Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

the new blah

 Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Director: John Carl Buechler
Released: 1988
Starring: Kane Hodder, Lar Park-Lincoln, Terry Kiser
Running time: 88
Genre: horror, slasher

With my luck, you’re probably going to turn out to be another delusion. We must be sitting ’round a campfire, because we hear an old codger–OMAGAH, it’s Crazy Ralph! Talking story from Beyond the Grave!–rambling on about Jason Voorhees and Crystal Lake Camp Blood Forest Green Crystal Lake while getting a pretty comprehensive flashback, showing numerous momentous occasions in the history of both, leading to the final confrontation Lake o’ Fire between Jason and Tommy Jarvis in Chapter VI: Jason Lives. Once Jason is chained at the lake’s bottom, we sit through an interminably dull title and credits sequence, and time passes–though how much, we do not know. Carol Anne Freeling Tina Shepherd stands outside a ramshackle cabin, listening as her drunken father and doormat mother fight. When the sounds of domestic abuse grow to be too much for the tot, she runs down the path to the lake, and out onto the rickety dock. In a move her parents have surely forbidden her many times, Carol Anne Tina hops into the family boat, and heads out onto the lake, without even a lifejacket for crying out loud. Her parents, having somehow caught wind of their daughter’s upset and finally acting like responsible adults, have chased after her. Daddy stands at the dock’s end, shouting for Carol Anne Tina to come back, but she’s too angry and frightened to do so–but not too angry to not rip a Carrie summon her psychokinetic powers and shake down the dock around his head. Into Crystal Lakes goes Daddy, caught below the heavy wood beams. DAAAAAA-DDDYYYYYYYY!!! NNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

It must be about a decade later when a grown Tina jerks awake. Mom’s driving her back to Crystal Lake, back to Trauma Central. You see, the whole killing her father with her psychokinesis thing kinda left some indelible marks on Tina’s psyche, and she’s spent some time institutionalized. But Dr “Bernie” Crews has got a bright idea about making CarrieTina face her inner demons by returning her to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Definitely seems like a good idea. But who cares about that when on the horizon we spy fresh meat?! At the cottage next to the Shepard lakehouse are some young folks, and we’re treated to two girls in bathing suits and a dude in short shorts. Blonde Number One is none too pleased about the arrival of the Shepards and Crews–why we’ll never know except that she turns out to be a Grade A, cast-iron bitch. But when Tina’s suitcase pops open, dude is quick to bound on over, friendly as a puppy and quick to fondle her granny panties. As Tina snatches them out of his greasy mitts, he introduces himself as Nick, but it’s too late. Tina storms off, undies in hand while the peanut gallery smirks.

During an experimental session with Dr Crews, Carrie’s Tina’s powers demonstrate themselves, and we get the idea that just maybe the good doctor doesn’t give a rip about Carrie’s Tina’s problems. Instead, it seems that he’s all about her powers and how to exploit them. And we also learn that she has little to no control over them. Rather than go to her room and practice moving a hairbrush or lifting a dresser, though, or even reading up on the subject at the library, Tina traipses on out to the rebuilt dock and gazes at Crystal Lake’s placid waters. Thinking of her daddy, Tina feels around with her mind, searching for … a Presence. Not realizing this is a Seriously Stupid Move, she then consciously channels her power for the first time, directing it to raise whatever’s there to raise. And and the waters start churning, Jason awakens. When Tina opens her eyes, she sees his dreamy eyes and blacks out.

Of course, Tina–having been previously ensconced in the loving arms of a funny farm–will from here on out be viewed by everyone as an Unreliable Narrator. Those visions of everybody dying? Just Looney Tunes playing in her head! There’s no killer stalking Crystal Lake Camp Blood Forest Green Crystal Lake! The partykids next door in the party cottage will provide appropriate Jason fodder while Tina makes the classic F13 Final Girl move of bonding with a random dude, Generic Hunk Nick. Jealous sparks will fly between Melissa (Grade A, cast-iron bitch) and Tina, and Maddy and Robin. Michael will make a shoddy Jimmy the Dead Fuck substitute. There will be titties and there will be mayhem. There will also be crazy psychic powers–and we’ll find out how much of a match they are for Jason.

jason’s pressbook

the new, unimproved crystal lake

you know what that means

Like has nothing to do with it. The first of the post-Tommy Jarvis Fridays, and only the second featuring an Undead Jason, The New Bloodhas a lot to live up to, but also a unique opportunity to take the franchise in a new direction. With a new actor playing Jason, impressive effects, and an exciting new plot device, the old formula could be livened up, which could lead to exciting new installments in the franchise. Didn’t happen.

Bill: “This installment is further proof that they just didn’t gaf.” -Fisty

I mentioned in our review of Jason Lives that that movie was in heavy cable rotation just around the time I started getting into horror mags like Fango. In fact, the very first non-comicbook horror magazine I ever bought was Gorezone #2 from July of 1988 with Jason’s maskless, rotting mug right on the cover, sporting a telekinesis-hurled nail driven into his forehead. The issue featured an interview with the new Jason, Kane Hodder, as a preview, and ended with speculative talk of him possibly returning in a future as yet unnamed Friday sequel, becoming the first man to take on the role more than once. Man, was I stoked. I took the issue to school and showed all my friends. I put up the pull-out Jason poster included with the issue in my room. I committed to memory all of the pictures of Jason walking out of the water, wielding an ax, lifting some dude up on a spike, etc… To this day, when I picture a maskless Jason, the image I see in my head is the face from that magazine cover, from The New Blood. About twenty percent of my daily activities back then consisted of watching Jason Lives, reading about The New Blood, and getting so excited I was practically vibrating.  So it’s kind of odd that the movie itself doesn’t mean more to me than it does, but it just doesn’t. I can’t even remember the first time I saw it. Maybe it was on cable or maybe on video? Probably on video. For me, reading about the making of the movie meant way more than the movie itself ever did … which isn’t that hard to believe. I mean, the movie isn’t exactly all that great. The New Blood was maybe my earliest experience with Gustave Flaubert’s notion that “Anticipation is the purest form of pleasure.” (Shocked to hear me mention a French novelist? Think the name before this paragraph was wrong and you’re reading Fisty’s words? Nah, it’s me. I had to google the quote to find out who said it.)

