Lisa, Lisa

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

mostly accurate

Lisa, Lisa
aka Axe
aka The Virgin Slaughter
aka California Axe Massacre
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Released: 1977 (filmed 1974)
Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Frederick R. Friedel, Ray Green, Douglas Powers
Running time: 65 min
Genre: exploitation, horror, rape & revenge

Get me a glass of water, then drink it yourself, it’ll give you something to do. Dusk. A slim girl in the distance (It’s totally Lisa!) walks swiftly across a lawn and enters a creepy-looking, rural farmhouse with a big scary tree in front of it.

Later that evening, in the big bad city, three graduates (or possibly drop-outs) of the Tarantino Academy of Criminality are powerwalking through the lobby of an apartment building in their best business/crime suits. Feet. Feet. Feet. Chandelier. Chandelier. Chandelier. Elevator. One, two, three, four, ninth floor. Steele (Canon) and his large, dim-witted associate, Lomax (Green), looking so much like wannabe Jules and Vincents, step out of the elevator followed by their sloppy, Bob Ross-lookin’, ‘fro-master understudy, Nice Guy Billy (Friedel). Seems another associate of theirs, a gentleman named Aubrey, has messed up, crossed them in some way. Perhaps he missed a payment or slighted someone he shouldn’t have? (No1curr!) They break into Aubrey’s apartment and wait for him to return, Billy watching from the window as Lomax, who seems oddly fascinated and possibly aroused by all sorts of different fabrics, plays with one of  Aubrey’s blouses. They catch him slippin’ and get the drop on him as he comes in with his lover Harold. Nice Guy Billy stays at the window, keeping a lookout for any happy little policemen as Lomax and Steele torture, humiliate and beat Aubrey. Harold covers his eyes and I think he cries a little. Not satisfied with the thorough thrashing he’s just handed out, Steele whips out his straight razor to Mr. Blonde Aubrey’s nose off, but Billy intervenes. Aubrey is already dead. With the window clear and seeing what happened to his man and expecting the same, Harold, not really being the stoic sort, saves himself the torture by jumping out the window to the pavement twelve nine floors below. With two deaths worth of heat on them now, the trio head out to the country to find a nice place to lay low, have some fresh fruit, and wait for all of this to blow over.

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cue “little green bag”

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marvin, vincent, and jules

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only the first unspeakable shirt

Back at the creepy farmhouse, a pretty, if sad and tired-looking young Lisa rolls her paralyzed granddad through the house and checks the fridge for breakfast fixings.

On the road, the Criminals Three stop off at a small, rural, roadside gas and grocery. Not having much  of an appetite after an evening of murder and whining about not knowing there was going to be murder, Billy stays in the car and asks for just some nuts. There’s nuts alright. Steele, completely missing the point of going out to the country to lay low, flips shit when his fruit isn’t fresh enough and chucks it at the poor, timid cashier. She tries to avoid trouble by offering to give him some of the fruit. Sensing her fear and being a Grade A psychopath, he pounces. With help from Lomax, he terrorizes the poor checkout girl with the really ugly shirt. They toss some fruit and shoot the place up. Apple. Bang. Apple. Bang. Apple. Bang. Melon. Clumsy double entendre about melons. They force her to remove her unfathomably ugly blouse. Humiliation. Abuse. Catsup and cola bukkake. Billy gets his nuts (which he doesn’t even eat after all of that trouble) and they’re back on the road.

Lisa, meanwhile, is gathering up the day’s food. Eggs for breakfast. A freshly beheaded chicken bleeding all over the sink for later. She takes gramps up a raw egg for breakfast. Washes him. Prepares to shave him, but never quite gets around to it, due to the Reservoir Dunces pulling up outside. They snoop around a bit and force their way inside. A secluded farmhouse, defended only by one small girl and a quadriplegic old man makes for a perfect place to hide out for a few days. Not given much of a choice, Lisa accommodates them the best that she can, cooking for them, making up rooms. Nice Guy Billy, sickened by the brutality of his companions, wants to help their new hostages, keep them safe, but a late night fabric groping session cranks Lomax’ perv dial to eleven and he sneaks into Lisa’s room for a sickening sexual assault. There’s more to Lisa than they know, however, and she will only tolerate so much before she decides to take action … WITH AN AXE! Well no, actually with a straight razor. BUT THERE WILL BE AN AXE. Eventually.

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a little casual humiliation

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel jack canon california axe massacre video nasty carol miller

cashier wept

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel jack canon california axe massacre video nasty

say “what” one more time

The sharp edge of suspense slams hard into fear. Written as well as directed (and starred in) by Friedel and distributed by trashy exploitation peddler Harry Novak, Lisa, Lisa is a short (barely feature length), and decidedly un-exploitative exploitation film, with advertising far more lurid than the actual movie. Filmed in just eleven days on a shoestring budget, supposedly without the option of retakes, it overcomes its limitations to be an interesting and somber little flick that hints at more than it shows, but somehow still found itself lumped in with the real Video Nasties on the British Board of Film Censorship’s list of banned movies.

Fisty: I must confess: I have a particular fondness for little regional exploitation or horror flicks like this. And that makes me pretty un-objective, but then again, all of these reviews are pretty fucking subjective anyway. But yeah, this went way better than expected. I was actually a bit disinterested in it based on the title and it being a Video Nasty. Yawn, I though, another one. But the reality of Lisa, Lisa  was entirely unexpected.

Bill: It really isn’t what you expect it to be. It has one of those awesome trailers that make you think you’re about to see the most violent and perverse movie ever filmed, but that’s really all misleading hype. I don’t think it was ever meant to be the sleazy slaughterfest they sold it as. It’s more reserved than you’d think it would be, based on re-titles like California Axe Massacre as well as its Video Nasty status. There’s really no extended, uncomfortable assault scenes, like in Night Train Murders or Last House on the Left.

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medium cool

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

things can only get worse from here

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

premonition, memory, fantasy?

Fisty: Yet more evidence for the Video Nasty craze being so much hype! That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t some genuinely weird and perverse stuff going on here. It’s just that much of it is–dare I say it?–understated.

Bill: … or we’re just jaded and desensitized. They do show the sawing of razor on flesh after a simulated rape, or at least attempted rape. It doesn’t look to me like Lomax was all that successful. I’m not sure if you were meant to believe he was and it actually happened or if  it only almost happened. Regardless, there was that razor/flesh moment. The grocery store scene was pretty rough. I mean, they didn’t make her pee her pants, stab her to death, or play with her guts, but they did still terrorize and humiliate the girl. And the murder of Aubrey was pretty violent, with lit cigars stuffed in dude’s mouth and all, and his nose almost coming off. I’ve been thinking about it and I’m wondering if maybe the movie has a sharper edge than it initially seemed to me. It may not be I Spit on Your Grave or Maniac, but maybe it is a little rougher than I was initially giving it credit for. Maybe it’s only understated when compared to other movies of the type? I mean, there was definitely more blood in this than you ever see in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee jack canon ray green california axe massacre video nasty

the big bads

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee jack canon ray green california axe massacre video nasty

the many faces of lisa

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

see any happy little trees up there?

