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

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Ginger Snaps

cursed out

Ginger Snaps
Director: John Fawcett
Released: 2000
Starring: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Mimi Rogers, and Kris Lemche
Running time: 108 min
Genre: horror

A thick, syrupy, voluminous discharge is not uncommon: Well, obviously, there’s a beast in Bailey Downs. It’s climbing in your backyards and snatchin’ your doggies up … and tearing them to fucking pieces, as Ginger would say. Ginger, if you were wondering, is Ginger Fitzgerald, an anti-social almost-sixteen year-old girl from Bailey Downs, a late bloomer, and the idol of her just-turned-fifteen year old sister Bridgette. Together, they do lots of outcasty things, like smoking, cursing at the dinner table, disgusting and disturbing their teacher with a slide show of pictures of gore and death that they posed for as a class project, and sharing snarky remarks about their “standard cum-buckety date bait” classmates while no one is listening.

When one of cum-buckety Trina Sinclair’s friends overhears Bridgette’s insults and rats her out to Trina, the youngest of the Fitz sisters graduates from simple weirdo to target. Trina bumrushes her on the field hockey, uh, field, and knocks her right on top of the latest doggy to fall victim to (read: get torn to fucking pieces by) the Beast of Bailey Downs. Ginger jumps forward to defend her little sis, but her bravery starts to falter when Trina doesn’t back down. Desperate to save face with the sister that looks up to her, Ging starts talking about revenge and promising Bridgette that they’ll get Trina back. They settle on a plan to kidnap Trina’s dog and use their gore know-how to make him look like the Beast got him.

That night, on the way to Trina’s house, psyched up to do their crime, they run across yet another dead dog. (Any person in that town still letting their dogs out, at this point, deserves to be euthanized.) This one is still warm. FREE PROP! They start to pick it up, the perfect addition to their little revenge plot, but a leg comes off and the thing falls and splats all over Ginger’s leg. Except… Oh no! That’s not doggy blood, Ging is a woman now!

Disgusted and, in Ginger’s case obviously freaked, they turn to go home, but that kill was warm. Hot, actually. Sticking around after they found it was so dumb, I mean, really dumb, for real, because The Beast is not far away, and the scent of Ginger’s fresh flow makes her a target for the creature. Ginger is snatched up and dragged her off, mauled and savaged offscreen as Bridgette looks frantically for her. And when The Beast shows its face, Bridgette shows a little more spine than Ging, and doesn’t back down. She batters it with her camera, grabs Ginger, and the girls haul ass. The Beast keeps after them, but is struck by a passing van, splattering the thing all over the everywhere. Back home, Ging begs Bridgette not to tell anyone and, in fact, her wounds are healing. She seems as if she’ll be ok, but as the days progress and Ginger’s behavior starts to change, as she gets more aggressive and shows an interest in boys, as the sisters grow further apart (and their mother revels in their burgeoning womanhood), Bridgette, worried and hurt, begins to think there may be more than one “curse” at work. Run and tell  THAT!

No one ever thinks chicks do shit like this. A girl can only be a slut, bitch, tease, or the virgin next door: Largely overlooked at its debut, Ginger Snaps made up for that false start by gathering a strong cult following (and also a sequel and a prequel) over the last decade, being widely praised for being both smart and nasty, as well as genuinely good–albeit imperfect–horror.

this is normal, north america

your first time can be a little rough

you may find hair in new places

Fisty: I came super late to the Ginger Snaps bandwagon, only seeing it for the first time last year. Not for any particular reason; I saw it pop up in peoples’ Horror folders when I was er, “acquiring” my collection of movie files, but never bothered with it. Shoots, even Eli had seen it before me. Is this the sort of thing that makes me lose my horror cred? Should I not be admitting this? At PB&G, we have a vague policy of candor when it suits us, and I will not deviate from that equivocal convention we’ve worked somewhat hard to establish!

Bill: It’s about goddamn time! Why do you hate Canada so much?

Fisty: I just do, okay? Why do you love it? And why do you love Ginger Snaps?

