Poetic imagery and no budget. Barefoot and wearing nothing but a raincoat, a woman strides across a deserted rail track. In the sunny streets of France, an elderly woman makes her way through the streets and alleyways. The chalky cliffs next to a rain-lashed beach are seen next. What can it mean? As the credits usher in this 1989 film by French Director Jean Rollin, already interest is piqued.
I'm not sure this is actually a horror film (at 52 minutes and made-for-television, I'm not even sure if it 'officially' a film). It is difficult to define Rollin's work - but I'm going to let the fact that a vampire features briefly here on a New York skyline count it - roughly - as a horror. Also, the image of one or two young women standing by a freezing seafront wearing featureless theatre masks, is one of the best known of Rollin's visuals. It is sinister, fascinating, sombre and strange - just like his pictures, in fact. The masks are everywhere; the woman in raincoat is wearing one, the two lead 'charming young' girls (Marie and Michelle) are wearing them on Rollin's Beach. And then - pop! They are separated and running down the streets of New York, narrowly missing each other, and often accompanied by Phillippe d'Aram's synthesizer music, which is very of its time. This is a travelogue, shot over a few days, ended by scenes of two elderly ladies (aged versions of the two girls in NY) at last finding each other once again.
There isn't a huge amount to get engaged with throughout, but Rollin's talent for poetic imagery on no budget (night-time neon adverts, scenes shot through the haze of steam rising from the street, a red rose on a rain-dulled pavilion) is evident throughout. The film was shot spontaneously, with just Rollin and two actresses in The Big Apple. The overall theme - that of searching for something - is a typical dreamlike scenario. The woman in the raincoat emerges as a moon-goddess, whose naked dance probably influences the climactic, touching reuniting of the two leads.
Atmospheric but characterless. Self-funded by director Emilio Schargorodsky, this fusion of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Edgar Allan Poe's lesser known poem 'Spirits of the Dead', stars Javier Caffarena as the Count. Caffarena also co-writes, produces and provides the musical score for this. Such a labour of love is commendable, as is the laudable acknowledgement of inspiration Jess Franco (who is interviewed on this DVD) and Nosferatu.
As such, it genuinely pains me not to find much to like here. The locations are excellent, and filmed to show their every advantage. The dubbing from Spanish to English, however, is variable - every line uttered by Dracula is delivered in exactly the same style of 'portent of doom' apocalyptic growl which becomes deeply irritating, risible even, very quickly. The Count speaks this way *all the time*. I should point out that I don't have a problem with dubbing generally, nor do I find it unreasonable when the lines are not matched with the actor's delivery: after all, the very nature of dubbing is to translate a foreign language.
Paul Lapidus is slightly more convincing as Van Helsing, and actress/model Nathalie Legosles dons the blank-eyed vampire contact lenses with aplomb, but doesn't get the opportunity to do much else. The dialogue is without any character whatsoever, simply perfunctory exposition, and some of it is drowned out - especially early on - in Caffarena's exuberant filmic score, a score that attempts to add menace to scenes in which often, nothing much happens.
In the extras, a very aged Jess Franco's exuberant words about 'Apostle of Dracula' show him more positive about a filmed work than I ever remember seeing. And while there are some good moments in the film (amongst which are clever sequences involving shadows, and interesting use of some familiar looking portraits) it is ultimately, I'm very sorry to say, a bit of a chore.
Eccentric. There is a pre-credits sequence involving something unpleasant involving evil children. You might well be forgiven for wondering what on earth is going on by the time that opening title sequence rolls. Embrace that wonderment, because during the course of the next 93 minutes, it will become a good friend.
The usual constraints of a low-budget production happen here - some unpolished acting (which improves as the horror sets in) and a musical score that occasionally squashes the dialogue. That is something I readily ignore if the film is engaging. Sadly, writer/directors Maurizio and Roberto del Piccolo do everything they can to ensure 'Evil Souls' is not engaging a lot of the time.
There is a hugely over-the-top performance from Peter Cosgrove as Valentine, a devotee of The Marquis De Sade. He dresses in period costume and face mask and indulges in some eccentric Shakespearian dialogue. I end up quite liking him, although I'm not sure I'm supposed to. He specialises in kidnapping single mums, it seems, and ends up with old school friends Jess (Holli Dillon) and Susan (Paola Masciadri).