Fisty: Slow down there, turbo! I never said it WASN’T rough. I was genuinely on edge during a lot of the movie, because it was so understated in many ways, yet the vicious perversity of the opening scene informs us right off the bat that these dudes are capable of anything. During the market scene I was convinced that there was no way the poor clerk was getting out alive, and that all the indignities heaped upon her were merely a precursor to an ignominious death. (Is that a spoiler? Is Bill going to yell at me now?) And once the Original Tripso Trio arrived at The Farm (Tangent: I’m going to go ahead and proper just about all the nouns in this here joint because Lisa, Lisa is some metaphorical-allegorical shit, yo.), I removed myself from the couch to my tenter and settled in on the hooks because SOMETHING WAS SURE TO HAPPEN.

And eventually, it did. But first I had to wait –on tenterhooks!–while Lisa drifted about in her ivory dress, tending chickens, collecting eggs, killing them, preparing meals, shaving her grandfather, staring at eggs, watching chicken blood drip (still more exciting that watching paint dry!), and so on. Do not get me wrong–all of this builds tension (and confusion) admirably. And it also serves to make us all a little uneasy. Who is Lisa, really? And her grandfather? Where are her parents? What happened to Gramps? Is he afraid of her? What happened to Lisa? Did anything happen to her, or is she just … that way? None of those questions are ever answered, but Friedel gives us just enough–a mere taste, really–to speculate.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

fore-something or other

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

small pleasures

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee douglas powers california axe massacre video nasty

only the lonely

Bill: Okay. That’s good. I was just worried that we were underselling the brutality of the movie and making it sound like a particularly boring Lifetime drama.  Also, stop spoiling things.

I love that so much is left unexplained. I feel like most movies, especially modern movies, have a tendency to over-explain things, spoon-feeding you a bunch of unnecessary background info. What did Aubrey do to deserve his beating? Where are Lisa’s parents? Where did that clerk get such an ugly blouse? What is the ideal tomato soup/blood ratio to keep someone from realizing they’re eating blood? Who cares? This is the story of  Lisa and the Three Thugs and you get only what you need to understand what happens when they meet. All the other details are left to you to ponder and that vagueness and ambiguity is good. They keep you thinking and wondering long after you’ve finished watching.

I’ve gone back and forth wondering if gramps was trying stuff with Lisa and that’s how he ended up in that chair to begin with. She does tend to go for the neck (at least she did with Lomax and the chicken) and that would support the idea of her injuring him in a way that could cause his paralysis. And this would also provide some insight into why Lisa seems so emotionally stunted. But it also could’ve been a disease or accident that left him like he is and Lisa might just be … that way. Concerning the scene in which grandpa sees Lisa in action and gets a faceful of blood spatter: I saw him shaking and thought that meant he was terrified, terrified of Lisa and what she was capable of, but you had a different interpretation, that that was an excited glee in gramps. This was maybe the most excitement he’s seen since he’s been in that chair and he’s loving the carnage. It’s just like the war! The great thing about Lisa, Lisa is that both views are valid. It could be either and you can easily make a case for both.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

look…

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

i’m just not okay

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

being flippant right now

But I really do think he was scared. Lisa is just a scary person. She doesn’t seem to realize that people aren’t eggs. She breaks an egg … oh well! She kicks some dirt over it to cover up her accident and goes on her way. She kills a man … oh well! She hacks him up and sticks his pieces in a trunk to hide her crime.  No difference. Actually, even adding the “oh well” is wrong, because she never has so much as an “oops” look on her face. No matter what she is doing, being attacked, struggling, cooking dinner, eating a cookie or killing someone, her expression never changes. She’s empty. Michael Myers emotes more than this girl. And it’s more than just the way she deals with the crimes with no emotion, it’s also how she cares for her grandpa. She doesn’t seem to recognize him as a human being either. She never speaks a single word to the man. She never reassures him or defends him or tells him what she’s about to do or why. There’s no, “Good morning, grandpa,” or, “I’m going to go get started on breakfast now.” He is completely helpless as scary strangers are loose in his house and she never even acknowledges that this could be traumatic for him. He’s not a person she cares for, he’s just a list of things she needs to do each day. The only time you get a hint at any kind of inner feelings is in a brief moment where she contemplates suicide and you see how lonely she might be feeling. But even then, her face is blank. Ending herself would just be another chore. It’s sad, sure, but even more so, it’s chilling

Fisty: Even when she’s disposing of the first body, it seems to be a vague sort of nod to the etiquette of dealing with houseguests (Never leave a corpse where a guest will find it!) rather than an impulse born of of fear. I’m not sure whether I’d consider self-preservation to even be one of her motives in disposing of the first corpse, as her suicidal gestures and cavalier chicken & egg consumption seem to indicate someone with a decidedly laissez-faire attitude toward life and its preservation.

Whatever the reason is for Lisa’s (apparent) impassivity and quiescence, we’ll never know it. That she waits until Lomax’s rape attempt to strike may hint at a history of sexual abuse. Perhaps it was Gramps, and that is the reason she cares for him with her casual cruelty. Perhaps it was before that, with one of her missing parents–could that be why they’re AWOL? It may have not been familial at all, but a My Sweet Audrina moment under a golden raintree. Or perhaps she’s simply schizophrenic, or even brain damaged somehow, whether via birth defect or neglect. Maybe it’s solipsism syndrome, which would explain how Lisa treats everyone else in the film as though they were things without meaning. I CAN DO THIS ALL NIGHT, FOLKS! Maddening as it is, we can only speculate.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

aftermath

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

lomax could be a real drag

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

here’s lisa

However, Lisa only APPEARS to be entirely passive until the attempted rape. Though her protests at the presence of the Not-Quite-Ready-for-Tarantino Gang appear to have no force behind them, and though she meekly acquiesces to their home invasion, the lady doth in fact protest. She subsides again into her apparent apathy, perhaps feeling like it’s best to ride the storm out and have them on their way–but not before contemplating suicide as an out, that is how much she dislikes or fears their presence. But it is at that moment there before us in the mirror that she suffers an existential crisis, undergoing a seachange into something rich and strange–and not a little violent. Blink, and you might miss it, but the violation of her person by Lomax is a moment Lisa prepares for, and her actions then are not at all impulsive. It is the invasion, not the attack, that is the wellspring for all her further actions. Or… I’m full of shit and she was always that solipsistic monster.