Now, I don’t want anyone to misinterpret what I’m about to say next. I like Kane Hodder. I like the man and I like him in movies and, yes, I recognize that he did, as that old article predicted, go on to be the first recurring Jason and I applaud him for that. Having made that clear however, I have to go on to say that I just prefer C. J. Graham from Jason Lives as Zombie Jason. Sure, in The New Blood our fav undead mong is more like the Jason of old (at least in some ways): he’s a little sneakier; a little stalkier; he makes sure to use more of his old standard kills (facial stabbings, head crushings, window toss, etc…) from previous Friday the 13ths than he did in Jason Lives; but, as one friend of mine put it, “Hodder played the character like he had a chip on his shoulder.” He’s right. Whenever someone tries (futilely) to stand up to him, you can see in his face/hockey mask, “How dare you, sir or madam?! Don’t you know that I am the Crystal Lake Camp Blood Forest GreenCrystal Lake Killer?” You could see that Tina, with all her psychic crap, was pissing him off, maybe even offending him with her defiance. Props to Hodder for being able to emote through an inch of latex, but I think Graham Jason’s utter unflappability and single-mindedness makes for a more frightening killer. Your attacks do nothing. They have no effect on him physically or emotionally. He doesn’t think, he doesn’t feel, he doesn’t even want, he just kills. He’s like a shark loose on the campgrounds. Camp Blood is Buckingham Palace and Graham’s Jason is the Queen’s Guard of murder. Hodder’s Jason might kill you, sure, but at least you’ll die with the satisfaction that you were able to get under that bastard’s skin before he did. Graham’s Jason (much like Fisty says of  Paramount at this point in the series) just doesn’t GAF.

workin’ at the car wash

sexy pants

crews, lies, & videotape

Fisty: I gotta say, I do love me some Flaubert. Well played, Bill. Well played. Something I do not love? The New Blood. It breaks my heart to say it, but I don’t love it at all. TNB is actually the first Friday the 13th I have a true, clear memory of. When it came out I was really developing consciousness for the first time, and though I have memories of things before that time, many of them are impressions at best. 1988ish was when I really began having awareness and establishing opinions independent of my caregivers. I also was in kind of a terrible, shitty situation, and TNB held a great deal of appeal for me as a story in which a frail young girl, victimized, finds inner strength to overcome obstacles … and rain blood and fire down upon EVERYONE. (I was also really into Carrie at this point. Totally not unusual; see Lois Duncan and the popularity of paranormal YA lit.) So I had fond memories going into it on the first round of our re-watch back in 2010, but sadly, the the reality of TNB no longer matched those beloved childhood memories, not in 2010 nor now.

Bill’s quoted me as saying that this is where Paramount really began to not give a fuck, and I’ll stand by that. Oh, the production values are fine, the actors largely adequate and generically disposable (ie, a perfect slasher cast), and there are kills that would be great if they hadn’t been cut to shit. But the story is fucking ridiculous and just demonstrates how little care was given to continuing the Crystal Lake-Jason mythos, and how much the emphasis was on injecting life into a dying franchise.

Until this point, even right through Jason Lives–though there is a perceptible shift there–Jason was not the hero of Friday the 13th, though he was certainly the star of the show. In Parts 2 and 3-D, the heroines are the spunky girls who make the triumphant last stands against our beloved mongo pal. Then with The Final Chapter came the advent of Tommy Jarvis, slated as the anti/hero of films to follow. But following Jason Lives, rather than continue in the same vein with a recognizable protagonist battling an ultra-powerful undead monster amidst parodic humor (wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute here!), or even return to the roots of the franchise’s formula, Paramount began upping the ante with bloody and vicious kills (neutered right out), a gimmick plot, an exciting new Jason (wondrous FX and all) as the anti-hero. And well, it’s pretty much downhill from there.

I prefer early Jasons to the later ones, and agree that Kane Hodder’s Jason is, well, too menacing and angry. I don’t want Jason emoting unless he’s missing his mother and filled with a righteous indignation that requires the death of all pretty young things within walking distance. If Jason is Undead, then I prefer him more like The Shape, or T-100, or Jaws. He should be a killing machine, and nothing more. “[H]e’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living … .” That’s what I want out of an unstoppable, undead Jason. I don’t want Heathcliff or Belial or Charles Lee Ray.

jason literally makes an entrance

bitch stole my shoes!

the electric slide

Bill: Exactly! “I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” It’s interesting that Quint’s and Loomis’ descriptions of the shark from Jaws and Michael Myers are so similar. That vacuous indifference to life, death, suffering or fear is terrifying. It’s the horror of a natural disaster, an allegory for the unstoppable, unthinking, unaware, inescapable killing power of nature. The Shape is a tornado that destroys one home, but leaves every other house on the block untouched. Why? Why does he do it? Why there? No fucking clue. (I’ve always thought making Laurie Strode his secret sister in Halloween Part 2 was a mistake.) His motives are his own if he even has a motive at all. Like Randy from Scream says, “Motives are incidental.” And early Jason fits fairly well with that theme. He’s the Wild Child. He’s a dangerous force of the wild itself. When Jason stabs you or a storm drops a tree on your head or a flood drowns you or a bear murders you to death, they’re not doing it because they’re pissed off. They do it because, hello, it’s a bear! That’s just what they do!

An emotional Jason is just too human, too easy to relate to. When you try to humanize and explain why your killers are killers, it ruins something. Like you said, Fisty, it makes the killer the hero. I think that might have been a contributing factor to the downfall of the slasher film. The trend might have started as early as Halloween 2, when they explained Michael’s desire to kill Laurie by making her his secret sister (again, I always thought this was a mistake), and A Nightmare on Elm Street, where you first met a slasher with more character than his victims. Maybe you could also mention the Psycho sequels. Maybe. Now, I’m not researching anything here, I’m just running with an idea, so if you have other examples or want to disagree, I want to hear it, but that might have been the beginning. In 1988, however, was when the killers really eclipsed their victims to become the heroes of their films. That same year gave us The New Blood, with huffy puffy Jason, The Dream Master, being the first of the NoES movies to put Freddy ahead of his children, and Halloween 4, the first of the movies to start all that Celtic cult mumbo jumbo that shittied up the Halloween franchise. It’s also the year Childs Play came out. As of 1988, the victims stopped being important, the monsters stopped being unknowable, and something went out of balance. Sadly, that never seemed to go away. Now we mostly have a Leatherface that wasn’t just crazy, but had his face eaten by bacteria and was made fun of by his peers, a Jason that kidnaps instead of kills, a Michael that isn’t so much evil as he’s just really upset that his mom strips to shitty music, and fucking Jigsaw. Blah. I miss the old days. But at least I have Final Destination to make me happy. That franchise takes the idea of the empty, emotionless slasher-as-force-of-nature to it’s utmost extreme, totally de-anthropomorphizing the killer to the point that it doesn’t even have any kind of corporeal existence.