There are also some foul-mouthed prostitutes (including Valentine's sister Maddie, played by Lisa Holsappel-Marrs. Lisa also plays Maddie's mother, giving probably the film's best performance; she also co-produces this) and a priest (Julian Boote). There are moments of briefly glimpsed gore. The Italian locations look very impressive, and there is a well conveyed mood-scape of bleakness and gloom, which makes the film as good as it is. And yet the story-line is simply impenetrable. Sometimes a confusing narrative can be successfully disorientating inducing an almost hallucinogenic effect on the viewer. Perhaps that is what is being attempted here.
Torture porn, rape, demonic possession that seems to tie-in with historical figures (apart from De Sade, Hitler gets a nod, and others too), revenge, gore and mild nudity: it's all here. The result is often enjoyable despite (or possibly because of) the induced confusion, and things definitely build up towards the end. It's just a shame these elements couldn't have been brought together with a little more cohesion.
Found footage with a difference. Candyman's Tony Todd growls his way through the role of Ruber, caretaker to the infamous Jericho Manor. Todd gleefully hams his way through his scenes, but manages never to send up the subject matter.
Two policemen observe footage left behind by a group of internet documentary makers. They have been locked in the Manor overnight and the policemen, Detectives Anderson and Jenkins (Joseph Milson and Gary Mavers) are determined to find out what happened to them. Paul (the essential unsubtle idiot of the group), Jason, Anne-Marie, Sheila (the clairvoyant) and Amanda the hostess with ideas above her station. The cast are enthusiastic but not always convincing, which is a common trait with low budget projects like this. The characters have their flaws of course, but are never as needlessly unlikable as several other groups portrayed in 'teen' horror films.
It might be easy to dismiss this as 'Blair Witch in a haunted building' - and there is a scene in which Amanda (Cicely Tennant), having been brought down to size by her experiences, records a goodbye message to her parents much like Heather did in the 1999 film - but here the protagonist is not quite spectral. Furthermore, this is not quite a found footage film. It is a film about two Detectives looking at found footage - with that in mind, the addition of jump scares and an incidental score is somewhat explained. And the reactions of Jenkins are very effective.
The twist at the end also really impressed me. The reveal of the killer is very well handled, as is his habit of gently kissing his victims before they die. Good fun.
Tasty! Some truly stunning locations - even by prolific director Jess Franco's standards - once more belie the low budget used in this partial re-telling of Richard Connell's 'The Most Dangerous Game' (also known as 'The Hounds of Zaroff' - and in this film, we have Count and Countess Zaroff, played by a svelte Howard Vernon and a sun-kissed Alice Arno respectively).
Franco also makes great use of the fish-eye lens, or a technique very similar, to gently distort images and give them a greater sense of depth than mere normality would allow. This makes the locations, already impressive, appear vast and dream-like, especially the intriguingly designed château owned by the Count and Countess.
These two shady characters have strange perversions of their own. But they would, wouldn't they? Enticing young females over to their paradise island, only to hunt them down and eat them. Cue much mysterious sniggering about the food served to each new girl - little do they know, they are eating the remains of previous victims.
Without explanation of any kind, Silvia Aguado is suddenly their latest guest. We are left to assume she was coerced by Tom and Moira (Robert Woods and Tania Busselier) as were the others. As Sylvia is played by uninhibited Lina Romay, it is no surprise that she is shortly stripped, seduced and haring through the palm-trees and long grass wearing naught but a pair of shoes, although these disappear in some scenes. (At least Franco allowed her that - it was rare you would see any actresses in a Jean Rollin film anything other than barefoot.) Nakedness is rife in this - we even get to see more of Arno and Vernon than we ever have before. For all the gruesome revelations, the camera is more than happy to meander occasionally and focus on the wondrous (apparently French) locations and generous displays of flesh.
Finally, I was very taken with the music (by Jean-Bernard Raiteux and Olivier Bernard). A variety of styles, from morose piano motifs to 70's progressive rock. Shame there doesn't appear to be a soundtrack available - a box-set of Franco incidental scores would be most welcome.