Bill: I’m not sure her suicide contemplation was really as transformative a moment as you think it was. I think she probably has the same moment in the mirror everyday.  She has nothing to live for. She feels no love, has no wants, no desire for or prospects at romance, no goals. If gramps is just a chore, she is just a chore-doing machine. She has nothing that gives her any kind of joy, except maybe, MAYBE, she gets a little from her cookies, if she is even capable of feeling joy. She does seem lonely and, I guess, trapped in her non-life, but when Bob Ross showed interest in her, I never got the sense that she ever even considered him as a way out. But she did seem to let him think he might be her savior, maybe just to protect herself or–I think more likely–as a way of biding time and waiting for her moment. Maybe Lomax’s attack triggered her violent turn, but she was a bit empty even before that. I think she probably already was that “solipsistic monster” and Lomax’s rape play just forced her to move up the timetable on what was possibly already something she was considering. I’m not so sure these are her first victims. I have no concrete reason for thinking it, but I think she has killed other people that came to the house before. Maybe just some dumb kids traveling the country or, more likely, a traveling salesman or drifter farmhand that sought to take advantage of her situation.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

axe-ing for it

And I’m sure that I’d know all of this for sure if I could only figure out what all the broken eggs mean. They have to mean something! There has to be some symbolism to the fucking eggs! It’s maddening. I can’t stop thinking about the eggs and what they could mean. There’s some secret code that I’m just not figuring out. Lisa is actually easier to find some message in. Lisa could represent, especially through her murder of the guys and how it equates with her casual killing of the chicken, rural folks’ more realistic views of life and nature. City people don’t kill their own chickens. They don’t deal with death daily. So we city peeps can see the country people as being harsh or unfeeling, like Lisa. And that freaks us out. But those damn eggs…

Fisty: I’m convinced the eggs and chickens are just symbolic of how indifferent Lisa is to all other people, or the world, really. They’re irrelevant to her, just things as carelessly dropped or killed and eaten as cared for. Which maybe tells us all we need to know about her background and upbringing.

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out, damn spot

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee douglas powers california axe massacre video nasty

hell is murky . and also lisa.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

RIFE WITH MEANING

What you mentioned about the gang’s perception of Lisa (and ours as well) as city dwellers looking askance at country folk plays into my Big Theory about the film, namely that it’s a riff on “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” You remember that one, right? The fable where the city mouse visits the country mouse and scoffs at his simple pleasure, then the country mouse visits the city mouse where they dine like kings but end up chased off by some dogs? That’s Lisa, Lisa! But like, there’s murder instead! The big, bad city gents come rolling into the bleak countryside looking for a cozy little mousehole, and maybe a little humiliation of the weak to boot. While they think the country is a gentle, quiet place populated by rube and bumpkins, to be used and abused as they please, they find instead that it is a place far more savage than they can handle. They are not, however, the bumbling but civilized middle class victims of films like The Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Steele’s gang are thugs, violent and murderous, but they’re also fish out of water in the country, and when in Lisa’s milieu, they find that her mute and dispassionate brutality easily triumphs over their machinations; they’re as fragile as the eggs she casually and ruthlessly crushes. Aesop concludes his fable with the moral that it is better to live in peace than in continual fear, and Steele’s gang undoubtedly wish they’d never fled the city they understand for the inexplicable terrors of the empty countryside.

In most horror hixploitation films the rural inhabitants are depicted as grim or manic bogeymen, inbred or even mutated, and with all manner of undesirable behaviors and perverse desires. Lisa, Lisa is then a contradiction, for Lisa and her grandfather are eerily silent and seemingly placid. Here it is the city dwellers who swagger and boast; when they transgress they do it knowingly, purposefully. In punishing them for their misdeeds, Lisa recalls John and Estelle Collingwood in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. It’s impossible to not draw parallels, for both films feature criminals on the run taking refuge in the country and a sexually assaulted young girl, with revenge taken for the crime. Obviously, Lisa survives the (attempted?) rape and exacts her own revenge, and neither does her revenge feature the same torment as that of the Collingwoods’ descent into savagery, but like LHotL, Lisa, Lisa too is a deeply sad film.

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meat’s meat, and a man’s gotta eat

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axe

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ME TIE DOUGHTY WALKER

Stay away from Lisa! In Lisa, Lisa we have perhaps one of the finest examples of what a bizarre and convoluted mess the whole Video Nasties uproar really was, as well as a stellar example of a once thriving regional movie scene. While brutally violent and often deeply uncomfortable, Lisa, Lisa is hardly the immoral or obscene bogey of the Video Nasties craze. Lisa herself is amoral as an animal, and both she and Friedel come down hard on the depravities of the gang…with Lisa’s own depravities. Yet for all the violence and startling grotesquerie, Lisa, Lisa is an often quiet, suspenseful (dig that jarring, atonal score!), even thoughtful meditation on mental illness and family, in the form of a horror/exploitation film. A wonderful remnant of a cheap, fly by night & the seat of the pants era of regional filmmaking, don’t miss this slice of Americana.

Note: A recent interview of Frederick R. Friedel by Shock Til You Drop dropped a bomb about a remake of Lisa, Lisa being in the works, perhaps within the next year! Let’s hope whomever helms this one doesn’t take the Zombie approach of cramming in exposition… 

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The Screaming Minis: The Bay

crustacean nation

crustacean nation

The Bay
Director: Barry Levinson
Released:
2012
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Jane McNeill, and Christopher Denham
Running time: 84 minutes
Genre: Horror

I saw The Bay as a mystery, pre-release screening at an all night horror movie marathon this past October. The circumstances of that viewing were unusual and not ideal for enjoying the movie. I didn’t know what I was watching until the end credits, so I didn’t know what to expect, and I’d just finished watching Slither,  so I was full up on parasites  for the evening. I didn’t want to be unfair, so I skipped reviewing the movie until its release on disc. After another viewing, sadly, my opinion hasn’t changed.

News coverage of thousands of dead fish floaters and bird corpses, stories that were reported on, precede a close up of one girl, Donna Thompson, who intros herself and speaks forebodingly about the story that wasn’t covered, that was covered up. On an unusually warm Independence Day in the small, bay-side town of Claridge, Maryland, cub reporter Donna was there to cover the crab races, the Crab Eating Spectacular, all the usual festivities, and interview little kids and local celebs. She ends up covering much more. That footage, originally suppressed by the government and now leaked by the whistle-blowing govleaks.org, along with recovered cellphone, security cam, skype calls, etc., make up the bulk of the film. What the government didn’t want you to see, what Donna has to expose, is that, on that July 4th, there was something in the town of Claridge, in the water of the bay, inside the fish, in the water from Claridge’s desalination plant, the water they drank and played in. It was inside the people of Claridge. And that something … was chicken shit.