Bill: Why do I love Canada? Degrassi. Why do I love Ginger Snaps? Hmmm. Why do I love Ginger Snaps? Do I even LOVE Ginger Snaps? I mean, it does have its flaws. The bellybutton piercing scene is a little over the top. It’s just a bellybutton, calm down. But it was made in 2000 when that wasn’t quite as common as it is now, so I can forgive them that. Ginger’s slow motion walk down the school hallway with all the guys turning to watch her is pretty cheesy. I was never a fan of that scene, but, in its defense, I would turn and watch Ginger stroll by in slow-mo if I had the chance, so I can forgive that. There’s a few lines that don’t come off too well in the film, sound false, silly, but I’ll just assume they didn’t have the budget to keep shooting until they got it just right. That lack of budget is probably also why the final werewolf looks kind of unfinished. It’s not too bad, but it is kind of … bald. Jesse Moss, who plays Jason in the movie, is pretty bad, too. More so in some scenes, like the syringe scene, than others. Of course, he only stands out as being so bad, because Mimi Rogers and Emily Perkins are so good. So, it’s a flawed film, but I forgive most of its shortcomings and, yes, I do in fact love it. Enough so that I just had to order the Canadian DVD instead of the American version, just to get more extras. Why? Now, Fisty, I will tell you what love is made of.

plus slugs and snails

so, so dark

homeopathic skillz

Ginger, sexy teen Ginger, is laying in her bed on her tummy. She’s sleeping in her sexy Canadian panties. Bridgette slowly creeps up on her, softly takes hold of the elastic of her hot teen sister’s panties and slowly pulls them down, revealing A WAGGING FUCKING PUPPYDOG TAIL! Hot, teenage, Canadian, pantybutt with a tail! Man, I have had a thing for werewolf girls since Marsha Quist’s naked firelight sex/transformation scene from The Howling kickstarted my erotic imagination when I was but a young boy. With her claws, the supernumerary nipples on display later in the film and that goddamn tail, Ginger is like the Marsha Quist of Degrassi HighThat is why I fucking love Ginger Snaps.

Fisty: And I guess that explains why you love me, too, supernumerary nipple and all.

Maybe I’m a jerk, but I pretty much rolled my eyes at both Ginger and Brigitte right at the start–and I would’ve thought they were ‘tards back in high school, too. Not because they looked different or were morbid (I was plenty of that myself), but because I would have thought them pretentious and laughable in their rampant desire to be SO DARK. Shit, the girl in the Diary Of a High School Death Rocker was less affected. Maybe.

BUT–nothing wrong with that!. The fact that I initially scoffed at them (“Poseurs!”)–and I never really did get to like Ginger, but in fairness, it’s Brigitte’s story–makes it that much more natural.

Emily Perkins and Mimi Rogers OWN this movie; without them, it would be a pallid, flaccid thing. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but they are just SO GOOD. Rogers especially; if Ginger Snaps were made today, she’d be a Mormon mommy-blogger, CriCut, DSLR, trips to JoAnn’s and all. Both shes are amazing, Pamela Fitzgerald the character, a fiercely protective cookiecutter suburbanite, and Mimi Rogers the actress, who so finely brings Pamela to life.

It does have its flaws, though. Moss isn’t terribly convincing, and all the chiaroscuro promise of the first half peters out in the second as Fawcett just starts hitting genre numbers, finally devolving to an overlong and silly chase finale. Even so, it is head and shoulders (and nipples) above the majority of horror teen fare. (Why are teen-oriented horror movies so often inferior?) Despite that, the finely articulated main characters, deep perceptiveness of both female adolescence and sibling relations, and of course the rarely forced trenchant wit put Ginger Snapsat the top of the teen horror game. (I just said “teen horror” three times; if I say it twice more, will SOMEONE jump out of the mirror and kill me?)

it’s a period!

the new normal

and eat it, too!

Bill: As long as it isn’t Stephenie Meyer…

I can’t fault the girls too much for being soooo “nonconformist”, since I was nearly as bad as they were at one point, though I was a little younger than them at the time.  I had my phase where I only wore black and constantly had my hair in my eyes, drew demons on all my notebooks, hissed if I touched a bible, and one or twice yammered on about death and all the horrible ways of dying, like Trash from Return of the Living Dead.

Fisty: I can’t hear you over the sound of my own laughter.

Bill: Yeah, yeah… Thankfully, that was just a phase. Mostly. I say that while wearing a black t-shirt with zombies on it and looking at the skull candle, wind-up chattery fangs, and skull & bats snowglobe that decorate my computer desk.