Staid but atmospheric ... I have always found it difficult to enjoy Roger Corman films, which surprises me. I like low-budget productions, and Corman always assembles very impressive casts. And yet, his projects appear to strive to create a staginess, a campy theatricality that I find difficult to become immersed in
Vincent Price was originally slated to play Guy Carrell, but the part went to Ray Milland. Milland has always been a very impressive actor in my view, able to transcend even average productions and emerge with dignity intact. Ten years later, he would exert his excellence on the notorious 'The Thing with Two Heads', where he somehow managed even there to inject his role as the titular creature with humour and above all, gravitas. He does the same here, as does Hazel Court, who plays Emily, his wife. Richard Ney plays family friend Miles and all characters are fairly staid and unengaging, lifted hugely by the playing.
Perhaps Price would have injected Carrell with a bit of a twinkle, which would at least have lightened this humourless piece. What we have here is a very earnest reimagining of Edgar Allen Poe's short story. There's a certain inevitability to Carrell's fate once we learn of his dread of being buried alive, and certainly the atmosphere reaches impressive levels as a result of this, and what happens beyond.
I would have liked to enjoy this more, but often couldn't get past the style of the piece, which for the most part, looks like it has the production values of a television continuing serial, or soap. This is no slight on the budget or production team, it just fails to convince me, or to inject proceedings with any kind of eccentricity or outlandishness that offsets the limitations.
Appealing strangeness. A period piece Italian giallo from the mid-1970s, featuring some wonderful rain-swept locations and some mild sexual moments - all of this sounds like a guarantee of success. Somewhere along the way, however, dullness overtakes proceedings. The dubbing must take some of the blame for this. Although I've seen worse, some of the voice actors sound incredibly bored. Whoever voiced the magnificently - almost unnaturally - coiffured, twinkling Count Richard Marnack (played by prolific actor Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) reduces the character to a monosyllabic sneerer instead of the suave charmer of a certain age he is supposed to be. Krista Nell was due to play the starring role, but due to health reasons, played the secondary Cora. Sadly, this was her last film - she died the same year. Patrizia De Rossi plays Evelyn, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Count Marnack's wife. And they all they all have one thing in common: they all hate Samuel (Leo Valeriano). So when various characters begin dying in graphic circumstances, I drew my own conclusions. I might have been wrong.
The ending is quite abrupt, as often things are with films such as this. It is also not entirely satisfying, with a very effective revelation not quite answering all the questions regarding the previous 86 minutes. Whilst far from the best giallo film I have seen - in fact, it is only loosely a giallo - it has a certain appealing strangeness about it.
Several sexy scenes were inserted into this for its French release, where it was known as 'L'insatiable Samantha (1977)'.
Pretty mild Franco fare ... Lina Romay looks stunning in this, possibly more so than in any Franco film I've yet seen. Here, she lends her not inconsiderable acting talents to play Shirley Fields, whom we first meet as she kills her thief boyfriend before being sentenced to six year's imprisonment. Once incarcerated, the prison snitch Martine (Martine Stedil) is given the job of getting close to her and trying to find out about the diamonds missing in the latest robbery.
Martine and Shirley spend most of their time swapping cigarettes and smoking them whilst naked. Jess himself makes one of his regular appearances as thug overlord Bill. Ronald Weiss is another cast-member of note, playing the seedy Carlo de Bries. There's a moment of prison sex when Martine and Shirley suddenly become lesbians. It takes a special skill to make lesbian love scenes between these two beautiful women entirely un-erotic, but 'Women Behind Bars' manages it. As far as torture - something Women In Prison dramas pride themselves in - there is some whipping, and some particularly invasive punishment for our Shirley.
The downside of the production is, unsurprisingly, the dubbing, with lines being spat out staccato style, and often two characters will talk over each other. Daniel White, musician veteran of so many Franco films, turns in a lacklustre score here. Shades of lounge/jazz music, often sounding as if it comes from a single keyboard. The story itself is fairly thin and, although this is only Franco third 'Women in Prison' film, his directorship seems only occasionally inspired this time round.
The upside is that Romay carries the film well. Shirley is required to suffer a lot throughout, seemingly at the hands of whomever she meets. It could only be discreetly suggested that she enjoys it. And in a SPOILER, it works out for her in the end, giving the 'heroine' (if that is what she is) a refreshingly happy ending. Whilst the 'prison' looks a little too much like a hotel, the darkened tunnel leading to and fro (possibly filmed somewhere else entirely) looks suitably drab and austere. More of a crime caper than the more standard WIP piece, this emerges as enjoyable, but pretty mild Franco fare.