I love eco horror. I also love Found Footage. You’d think an eco horror mockumentary by an acclaimed filmmaker would be a slam dunk for me, but The Bay is less than the sum of its parts. Levinson is an Oscar-nominated writer, Oscar-winning director, but this does not feel like a movie from an A-list Hollywood director. The performances largely don’t work. The movie’s believability hinges on Kether Donohue’s portrayal of Donna, but she’s just not news reporter material. We’re talking Mark Wahlberg-as-science-teacher level of unbelievability. And the writing is just bad, leading to events that feel contrived. Cops walk alone into dark houses, rush into danger with no back up, flip out and go murderous, shooting healthy people for no reason. A couple strolls through a town full of corpses with their baby, instead of getting back on their boat and keeping the baby safe. I can forgive slips like these in a movie that doesn’t strive to look like reality, but this is supposed to be a documentary.

The “chicken shit” thing damages the credibility, too. Claridge is being eaten alive by mutated isopods (parasites that eat fish tongues–I’m sure you’ve seen the picture). It was chicken shit that caused the mutation, mountains of chicken shit full of steroids from a chicken factory that runs off into the bay. It’s so heavy-handed with the chicken shit eco message that the only thing I can liken the chicken shit to is the Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant looming in the background of every Troma movie. And that is exactly what The Bay calls it … chicken shit. A lot. I don’t know how many times it says “chicken shit,” but it’s enough to make a drinking game. (Drink twice the one time someone calls it chicken excrement!) It also reuses bits of previously shown footage. I guess it’s meant to drive points home, but it’s just repetitive. It feels like unnecessary padding. I don’t need to see the clip of the mayor drinking a glass of water, saying how good that water is three separate times. Once was enough. All this adds to the Troma vibe. My first viewing, as far as a half an hour in, I was still waiting for it to turn into a comedy about hybrid chicken-sharks–that would’ve been great! I can forgive repetitive, silly language in a schlocky film, but The Bay is played straight.

It’s also infested with the already cliche crap that pulls you right out of so many other Found Footage flicks: too much camera glitch, forced curse words injected into the dialog to make it sound real, arguments that don’t seem believable, fights about why someone is continuing to film,  characters explaining to the camera why they’re filming (posterity/show the world!), etc. I forgive these problems when I’m watching a movie made by a few noobs with a handicam and $10,000, but an experienced, acclaimed director/screenwriter with a healthy budget doesn’t get the same leeway.

It’s like Levinson was making a serious movie that he didn’t take seriously, like he was just pumping out product that he didn’t feel was worth a real effort. He was slumming and was fine with tossing out a movie with the same old imperfections we’re used to. That sucks, because The Bay had potential. It can be really gruesome and tense. There’s a few super effective scares and skin-crawly moments, including one scene involving a fish and a hidden isopod that rivals Exorcist III’s gliding-nun-with-shears and Signs alien-walking-past-the-hedges scenes. The rashes and blisters on the infected people are pretty sick. Unfortunately, none of the actors sell the appliances. You never get a sense of it being anything other than make up. I can forgive just about any problem if the gore is crazy enough and some of the gore in The Bay is truly gnarly, but not enough to save it.

It isn’t a terrible movie, but it is a disappointment. Too goofy to be serious, too serious to be fun, it fails as schlock, as a serious message film, and as a mockmumentary. It vacillates between trying to be Piranha and trying to be Outbreak and fails at being either. It’s a mixed up, b-grade, mediocre mess and from an A-List artist, that’s something I can’t forgive.

Five Dolls for an August Moon

one fanciful title

one fanciful title

5 bambole per la luna d’agosto
aka L’île de l’épouvante
aka Fem lig i fryseren
Director: Mario Bava
Released: 1970
Starring: Ely Galleani, Edwige Fenech, William Berger
Running time: 81 min
Genre: giallo

I’m not a man of thought. I’m a man of action. We open onto a rugged Mediterranean coastline, all sunlight, blue sky, and bluer waters.  The camera follows a blonde nymphet as she prances along, barefoot on the sand, letting wavelets lap at her toes. The sun is setting, and she makes her way over the rocks to a house overlooking a docked yacht. The lighted windows glow in the deepening twilight. Moving into a dark stand of palms, the nymphet tiptoes to the illuminated window for a peep. And the action begins with a record dropping, and segues right into a writhing Edwige Fenech. Sadly, it cuts away almost immediately to a room full of people giving each other mad side-eye, zoom and all. But then she’s back! With the BIGGEST hair! Undulating more madly than ever! She doffs her sequined tunic (the better to display her gold lame bikini top), frugs like a maenad, and then Thurston Howell III ties her up and offers her as a sacrifice to the god Kraal. (Wut.) All the partygoers are handed sharp, stabby implements as he prepares. The lights go out, there’s a scream, and when they come back on–she’s been stabbed! But wait! A shot of soda water, and she’s good as ever! Better, in fact, because now she’s all wet. Funsies!

The next day is a bunch of exposition: Edwige (her character’s name is Marie, but it really doesn’t matter) lolls about on a boat with the houseboy Charles/Jacques; they watch the yacht leave and she exposits about some business meeting. Meanwhile, the other ladies kick it in the kitchen with a truly Lucullan spread; hot redhead Peggy (Helena Ronee) feels a sense of foreboding. Fetching nymphet Isabel pops in to deliver wildflower bouquets to the ladies–and also a prophesy. Even more meanwhile, the gentlemen have cornered Professor Fritz (William Berger), who’s apparently invented some marvelously lucrative formula they all desperately want. It’s very “shut up and take my money!” as they thrust million dollar checks at him. But no! Prof Fritz is a man of SCIENCE! He intends to deliver his formula unto the world, and is not swayed by their filthy lucre.

MEANWHILE … Prof Fritz burns something! Papers!! Of some kind!!! And we learn that Edith and Jill (Ira von Fürstenberg and Edith Meloni, respectively, though it doesn’t really matter) are having a clandestine affair! Because they were lovers!! Lesbian lovers!!! And we see Marie (you’ve already forgotten who that is, haven’t you?) sneaking onto the launch for THEIR clandestine (well, maybe not so much) rendezvous … but Charles/Jacques is DEAD! Stabbed!! With a KNIFE!!! And Marie is off, dashing through the gloaming with yet another doffed tunic clutched to her breasts (boo!). Isabel watches.

villa of bava

villa of bava

why is this not in 3d?

why is this not in 3d?

trudy's choice

trudy’s choice

Concurrently! Several of the guests are sacked out in the lounge, looking for all the world as though they’ve been smoking opium or eating mushrooms, while the camera floats above them as though we were having an out of body experience.