And, yes, this movie is all about Perkins and Rogers, as you say. Pamela makes me laugh in just about every scene the character appears in and she is so easy to cheer for later in the movie. She may seem kind of lame and embarrassing to those girls, but, man, she is one hell of a devoted mom. Totally a woman you’d want on your side. As a dude, however, I also have to give some respect to John Bourgeois as Henry Fitzgerald. He’s a bit of a non-entity in the movie, as the dad, but the few times you do see him, he’s perfect as the poor, lone male in the house, struggling to keep his appetite while everyone around him gets washed away in a flood of pussy-sludge talk. “Pam, we’re eating.” Kris Lemche’s character, Sam, is a nice surprise, too. Yes, he grows and sells a bit of pot, but the movie never tries to moralize about that, even showing his botanical know-how as an asset while trying to find a cure. There is some talk (by Trina) hinting at a darker side to his character, calling him a “cherry hound”, but that never seems to come out in his dealings with Bridgette. They make sure to show some porn at his place, as well, but never make him out to be a dirty, lecherous perv. He’s a smart, seemingly decent guy that just happens to make a little cash on the side selling weed to schoolkids and likes titties, but isn’t some misogynist, deviant, Date-Rapist Rick. Kind of nice to have a love-interest (or crush interest or whatever you’d call him in this movie) that isn’t bland and one-note or an obvious asshole, but rather a real character.

And yes, Fisty, you and your extra nip will always be my real world Marsha Quist.

we’re gonna need a bigger stainstick

just a dad dude

not down your throat

Fisty: I especially appreciated how Sam wasn’t shoved down our throats as a love interest. It’s almost obligatory that there be some kind of romantic subplot whenever there are both men and women in a horror movie, and though there’s certainly tension, Bridgette and Sam are primarily concerned with rectifying the terrible situation she is in. And fuck that romance bullshit anyways. Granted, my mind was often on boys when I was fifteen, but if my sister were a werewolf, it would have been on that a lot more.

Bill: Yeah, it seemed like, rather than the straight love interest, he was used more to add an extra, adversarial facet to the girls’  relationship. Sure, Ginger was protective of Bridgette and that was a part of how she reacted to Sam, but she also seemed jealous. She was The Cool Sister, the older of the two and The Pretty One, so Sam’s continued focus on her little sister, instead of her, seemed to get under her skin, especially since Bridgette had been passing herself off as the one with “the curse”. It also seemed to bother her that Bridgette, who she says, “Always wanted to be me,” had a potential new hero in her life. It might have also been a way to dig into the weird dynamics that sometimes pop up between sisters when boys and sex become a part of their lives, where they find themselves competing for male attention.

Fisty: Sisterhood is weird, and the often unspoken rivalries and/or resentments can be very fierce. My younger sister and I (three year difference) are best friends, and we both idolized our older sisters (a decade plus older); the two of them (another three year difference) came close to literally murdering one another at times. Like, locked in the bathroom with the baby (me) while the other rages outside the door with a machete. Being a teenage girl kind of sucks for everyone involved.

Bill: Dude, did you grow up in The Overlook? Shine on, Fisty.

sugar

and spice

and nothing very nice

Another reason that I love Ginger Snaps, besides Ginger’s sexy motherfuckin’ tail, is the bitchin’ practical gore. Luckily, the movie came out just prior to the time that CGI really started snaking its way more prominently into the horror genre. So, its animatronics and camera tricks instead of digital transformations here. You’ll find no CGI splatters or sprays in this one. Corn syrup all the way! And for a teeny horror flick, there sure is a lot of it. In one scene that was, according to Fawcett, inspired by the game Silent Hill they actually smear blood all the way through a hallway and across the walls. There’re bloody panties, bloody drips, bloody toilets, bloody urinals, bloody vans, some very bloody deaths, bloody milk, tons of bloody dog corpses (not shown in this review, because awwww, poor doggies) … everything is bloody in this movie. Even the cake (very purposefully, says Fawcett) looks bloody! Given the parallels the movie makes between lycanthropy and menstruation, it would’ve been a total cop-out to see anything less, so I’m glad they didn’t wuss out. While, as I mentioned before, the final werewolf may’ve needed a little more work, all the rest is solid, whether the dismemberments are real or part of the girls’ school project.