Blair Witchy. As found footage films go, this begins with one of the most persuasive scene settings I've seen for some time. Whilst testing his camera equipment, Jake (Josh Stewart, who also wrote and directed) is enjoying a laugh with his tiny children, who in turn are screaming with delight at the images on the camera. They don't know they're part of a horror film, they're just having fun; as an audience member, I'm instantly thinking that surely such an appealing family unit isn't going to be wrecked by anything 'orrible.
With little further build-up, Jake and Stevie (Ronnie Gene Blevins), are deep in the forests of West Virginia. They meet the quietly threatening Tony (Skipp Sudduth) who lives in the forest, and his daughter Jessie (Jessi Blue Gormezano). As the two friends hunting monsters, not a huge amount happens. This is a slow burner, despite wasting no time in setting up the premise. But if you're happy with that - and I am - this is worth your time.
The acting is very naturalistic. You really believe these two are good friends. So when their footage appears to be tampered with, and the Blair-Witchy-woodlands behave strangely, it is effective. Most potent, however, is the child-like screaming of whatever is 'out there'.
Whilst the ending is disappointing, I enjoyed this for the most part. It is strange to once more glance at reviews and see the marks given for 'Dark Forest' 10 out of 10 and plenty of praise, or 1 out of 10 for the obligatory 'worst film I have ever seen' nonsense. The truth as I see it, is about halfway between the two.
A terrific and typical del Torro fairytale Michael Shannon, who starred recently in the terrific 'Can't Come Out to Play (2013)' plays Richard Strickland, gammy-handed Colonel in charge of studying 'the asset', a lone fish-creature held in captivity by the US government. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute woman who, alongside Zelda (Octavia Spencer) works as a cleaner for the project. Her next door neighbour is Giles, struggling homosexual artist (Richard Jenkins, Chicory from 2015's 'Bone Tomahawk'). I mention his sexuality, because alongside Elisa and African-American Zelda, these people are somewhat outcast in Baltimore, 1962, where this film is set. All except Strickland, of course, who is fully accepted and acceptable, a respectable military man - cruel, arrogant and 'decent': apart from his injured hand, of course.
Strickland was bitten by the humanoid amphibian creature known as 'the asset', in this acclaimed Guillermo del Toro directed (and co-written) partial reimagining of 'Creature from the Black Lagoon.' It is hugely cinematic, beautifully shot, exquisitely acted and in places, strangely moving in the way that monster/human love affairs have occasionally been over the decades. Unfortunately, the sentimentality goes overboard on a number of occasions and squashes the appeal of the fragile relationship between the unappreciated mute girl and the abused creature.
Satisfyingly though, there is no doubt that the 'system', the 'establishment' is entirely corrupt and that the higher up the proverbial ladder, the more brazenly deceitful the officials have become. As in the best traditions of horror, the unsightly creature is the one we all route for, whilst those who have given themselves the responsibility of hierarchy are, to quote Doctor Who, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. And how do our heroes attempt to thwart the nastiness around them? They escape, they run away. Ah, would that we could all do that ...
This is a terrific and typical del Torro fairytale, child-like and affecting, with only the occasional sex-scene or moment of graphic horror violence to make the children audience members wince. It's a long 'un at just over two hours, but such is the spectacle, it never outstays its welcome. Lovely.
Elegant and strangely tragic ... Ireland, early 1920s. Twins Rachael (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) are twins cursed to live their lives alone in a magnificently gothic mansion, lest they break the rules set by a mysterious presence from generations past. This presence insists that no-one else may enter the dwelling, and that they must be in their beds by midnight. And something mysterious exists beneath the trapdoor.
The twins are unfortunately rather defined by their current characteristics - Rachel is headstrong and sensible, and Edward is weird and more subservient to the presence. Apart from that, there's not a great deal in the script or dialogue that allows us to get close to them.
The arrival of one-legged Sean (Eugene Simon), a World War 1 veteran who has returned to a village that now spurns him, finds himself attracted to Rachel, and that the feeling is mutual causes an imbalance in her ordered life. David Bradley makes a welcome appearance as solicitor Bermingham, reluctantly on hand to deliver bad news about the twins' financial state.
That hoary old cliché 'style over substance' may well apply to 'The Lodgers'. Filmed in one of Ireland's most haunted houses, Loftus Hall, the story takes its time - which is something I have no problem with - but the mansion, village and surrounding locations look breath-taking. Director Brian O'Malley ensures that everything is a scenic as it can possibly be, and that the surroundings strike that perfect balance between beauty and gothic horror. A closed society, living in a resplendent land.