Fisty: In a world of Dahmers and Bundys and BTKs (oh, my!), we hardly needed more personalities, just Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil!

the night HE came home

jane, you ignorant slut

bloody hatchet wound

Bill: Yes! Very succinct. No one gets me like you do, Fisty.

But I went off on a little rant there. I need to get back to The New Blood.You said the production values were, “Fine.” I didn’t find them quite as satisfactory. The make up was good. Jason looks great. The scene where Tina tightens the straps on his mask and they cut into his head and pus leaks out … Oh my god! I love it! The kills, if they hadn’t been butchered, would’ve been spectacular, but it’s obvious that that’s where all the money went. Everything else about the movie just looks cheap. Distractingly so, for me. It’s so disappointing to see such a drop off from Jason Lives to this. I remember Jason Takes Manhattan looking way better than this one does. Hopefully I’m not wrong about that, because ugh, it’s terrible. The location sucked, too. The previous movies were filmed all over the place, but they all still had a certain size to them, a definite scope. The New Blood was filmed in Alabama and it just does not look like the Crystal Lake we know. The lake is too small, the forest too sparse. It looks like a boringly built artless set than a real location.

I was going to say something else, too. What was it? Jason is hero … victims play second fiddle … Oh yeah! Everyone in this movie that isn’t a narrator (I love Crazy Ralph!) or Jason sucks. Well, that’s an exaggeration. I kind of liked Maddy and Robin and I didn’t mind Tina herself so much (even though her hair was a mess!), but Nick was boring, Tina’s mom was boring, Crews was an asshole, everyone else was stupid, and Melissa was actually the first person in the franchise that I couldn’t wait to see die. I cheered at her death.

bitchface

can’t i get your ghost, bob?

stabbin’ cabins

Fisty: Fine, adequate, whatever. They certainly weren’t great; this is one of the least pretty Fridays, with nothing like the clean look of say, A New Beginning. Capping it is a real pain since there are very few memorable or striking images that I want to capture. A few to illustrate the story, but not much else. Sometimes it’s hard to stop stuffing images into these reviews, but in this case, not so much. I’m with you on the make-up being great (though as I’ve said, I’m not a big fan of the look).

It’s also a crazy boring cast. Tina’s mother is dull as dirt, and the intriguing storyline with her and Dr Crews is set up, then left adrift. Which sucks, because it’s more interesting than whatever else was going on (namely, nothing but Tina spazzing out). We don’t even get a real idea about what Dr Crews’ nefarious plot is, though I assume he wants to make a big name with breakthrough research on psychokinesis, but who knows? And the relationship between Mrs Whatever (I just don’t care) and Dr Bernie is also more interesting than any of the kid relationships (though one I don’t want to see explicitly), especially with what happens, but again, no development. Just set up and forgotten.

The young kids are largely interchangeable (read: forgettable). Gelfling lookalike Lar Park Lincoln is obnoxious, vacillating between confused hysteria and near-hysteria. And she has THE WORST Carrie-face; Kay Lenz in The Initiation of Sarah was soooo much better. Bland Nick doesn’t even have Rick’s date-rapiness or Rob’s thirty-six hour vendetta to liven him up, just a vague mention of “trouble” (Sex? Drugs?? Rock n’ roll???) and some short shorts. Sci-fi geek Michael kind of sticks out, but he’s the lamest geek. Robin and Maddy were, well, I was going to say “okay,” but I kind of hate Maddy. Her makeover is terrible, and she’s so whiny that there’s none of the poignancy of say, a Vickie or a Sara. I don’t mind Robin and her stoner boy, and Robin’s stalk and kill might be my favorite in the film (kitty!). But HOLY SHIT, MELISSA. I honestly cannot think of another fodder-type as vile as she is. She’s not just mean girl or bitchy, she’s a genuine cunt. There is literally nothing redeeming about her whatsoever. Her death comes as a relief–and it’s practically the last one! The desire to see her go was pretty much the only thing sustaining my interest in the movie.

Why is it so dull? Well, besides the forgettable cast (I know I’ve used that adjective a LOT in this review, but it’s just so damn applicable), we have the nebulous plot and sub-plots that never really make much sense. Jason isn’t even mentioned until an HOUR into the movie, when Tina and Nick find a random Overlook-esque scrapbook with clippings about the murders that happened, what? Twenty years ago now? Which no one else recalls or mentions, not even in a “There’s a spooooky legend about this place, you guys!” manner. And that timeframe does nothing for the series, either. If anything, Jason should be more mythic, but instead he’s just this forgotten undead serial murderer. Who’s wandering ALL OVER the Crystal Lake Camp Blood Forest Green Crystal Lake environs, apparently MILES from the lake itself (which must be freaking huge, yet shallow, because none of the locations look anything like previous ones, har-dee-har-har) to murder some tangential characters instead of stalking any of the primary victims-to-be. And even though the cabins of the two groups are literally a stone’s throw from one another, no one hears screams or anything suspicious when people finally start dying! Bah! It’s just so shoddily slapped together!

the many faces of tina: pensive

the many faces of tina: frightened & confused

the many faces of tina: can’t believe she gets to marry tawny kitaen

Bill: You want to talk “shoddily slapped together?” There are some serious temporal problems in The New Blood. It never feels like any time has passed between scenes. It’s such a problem that, at one point, I thought night had suddenly become day, because it wasn’t clear to me that it was supposed to be the next day.  There are times when characters are supposed to be off wandering the woods, but, because you never get the sense of time passing, (or distance) it seems like they couldn’t have gone ten feet. Tina drives away in the family car for all of ten seconds before crashing, it takes her mom and Doc less than that to find the car and start wandering the woods looking for her, screaming her name, but she’s already home. And this lack of awareness of scale and time is even more extreme for Jason. My biggest complaint about The Final Chapter was Jason’s ability to be all places at once while still hiding in the basement, but The New Blood is staggeringly worse! At one point Jason is at the cabins doing some killing, then suddenly he’s in the woods, far enough out that other people drove there, then he disappears again, presumably back to the cabins, so he can once again appear, (after Tina, who is also magically everywhere at once) this time with a massive power tool that would not be lying around in the middle of the forest. And he did this while still having the time to drag out and arrange four different bodies killed at different times, in different locations out to one spot out in the woods. Now, I’m not one of those people that makes a big deal about him walking around and still catching running people and I don’t need any of the dumb explanations the remake provided about how he gets from place to place; I don’t care, so long as he gets to kill people. However, to pull the crap he does in The New Blood, he’d have to have the teleportation powers of Nightcrawler, Madrox the Multiple Man’s ability to duplicate himself, and perhaps Cable’s timeslide time travel equipment. I’m sorry, but, as badass as he may be, Jason still should not be capable of doing things it’d take a whole team of X-Men to pull off.