And while I’m talking about the effects in the movie, let me make mention of the initial attack on Ginger. It goes by very fast in the movie. It’s easy to miss a lot of the detail in it. It’s worth rewinding and checking out again. When you examine it in detail, you can see that there’s a very sexual overtone to the violence. The werewolf nibbles at her neck, tears at her breast, strokes the inside of Ginger’s thighs, leaving claw marks. I almost thought the thing was going to reach up her skirt. At one point, it practically mounts her from behind, back arched. The beast resembled a dog trying to hump a leg. This is worth noting, because they continue to use the sex-as-violence-as-sex throughout the movie. It leads to one really clever scene, one of my favs in the movie, where you’re not quite sure if Ging has been out sexing or savaging. It’s not a new idea, but Ginger Snaps uses the allegory well, without pounding it into your skull in a ham-fisted Romero-like fashion.

Fisty, you want to wrap up?

like out the toilet?

no use crying

kills werewolves dead

Fisty: In a sec. We didn’t talk a whole lot about the body horror, puberty, and menstruation aspect, but I think a lot of that is pretty obvious and needs neither explication nor defense. For young women especially, menstruation represents the culmination of pubescence, and brings with it a whole lot of baggage in our culture. For a lot of girls it can still be pretty shocking no matter how intellectually prepared we feel we are for it via sex ed, “the talk,” or pop culture. (Shit, I was in denial about mine for two days the first time.) It’s good to see it represented in what really amounts to not a very melodramatic fashion, if you can see past the whole werewolf and murder thing. Poor Ginger–and Bridgette by proximity–speed through this trauma/transition without being able to process it, and their awkwardness as they try to deal is one of the strongest parts of the film.

The practical effects are pretty cool, shades of An American Werewolf in London, but those and the violent episodes lack any real artistic flair that would elevate them from rote setpieces to glamorous, baroque mayhem. That’s about all.

Regardless of its imperfections, Ginger Snaps is a welcome addition to the new canon of horror: a bright, intense, and most of all PERCEPTIVE look at the inner world of the adolescent girl, something found all too rarely in horror, where teenage girls are often relegated to roles of T&A or standard Final Girl with little deviation. It’s also pretty fuckin’ funny. With all the bloody ultraviolence naturally found therein, and a little lycanthropy thrown in for good measure, Fawcett, Perkins, Isabelle, and Rogers take us all along for the ride and oh, what fun it is.

Bill: And check out that tail!

What Have You Done to Solange?

really, what?

Cosa avete fatto a Solange?
aka Das Geheimnis der grünen Stecknade
aka Terror in the Woods
aka The School That Couldn’t Scream
aka The Secret of the Green Pins
aka Who’s Next?
Director: Massimo Dallamano
Released: 1972
Starring: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger, Camille Keaton
Running time: 103 min
Genre: giallo, krimi

Now you just think about screwing and grit your teeth. Proper Rape Vans being in short supply in ’70s London, the incredibly handsome and exquisitely bearded Italian Professor Enrico Rosseni drifts lazily along a wooded shore in his “Free Candy” boat, making time with Elizabeth, one of his young students from St. Mary’s Catholic College for Girls. Breaking from his embrace, Elizabeth claims to have seen someone being chased through the woods and the flash of a knife. Pretty sure that she’s just making up excuses to delay their inevitable sexin’ and just a bit irate that she’s not giving in so easily to his lovely beard, Rosseni gets snippy and rows them to the shore, to prove to her that there is no madman in the woods chasing anyone down. (Clearly, he needs to watch more movies.) When Elizabeth begins crying, he realizes that while he may be molesterific, being a dick on top of that is in bad form, and so he agrees to leave.

The next morning Rosseni, while getting dressed and being hostile to his Teutonically stern and beautiful wife Herta, hears a radio broadcast describing the grisly discovery of a murdered girl on the banks of the Thames. Curious, he heads back to the spot Elizabeth claimed to have seen the flashing blade and finds it crawling with cops. She was right! Arriving at the school, he’s greeted by even more police. It seems the murdered girl was one of his students, one of his young lover’s friends. Elizabeth wants to help the police, but Enrico convinces her that doing so would reveal their illicit affair, so they keep their secret. Inspector Barth, the lead investigator on the case, knows Rosseni is hiding something. And with Rosseni’s pen being found near the murdered girl and his appearance there during the initial crime scene investigation, he becomes the prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth continues to pick at her memories of the day, piecing together a better image of the killer. Was he … a priest? Why target “innocent” schoolgirls? The killer keeps on doin’ what he do and kills more girls from the school and begins stalking Elizabeth. Herta grows more suspicious of her husband. The girls take a lot of awesome communal showers in front of a peephole and there are priests and naughty schoolgirls aplenty as Rosseni races to find the killer with only a tantalizing clue: Who is Solange … and what was done to her?