Whilst the atmospherics, and Edward's strangeness - as well as Rachael's longing to leave - are handled very effectively, actual scares are thin on the ground. When they do occur, however, they are very well handled. All in all, I really enjoyed this. An elegant, strangely tragic horror excursion.
Enjoyable low budget monster fun. Incredibly prolific director Andrew Jones adds his own spin on the wealth of 'parody' films that have been popular over the past few years. Sometimes known as 'mockbusters', these are low-budget projects with titles mimicking those of high profile productions, often at around the same time as their release, in the cheeky hope of catching some of that bigger movie's notoriety. Examples are 'Transmorphers (2007) and 'Paranormal Entity (2009)'.
Lee Bane, who co-produces and co-directs, and without whom few Jones films would be complete, once more plays a hard man, Hawkins, a dangerous ex-soldier sent on a mission to locate a wayward escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex in and around the woodlands of Devil's Creek. He hand-picks a group of men to aid him, including musician/nutcase Rankin, played by another Andrew Jones (semi) regular Lee Mark Jones. Rankin is a musician, as is Lee Mark Jones, and his band 'The Mescalito Vampires' provide much of the excellent music here.
This is great fun, one of the most enjoyable of Andrew Jones' vast catalogue. It makes something of a virtue of it's low-budget trappings - indeed, a bunch of cash-strapped film-makers are amongst the creature's victims - and I must admit, I was intrigued to see how something as ambitious as a 'fully grown' dinosaur would be visualised here. The creature actually looks pretty decent. No hint of CGI of course, the T-Rex is filmed from below and features only fleetingly.
The acting is also pretty good throughout, although in a handful of key-scenes, the dialogue is drowned out by the music, which lets things down a bit. There are some genuinely funny moments, but one of the most poignant scenes is played dead straight. Reminiscing about a fallen colleague, Bane gives, I think, the best performance of his career so far.
According to IMDB, The film became the top selling Direct-to-Video title in the national UK DVD chart on its first week of release, opening at #22. Andrew Jones' star continues to rise, and I am very pleased about that.
Enjoyable slow burner ... Yes, this is a teen angst story. Yes, the teens are of the troubled Goth variety so unappealingly stereotyped in so many films. But don't despair! Director and writer Adam MacDonald portrays them in a very sympathetic manner (the obligatory expletives are a little forced, however) and they emerge not only as strong characters, but their group is a vital one considering the inconsistency that exists at home.
Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is missing her dead father, and her mother's up-and-down alcohol-induced mood-swings are making her unhappy. A keen reader of occult books, she rashly performs a Black Magic ritual to be rid of her mother - and then regrets it. By then, of course, it's too late.
This is a pleasingly altered take on the familiar 'summoning a demon' story, and the modest budget is used to good effect, with bumps and jolting camera angles providing more naturalistic chills than CGI (which is used, but very sparingly) or wildly choreographed jump-scares. The new house Leah and her mother (Laurie Holden) move into is tailor-made for a haunting and is surrounded by acres of terrific Blair Witchy woodland. The acting is very good from all concerned, especially the two major females, and it becomes a blur as to just who is possessed and who is the victim.
It's a low-key slow-burner with a familiar narrative, but with enough enjoyable details to satisfy.
Hellishly good ... A group of loud customers are telling lewd tales and bullying staff at a café. It turns out these raucous individuals are local policemen. One feels ill and stumbles into the rest room, where he sees a frog in the soap dish. For a second, he loses his mind. When their revelry is interrupted by a call-out, the sick man continues to hallucinate, and the others become affected also.
This extraordinary Turkish horror film expertly lets us get to know the officers through their bragging, joking and eventual heart-felt reminiscences, and it is excellent. Interesting too, that each recollection reflects the sins for which the cops are later (very graphically) punished. Flawed but very real, they are also pretty funny in a brutal kind of way. So we may not be entirely on their side when horrific things begin to happen to them, but we care, almost despite ourselves.
'Baskin' is easy to enjoy, not only because of what it is - but also what it is not. It is not the usual possession or demonic story, with jump scares and screeching violin stings. It is a more immersive horror, dipping toes into a consistently persuasive world of events and characters 'not being right'. The horror does not let up, but progresses all the time. That the main players are hard-bitten bullies and not shrieking young pretties, gives things an extra edge.
