The Screaming Mini: Play Misty for Me

The Screaming Minis are a new experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

please

Play Misty for Me 
Director: Clint Eastwood
Released: 1971
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills, John Larch, and James McEachin
Running time: 102 minutes
Genre: thriller

Before it was an MST3K joke, Play Misty for Me was a effective thriller, and Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut to boot.

KRML DJ and all around happening ladies man Dave Garver plays smoov jazz and poetry all night, at least till it’s time for bar-hopping and lady-bedding to begin. One night he picks up Evelyn, who turns out to be more than he can handle. He picks her up–or vice versa?–at his hangout, the Sardine Factory bar. Once they’re at her place, Evelyn admits that she’s the voice in the night who frequently calls to request that he play “Misty,” and that she went down to the bar purposely looking for him. Though Dave makes a token statement to the effect of being “sort of hung up” on a “good girl,” when Evelyn makes the old “no strings” play, he goes for it without hesitation. He heads out the next morning, ready to go on to the next thing. Only, Evelyn’s intent on being the only thing.

She shows up unannounced at his place some time later, and when Dave tosses “no strings at her,” she lobs back with “seconds.” Conceeding the point, Dave takes a moment to educate her on the use of a phone and making plans, then succumbs to steak and wine … and free tail on delivery. When she leaves in the morning, she’s off his mind again, for his old flame Tobie’s back in town, the one that got away, and Dave makes a play for convincing her that she’s The One, his main squeeze, and that he’s done with all the others. “I haven’t exactly been the monk of the month or anything like that, but I have been making an effort,” he tells her. With Tobie back in, Evelyn’s out, and she doesn’t take kindly to it. Evelyn escalates her bids for attention with calls, gifts dropping by, dropping by in the nude, and so on. But though Dave tries to subtly explain that he’s just not into her, he’s also just a guy who can’t say no.

I can’t help but see this as a personal film for Clint, not just because it was his first, and his chance to do it right, but because well, it’s essentially an ideal him: Silver-tongued, big-haired Don Juan tooling around Carmel-By-the-Sea in his Jag roadster, living the life of the jazzy bachelor cocksman out and about at swingin’ joints, boozing it up with with with stalwart barkeep Murphy (Don Siegel, real-life five-time Eastwood director), knee-deep in rampant totty–but still TROO IN HIS HART to the one that got away–and literally driving women MAD. As a noted serial womanizer himself, it’s hard for Clint to escape comparisons to Dave Garver and his predatory nature.

Regardless, here we have a satisfying and savvy little suspense film (later ripped off by the reactionary Fatal Attraction). Evelyn’s escalating efforts are never too aberrant, but do convincingly ramp up the tension as Dave’s selfishness and self-indulgence further confuse her feelings. Despite charges of misogyny, Misty is anything but callous to Evelyn, who comes across as funny and sensitive–and not a little bit psycho. This is thanks as much to Jessica Walter’s scarily good performance as it is to Clint’s direction or Jo Heims’ story. Clint’s Dave is also nuanced, played as detached, irresponsible, and weak, and most of all, absolutely complicit in the destruction of a damaged woman. Whether he learns from it remains to be seen.

Misty does run a bit long, however, dragging when beefed up by indulgent footage from the Monterey Jazz festival, and during a decidedly embarrassing interlude o’ love set to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Saw Your Face.” I cringed. The mise-en-scène is rather delightfully dated (I particularly dug the gold paint and Klute-esque shags), and though I loathe jazz, Gator Creek’s “Dirty Boogie” and some funky shocking lime titles over shots of Clint cruising down 101 make for one of my favorite title sequences. Anything but a vanity project, Clint’s directorial debut holds up forty years later, a low-risk thriller that paid high dividends.