Fisty: There are definitely some problems with The New Blood. But there were things I liked about it, too. I liked that it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, I like that it ended best of all. And I liked Elizabeth Kaitan’s totally gratuitous boobs. Well, to be fair, I also appreciated the occasional nods to Fridays past, such as The Final Chapter‘s family house versus party house set up and Robin’s defenestration–though I’m half convinced that most instances of that were unintentional. And I actually do like the end. Even though Tina kind of sucks at fighting Jason, the psychic versus Jason showdown was pretty fun. And then his ultimate dispatch? It’s got a special kind of lunacy that I can dig. Daddy Shepard rising from his watery grave to battle Jason, despite apparently drowning in about ten feet of water, just offshore? (They seem to have never dragged Crystal Lake for his body.) Sure! I’ll even interpret it metaphorically, if you want! (Though one of the early “mystery endings” like that of Part 2 would have worked wonders following, especially with Nick going missing a la Paul.)

gratuitous kitty

was is das ich weiss nicht mal

what is this, part 3-d?!

Bill: Yeah, the end battle is pretty fun, with fire and nails and couches flying all over the place.  It’s the best part of the movie. I dug the return of the montage opening. Loved that they had Crazy Ralph doing the beginning narration. Given these few things, I’m not so sure all the other nods and winks were accidents. I’m convinced the death of the caveman stoner was an intentional shout out to Halloween: The dude walks into a dark room, the light comes up momentarily and reveals Jason standing still and silent before it goes dark again, then Jason slowly moves into position and gut-stabs the guy with a big chef’s knife. It’s too similar to The Shape’s stalk/kill scenes to be accident. Buechler definitely knows the genre and it’s films well enough to do plenty of nudge-nudging. He even later went on to work on a Halloween movie and he worked on a Nightmare, too, so he’s dipped his fingers in all three of the big franchises. Also, I want to say, contrary to what this review might lead you to believe, I really like his work. Cellar Dweller is awesome and his effects work is steller and his werewolf in Project Metalbeast (played by Hodder) is just so crazy that it’s coolness cannot be questioned. I may be reaching with this one, but I also kind of think, or at least hope, that the Shepards’ last name is a hi-five to John Shepherd, since he was the only Tommy Jarvis not to appear in the “Last time on Friday the 13th” montage at the beginning of the movie. I guess that could be me just wishing A New Beginning would get some of the respect it deserves.

The few bits of The New Blood that are cool, however, just can’t make up for all the suck. It’s just not up to snuff with the first six movies in the series. I don’t hate it. I don’t think I could ever hate any Friday the 13thmovie, but I can say for sure that it’s the worst of the films we’ve covered in the franchise so far. I really don’t dislike it, but I can’t defend it. It sucks. I only like it because it’s Jason fighting Carrie. And even then, the idea is better than the execution.

this shot is missing a shark

we sure hate to see him go

TO BE CONTINUED … ???

Fisty: I know my disappointment is palpable, but remember that my fond childhood memories were just MURDERED by watching it again. To me it’s just ten pounds of suck in a five pound bag, I’m afraid.

Despite an exciting new look and actor for Jason, and a potentially thrilling plot device, The New Blood is a new low for the Friday franchise. The aforementioned Carrie versus Jason contrivance was a failed stratagem both in that it didn’t generate a decent movie, and also because it opened the doors for increasingly flaccid, gimmicky sequels in the now enervated franchise.

Bill:But at least it adds weight to some of our (mostly my) crackpot Tommy as Psychic, Dreamin’ Tommy and Jason as Myth theories.

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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. 

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes

pet sematary

La morte negli occhi del gatto
aka Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye
aka Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye
aka Cat’s Murdering Eye
aka Les diablesses
aka Oi eromenes tou Diavolou
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Released: 1973
Starring: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Françoise Christophe, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Dana Ghia, Luciano Pigozzi, Serge Gainsbourg
Running time: 95 minutes
Genre: Gothic, giallo, inheritance thriller

Here, kitty kitty: A choking scream and crimson blood splattering. A straight-razor. A body is dragged and then dropped deep into some catacombs. Rats descend upon the corpse, stripping it of flesh in a matter of moments. A cat is the only witness. So begins Antonio Margheriti’s La morte negli occhi del gatto.

Following her expulsion from convent school, Corringa MacGrieff returns to Dragonstone Castle, her family’s ancestral home for the first time since she was a small girl. In residence at the gloomy castle are her mother Lady Alicia, her aunt Mary, the Dowager Lady MacGrieff, her mad cousin Lord James MacGrieff, a new priest Father Robertson, James’ doctor Franz, and James’ French tutor Suzanne, as well as a full complement of domestics. Oh, and there’s also an orangutan that James rescued from a travelling circus and named … James. Castles are expensive to maintain, what with all those battlements to dust and servants to feed, and Lady MacGrieff is feeling the pinch, and has asked Lady Alicia to Dragonstone to hit her up for some funds. Though denied by her sister (in-law? they look alike, but I’m not sure whether they’re both MacGrieffs by blood or marriage), Lady Mary seizes upon the gamine Corringa as another opportunity: Since Alicia has no money of her own, only Corringa’s inheritance, why not marry off Corringa to her son James? Also eying Corringa’s … assets … is foxy doxy Suzanne, who exhibits an intense interest in Corringa’s playing Claudine at School and stripping down to her skimpy slip while blithely bragging about her convent school escapades and expulsion. “Too many books never did a woman any good,” she announces, as she casts her schoolbooks on the fire–along with her Bible. Whoopsie! That might be an omen.

“too many books never did a woman any good”

At a family dinner, Lord James makes an unexpected–and unwelcome–appearance. Attraction simmers between James and Corringa, until she makes the mistake of mentioning that they had played together as children, along with his sister, you know, the one he accidentally killed. Awkward. James indulges in some witty barbs, retaliating in the only way he can for his emasculation, with um, incivility. Uncomfortable with her sister’s demands and insulted by James, Lady Alicia plans to stay only a few days before taking Corringa back to London, but alas, she is smothered in her bed that same night, with the titular cat as the sole witness. The same night, Corringa is awakened by the yowling of Kitty, and sees Lord James apparently hovering outside her window above a hundred foot drop. Is she dreaming? Following the sound of the cat’s cries, Corringa makes her way deep into the bowels of the castle, stumbling across the mutilated corpse from the beginning and first panics, flips out on some innocent bats, then faints.