This is the first full-length film by Director Can Evrenol. Apparently the production team did not have permission to film in all the excellent locations, which added pressure to the 28 day/night shoot. Evrenol drenches his macabre scenes with darkness and suggestion, in a way that you are not quite sure what you have seen, but you have witnessed enough to be disturbed by it. Cinematography and Ulas Pakkan's score (available to buy) - especially towards the end, with slow deliberation and torture at the hands of 'Father' (Mehmet Cerrahoglu) - is as hellishly convincing as anything I've seen. And what a twist ending!
Not essential, not bad. A British teen horror then. Instead of posturing braggarts and plenty of arrogance, we have coy-eyed girls and clean, well-spoken boys. And a bit of arrogance. The wistful adolescent gossip concerning broken relationships and broken hearts that fuels any shallow character development hardly endears the young characters - although the cast do what they can. It actually took me a couple of attempts to get past establishing scenes rammed with 'as if' and 'whatever'.
Six cadets - three girls, tree boys and not a blemish between them - take part in a night-time training exercise on the same evening two hapless burglars decide to rob the archives. The school they are patrolling seems to have had a gruesome history and so it is no real surprise (to the audience at least) when modest but effecftive horrific occurrences occasionally crop up.
Of the burglars, Jazz is the downtrodden incompetent, with actor Ameet Chana injecting the same level of appealing ham-fisted qualities he did in his short-lived run in UK soap EastEnders. Will Thorpe is very good as his bad-boy co-conspirator Shane, and Rachel Petladwala makes a good impression as Meena Shah. In fact, the cast as a whole give good performances when their dialogue doesn't revolve around teen-speak clichés.
As things go on, the pace improves but there is a distinct lack of tension and scares. Technically very competent but hardly edge-of-the-seat stuff, until the end, that is, when a few decent twists present themselves and the finale is nicely fitting thanks to unexpected parties. Not essential, but worth 93 minutes of your time.
Immersive. This is an immersive exercise in minimalism. There are only two actors throughout, and the only location is an abandoned theatre. The building is battered by an ongoing storm outside, which adds a layer of safe seclusion from the interference from the outside world.
Many interesting themes are present - perceptions, a man's view of a what a woman is (and vice versa); the current fixation with trivialising everything and reducing it to a handful of 'current' reasons/demands to take offence, erotic manipulation and empowerment, and latterly, obsession ...
Emmanuelle Seigner plays Vanda Jourdain, and Mathieu Amalric plays Thomas Novacheck. He is the director/adaptor of a play, and she is the 'stupid c***' who needs a job and persuades him she would be perfect for the lead role. At first, he understandably thinks she is a lunatic - eccentric certainly, confident but very scatty. And yet she insists he hear her read for the role. Instantly, her performance and personality win through and she becomes the dominant character. As she excels, Thomas diminishes. Even Roman Polanski's direction visually elevates Vanda to tower over the director (Seigner is Polanski's wife).
The only interruption into this burgeoning relationship is from the unseen Marie-Cecile, Thomas's fiancée, who phones him asking when he will be coming home. This pin-prick in an otherwise weirdly evocative world-building seems to prevent, or at least delay, the main pair's total immersion in each other. As to who Vanda actually is - well, she seems to be a lot more than just a struggling actress, but her true nature remains oblique.
The movie is based on the play "Venus in Fur" by David Ives, and moves the location from New York to Paris. The themes of domination are taken to frightening and, it seems, unresolved extremes. Whilst difficult to pinpoint the ultimate intent, 'Venus in Fur' is fascinating, the immersive nature of its narrative transcending the subtitles from its French origins.
Good, but not Bergman's best ... Director Ingmar Bergman's familiarly bleak and windswept isolated island (Baltrum) is the retreat of artist Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) who is recovering from an unspecified illness. His pregnant wife Alma (Liv Ullman) loyally and sensibly looks after him and oversees such necessities as finance and food, whilst Borg lapses into a dream-world where he sees 'demons' - strange people who resemble people he has known. Before long, Alma too sees someone, an old lady, who may or may not be real, who advises her to read Johan's diary, which reveals one of his 'demons' is former lover, Veronica (Ingrid Thulin).