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French Sex Murders

better than portuguese handjob assaults

Casa d’appuntamento
aka The French Sex Murders
aka Das Auge des Bösen
aka La brigada del inspector Bogart
aka Maison de rendez-vous
aka The Bogeyman and the French Murders
Director: Ferdinando Merighi
Released: 1972
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Rosalba Neri, Evelyne Kraft, Barbara Bouchet, Howard Vernon, and Robert Sacchi
Running time: 83 minutes
Genre: giallo, exploitation

It all began on the last day of Carnival: The silhouette of a man leaps from the Eiffel Tower! Cut to the base of the Tower, where a man dashes toward it from one direction, while several cars full of men and gendarmes pull up from assorted directions. Then HUMPHREY FREAKING BOGART jumps out of a car, and they all give chase up the Tower! Upon reaching the observation deck, the man/silhouette leap (again), and Bogey lights a cigarette, then looks pensively down. A noir-ish voiceover tells us when it all began …

Jewel thief Antoine leaves the scene of the crime to shower baubles on his favorite hooker, Francine (Bouchet), at Madame Colette’s House of Ill Repute. Unfortunately, the very concept of a hooker doesn’t seem to sit well with the deranged Antoine, and he smacks his bitch up upon realizing that she does indeed make the sex with other men. Antoine is clearly crazy and a dick. He absconds, and her body is found bludgeoned to death. It seems obvious that Antoine is the killer, and he is pursued accordingly by Bogey–sorry, Inspector Pontaine (Sacchi). Antoine goes to his ex-wife Marianne (Neri) for help, but she and her lover/manager Pepi want none of that, and the hapless schmuck is soon caught, protesting his innocence all the while. Upon his arrest and sentencing, Antoine vows revenge upon all those who helped to convict an innocent–albeit derange and woman-beating–man. To further his vendetta, Antoine escapes prison and flees, only to be decapitated in a grisly motorbike accident. His head is handed over to the creepy Dr Waldemar (Vernon) for some totally pointless “experiments,” and we’re briefly distracted by some intrigue between Waldemar’s assistant Roger and his daughter Leonora (Kraft) before the Inspector pronounces the case closed.

death stalks la ville-lumière

Everyone can rest easy now, right?

Since this is a exploitation murder mystery, no. People continue to die right and left, all with a connexion–sometimes so entirely tangential as to appear invisible–to Madame Colette’s House of Happy Endings. Who could the killer be? Is it the pipe-smoking Professor of Prostitution? A hooded Satanic cabal? The Killer Nun–err, Madame Colette–herself? Could it be sleazy Roger? Or even Boris Karloff–I mean, Doctor Waldemar? Who knows? Merighis sure doesn’t seem to! We will visit scene after scene, murder after muder, and the cast will drop like flies until someone realizes a murder mystery requires a killer–and all will be revealed, culminating in the final chase we … already saw. Twice.

Play it again, Samuele: Not all gialli were created equal, and French Sex Murders is one of the most disadvantaged orphans of the genre. It has none of the style or visual flair key to stars in the giallo firmament, nor any suspense, and not very much gore. The plot is more confused than convoluted, and makes even less sense than that of most gialli. But a cast that’s a virtual Who’s Who of Eurocult cinema, a swinging score by Bruno Nicolai, insane edits by Bruno Mattei, and the nonsensical gimmick of a Humphrey Bogart-lookalike make it a worthwhile diversion for the (very) tolerant fan.

when worlds collide

Bill: Remember that awesome scene in Point Break, when Johnny Utah is chasing a president through back yards and alleys and they’re leaping fences and throwing a dog around and it’s exciting and fast-paced and gets you all pumped? French Sex Murders starts off exactly like that scene, only it’s not awesome and it doesn’t have the same excitement and action or even a dog, but it does have some cops making a big deal of jumping over a chain that was so low they could’ve easily stepped over it. Oh, and Johnny Utah is Humphrey Bogart and the man in the president mask is a cartoon silhouette. Yes, Humphrey Bogart. Or, rather the man with Bogart’s face, Robert Sacchi. He’s not the only familiar face. Just as Point Break had an awesome cast of recognizable actors (at least to mainstream American audiences,) FSM’s cast, while maybe not the Eurosleaze all-star team, could definitely be the Eurosleaze all-stars B or C-team. This cast, the complete absurdity of the movie, and some laughably inept acting, however, are all the movie has going for it. French Sex Murders, I mean, not Point Break.