When Alicia’s body is discovered, Lady Mary convinces Franz to provide a certificate of natural death, despite all evidence to the contrary. James spies on Alicia’s funeral from the cemetery walls, as does Kitty, who then makes a startling appearance, leaping onto Alicia’s casket. As we all know, this is another terrible omen, and proof of vampirism, and Lady Mary retaliates by ordering Kitty sealed into the family crypt with Alicia. Instead of a wake, the household goes into a bunch of explication, and we discover that some of the household are playing double roles. That night, kindly groundskeeper Angus sneaks back into the cemetery that night to free Kitty, but finds the casket empty. He then pays with his life as the straight-razor makes another appearance. Meanwhile, Kitty watches over a sleeping Corringa as Lady Alicia comes to her in a psychotronic dream, pale and hair blowing, exhorting Corringa to avenge her death. Knowing the family legend, that a MacGrieff murdered by another MacGrieff will become a vampire, Corringa fears the worst. Is she dreaming? Is there something supernatural stalking Dragonstone? Or is there something more venal afoot?

monkey see, monkey … kill?

Half Agatha Christie murder mystery, half giallo, and half Gothic, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye is one and a half hot messes of fun by a master of Italian Gothic horror.

Bill: More of a tepid mess I’d say. Not much heat to go around in this flick. Least ways, not for a fella such as myself. Jane Birkin as Corringa is kind of attractive and has one really promising scene in her sheer slip, but that’s about as good as you’re going to get with her. Doris Kunstmann, playing Suzanne, is sexier, but just as under utilized. When I pop in a giallo, I want to see heat! Passion! … or at least some tits. I don’t need Skinemax softcore, but you have to offer me something! Look at The Whip and the Body, a similar Gothic thriller: no nudity, no graphic love making, but the women are GORGEOUS and photographed beautifully, everyone struggling with volcanic passions barely restrained, every scene smoldering with intense sexuality. Watching The Whip and the Body, I felt like my groin could spontaneously combust at any moment! Watching Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, I didn’t really feel my groin at all. Where’s the heat?! Eh, James was pretty handsome, I guess.

when cousins are two of a kind

Fisty: Amusingly, if you simply Google Jane Birkin, you’ll see her ta-tas at least twice on the first page of results. Its not as though she was shy or assuming artistic pretensions (unlike some modern starlets, you know who you are). And how can you see her without hearing “Je t’aime… moi non plus” playing in your head, Bill? I’d think you’d love that. She does seem a trifle out of place here, though, looking to me so quintessentially Sixties; in the post-Great War world of 7DitCE, she looks awkward and coltish, but also wholesomely pretty, a startling juxtaposition with the elegance and glamour of Doris Kunstmann, Françoise Christophe, and even Dana Ghia. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Despite the red herring of James’ insanity (and the death of his sister), Corringa and James are the Babes in the Wood, innocents in the cynical, dissipated, and decadent world of Dragonstone. Their romance hardly has time to smolder, but instead is the bright sparks of a newly struck flame, a counterpoint to the jaded appetites surrounding them.

And perhaps that’s partly because 7DitCE isn’t saying a whole lot, what you see is what you get. As with the Gothics Margheriti did so well (Danza Macabra, The Virgin of Nuremberg, The Long Hair of Death), 7DitCE is a lot of style, and little to no traditional narrative or plot. The story is fairly silly, and the characters not especially deep–much as we would find in a typical giallo. And should we even mention the Chekhov’s gun of a giallo generic killer? Seriously, nothing prepares us for the reveal of the real killer except that a) he’s in the movie, and so he must have a reason for being there, and b) we’ve seen a few gialli in our time. The motivation for the murders is really completely peripheral to the movie; whodunit or whydunit is of less importance than howdunit–which is of even less importance than how things look at feel. But the setting of a remote castle in a long ago time, and the strange, claustrophobic atmosphere and supernatural events are squarely in the Gothic realm.

this is the cover of a lois duncan novel

Corringa, too, is straight out of the Gothic: a young, unspoiled girl in a gloomy old house. She isn’t exactly the active amateur sleuth of the typical giallo, but more a hapless victim, tormented by the events she’s caught up in–even the killer calls her an innocent and regrets having to kill her. After all, she wasn’t even meant to be there.  Really, almost no effort is made to solve the murders; most characters are just concerned that they not be held responsible, and that their own unrelated plots not be uncovered, and as viewers, we are more concerned with whether the underlying reason is mundane or supernatural. Being the former, we know again that we’re watching a giallo. It’s that racketing between the genres that the problems come in. Ultimately, gialli are stories contemporary to the time in which they were made, and all their accouterments, from motivation to setting ought to be, too. Blending these with the rococo sensibilities and stylings of the Gothic is awkward, especially in the Gothic’s implication of sex and violence, which is inimical to the giallo‘s explicit sex and violence. Viewers can find it difficult to reconcile to two genres, because well, frankly, even Margheriti finds it difficult to balance them.

Bill: Not only are the characters lacking in depth, for me, at least, they were completely uninteresting. I am perfectly fine with characters thin enough to be translucent, so long as I can at least laugh at something they do or say or have even one trait that makes them stand out. Corringa and Suzanne have, like, one good line apiece, but are, otherwise, just as bland as everyone else. The Jameses and the cat  are the only consistently entertaining beings in the movie … and one of them only lasts halfway through the movie.

kitty sees dead people

I don’t think it would’ve been so hard to blend the Gothic and supernatural with the giallo. I think they’d blend perfectly, just like peanut butter and something that goes good with peanut butter, so long as you do it right. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a good example of a movie that does so. Hell, the first few minutes of 7DitCE are a good example! The movie starts off with a lot of promise. The opening scene, so wonderfully described in the synopsis, is great. It’s got flash, pizazz, and it’s got blood. At no other point in the movie, however, is any other death quite so great. I want more rats and razors! A big, dark, Gothic castle is the perfect place for both. I can imagine a fantastic chase through the catacombs beneath Dragonstone, a blade glinting in torchlight, Corringa running in terror in her sexy slip, startled bats taking flight, frightening her into a dark side passage where the killer stalks unseen. Sadly, that scene isn’t in the movie.  Instead, she just walks backwards into the bats and ends up in the kitchen. D’oh!