They knew the score–you know, sex, man. Despite the sordid topics touched on (abortion, naughty schoolgirls, pervert priests, statutory rape, adultery, etc), Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? manages to be one of the least sleazy gialli. Instead of splashing the red stuff around in elaborate kill scenes, Dallamano sticks with one profoundly grisly modus operandi used judiciously. Add thoughtfully developed characters and plot, and only a dash of sex, and it makes for an unusually sensitive, chaste, and even poignant giallo.

not a little bit sleazy

the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist

the hip bone’s connected to the  …

Bill: Man, what a fantastic confluence of talent in this flick. Dallamano, directing here,  is best known as the cinematographer on A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. Joe D’Amato, who made, like, five million filthy movies, does the cinematography here. It’s got a score by Ennio “Even John Williams Wishes He Could Be Me” Morricone. And it co-stars Cristina Galbó from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and The Killer Must Kill Again (still not giving it up, the prude) and  none other than rape/revenge superstar, Camille Keaton, famous for her role in I Spit on Your Grave, as Solange!

Fisty: Yeah, thanks to Dallamano’s work with D’Amato/Aristide Massaccesi, WHYDtS? is a gorgeous movie, even without the operatic, (overly) theatrical approach of Argento, or the hallucinatory jewel tones of Bava. And Morricone’s score is appropriately romantic and jangling as the situation calls for, his usual excellent work. And let’s give some kudos to co-writer Bruno Di Geronimo, because without the coherent storyline, Solange would have been that much less effective.

And we’ve got talented and pretty faces in this Italian-West German co-production: krimi stalwart Joachim Fuchsberger and cinematic workhorse Karin Baal, familiar Italian faces like Vittorio Fanfoni (Who Saw Her Die?, Trinity is STILL My Name), and of course Italo-superstar Fabio Testi (The Big Racket, Four of the Apocalypse) and scream queen Cristina Galbó. Well, maybe scream princess or duchess. Seriously though, we see her boobs, but does she ever give it up?

never gonna give it up

enrico’s angels

where angels go, trouble follows

Bill: No. No she does not (that I can recall.) Here we are, a movie removed, in a completely different review, and I’m still bitching about her not giving up the booty. If Margot Kidder were here, she’d be on my side. She totally knows  a professional virgin when she sees one. WHYDtS? doesn’t even have a Femi to fall back on for some sex. Consequently, as mentioned earlier, this ends up being fairly chaste for a giallo. Galbo’s Elizabeth always stops prior to actual intercourse. Enrico and Herta, even when they are working as a team, never get it on. The girls at St. Mary’s are supposed to be real turned-on chicks, swingers, man. And into lesbian orgies. You never see any of that, however. It’s mentioned, but never shown. And even when talking about what crazy little sexpots they all were, the hepcat Rosseni is pumping for information clarifies that they never do any real screwing, not with guys.

This puritanical streak is damn near American. It might be the most “American” giallo I’ve seen. It’s very polished. It was filmed in English. The plot is pretty straight forward, coherent, with no super secret inheritance or other crazy, out-of-left-field motivations popping up at the last second. You don’t get the surreal, sometimes nonsensical, nightmare imagery that Argento and imitators’ flicks are known for.  The movie isn’t particularly concerned with style, architechture (though, there are some really neat shots of a the inside of the school), design, or fashion. Hell, Enrico’s sweater is actually really freakin’ ugly. Bill Cosby wouldn’t wear the thing.  WHYDtS?almost feels like it could’ve come out of Hollywood. If you had a friend that had never seen a giallo and you wanted to ease them into the genre, rather than just dunk them, this would be the movie to do it with. I read that this movie got wider States-side distribution than a lot of other gialli. I can see why that would be. This one could actually have a bit of appeal for a general American audience. Though, I’m not sure how well the killer’s preferred method of murder would play to them. Yikes.

you really don’t want to see this

you want to put what where?

the creepy doll just turns this up to eleven

Fisty: I’d like to say here that I think it’s kind of hilarious that you ascribe a more chaste or “puritanical” film to an American perspective, especially in light of brouhahas over sex n’ violence in film. But I totally get it.