Fisty: I especially like the cast credits over the laissez-faire chase scene; excitement is created by all the infamous names flashing by, but not by the chase itself. It’s a very subtle way to distract viewers’ attentions from the many shortcomings of not only the opening scene, but the entire film. After all, one can coast on the pleasure of seeing Evelyne Kraft, Rosalba Neri, or Barbara Bouchet for quite a while–or Howard Vernon if that’s your bag.

"oh, nothing much. 'sup with you, girl?"

That amazing cast influences the wacky plot, too. Apparently, it was common practice to feature alternate edits–sometimes differing wildly–for different countries, often focusing on a star who was particularly popular in a given country. A cheap exploitation flick like French Sex Murders (I’ll never make an initialism of that title because I enjoy saying it too much) would milk that dodge for all it was worth, as you can see if you try to follow along with French Sex Murder‘s plot. The good folks at Mondo Macabro took practically every inch of footage from every version, stringing it all together in what is touted as the longest, most complete version of French Sex Murders ever distributed, but whether that creates any clarity in the storyline, I’ll leave as an exercise for your divertissement.

Basically, nothing in French Sex Murders makes much sense. I know, I know, you’re saying, “But Fisty, how often do gialli make sense?” Yes, yes, as a genre, gialli do not have a reputation for being sensical. With all the red herrings flying about like fish at the Pike Place Market, and the boobies, and the psychedelica and the camp, the gore and the boobies, the crazy visual style and editing tricks, well … the actual story can get lost. But most have at least a pretext of plot, and the greats have more. French Sex Murders is not one of those. Everything in it is a red herring for exploitation’s sake, until they decided to just wrap it up already.

i'm not crying, i'm wondering about tony. wondering where he could be, who he is with, what he's thinking, whether he's thinking of me, and whether he'll ever return someday.

Ordinarily, you’ve got some amateurs investigating a murder (or murders), hindered by the hilariously incompetent police force. French Sex Murders has no amateurs doing anything at all but wandering around living their varied lives: Leonora and Roger have their affair and worry over it, Marianne sings and worries over her cheatin’ man, Waldemar messily mashes up a sheep’s eye for no particular reason, etc. Inspector Fontaine wrapped up the case after Antoine died, so he’s really not doing a whole lot after that other than the occasional narration, other than looking uncannily like a cross between Bogey, Nixon (Bill: like in Point Break!,) and my ex Sean. Ugh. People die. This isn’t even really explained as subplots, because they’re just the faintest traces of such. It’s more like the bare bones of five different movies (read: familiar and/or pretty faces) are all tossed together haphazardly till they stick in a semblance of a story. Mostly, people die that you’re expecting to die, so there’s not a lot of tension because, well, you’re already expecting it. Occasionally, someone else of no apparent import dies. Even the murders themselves are pretty tame, too, with some laughable effects, so the payoff for waiting and watching is insignificant.

it's a sexy party at madame colette's!

Bill: Antoine’s escape from the law is possibly the most useless twist in the film. He’s captured and tried and sentenced to die by the guillotine, which, shockingly, France was still using until 1977. I looked it up. This all seems to happen in, like, a day, by the way, with the trial – a murder trial with no real witnesses and a man’s life on the line – lasting all of two minutes! Nice courts, dick. Anyway, he lays a curse of revenge on everyone that allowed an innocent woman-beating thief to be executed for Francine’s death. This is cool. An innocent man is put to death, swears revenge and people start dying. I can dig that, only, in the next scene, you’re being informed that he’s escaped. They don’t show you this happening. They tell you with a news report. One second he’s screaming about a curse and the next, he’s on the loose. Now the supposed killer is on the loose and ready to carry out his revenge for the beheading he escaped. Fine.  Not as good of a story, but I’m still down. Only, then, they cut to him running from the cops. He steals a motorcycle and we get a really shitty motorbike chase with the cops that ends with him getting in an accident and losing his head.