Fisty: Really? The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave? Are you as high as Scott? Let’s not even go there, dude.

what did mummy tell you about burning bibles?

If you’re looking for pizazz, what about the dream sequence (which, oddly, is subtitled)? It has a wonderfully bizarre and hallucinatory feel reminiscent of Argento, a quality Margheriti excels at in his other works. Though we viewers know there is a mundane force behind the killings (because we’re watching a giallo), that dream sequence, along with the superstitions harbored by virtually everyone in the castle, creates a mood of paranoia and suspicion for Corringa and the others–and even she begins to think she might be going mad. It’s James, the putative madman, who seems to be the only inhabitant of Dragonstone who can think clearly. In fact, he and Corringa take opposing paths, with him being insane at the start and slowly becoming one of the sanest characters, and her driven from normalcy into being unbalanced. Serge Gainsbourg’s Inspector is the only other person who seems to know what’s going on, and he really doesn’t appear to think he ought to let anyone else in on it–till the very end. But it’s all good. After all, though it carries the trappings of a giallo, 7DitCE approximates an Agatha Christie murder mystery, or an inheritance thriller. The actual plot, the motivation, is hardly convoluted. Following the rules of the genres, it’s easy to decipher the killer–though the motive is baffling until the very (abrupt) end.

And though the characters themselves are somewhat flat, the players aren’t. Everyone here seems to know what they’re doing and they go to it with a will, turning in some intensely straight performances just this side of hammy. It’s the only way to handle dialog that is sometimes deliriously overwrought: “You are absolutely on fire tonight, darling! Are you excited by all the blood that has been flowing around here?”  and “Why all these scruples all of a sudden? When you found me, you knew I was a slut!” being two of my favorites.

what more can suzanne do but strip and say, ‘here it is?’

That theatricality goes beautifully with the grand guignol setting, whether the characters are in sumptuous chambers adorned baroque bibelots, or scuttling through darkened catacombs, or meandering in elaborate gardens. There’s some beautiful photography despite the frequent abuse of zoom, and cinematographer Carlo Carlini saturates many of the scenes with an array of gorgeous hues.

Bill: It can be a pretty movie, and you know I love colors. There’s a lamp in the movie that is just outstanding, even when it’s just sitting there, being lampy, doing the sorts of things lamps do. And, yes, the players are better than the characters they play. The sets are great and I love the kitty. I like when he attacks necks. The fact that there are things to like about 7DitCE are part of why I’m so hard on it. It’s not a bad movie! There’s a lot to like about it: a mad orangutan, flesh-eating rats, a possible vampire, secret passages and dark catacombs, a school girl home from school and a self-proclaimed slut and supposed master of seduction … those are a few of my favorite things. This movie should be a lock for me, but they barely utilize any of it. If only they’d let loose, gone a little wild, lost their restraint, went fully over-the-top, and gave me something a little less Murder She Wrote, then I could’ve really enjoyed it. As is, it’s just not enough to keep me from being bored.

this is discretion

Fisty: Okay, your feelings are valid, Bill. Margheriti exercises a lot of restraint; the scenes of seduction and murder are pretty discreet, and I can see how that would tantalize, frustrate, and underwhelm you. I didn’t mind in the least, but thought it both classy and entertaining. And really, this–and pretty much any giallo–is supposed to be just that: entertaining. But for you, I guess it failed, which surprises me because I know how you enjoy Hammer films and gialli, and this channels the spirit of both.

I’m the first to admit that it’s not without flaws. Even tasteful and artistic direction and excellent acting cannot overcome an often (entertainingly) clumsy script and sub-plots and character arcs that dwindle and disappear. The whole mystery of James’ sister’s death–an ACTUAL mystery–is only a red herring, the Inspector hardly makes any appearances till the end, and the ape/orangutan seems significant but … isn’t. Like so much of the story. As Inspector Serge would say, “There’s too much that makes no sense.” But that’s what you get with Margheriti: trippy motifs and themes, not coherent plots.

But I do love the cat motif, how it creates suspense and is actually, you know, relevant. I especially love that he’s a big, fat, fuzzy marmalade boy (he looks just like a cat my mom once had named Teddy Bear), rather than a stereotypical black cat (though I love all kitties). I wonder whether they simply picked the most docile cat they could find … ? And the romance between James and Corringa seems genuinely sweet, and a nice contrast to the otherwise mildly sleazy goings-on. They’re a fairly unusual pair in a giallo, innocent, but not blandly so.

cutest harbinger of death evar

Though it is not an entirely successful Gothic inheritance thriller cum giallo, cleverly reversing the standard Gothic arc, instead going from the supernatural to the mundane, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes skillfully uses tropes  from all three genres to create a diverting exercise in postmodern Nerdrum-esque kitsch.

Bill: Great Gothic setting, but too much Masterpiece Theatre and not enough Joe Bob’s Drive-In for me. …and there was so much potential! It’s like, if a really smelly, ugly girl with zero personality is a vegan, who cares? But if she’s kinda cute, maybe sorta fun to talk to, smells like oranges, and she’s a vegan, it’s sad. Then you’re disappointed. I say, give it a look only if you’ve run out of better giallo to watch, really dig straight up murder mysteries or, like me, need to see every mad monkey/ape movie ever made. And when deciding whose opinion to value more, Fisty’s or mine, keep in mind that she’s the smart one and I love Michael Bay movies and cry during Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech.

who’s a handsome psychopomp? yes you is!

Black Christmas

all is calm, all is dead

Black Christmas
aka Silent Night, Evil Night
aka Stranger in the House
aka Noël tragique
aka Un Natale rosso sangue
Director: Bob Clark
Released: 1974
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, John Saxon
Running time: 98 minutes
Genre: horror, slasher

Co-eds dying near an open fire: It’s time for Christmas break, and none too soon. The sisters of the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority are celebrating with a post-finals and pre-break party, all unawares of the mumbling creep climbing a trellis into their attic. While they cozily guzzle cocktails and discuss plans for a Christmas charity event the next day, the mysterious stranger stumbles through an attic filled with childhood debris and makes his way into the house proper.