In the meantime! Marie’s husband Nick lolls on the revolving circular bed, smoking and ashing into a giant crystal ashtray, as one does. As Marie washes that man and murder right out of her hair, we learn that: A) Marie is a dirty whore! B) Or a clean one!! C) And sexing houseboys is déclassé!!! D) And that Nick expects to pimps her for their mutual gain!!!! It’s all so very continental.

The houseboy’s body is discovered, traumatizing the Pucci-clad Jill. Of course people immediately begin speculating on who could have done it, but they don’t know yet how murky the mystery will get. When Prof Fritz tries to phone for help, the line is out. That, coupled with there being no boats on the island–because of course, the launch has gone missing–means they’re all stranded there. With a murderer.

You probably think you know what’s going on right now–but you don’t! Because this is the time when they decide to stash Charles/Jacques’ body in the freezer–wrapped in plastic, of course. And as people are picked off one by one, each will end up on ice, dressed like a nightmare version of the housewife dressed in Saran Wrap. Lest you think these people are normal, however, this really doesn’t appear to concern anyone much beyond a little handwringing, and they all largely go back to swilling J&B and vermouth and looking suspicious. Until the finale, the only constants are that you never know who will die next and that Isabel will be flitting about the island peeping at the antics.

pucci wept

pucci wept

the first ever houseboy on ice

the first ever houseboy on ice

a bay of blue

At least now I’ll be a clean whore.  Notoriously disparaged by critics and treated as a joke by Maestro Bava himself, Five Dolls for an August Moon was a quick, commercial affair, one he joined on two days’ notice and shot in just nineteen days. Though some of the seams show, 5D4AAM is still a visual delight and not without darkly comic pleasures.

Fisty: Okay, so it’s essentially pared down Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Ni- Ind- And Then There Were None, but has ATTWN ever been done with such style? Such flair? Has it ever been done with a gold lamé bikini pantsuit (yes, that IS a thing!)–girdling the loins of Edwige Fenech, no less? Or with more zooms than a Mazda commercial? I think not!

Bill: “With such style?” Possibly. “With a gold lamé bikini pantsuit?” Probably not. “With more zooms…?” Oh, hell no, it hasn’t! 5D4aAM packs more zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom than you’d find anywhere outside of a Wreckx-N-Effect song. It’s packed with boom-boom, too. Hello, Edwige! How was George the only person responding to her crazy savage jungle-girl in gold lamé mating dance? Could they not see that her hair was gigantic?! She had to have some weave in there, right? Whatever. I don’t even care how it got like that. I just know it was magnificent.

Edwige is one of the few cast members that really stand out in 5D4aAM. She, of course, stands out just by being her. That woman is like a living stereogram. She pops out at you. She’s a 3D woman in a 2D world. And her Marie is obviously the life of every party. Ely Galleani as Isabel can be remembered without stressing over it. I love her. She’s adorable. Teodoro Corrà’s shady millionaire George (aka Thurston Howell III) and the Professor,  the only non-sleazy man on the island and the only blonde man on the island, are the only men in the movie that I could clearly identify from one another. Everyone else might as well be credited as Skeevy Business Partners 1-3 and Wives 1-3. I just can’t tell them all apart. One drinks heavily, one wears red pants, one cries hysterically, one has red hair, one is a creeper, two were gay for each other, but which trait belongs to which person, what their names are, and who they’re married to is kind of difficult to figure out. I still get confused about which one is Jill and which one is Nick and that’s after seeing the movie three times, talking about who these people are, and consulting IMDB. Figuring this all out is like doing one of those kids puzzles where you have to draw a line from a picture in one column to the related picture in another column, only it’s harder, because no one was nice enough to line all the faces up for you. I think that’s part of why the movie is often looked at unfavorably. Aside from just being confusing, it’s kind of hard to give a shit about who lives or dies and why, when you can’t tell any of them apart.

such laughs!

such laughs!

lamé bikini pantsuit inspector!

lamé bikini pantsuit inspector!

how many d's is a shadow?

how many d’s is a shadow?

Fisty: Ohmygod, yes. The Mouseketeer Roll Call of the first scene (wherein people just keep looking at one another amidst zooms) is repeated a couple of times throughout the movie, and never failed to make me laugh. And every single time it happened, it just heightened my confusion as to who was who and doing what to whom with what in the where. Which … kind of made me not care. About the characters, that is. The film as a whole, I enjoy thoroughly. I know it’s considered the Bava film one must make a special case for, but I just don’t care. It’s so kitschy and kicky and fun. It should play on the walls of nightclubs, while people gyrate to Piero Umiliani’s jazzy grooves.

Did we mention the score yet? Because it is AWESOME. It’s super kicky and catchy, so catchy in fact, that you’ll likely find yourself humming it for days after. (Umiliani,by the by, may be better known to some as the originator of “Mah Nà Mah Nà.”) Perhaps it’s that infectious sound that keeps me interested in the film? That, and all the distracting shiny things to look at. It’s really the mirror image of the “old dark house” movie: A new, modern house on a bright, sunny island, with the jet set roaming about in their Puccis and pantsuits, bikinis and boas. By and large, they’re a comely bunch, too.

The house is very nearly a cast member, and should be appreciated as such. Its clean, modern lines stand in stark contrast to the rocky beach and primal ocean. The interior set is a series of labyrinthine passages and chambers, scattered about with a tasteful/less melange of bohemian bibelots–including one (at the very least) rotating, circular bed. If seeing the decor doesn’t make you want shag, frug, and chug, then there is something deeply wrong with you. I mean, 5D4aAM really is just a delightful visual and aural confection; the only problem is taxing one’s brain with the nonsensicalness of it all.

the swingingest

the swingingest

grooviest

grooviest

pad around

pad around

Bill: The house! Fuck yeah! I mean, sure, the movie is confusing as all hell, but I can forgive a lot of that because of how hip it all is. That house actually has a frosted glass shower that borders the head of the bed so that you can lounge about in comfort while you watch Edwige shower. That is some Doc Brown, slipped-and-hit-your-head-on-the-toilet-level brilliance. It has a bedroom with sliding doors that open onto a lovely poolside area. You can get up straight from having sex and go pee in the pool without ever having to get dressed or bump into anyone on the way there. The living/entertaining area has a bar, enough couches for everyone to lie about on and zoom in on each others eyes from, a reel-to-reel tape player, enough table and counter space for all your girl in gold lamé bikini top dancing needs, and just across from the foot of the stairs, your own lovely jacuzzi.