WHY?!

If they were going to cut off his head anyway, why not just do it with the guillotine? Why was this chase even necessary? All his escape did was lessen the impact of his curse rant, make for even more of a convoluted plot and pad the run time with boring scenes of Antoine riding a motorcycle. Did Dick Randall just show up on set one day and demand a motorbike chase? (Fisty: Yes.) Did they not have a kung fu professor handy to shoehorn in that day? “Hey, Merighi, someone’s letting me borrow a motorcycle, write it in.” I mean, I could at least understand it if Martellanza was the kind of actor you just wanted to see more of, but he’s not. He’s terrible! His dick-flappingly angry explosion of man on woman violence against Francine should have been upsetting, but he’s so outrageously bad that the scene becomes unintentionally hilarious.

pb&g does not condone woman-beating, ever. unless she's really uppity.

Fisty: As a card-carrying humorless feminist who likes to shriek, “Misogyny” whenever she gets the chance, I must say that it is amazing how woman-beating becomes high comedy in the hands of skilled artisans. I love that Merighi keeps Bouchet fully dressed while Antoine’s willy waves in the wind–and that Martellanza desperately tries to keep it covered. His performance is nothing short of uh, remarkable. French Sex Murders is full of moments like that.

Bill: Like when one girl is accosted and all but raped in the club, and Marianne and Pepi just watch. And when Pepi finally does step up to stop the guy, Marianne interprets it as a sign of infidelity! And seduction in French Sex Murders seems to boil down to snatching a bitch up by the arm, spinning her around and slamming faces together, busting her lips with your teeth. I am surprised everyone walked away with all their teeth intact. There really is a lot of crazy to laugh at in this flick. We did mention that, right? Every murder flashes over in rainbow colors, like some twisted Skittles commercial. The courtroom scene flashes to negative. At one point, while the aging judge is on the verge of collapsing, looking like he’s having a heart attack, Waldemar, the DOCTOR, just suggests he go home and have a shot of Cognac. Alcoholism is the BEST heart medicine!

But it’s Bogey that really takes the prize. Inspector Pontaine just has to be the wackiest thing in the whole movie. One of these things is not like the other. He feels like he was snatched out of a completely different movie and dropped into this. It’s like having a Ru Paul impersonator play Gary Busey’s part in Point Break.  Even his dialog is out of place, with lines like, “You run a tight ship, Pepi. Better keep it on an even keel.” He just does not fit in this movie. Whoever had the idea to cast Sacchi and use him like this (probably Randall) is either completely mental or a true visionary. Either way, the total nuttiness of French Sex Murders is the saving grace of an otherwise stupid giallo that, despite its cast, can’t even manage to be sexy.

Fisty: Whoa, whoa, WHOA. Brandy IS medicinal, Bill. And lest we forget as Dr Johnson said, “Claret is the drink for boys, port for men, but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” Clearly, Waldemar is a hero. Acting out a Donkey-Skin fantasy, but a hero nonetheless.

definitely not an oedipal reference

I want to get back to where you were going with sex and the French murders. Considering it’s a giallo set in part in a brothel (and ostensibly named for it), French Sex Murders isn’t seductive in the least. There isn’t much nudity or sex–comparatively speaking. Merighi also keeps the focus largely on male characters; though the camera does follow Marianne and Leonora around for a while, it’s content to chase others as well. It’s an interesting turnabout from a more usual female-centric giallo, where a woman is an integral part of a sleuthing duo, or the main character. Rather than dissecting the male gaze upon women as in films like Blood and Black Lace–or even Strip Nude for Your Killer–Merighi seems more interested in gazing upon males and their activities; women are only incidental. They’re on par with the hideous faux rococo knickknacks scattered around the sets to class up the place.