Downstairs, Jess answers a prank call from The Moaner and calls most of the ladies over to listen.  The caller says a lot of filthy things and, after some verbal pwnage from Barb, ends his call with a dead serious, “I’m going to kill you.”  Professional virgin Clare, upset by Barb’s constant razzing and cavalier attitude toward the rape of a local girl, and provocation of the nasty caller (and unaware of the nutter hiding upstairs,) breaks off from the rest of the girls and heads to her room to finish packing.  The rest of the sorority, making merry and bestowing gifts on the housemother, Mrs MacHenry, don’t hear a thing as the attic mumbler Laura Palmer-izes Clare and carries her corpse into the attic.

Clare’s disappearance is discovered the next day when her father looks for her at the sorority house after she fails to show up when he was supposed to meet her.  They head to the police station for help, where Barb mocks a lunkheaded cop with sexual innuendos while some townie woman reports her 13 year-old daughter missing.  Their efforts aren’t taken seriously until the tween’s body is found in a nearby park, and the capable Lieutenant Fuller takes over. With more prank calls coming in, a rape, a missing girl, and one dead body already found, the police connect the dots and tap the sorority house phones. It’s beginning to look a lot like Jess’ intense pianist boyfriend, Peter, might be unhinged and violently upset after she reveals to him that she’s pregnant and wants to get an abortion.  In the midst of all this and unknown to everyone, the murderer is already in the house and he’s going to kill every single one of the Pi Kappa Sigmas.

all bobby wants for christmas is agnes

Extremely influential, with some interesting characters and subplots, loaded with booze and wicked laughs,  a healthy mean streak and enough suspense to make Bumble piss himself, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas holds up well even today and is still a disturbing little package of holiday fear for any of us weirdos from The Island of Misfit Horror Hounds.

Bill: Black Christmas was a landmark in the development of the Slasher subgenre.  Without it, there would be no Halloween, no Friday the 13th or The Burning.  Now, I could explain the why and how of that, and Fisty and I will likely do so in a minute or two, but first, I’d like to talk about dirty words.  Filthy, nasty, deliciously perverted words.

“ho, ho, FUCK”

Sometimes, when I’ve got a few movies lined up that I’ve never seen, I’ll glance at the parental advisory notes on imdb to help me decide what I want to watch.  I’ll compare the amount of nudity, violence, gore, rape, alcohol and drug references and watch whatever has the most (or the most creative,) because I love all that stuff.  I know, however, that no matter how nude the nakedness and how bushy the bush and how bloody the bodies and violent the violence, it won’t be anything that I haven’t seen before in, like, over 9000 other flicks.  However, movies that are willing to go all out with their language are a little more uncommon.  I’m not talking about shit and fuck.  That’s nothing.   No, fuck is boring.  I’m talking about real raunch.  It may be common in certain areas of the internet, among your friends, sometimes (if you’re lucky) in the bedroom (though, even there you occasionally have problems with blushing, downward glances and mumbling,) and on Deadwood, but non-pornographic, cinematic raunch talk is a little more rare.  That’s probably why it still packs a bit of a punch and can be so memorable, maybe even more so now, than it would’ve been, since the P.C. Armies have sterilized the entire country.  Think of Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant demanding, “Show me how you suck a guy’s cock,” or Clarice explaining to Dr. Lector that Miggs said, “I can smell your cunt,” in Silence of the Lambs, or little possessed Regan in The Exorcist saying, “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras.”  It can be jarring for the audience as well as the characters in a movie.  It even works in comedies, like Clerks, with Randall’s video ordering scene.  So it’s great when The Moaner busts out a few phrases that even make the girls in the ribald Pi Kappa Sigma house think he’s a creep.  This guy isn’t just breathing heavy or asking if they have Prince Albert in a can, he’s saying things like, “I’ll stick my tongue up your pretty pussy!”  Fuck yeah!  Even if Black Christmas weren’t the suspenseful, influential shocker that it is, I’d still have to give thanks to Bob Clark for giving us a horror movie that uses the line, “Let me lick your pretty piggy cunt!”  That’s good stuff.

“you fucking CREEP!”

Fisty: Speaking of cunts, lets talk characters. Barb is going to get a lot of attention for being a Grade A cunt at least for the line, “Darling, you can’t rape a townie,” but she’s really not that bad. Sure, she’s outrageous, but thanks to her convo with her skank mother, we know she’s just acting out because she feels unloved and alone, hence her forlorn bid for company in inviting her sorority sisters to go skiing with her. Though she seems to be alienating First Girl Clare with her vulgarity, Barb also invites her along skiing because she’s desperate for affection; she’s a classic Poor Little Rich Girl. Notice the dichotomy between Barb’s room and Clare’s: Barb’s is almost a little girl’s room, abundant in flounces, purple, and crystal animals, while Clare’s features rock posters, alcohol, and sexual permissiveness–all the things her daddy dreads about college and growing up. Who is really the professional virgin here? Despite Clare’s shyness about some things, Barb appears emotionally stunted in contrast, a bratty little girl drunkenly spewing profanity at the dinner table, but a sad and pathetic one, too.

twelve ladies of pi sigma kappa

Bill: I liked Barb quite a bit.  She’s probably the deepest character in the movie and Kidder absolutely gives the best performance.  She’s a hoot, too.  I’d totally hang out with Barb.  She and Future Barb, aka Mrs. Mac, who is my second favorite alcoholic in the film, both kind of reminded me of Fisty.  Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but I was secretly hoping that Mrs. M and Clare’s father would get it on.

Fisty: I am SO flattered.

Notwithstanding Barb’s barbs at Clare (haHA!), something I dig about the Pi Kappa Sigmas is how they really do have a sororal feeling. Too often a slasher set in a sorority house or other all-female environment is an excuse for boobs n’ butts, and a showcase for the worst possible catty female behavior. But Barb’s an equal opportunity needler, digging in on anyone within range, and she does harbor some affection for Claire. All the other sisters still in the house seem to genuinely like one another, and don’t sink into a mire of bitchery when the going gets tough.

Maybe because it’s an ur-slasher, Black Christmas features a pretty wide range of developed characters, 3D all the way (no glasses required). Outside the world of Black Christmas, they could be in other movies, other stories–shit, they could be real. The sole exception to that, though, is our Final Girl, Olivia Hussey’s Jess. Is it Hussey’s odd lock-jawed, Gloria Upson-esque delivery? Or her expressionless face? Is it just that Jess is kind of a bore, other than the abortion subplot? I just don’t know.