I found 'Hour of the Wolf' a little ponderous. Bergman's films are often exercises in introspection, but this is too uneventful: we know Johan is facing some sort of breakdown, and yet events are merely there to prove it to us again and again. Only an incident at a party - seemingly attended by 'demons' - stands out amongst the surreal mirages painted on Bergman's typically desolate canvas. The acting is never less than intense, with Von Sydow in particular tuning into the director's wavelength. Ullman, too, is sympathetic as loving protector Alma, who has some dialogue midway about wanting to be with her husband for such a long time that she begins to think like him. In the final coda, she ponders that if she was *less* like him, perhaps she could have protected him better.
I wouldn't say 'Hour of the Wolf' is less interesting than it thinks it is, rather that the situation and characters don't have quite the resonance with me that those in some of Bergman's other projects have.
Not for me ... A group of students on a detention 'break': all twenty-somethings, suitably attractive and perfectly manicured. A nice-guy teacher, probably late-twenty-something, casually perfect. They're travelling to a remote field, allegedly haunted, to dismantle the great scarecrow there and have it returned to the local town in time for a festival. Kristen (Lacey Chabert), whose parents own the land, turns up - stunning and immaculate also, her job is to fish uncertainly for compliments beneath dough-eyes, from teacher Aaron (Robert Dunne) who, it turns out, is her ex. Her current boyfriend also turns up. Guess what? He's a lovely looking lad as well. All characters are equipped with the usual put-downs and quick prom-wit and, as written and played, are as blandly perfect, or as perfectly bland, as can be. All set? Alright then, let the loud noises and 'weird happenings' instantly reduce them into shrieking quiverers.
From this point, all previous patchy personalities, such as they are, are done away with and the group become as one: victims waiting to happen. Only ginger outcast Cal (Iain Belcher) retains his given nervous personality, which gets him a girl, if only for a short time. There are moments in between the crashes and panicking where some of the (alleged) teens get close to 'making out' with each other, but good grief - between the horror non-events and the scriptwriters' take on 'burgeoning relationships' and scratchy voiced profundity, this is a film that refuses to affect me in any way whatsoever.
I shouldn't perhaps be so grumpy: this is not for me, but it does seem to be a genre. 'Teen-slasher' will rarely go out of fashion, because it has rarely been in fashion. It has long since existed though, on the peripheries, secondary to its memorable Freddies and Jasons, feeding the spaces and silences on a first date, and not meant to be concentrated upon too much. Some listings mistakenly have 'Scarecrow's running time at 197 minutes, which would be truly terrifying. At its true length of 87 minutes, it provides nothing much, doesn't really offend, and contains a fairly reasonable CGI scarecrow but not a lot in terms of actual shivers. The main man Aaron presents limited displays of shock and resourcefulness, making sure the pearly whites are on display.
Good but not great ... Michelle (Kaylee DeFer) is a somewhat petulant, tortured soul. She is pretty blonde, and in possession of a throaty, scratchy voice guaranteed to dissipate into an airy rasp should she be moved to scream in horror - and she has plenty of reason to here.
Told in sometimes confusing flashbacks, Michelle has been institutionalised because she caused an accident which killed three of her friends whilst under the influence of alcohol. She's not particularly remorseful, showing scant regard for any rules or regulations at the rehab facility. Daniel (Tobias Segal), who seems well-meaning, and Rachel (Elisabeth Rohm), who is in authority, are revealed as having their own dark secrets, a revelation that attempts to vindicate Michelle's earlier lack of respect for them - even though she cannot possibly have known of their out-of-hours activities.
They are religious extremists, steering their faith towards 'purging' inmates of their sins by torturing them at a secret location. And there you have the plot. We spend the rest of the time watching Michelle try to escape their clutches.
The low budget on display works in the film's favour, with non-slick locations revelling in their enclosed dinginess and grainy imagery. We are expected to side with Michelle but given scant reason to, other than the fact that the other characters are more misguided than she is. It is unspectacular but solid, with good performances and a good atmosphere of hopelessness. It isn't quite 'torture porn', but there are some nasty inferences all explained by a familiar perversion and the easy target of religious abuse. There are some nice moments of melancholy - flashbacks of innocent children playing contrasting well with the sporadic bouts of violence - but where 'Darkroom' falls down is that it isn't terribly involving due to the unsympathetic, sketchy characters.