Bill: Ugh, I know. All that eye candy and no one bothers to take the wrappers off. Neri may be your girl, but I am all about Evelyne Kraft. She was stunning as Leonora, way hotter than stupid old Lori Petty was in Point Break. But sadly she isn’t given a whole lot to do in the movie and Roger can never seal the deal (not surprising, considering he pronounces Roger ROH-jhay,) so she never sheds her kit. The second half of the movie is a bit spicier, however, including the sex scene where we get to see Doris’ magnificent pit-crops hanging like the damp black hair on a pair of Japanese ghost girls’ heads. Typically underarm ‘fro on a girl is something I’d complain about, but here, it adds some extra hilarity to a sex scene that was already made pretty funny by her bearded hippy man’s lovemaking style. It kind of looks like he’s in a wrestling match that he can only win by climbing over her and licking her shoulder blade.

oh my god, i left the baby on the bus!

Fisty: I might venture that the main failing of French Sex Murders is that it doesn’t fetishize anything at all; not the blood or kills, not the mystery, not the women or even the sex (and if you can’t fetishize sex, what fun are you?). Even with all its myriad faults, look at how another purely exploitational giallo like  SN4YK worshipped its women; they were stunning and active–look at the camera’s love for Femi Benussi; she exists to be sexy and beautiful (which is likely sexist, but who doesn’t enjoy watching that woman walk? or move? or breathe?), her introductory scene is a paean to the confident and sexually liberated woman. There is no woman like that in French Sex Murders. And the sex is perfunctory, like they realized they were over halfway through the movie with barely any action, and so they threw in a sweaty sex scene.

With such flaws, can we still call it a giallo? Sure, why the hell not? It nominally features many genre conventions: Black-gloved killer, psychosexual motivation for the murders, murders that re-enact or compulsively repeat a trauma, camp fashion, incompetent cops, red herrings, casual sex, etc. We’ve got a ludicrous narrative, staccato editing, tacky settings, and performances that vacillate between labored and melodramatic, but we also have a film that is rarely dull due to its defiance of conventional (or good) filmmaking. Dick Randall (look for his cameo as a few-wearing sheikh!) et alia set out to make a campy and preposterous exploitation giallo, and they did just that.

If you’re looking for middle-brow Art or intelligence, you won’t find it in French Sex Murders. You won’t find much sexiness or style, either, or even blood, but you will find total absurdity.

Bill: It’s no Point Break, but it’s ok for a watch with some MST3K style ribbing.

they're all going to laugh at you

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!

AfterDark HorrorFest Recaps, Part II: Slaughter, Wicked Little Things, Hood of Horror, and The Reeds

In celebration of After Dark’s annual HorrorFest and their 8 Films to Die For, we’re pounding out a couple of shortie omnibus reviews of eight releases from HorrorFests past.

should be called euthanasia

Slaughter

Fleeing an abusive stalker ex-boyfriend, Faith relocates to a dingy apartment in the big city to find herself and like, do art. While out one night at a club, she meets-cute/creepy sassy Lola, a country girl with a twang this thick and bad luck with men. Lola lives outside the city on an apparently idyllic farm, complete with horses, pond, and slaughterhouse. The latter is operated by Lola’s father and brother, largely shadowy figures who lurk, sneer, and growl at Faith when she comes visiting. After her ex tracks her down, Faith decides to move out to the farm and room with Lola, but she starts to wonder about her new pal when she notices all the dates and sexing Lola has with random men who never show up again, leaving behind valuable personal effects. Faith begins wondering whether pigs are the only things being slaughtered on the farm, but her suspicions lead her to uncover a monster.

Fisty: Slaughter sucks. It just suck, suck, sucks. It’s tedious and totally lacking in the suspense that should be increasing during the painfully looooooong build up. The first forty-fiveish minutes are supposed to develop the characters of Lola and Faith, but it’s so poorly done that I could not have cared less about them. But it just keeps on chugging along to an incredibly anti-climactic climax, never building any sense of urgency or tension. Oh, and it relies on the absolutely lowest common denominator for a cheap end “twist”: child murder. Not for any real reason except they had nothing left to give and wanted to beef it up a bit, leave viewers with something more memorable than the turgid snorefest they’d sat through. Hopewell et alia attempt to deepen their shallow little flick with Statements about Women and Abuse, Women and Friendship, Women and Sexuality, blah blah blah, but it never comes off as more than broseph posturing in WS 101. And to add insult to injury, there’s an almost total lack of gore; the serial killings are all offstage and never more than incidental, and the finale deaths are pretty ephemeral. And the music is TERRIBLE! Don’t bother.