“and she STEPPED on the BALL”

Bill: Oh god, The Abortion!  As any American fan of Degrassi knows, Canadians aren’t afraid to address the abortion issue in entertainment the way Americans are.  When it’s mentioned that Debbie is pregnant in Friday the 13th Part 3, rather that explore that and find out more about it, whether she wants the baby or not, flesh out the character, and turn it into the highly dramatic subplot it deserves to be, they instead completely dropped anything else about it from the rest of the movie, because that is way too potentially offensive of a topic to deal with in a movie that is ABOUT BRUTAL SPREE MURDERS!  Ugh.  Thankfully, even though it came six years earlier, Black Christmas doesn’t do the same.

Fisty: No, Clark dives right in, but without sensationalizing it. Let us recall that Roe v. Wade was hardly a year old when Clark started work on Black Christmas, yet he resists the urge to make Jess’ pregnancy a moralizing force in the movie. Her pregnancy has no bearing on whether she lives or dies, and only she and Crazy Peter give a shit about it. It’s refreshing to see abortion not take over the entire film (perhaps Steve Miner was taking notes, Bill?).

i’m crazy sensitive, and i will MAKE you love me

Bill: Nah, he was just pussying out.

Fisty: You’re probably right; I mean, it came up like, zero times after it was mentioned. What the hey?

Now, I debated with myself whether the abortion thing might be some of why I don’t like Jess, and I don’t feel that it is. After all, who am I to judge; I did the same myself at her age. She comes across as cold not because she knows she doesn’t have her shit together enough to bring a baby into the world, or because she dismisses Peter’s frankly hysterical and unbalanced reaction, but because she’s a total snore of a person and Olivia Hussey was replaced by a mannequin for this role.

However, Jess’ plight is actually important to the movie. It’s symbolic of that of all the killer’s victims: They are young women venturing out into the great wide world for the first time, and they have a great deal to overcome. Second-wave feminism and women’s lib had young women not simply translating themselves from their parents’ home to that of their husbands, but making their own ways. Instead of the working on their Mrs, the girls of Pi Kappa Sigma have plans for careers–one of the reasons Jess refuses to give in to Peter’s demands (and my god, it is a relief to not see some “trapping a man with pregnancy” thing come up). But because they’re out in the world, in the public sphere, they are also endangered, and that’s the crux of Black Christmas. It juxtaposes the coziness of a family- and hearth-oriented holiday like Christmas with the cold, unreasoning brutality of the Killer. Notice how in virtually every scene there is a nod to the season: crackling fires, candles, wreaths, snow, twinkling lights and decor. The domestic sphere is where he strikes the Pi Kappa Sigmas, and that is where they’ll die; they aren’t hothouse flowers too delicate to survive  outside, but rather a leggy species that thrives on neglect and withers under too much attention. At Christmastime, when other families cozy up and love one another, the Pi Sigma Kappas die in their home, together.

death by unicorn

Where are the Pis (heh heh) threatened and killed? In their home. What is central to the Christmas holiday? Being home. It’s not because they’re out in the world that these girls die; it’s not that they’re being strong, adventurous, or sexually liberated that kills them. They die because we all can die, anywhere and at any time. That’s just how the world is, my friend.

Bill: The Pis manage to die pretty well.  Plastic bags (with the vacuum-sealed corpse placed by an attic window for creepy effect), metal hooks to the face, crystal unicorn stabbings…  It’s creative stuff.  They tend to stick with the Texas Chainsaw model of onscreen murder, using very little blood and gore (or nudity *pout*), instead letting the twisted nature of the killings creep you out rather than gross you out.  In a lesser movie, this might disappoint me, since I love the red stuff, but BC is a solid flick, suspenseful, and works just the way it is.   I’d have loved to have seen Margot’s tatas though …  Sigh.

I want to talk a bit about the end of the movie, so, for those that haven’t seen it or hate spoilers:

LOOK AWAY NOW!  SPOILERS! SPOILERS FOLLOW HERE!

Bill: They use Peter as the big red herring of the movie, but, in fact, he just ends up another victim.  The identity of the real killer, Billy, if what he says can be believed, is never revealed.  You never see his face.  You never learn his motives or what he’s talking about when he mentions Agnes or what he and Agnes did.    It’s never even clear if the rape of the townie or the murder of the tween in the park are even related to him at all.  Billy, maybe even more so than The Shape from my lord and savior’s Halloween, is the perfect faceless bogeyman.  He’s crazy and he kills and he’s still out there and that is all there is to it, no spoon-fed explanatory (or even worse, justifying) backstory about flesh-eating bacteria on his face or a vulgar stripper mama.  In the real world, crazy doesn’t always have a reason, killing doesn’t always have a purpose and survivors don’t always get closure.  That, to me, is way scarier than an over-explained, cliche revenge motive.

Fisty: When I first saw Black Christmas back in high school, I wasn’t terribly impressed. In fact, I was infuriated and found it aggravating, in large part due to the ending. It seemed totally ridiculous to me that everyone would just wander off and leave Jess like that–and with The Killer still in the house! I must have been mental, though, because as an adult, it makes perfect sense and that ambiguity works for me. It works HARD. After all, Lt Fuller and the rest of The Authorities have every reason to believe there are no further threats; Peter was evidently the killer, and he’s dead. The doctor states that he’ll stay with Jess until her parents arrive (and presumably Chris, too–there always seems to be a little more going on there than is ever stated), but Mr Harrison’s sudden collapse necessitates his being borne away by the doc and Chris for medical attention. As the camera pans out on the now silent and peaceful house–inhabited by only an unconscious Jess and a Killer–we see a lone police officer standing guard on a Christmas light-festooned porch. The Authorities are doing their job, see? That phone ringing? (He must have made a phone call after each murder.) Nothing to worry about … all is calm, all is bright.

away in a sorority house

Watching that final shot now, as the credits start to roll, I get chickenskin every time. Every. Time.

OK, YOU CAN LOOK NOW!  NO MORE SPOILERS!  LOOK NOW!

Bill: Oh, we were supposed to talk about all of that early slasher groundbreaking stuff that everyone else has already said, huh?

Fisty: Pioneering killer POVs, discordant slasher soundtracks, undiscriminating and incomprehensible killers, Black Christmas deserves its reputation as one of the ur-slashers, and makes a delightful seasonal entertainment. It’s smart, cunningly photographed, and genuinely disturbing, and with some of the most iconic images and tropes in American horror, etc etc etc.

Bill: Wow.  You’re good at that.

Fisty: I’m hoping if I get better, I’ll get to bone John Saxon.

sergeant nash, lieutenant fuller, and officer chuckles

Happy Christmas and Merry New Year, everyone!