It’s not just the look of the house or the layout that gives it it’s character either. It’s how Bava uses the house. How he travels through it. He lays the place out for you in your head. He uses the location to its fullest. In one scene, a great one, a struggle upstairs overturns some furniture and leads to some decorative glass spheres spilling across the floor. Rather than stick with the fight, which isn’t particularly important, Bava has us follow those spheres as they roll across the floor and bounce down the stairs (all to a whimsical, magic fairy tinkling sound) and across the floor into the jacuzzi, revealing … something that I’m not going to spoil for you. But it’s a great scene, striking! And it’s a perfect example of how, even when he’s phoning it in, Bava is The Man. Given a little time to shoot and some less than stellar material he doesn’t particularly care about, he can still take a cool location and turn it into a movie that, for all its faults, is still a stunner to look at. This movie may, in fact, be proof that, at least if you’re Mario Bava, you can polish a turd.

oh, balls

oh, balls

lipstick by gillian cosmetics

lipstick by gillian cosmetics

meat's meat, and a man's gotta eat

meat’s meat, and a man’s gotta eat

Fisty: The reveal after the glass ball cascade is one of my favorite images in the film. Following this incredibly contrived yet awesome shot, we find Jill in the Jacuzzi, having taken the Roman way out. Above her on the mirror is her suicide note, written in shocking pink lipstick. The juxtaposition between the deed and the playful note is so marvelously irreverent, but it also seems absolutely apropos. It’s a very Jackie Susann moment. Bava displays more of that mordant humor in the freezer scenes, where the camera lingers on the gently swaying bodies as they hang in that cold, artificial environment, features obscured with plastic. Umiliani flippantly punctuates these scenes with a cheeky carousel tune. Of course, Bava sets us up for this from the opening scene and Marie’s “sacrifice”: When the blood is sprayed off with soda water, we know the whole film will be a colossal joke.

After all, the whodunnit plot is frankly tiresome, and the characters–well, they’re awful. Not simply apparently indistinct (for Trudy and Jill, and Nick and Jack are oddly similar in appearance, adding to the aforementioned confusion–though Peggy stands out from the Wives slightly due to her striking red hair, as well as a certain youthfulness that also lends her a sense of naïveté–more-so even than Isabel. Significance!), but indistinguishable in their concerns: shady business deals, crosses and double crosses, and all things venal, mercenary, and amoral. (Despite all the tomfoolery, sexual liaisons really only seem to interest Marie.) They’re a thoroughly unsympathetic and unpleasant bunch, appearances aside, but for the above exceptions. Without Bava’s humorous direction (and style!), watching them squabble and squawk (and die!) would not be half so entertaining.

dolla dolla bill, y’all

deep freeze peepshow

marie o a

Bill: Oh my god! You spoiling spoiler! Just give away everything about Jill’s death, why don’t you! But, yeah, it is probably the best visual in the whole movie, the meat locker thing being the second. I’m also fond of Isabel on the swing set with the zoom-zoom-zoom, but, generally, I’m just fond of Isabel. Ely Galleani is so cute!

We said the carbon copy characters were likely one of the reasons 5DfaAM gets dissed by a lot of its detractors. I wonder if the tone is another. Yes, it’s sort of a big joke and very irreverent, but it’s seldom really LOL funny.  It just isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, but it’s not anything else enough to be anything else. Strip Nude for Your Killer was kind of the same, but it was more overtly humorous and it had an insane amount of raunch to spice it up. 5DfaAM doesn’t even have that. It’s got a little heat, but only a few scenes ever reach full on hott. Bava did what he could with what he had to work with to make it as enjoyable as he could, but the final result is still just … kind of entertaining. It excels only in style and irreverence and that might not be enough for most people. (I think we’re kind of easy.)

I think that’s all there really is to say about this movie. It’s a stylish, tongue-in-cheek, lackluster mystery, with some lovely women, a cool house, a fun score, and a few striking scenes. It’s definitely not Bava’s best, but better than it would’ve been had he not been involved, and just enough to keep us at Peanut Butter & Gialli entertained. Still, I’m not sure I’d recommend it for everyone.

mario bava's

mario bava’s patented

never replicated

never replicated

drunk-o-vision

drunk-o-vision

Fisty: It’s not a laugh riot, by any means, but more of an archly cynical smirkfest. Virtually everyone and everything is so jaded and tawdry and awful! Though, I do think the end twist is pretty funny (in a ironical, but also vaguely optimistic way, another peek at Bava’s fondness for youth). But then, it IS part of Bava’s “Greed Trilogy” (between Blood and Black Lace and Bay of Blood), so the concern with the ugliness of raw avarice as opposed to psychosexual pathology is only to be expected.

If we consider giallo as less a mode of storytelling and more a succession of striking images, then Five Dolls for an August Moons is undoubtedly successful. However, the striking murder set pieces both Bava and gialli were known for are missing because, despite the high body count, the murders take place offscreen. Another joke on us? Or generic deconstruction? In its absolute refusal to start making sense, 5D4aAM presages the preposterous plotting and arbitrary absurdities that would later trademark the genre.

Notwithstanding his stated dislike for the film, Bava went all out and seems to have had fun with it. The result is a farcically silly murder mystery unhampered by logic or convention and slathered with an orgiastic excess of style (sadly, no literal orgies). No, it’s definitely not for everyone. But giallo completists and kitsch connoisseurs will undoubtedly be delighted.

The Ghost

not to be confused with the royal trux song

not to be confused with the royal trux song

Lo spettro
aka The Ghost
aka Le spectre du Dr. Hichcock
aka The Spectre
Director: Riccardo Freda
Released: 1963
Starring: Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta, Harriet Medin, Umberto Raho
Running time: 96 min
Genre: Gothic horror

Don’t move, darling, or I’ll cut you. Doctor John Hichcock is half the man he used to be. Struck down by a wasting disease and confined to a wheelchair, he has only death to look forward to. That and tormenting his beautiful young wife, Margaret. It’s whispered that Hichcock’s illness is just retribution for his weird and unnatural medical experiments, the devilish rites being held in the house of evil, crippled Doctor Hichcock. Regardless, he continues with those evil ways, subjecting both Margaret and his old friend Doctor Charles Livingstone to séances with his childhood nurse-cum-housekeeper Catherine, and also subjecting his body to daily injections of poison. Whether those injections are really meant to kill or cure, only Hichcock could say.