Bill: The first few minutes of Slaughter are constantly going in and out of focus and the camera jerks and jitters around. This is meant, I suppose, to be disorienting, to make the viewer feel like the poor girl being victimized. Maybe it even did make me feel like her, if she was just really, really annoyed at being killed. This is followed by boring driving/moving in scenes with dialog that sounds like it was read from a cue card and written by a 50 year old that wanted to sound hip and a boring club scene that appeared to have been shot in a smoky basement with one strobe light. Then the torture begins! Not in the movie, on my couch, as I realize how much time is left in this flick. (“Eighty five more minutes!?!!”) There’s plenty more to be annoyed by as well. Faith decides to stage an intervention for that sex-addicted slut Lola after seeing her have sex one time with one guy. Ugh. Repression ain’t just a river in Egypt, is it Faith? The establishing shots never quite fit right with the interior shots they switch to, making many of the transitions feel disjointed. Lola’s male family members, who are supposed to be threatening, never seem particularly menacing at all. Neither does Faith’s boyfriend, who should have been a real terror to have made her move to another city to avoid him. The scenes that are meant to be tense just aren’t. You only know that they were supposed to have been tense, because the music indicates that they would have been, had they have been scenes in some other movie. I have recurring nightmares about losing my teeth, so the tooth extraction scenes should have squicked me out, but they didn’t. It was all much too boring. The “disturbing” ending just made me happy. I was elated the whole thing was finally over. There is one thing about Slaughter that is well done and effective: It uses some tricky time distortion effects to make the whole movie seem like it’s occurring in real time. I mean, it’s 96 minutes long, but you will feel like you’ve been watching for days, even weeks!

I am actually angry at Fisty for making me watch this. She knew what is was like and she still let me watch it!

your eastern bloc roots are showing

Wicked Little Things

Superdramatic Old Timey Time! In a mine! Child labor! Tragedy! Flash-forward to the present, where recently widowed Karen Tunny is relocating herself and her daughters Sarah and Emma to her husband’s family’s old homestead deep in Pennsylvania mining country. Despite creepy warnings from a halfwitted hick storekeeper and the complete lack of livability of the house itself, the ladies move in. While Karen pores through scrapbooks and old photos, Sarah kicks it with local teens who mention the “zombies” in the hills, and Emma amuses herself with a new playmate Mary, who just might be dead. Warned to stay in at night by the creepy locals who don’t seem to mind the numerous disappearances int he area, Karne has some gnarly dreams about killer Old Timey children, and a helpful neighbor Mr Hanks paint their door with blood. It turns out the the ghosts of the miner children who died in a collapse haunt the hills as bloodthirsty zombies (!), preying upon any whose blood they don’t share. Karen is in danger because she’s an outsider, but the girls ought to be safe. That is until the presence of William Carlton, last descendant of the rapacious mine owner who caused the collapse riles them kids up. Emma disappears, people get eaten, and it’s all Karen, Sarah, and Mr Hanks can do to try to stay alive.

Bill: Hit Girl! Chloe Moretz makes a pre Kick-Ass and Let Me In appearance here and even says asshole. Seeing as how her calling a few guys cunts in the trailer for Kick-Ass contributed to that film’s success, “Chloe Moretz cursing,” should’ve been the tagline for Wicked Little Things. Another good one would have been, “Scooby Doo without the meddling kids and their dumb dog.” This movie has almost everything an episode of Scooby would need: scary local legend; weird caretaker-type character marking doors with blood; greedy land developer; eerie abandoned mine; revenge-seeking, zombie children standing in the fog with miner’s tools, looking scary… Though, thankfully, the supernatural in WLT is very, very real. The use of all these standard spook story elements are precisely what make the flick work. It has the feel of a real local legend or maybe a good campfire tale. In the beginning of the film, Sarah says that the woods remind her of Sleepy Hollow and she is so right. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or John Carpenter’s The Fog is exactly what WLT resembles. This would be a fun one to watch around Halloween. My favorite bit of dialog: Hanks, after he’d been asked if he was responsible for the smeared blood on the door, “You don’t have to thank me.”

