" type films and to be honest I wasn't too bothered with plot spoilers in a film as notoriously disjointed as Things. So, let's get started...

Picture the following with 8-bit midi-synth and some nasty Casio-style backbeat playing in the background... well, when I say playing, it's more like start, stop, start, louder, rewind, stop, ff, stop, quieter, start. You get the idea.

A nuclear bomb goes off and we get the title screen. A man, Doug, asks a devil-masked woman to have his baby... but wait, the baby has already been born and bites his hand! Doug then wakes up... it was all a dream! He gets up and moves into the kitchen for some pills for his girlfriend. A door closes on its own. The title screen is displayed again along with the some disjointed credits...wait...freeze-frame...Amber Lynn is in this? Then she appears in all her hair-lacquered-within-an-inch-of-its-life, shoulder-padded glory as a newsreader with the name Amber Lynn! This is like some weird parallel universe where instead of being a world famous porn star she became a Fox News anchor with no idea of what her dialogue is, let along the camera! Two men (we'll call them Beardy and Mullet) knock at at Doug's door and get no answer. They let themselves in and pull a book and tape deck from the freezer... yes, the freezer. Beardy then describes the plot of the Evil Dead whilst they play the tape. Mullet then takes off his jacket and puts it in the freezer, because... well, just because. Doug appears, shouts, turns the tape off and disappears again. Beardy searches the kitchen cupboards, turns some taps on and off, and then flicks a plastic fish for no reason whatsoever. Amber Lynn is back! Then a shot of a man and a woman poking another man's decomposing hand. Then it just gets weird.

That's the first ten minutes or so and at this point I have to give up with my "stream-of-conciousness" idea as I'm spending to much time typing and not enough watching. So back to the standard review format.

There's a Robert Heinlein story called "And He Built a Crooked House" about a house built in an unfolded tesseract configuration which then collapses in on itself, becoming a weird quantum-mechanical, architectural conundrum. A house where you can climb the stairs only to find yourself at the bottom again and where you can walk into the kitchen and end up in the bedroom. Things is a little like that - you have entered a very strange dimension where even Rod Serling would fear to tread.

So we have some fun practical effects (I've seen much worse - I'm looking at you Cannibal Terror). The sound is all over the place with variable levels (just wait until you hear the paper-towels!), muffling, background hiss and some of the worst ADR outside of Hong Kong. The editing, and I use the word extremely loosely, is insane and completely incoherent. There is no shot composition at all and the picture quality is really, really bad - fuzzy, out of focus, blurry, pick an adjective. Then we come to the lighting! We have lighting, then no lighting, then red lighting, then yellow, then none, all within a single scene. Plot wise, so many things happen which have absolutely no bearing on the plot, character development or anything at all - they just happen! I'm sure there must be a plot in there somewhere, but I'm buggered if I can find it. The performances are bad but not the worst I've seen. In fact the doctor is up there with Torgo from Manos as one of my most favourite ever characters.

If there's one phrase that sums up Things it's "shit happens". It's almost like the director took the title a little too literally and took a big bucket full of "Things", threw them against a wall and filmed what stuck... and also what fell off into a gloopy mess on the floor.

I know all this makes the film sound terrible - and it is, it really is - but you can tell the film-makers really love horror and Things has a lot of heart. One to watch with friends and a large quantity of beer.

A masterpiece of incompetence.

Amber Lynn... why?

Letterboxd Review