Margaret, however, has something to say, and it goes a little something like, “If you don’t kill him, I will!” After all, she’s the lovely young thing tethered to a hateful, too-slowly dying old man. Forced to play nurse as well as wife , Margaret has turned to the young and virile Charles for comfort. Animal comfort. Conservatory floor comfort. Driven to hate by Hichcock’s cruelty, Margaret insists they do away with their impediment to happiness–and wealth. And after all, wouldn’t it be better for Hichcock, too? To no longer suffering as a living corpse? It’s for the best, really.

But once the deed is done, things begin to go awry. Hichcock’s hound howls ceaselessly,  his wheelchair perambulates of its own accords, and Catherine channels Hichcock in her sleep, his spectral voice calling for Margaret. Then the will is read, and things go from bad to worse as Margaret and Charles discover that Hichcock’s cruelty extends beyond the grave, leaving Margaret the house and estate (on condition that she employ Catherine for the rest of her days) and one-third the contents of his safe. The other two-thirds go to the Home for Indigent Orphans run by Canon Owens. WHAT THE FUCK, thinks Margaret. The missing safe key seems to be yet more abuse from the malign Doctor Hichcock, but perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. She and Charles immediately plan to find the key and get into that safe, robbing it just a little before it’s opened by officials, one-upping both the deceased Doctor Hichcock and the greasy Canon Owens in one fell swoop.

they both took the hypocritic oath

they both took the hypocritic oath

flowers make me feel like a cripple

flowers make me feel like a cripple

why does this gin taste like cripple?

why does this gin taste like cripple?

But first  they have got to find that damnable key. Increasingly frantic, Margaret and Charles search for the key beneath Catherine’s intrusive nose. On top of that, Margaret must countenance gossip in the village, for after all, it’s Scotland in 1910, and a handsome young man staying with the recently bereaved lady doesn’t look quite right. Nor does Margaret seem like a grief-stricken widow, even to staying away from the memorial service. But who cares when there’s a fortune to be found? Especially when they think they know where to find it: Catherine claims to have seen him put it in his vest pocket–of the suit he was buried in. Well, it’s off to the tomb to investigate, but not before the spectral visitations kick in, and the blood starts to flow, and suspicions grow like worms.

That wonderful inspiration that will save the lives of millions of poor cripples! While not quite as darkly thrilling or subtly perverse as The ‘orrible doctor ‘ichcock, Lo spettro is a fine example of the color Italian Gothic, featuring Barbara Steele at her most stunning and delightfully pernicuous.

Fisty: My two main issues with Lo spettro are a) I keep conflating the English and Italian titles of its predecessor L’orribile segreto del Doctor Hichcock, and calling it The ‘orrible Doctor ‘ichcock. Which is kind of weird. And also, I’ve been calling it Lo spettro because that has a much less generic and more suggestive sound to it than the US title of The Ghost. Even the more literal translation of The Spectre  would be an improvement. But really, those are my main complaints.

Bill: I have a complaint! There’s a small stretch of the film, from just before the murder to shortly after, before the weird things start happening, that is just a tad boring.  I don’t know what could’ve been done about that, really, since there are things happening, necessary things, they’re just not terribly exciting. This is maybe, at most, ten minutes of the movie and a pretty minor thing to bitch about, since the rest is pretty damn good.

watch it, sister

watch it, sister

oh, i will show you some cares

oh, i will show you some cares

just no

just no

Oh! One other issue I have is with the confusing fuckery that is the credit for the film’s score. The music is credited to Franck Wallace, a pseudonym, but it doesn’t seem quite clear who, in this case, was using the name. I think it was likely Franco Mannino, since Wallace was a name he used and that’s what got put in the credits. However, Francesco De Masi, who supposedly provided his own score at Freda’s request after Freda decided he didn’t like Mannino’s work, gets sole credit on some surviving tapes that were found. (You can find all this junk on IMDB.) This leaves me scratching my head and wondering who provided the haunting, creepy, yet so, so pretty music box waltz  that is used so effectively throughout the movie. I love it! So it kind of sucks that I don’t know who actually wrote it or even what the name of that piece is. I spent a good two hours trying to find a version of it online that didn’t have dialog from the movie over it, but I never was able to find it. In the film, in possibly the best, most intense scene, when Barbara Steele is shaving a nostalgic Hichcock, and considering murdering him, it plays on Hichcock’s music box and he refers to it only as a Viennese waltz. I can’t know if this was a pre-existing piece of music used in the movie, whether it was written for the movie or, if it was, who then actually wrote it. Gah!

Fisty: Okay. I’m with you on the shaving scene, though. It’s excellent foreshadowing, and builds to a wonderful intensity. It also hints at currents beneath the surface, like with the way Margaret pauses when Hichcock refers to her as a “beautiful penniless young thing, not a care in the world.” When he says that, she stops as if transfixed, razor to his throat, and her stillness stretches out till it calls Hichcock’s awareness to her. That pause is so evocative, hinting at a past that–for Margaret, at least–is not so lovely as Hichcock would remember it. It is significant in how it suggests some of the difficulties of Margaret’s position: Coming up from poverty, a poverty that was hardly so carefree as he would call it, to the heights of respectable marriage to a wealthy, respected doctor, and then descending into the misery of life as a nurse to a hateful, dying cripple. Because let’s face is, Hichcock is a dick. And a half. A life with Charles is for Margaret a fresh start: She’s thirtyish now, but with a virile young man she can begin again, have a family, possibly children, things that are beyond her reach as long as the horrible Hichcock is in the picture. So her desperation is palpable.

legitimate drape

legitimate drape

who died and made you widow?

who died and made you widow?

my hand smells like cripple!

my hand smells like cripple!

Not to downplay Margaret’s darkness; no, one of Lo spettro‘s strengths is Steele’s weird beauty and her capacity for bitchiness while still communicating vulnerability. Often this was simplified in the dual roles she was famed for (eg, Asa/Katia in Black Sunday, Muriel/Jenny in Nightmare Castle, even Harriet/Beatrice in An Angel for Satan), and those are a great use of her. But I do prefer Margaret for Steele, as she wonderfully creates a decidedly bad lady who is both cruel and conflicted. Not all witch  and while certainly not innocent in the least, still invested with a little pathos. Shades of Francesca Annis in Polanski’s MacBeth, but in gorgeous Edwardian gowns.

Bill: No downplaying for her darkness! She had Livingstone shoot a dog for making noise! Everyone in the movie (except for Canon Owens, who I think just wants the best for his orphans) is pretty dickish, but when Margaret and Charles start killing dogs, no matter how nuanced, layered or conflicted they are, I start thinking they deserve what’s coming. Cruel, horrible Hichcock, as really the only true sadist in the movie, is still King Dick and the absolute worst of the bunch. He’s exactly the kind of prick that you could believe would come back from the other side to troll you from beyond the grave, but at least he wasn’t killing doggies over a little bit of  howling.