Fisty: Dude, I totally laughed at that, too. Though it’s cliché after cliché loaded upon cliché, WLT is a pretty neat little flick. It takes bunches of longstanding horror conventions (creepy abandoned house, family relocating after trauma, superstitious locals, etc) and strings them together into a fairly tight package–and what’s more, an enjoyable movie. There’s not a whole lot going on, the script often stumbles (the deathless dialog occasionally approaches the transcendentally inane: “Are you coming?” “Yeah. I mean, sure.”), and there are numerous holes, but it is pretty to look at in terms of scenery (both human and natural), and it keeps moving at a good clip for the most part. The flesh-eating ghosts/zombie things–whatever you would call them–are an interesting touch, not common in Western tradition, and are more than a little disturbing. Overall, a worthwhile genre flick that does what it sets out to do.

bitch IS a movie

Hood of Horror

An animated opening segmizzle, a la Creepshow 2, tiz-ells the stizzle of Devon, a young gangsta who accidentally capped his sister with a stray bullet during a vehicular gun battle. When an emissary from Hiz-ell confronts him with his culpability in her death, Devon exchanges his life and service for that of his lil’ sista. Tasked with gathering souls for Tha Devil, Devon is branded with an HoH, marking him as the Hound of Hell. Switching to live action, the new Hound (played, of course, by the S to the N, double O to the P to the D, O, double G) narrates three ‘hood tales of greed, gore, murder, madness and supernatural mayhem: Crossed Out, featuring Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams, in which a young graffiti artist is granted the power to smoke some taggin’ ass fools by simply crossing out their tags; The Scumlord, with Ernie Hudson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier and Brande Roderick, which is a Three Stooges-like story about a privileged, racist, Texan busta who must live with his father’s old ‘Nam unit, all black men, for one year before he can come into his inheritance; And Rhapsody Askew, featuring Method Man, Diamond Dallas Page and Jason Alexander, about a young rapper, SOD, who blows up after meeting a fellow MC named Quan and lets the bitches and bank go to his head.

Bill: I love hood horror, so, naturally, I was excited to watch Snoop’s Hood of Horror and, now, I’m even happier to say that I loved it. The stories are predictable hood fables and there’s no real horror in the movie, at least not any effective horror. If this flick scares you, you really are a mark-ass busta. The production values seem to vary between segments, the script is silly, the whole thing suffers from a shot-on-video feel, and some of the acting is amateurish, if you’re describing it kindly. None of that matters, however, because the movie is still damn fun. If any of the following scenes appeal to you, you will like Hood of Horror: Snoop exploding an annoying chihuahua; a person having caviar forcibly pumped into them until their abdomen explodes; a pint-sized demon vomiting into a punch bowl; a human aerosol can; a gangsta slipping in the beer he just poured for his dead homey, faceplanting his own forty; or Winston Zeddemore pretending to be the lovechild of John Rambo and Jigsaw. Hudson is kind of slumming it with a flick like this, but it’s great fun to watch him. This movie is worth watching just for the awesome cast. None of them give the best or even coolest performances of their lives and they mostly have small parts, but it’s still wonderful to see them all together in one flick. Truly a boon for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon fans. Snoop has once again proven he deserves his spot as one of my personal heroes by giving me a movie where he delivers the line, “Pretty as a picture. In fact, bitch is a picture.” Fer shizzle.