Solange stands out in a genre known for sex, violence, and campiness because it is so conspicuously lacking in all three respects. As Bill mentioned, pretty much all the sexing is talked about and not something we see onscreen (though we do get some cunning linguistics between Enrico the Italian teacher and Elizabeth the student). The violence–though effective and distinctly unsettling– is mostly offscreen as well, left to our imaginations, and we see only the effects of the horribly brutal MO. And the camp stylings are very sedate, limited mostly to the sexy, sexy photographer and his milkmaid. For crying out loud, despite Enrico’s omnipresent chic turtleneck, his sweater is 100% Rufus Humphrey–ugh. So that brings us to the question: If it doesn’t look like a duck, swim like a duck, or talk like a duck, is it still a duck? I’ll hazard the answer “yes.” And no, it’s not recondite to make a genre film that doesn’t use the genre tropes when the tropes of which we speak are superficial markers and not the main concerns of gialli. Obscured by elaborate murder set pieces, sexy sexiness, and ludicrous maccaroni fashions is a concept that makes up the very bones of the giallo (all the way back to Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), that of the eye-witness.

There are reminders of the importance of, as well as the sometimes fallible and sometimes delusive nature of witnessing scattered throughout WHYD2S?. Enrico’s friend–the only witness to a very shocking murder (Seriously, I did not see that murder coming, and it threw me for a loop. It’s City of the Dead mind-bottling.)–cannot possibly identify the killer in a police line-up because he is bewildered by the killer’s masquerade and he can barely think (or see) straight. (Of course, the murderer is disguised in order to obfuscate any potential witnesses.) Phil the hottie photographer (a profession by its very nature concerned with observation and seeing) provides Enrico with the most important clues to the mystery of Solange and the secret world of the naughty schoolgirls. When Enrico arrives at Phil’s houseboat, he is spied upon by the model, and when Phil and Enrico converse, Phil is initially in the extreme foreground (HOTNESS), using his camera as he relates his observations of the girls to Enrico. The girls are spied upon in the showers and in the confessional too, in both instances their most private, vulnerable places.

two turned-on dudes

i always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me

beautiful girl or candlestick?

Of course, from the very opening scene Elizabeth is the primary eye-witness; though she barely knows what she saw, she did see it, and she saw more than she realizes, hence her later recollections in dreams and visions, mediums that are normally highly suspect but common to the giallo. Her witnessing of the murder runs so deep that she may well be linked somehow to the killer, and that lies in her being witness to the events that started the mystery to begin with: what was done to Solange. So too are the girls witnesses, for though they may be in a sense peripheral to what was done because of their role as spectators, all but two of them were more deeply involved in placing Solange in those circumstances. However, the two girls who were ONLY spectators bear equal responsibility–according to the killer, who has them on his naughty list–thus placing the emphasis again on the eye-witness.

Bill: I initially thought you were crazy–and reaching–but you may be on to something. The idea of spectators being equally responsible may even extend to the viewer. The movie uses the killer’s POV several times, most fantastically in a fisheye shot of the killer sneaking into an apartment to commit a hella shocking murder. Those POV shots shift the audience from just watching the killings to actually participating, making us–as the sickos that want to see this crap–just as guilty as the murderer in the movie. If this is one of those movies that gives its fans the stink-eye for getting their kicks from this kind of sick exploitation and violence, that might explain why the movie doesn’t revel in those aspects of the giallo. It makes me wonder what Dallamano might have thought about the popularity of the genre. It would also make for some tasty irony if a movie that sought to condemn its audience for being sickos played a bigger role in the evolution of the slasher than a lot of other, more trashy gialli.