Fisty: You know I don’t ever condone wanton killing of animals, but I think that was used to show a tinge of madness in Margaret, how unstable she is. There’s wonderful use of the dog’s incessant mournful howling, and I think that scene nicely underscores how inhumane Margaret and Charles are in their uncharity, especially when compared to a dumb animal. So though it makes me have a sad, it’s absolutely a useful scene. And a really good one, too.

But Canon Owens, you are totally insanely wrong about. The man is a cold, slimy fish. When the will is read, the camera lingers on his mug as he goes from smug, to greedy, and back to complacent once more. It’s nicely telling. Those orphans aren’t getting much from Doctor Hichcock, but Canon Owens will be lining his pocket with silk and velvet.

i'm not always crippled, but when i am, i torment my wife

i’m not always crippled, but when i am, i torment my wife

have a nice funeral, babs, dr hichcock will pay

have a nice funeral, babs, dr hichcock will pay

going bump in the night?

going bump in the night?

Bill: That wasn’t greed, it was joy for all the good things he’ll be able to do for his orphans.  (Fisty: Ha!) Or to them. I’ll admit, he was a little sketchy in that scene and he probably is just as slimy as everyone else in the movie. You have to wonder if Hichcock surrounds himself with shitters or if he finds good folk and shapes them into the nasty people he wants them to be. Charles seems like he may have been okay at one time. There are definitely some moments where some inner decency shines through in him. I could see Hichcock actually planning and secretly facilitating the affair between Charles and Margaret just to tarnish them both and allow him to punish them for the transgressions he orchestrated. I like that even a straightforward, evil character like Hichcock has some wiggle room in just how wicked he is because of the complexity of the characters. Maybe he was jealous of Charles’ youth and virility or maybe he was surprised and upset by the affair or maybe he just wanted to fuck with some people to get his rocks off and they were unlucky enough to be the people he had around. There’s room for interpretation. Though, if his portrait is an accurate depiction of his soul, I’d have to say it’s the last one and that Doctor Hichcock’s wickedness is absolute, because that was one freaky, ugly painting.

Watching Lo spettro, there were three authors that I was reminded of. One of them, Shakespeare, I can’t talk too much about for fear of spoilers, but there were some aspects of the dénouement that felt like a twisted, convoluted riff on Romeo and Juliet. Way more than Billy Shakes however, I was reminded of Poe and of Cornell Woolrich. There are some very “Tell-Tale Heart”-like moments in the film and one particular twist that is almost identical to the Woolrich story “Post Mortem.” I’m trying to talk Fisty into writing a piece about Woolrich, btw, so anyone reading this, let her know she needs to do that.

Fisty: When we’re on a regular schedule, then maybe I’ll have a minute to do it!

haaaaands holding haaaaaaands

haaaaands holding haaaaaaands

mecca lecca hi, mecca hichcock ho

mecca lecca hi, mecca hichcock ho

will all great neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my snuffbox?

will all great neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my snuffbox?

I got a lot of the same references, though maybe a little differently. “Post Mortem” is so obvious that there was never any question about it. With regards to Shakespeare, though, I think I mentioned MacBeth, by way of Margaret’s wickedness, and Charles’ suggestibility into knavery, as well as the imagery of blood on the hands. The lovers are certainly star-crossed in the traditional sense, though, much as Romeo and his fair Juliet are. I got Poe more by way of Roger Corman, specifically the dénouement of The Pit and the Pendulum. (These movies are over fifty years old; are we concerned about spoilering them? Shouldn’t it be “spoiling,” not “spoilering?” Why are we saying that?) And I see a lot of noir allusion, especially with the destructiveness of the star-crossed lovers once greed and guilt get out of control. The relationship between Charles and Margaret also references the way that the shared knowledge and responsibility for a crime spells an inevitable demise for their love.  There’s also Hichcock’s impotence as the husband, symbolized by the wheelchair, and the marriage’s subsequent childlessness. Also, the stifling entrapment Margaret feels, which Freda masterfully implies in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Hichcock domicile. Virtually every member of this ghastly household is perpetrating an assault upon the conventions of family, hearth, and home.

The way Freda has Hichcock’s scheme play out really poses the question of who the true villain is. Margaret is A villain, yes–and to a lesser degree, Charles–but is she THE villain? Or is it Hichcock, and does he go to a fitting doom? While Lo spettro is not as enigmatical as The Horrible Doctor Hichcock, there is still some ambiguity.

babs steele, tomb raider

babs steele, tomb raider

the 'orrible doctor 'ichcock

the ‘orrible doctor ‘ichcock

profondo rosso

profondo rosso

Bill: And the movie is just that much better for it.

Honestly, I agreed to review this one without checking it out first. I’d never seen this or The Horrible Doctor Hichcock. When I first looked at it, I was expecting it to be kind of boring. I figured we’d have a rehash of the 7DitCE review, with you (meaning Fisty, not you, good reader) raving and me snoring. Aside from a few slow minutes, however, I was totally wrong. I got sucked into the movie–so much so that I forgot to take any notes–then spent the two hours after I watched it still caught up in it and yapping to someone about it on Facebook. So … very much NOT boring. I liked it a lot. I loved some of it. In addition to the shaving scene we talked about before, there’s another really great scene (that also involves that same razor) later in the film. There’s a brutal slashing with this brilliant *svip svip svip* sound for each slash. One character is standing outside of the room where the murder takes place and you just hear that *svip svip svip* noise again and again. It cuts back to the murder itself, into what I suppose would be a victim’s POV shot, and as the razor flies, the blood literally runs down the lens of the camera. The murderer’s face is tinted red by the blood covered lens in what is a very, very Sam Raimi-ish scene in a year when Sam Raimi would’ve been about four years-old. Another really creepy scene features a supernaturally propelled wheelchair at the top of a set of  stairs that so perfectly prefigures some of the most memorable scenes from The Changeling that I have to wonder if Medak wasn’t influenced by Lo spettro. If he was, he has good taste.

Fisty: Let’s go ahead and just say that watching and enjoying this film is indicative of good taste.

Chockablock with neuroses, murder, drugs, and adultery, Freda’s Lo spettro is an elegant and colorful Gothic thriller rich with characterization and tension. High production values highlight Barbara Steele’s weird beauty just as a strong script by Ernesto Gastaldi and expert direction from Freda use her witchlike persona to great effect. It’s one of her strongest perfomances, and she’s ably supported by Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta, Harriet Medin, and Umberto Raho, not to mention beautifully framed by the budget luxe sets and costuming. A lean, mean treat for fans of the Italian Gothic.

this one just makes us laugh

this one just makes us laugh