Fisty: I was kinda disappointed by HoH. It capped the ass of our Hoodrat Horror mini-fest when I was sick last week, and I liked it the least out of the three movies we watched (other entries being Leprechaun in the Hood and Tales from the Hood)–but just barely. I love me a good anthology movie, and I love me some Snoop (because I am the whitest of white girls), but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. The gore was good, very cartoony and gruesomely fun, but it could have gone further. The humor was the same way, though I thought Snoop nicely channeled The Cryptkeeper. And there were NO TITTIES. There was like a half a side boob that we stared at, trying desperately to discern a nipple, but that was it. How is that even possible in a film with Snoop’s name on it? HoH really needed to be OTT–yeah, you know me. BUT! It had some very strong direction, and surprisingly high production values–and though the stories were somewhat mundane revenge plots, they also weren’t preachy, which was something TftH fell into at the end. Out of all Snoop’s forays into horror, Bones is still best, The Wash is still the most horrific, and Hood of Horrors is just fine.

donna appears nowhere in this film

The Reeds

Late twenty-something couples Mel & Joe and Helen & Chris set up their friend Laura on a blind date with Nick for a weekend boating trip in the Norfolk Broads. Though the expedition gets off to a rocky start when their reserved boat is unavailable, Joe and Chris persuade the crotchety boatman to rent them a different vessel, the Corsair Star. When they arrive at the all but abandoned boatyard that houses the Corsair Star, they find some hooligan/hoodlums hanging about all over the boat. Silent, but for a barking dog, they stare dully yet menacingly at the prospective boaters. Only after Laura chides a lovely redhead for running out in front of her car do they respond, following the redhead’s signal to leave the boat, still as silent as ever. Shrugging off that bit of weirdness, the group set sail, enjoying an afternoon of golden sunshine, wine, and silly antics. As the day progresses, however, they discover their map is woefully out of date, forcing them into uncharted territory. Spying another boat, they head into the reeds after it, but darkness falls and there is still no one else in sight. When a terrible accident grievously injures one member of the party and strands their vessel in the water, they are left vulnerable to the terrors lurking in the reeds.

Fisty: At risk of spoilering The Reeds (and getting a vicious beatdown from Bill), I want to defend The Reeds from detractors who claim it’s a rehash of Triangle. Now, I wasn’t Triangle‘s biggest fan–it was okay, but superobvious–but I don’t see the two as being particularly similar. There are two entirely different sets of circumstances going on in the two movies, and while Triangle approaches the concept from a very psychologically driven, post-modern angle (ha), The Reeds takes an approach that fits in much better with traditional folklore. And the twist ending isn’t all that twisty; too many people misinterpret it, which also leads to the erroneous comparison. Plus, it makes sense and is a conclusion viewers can easily draw from watching the movie. Is that too much? Other than that, The Reeds starts out very pretty and sunshiney, without too much of a sense of impending doom, which I think sometimes movies harp on a bit. The characters are pretty well developed rather than hateable interchangeable ciphers; even the token unpleasant chap isn’t that bad. It’s quietly compelling, and though it does falter here and there, has enough occasional eeriness and energy to keep a viewer’s attention.

Bill: Ponderous, man, really ponderous. The Reeds keeps you engaged. It’s not clear early on what is happening and things are muddied further as the movie progresses and yet more mysterious elements are added to the story. There’s something or some things stalking through the reeds, caged corpses sunken into the water, possible ghosts, untrustworthy locals and even stranger things still. there were a few times that I leaned forward and stroked my beard in thought, trying to figure out how it all fit together. It does, too.  All fit together, I mean. It doesn’t spoon-feed you explanations of how what happens is happening (or happened) but you do see why and when and how each event circles back to affect others. I do think the end is more open to interpretation than Fisty likes to present it. Unlike a lot of whiny bitches on the internet, however, I think this is a good thing. I want to watch the movie again just to see what clues I can spot about the meaning of the ending now that I know what’s going on. That’s not a bad thing, to watch a movie and still have enough interest in it and curiosity about it to want to watch again. Performances and atmosphere, as well as some gore gags, that transcend the film’s low budget, will keep things exciting as you take on the clue-sniffing second viewing.

That pretty much wraps it up for our reviews of Horrorfest movies past, but we’ll be sure to cover a few more next year. Check out this year’s offerings on DVD March 23rd.