Everyone knows that Twitch of the Death Nerve was a huge influence on the Friday the 13th movies and that gialli, in general, were, at the least, the slasher’s cool uncle with a bitchin’ bachelor pad and a different girlfriend every visit. And everyone knows that Black Christmas was a pretty big deal as a proto slasher, begetting Halloween which, in turn, beget Friday the 13th and so on and on and on. I’m wondering if WHYDtS? might not have been a huge influence on Black Christmas. I don’t know if Bob Clark ever saw Solange?, but the movies share a whole lot of similarities: Plot aspects dealing with abortion, a group of school girlfriends as the primary victims, a matronly figure to the girls who may not be the ideal role model (also a victim), phone stalking by the killer, the use of the killer’s POV, which was considered a big deal in Black Christmas and then later Halloween and …

Fisty: Dude in a turtleneck! How could you miss dude in the turtleneck?

feel free to admire my turtleneck and cardigan

then who was shovel?

it is better to have shoveled and lost, than never to have shoveled at all

Bill: It’s so obvious! You can even find some shots with similar composition in both films. And WHYDtS? does eschew the typically more adult world of the average giallo for a younger victim pool of nubile teens, something that became common for slashers. You can interpret a moralistic bent to the murders in Solange, as well, similar to the drink/fuck/smoke=death trend people often attribute to slashers. The similarities between BC and WHYDtS? make a pretty solid bridge between their respective genres.

Fisty: But I so did not see that connection between the two, and it makes a lot of sense in retrospect. But we can’t ask Bob Clark, damn it! There are a few differences, however, which largely highlight some of the changes in the shift from giallo to slasher. Motivation is a big one: Most slasher villains are just fucking nuts without real motives. Clearly some do have them (Mrs Voorhees, Cropsy, etc), but many do not (Michael Myers, Russ Thorn, etc). There’s also the MO, which tends to be pretty consistent, or have a consistency about it, in gialli, whereas unless there’s a weapon of choice, many slashers are opportunistic hello, Jason!). Solange‘s killer uses the truly demented vaginal stabbing (Bill:ICK!) in every case but one, that exception being the TRULY SHOCKING MURDER mentioned above. And there are good reasons for that–though I might argue over them. But they’re relevant, and the imagery is striking, especially in light of later revelations.

There’s a lot more we could touch on, like the youth culture explosion Dallamano explores, the  morality of the various situations, and how Solange addresses female sexual agency, but we’ve blathered enough at this point. We also agreed that there are a few things we don’t want to spoiler in this one (though other reviews cheerfully do so, so beware), which kind of hinders some further discussion.

headed for cat-astrophe

csi: london, 1972

now that you’ve found love

Bill: Wait! We’re done?! We didn’t even talk about how blindingly, flawlessly handsome Enrico is. Or how characters and relationships that you expect to be shallow or harsh end up being sweet and genuine. You never talked about the cute scene you like where Enrico drives alongside Elizabeth on her bike, honking his horn at her and smiling, like a big sixteen-year-old. I didn’t even talk about the communal showers and that nude photo model’s milky titties!

Fisty: Ohmahgawd, Enrico is pants-droppingly fine! (Even in that fug sweater!) And yes, the relationships (I touched on this) and characters are often surprising (I think that one we’re talking around, not about, is a krimi thing, but I’m not familiar with those, so I’m not sure. Anyone know this?) I know you wanted to mention Herta, and what an awesome character she is. And yes! That scene! I think that one is the clincher for me that makes Enrico’s relationship with Elizabeth seem much more of a real thing, not a sordid affair but rather a genuine (if inappropriate) romance. Cutely creepy.  It’s part of the surprising depth Dallamano gives the characters; though on the surface his relationship with Elizabeth, his student, is sleazy (more so today than then, I think), it’s also poignantly romantic. We also see surprising sweetness in his often strained relations with Herta, a sweetness that suggests an emotional depth and a neediness outside the realm of the usual machismo (I’m looking at you, Carlo). Gah, so much to touch on! If we don’t stop, this’ll be a ten thousand word entry!

mmmm, your hair smells of youth and impropriety

nothing’s sexier than a man who listens

in german you say “no no,” in italian we hear “yes yes”

What Have You Done to Solange? is a must-see giallo and should be on every checklist of essential gialli. Dallamano et alia have created a good-looking thriller that works for both mainstream audiences and giallo/krimi aficionados, one that focuses on people and relationships, substance over style. Touching on feminism, youth culture, and anti-clericalism, Dallamano has made a genre flick where the exploitation is incidental to the plot and characters. Solange has its share of brutal, deeply visceral violence, but it is packaged in beautiful cinematography, with beautiful faces and music, creating a palatable vision of despair. Plus, boobies n’ bush.