Recommended. 'The Boy' suffers from 'how American writers think English people speak', I'll get that out of the way first. For example, the grocery boy Malcolm (Rupert Evans) says things like "I'm considered quite charming in this country." Evans is encouraged to use a well-spoken but entirely region-free accent throughout. It's not a huge issue, and UK films are not always accurate in their representation of US characters either. If you can get past that - and there are far worse examples out there - then there is much to enjoy with this.
Miss Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan), an American Nanny, travels to a gothic mansion to tend to the needs of an elderly couple's young son Brahms. It is difficult to escape the central storyline in the publicity - the fact that Brahms is a doll initially filled me with reservations. Could such a realisation be taken seriously? Andrew Jones' series of low-budget projects involving Robert the Doll is good, for example, but suffers a little when the prop figure is required to move.
There was little need to worry: this is a cracker: restrainedly directed by William Brent Bell at least initially, and written in the same way. Greta is just as incredulous as to the notion of a living doll as the most cynical audience member, and yet when she has reason to be convinced if the reality of its existence, we are too. Brahms is a ghostly looking, handsome doll, sometimes very life-like and often lifeless, as necessary.
Greta's willingness to care for Brahms is reasoned by a miscarriage she suffered at the hands of an abusive relationship with a character called Cole (Ben Robson). Cole suddenly turns up at the house demanding Greta returns home with him. He is, of course, exactly the kind of overbearing bully we want him to be - and then we can begin the business of desperately wanting some punishment for him. This is when the pace moves from slow-burning build-up to pure horror. When the resultant manifestation of Brahms reveals itself, the fragile build-up takes a step back in favour of Jason/Michael Myers territory; whilst this doesn't carry the same kind of emotional weight we've enjoyed so far, it is still effective. The finale explains things away and makes sense of it all, but there is a slight disappointment that the spell has been punctured with reality. As a whole, though 'The Boy' works beautifully, far better than I expected it to.
The best of Franco's One Shot Productions ... Amber Newman plays Paula. "I'm a total exhibitionist," she proclaims.
She certainly is a spirited young woman. After a series of striptease acts and sexual adventures, she is violently abused - not entirely unwillingly - and yet seems amused to then become the star of a bizarre hunt across the remote island where she is staying. She is bundled up in plastic whilst the camera stops to linger on the wildlife - and the hunt begins. Heading the ensemble is Lina Romay's variously coloured suedehead Mrs. Radeck. There's Aldo Sambrell's fey Kallmen, Monique Parent's Countess Irina, Alain Petit's Paul Radet and duplicitous Furia (Analia Ivars).
This is the first and, I think, the best of Jess Franco's collaborations with One Shot Productions. There are moments when the dialogue is incomprehensible, and the sound quality sometimes suffers. However, there is a good cast here, a fine central performance from Newman in the first of her three roles for Franco. And the story is very tight, lingering sexual scenes notwithstanding.
Amidst the titillation and violence, there is even space for some effective moments of humour, chiefly the scene involving characters indulging in a little wine tasting. What the wine actually consists of is not for me to say. And the incidental score - available to buy as 'Exoteric Tender Flesh (Boccato Di Cardinale)' - has rightly been highly praised. An REM-style set (to my ears at least), credited to Franco, Daniel White and Sexy Sadie, this all-prevalent soundtrack is so effective, the production would have a completely different feel without it. There is a dreamy piece of music featuring a female vocal (presumably Sadie) that is reminiscent of the haunting score from 'Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971)', which is sadly not available on the album.
Partially successful ... This Italian giallo film contains a tremendous musical score: that is the first thing I noticed. Luciano Michelini's funky, jaunty soundtrack permeates throughout, bringing to life scenes of police procedure and making the action sequences even better. There are even moments of comedy in here. Are they successful? Not in the slightest, in my view, although other opinions are equally justified. To me they undermine the atmosphere without adding anything extra that is successful.
Where Sergio Martino's direction really shines, however, is in the chase and shooting set-pieces, the best being a tremendous shoot-out on a roller-coaster ride. The fusion of calamity and the rattling soundtrack guarantees enjoyment.
A shame that such urgency isn't injected into more of the 100 minutes, or that some pruning couldn't have been done. For however energetic certain moments are, the film is a little too long and could have done with perhaps losing 15 minutes.
Is Martino's mixture of styles a success? Partially, I'd say. But ultimately, I prefer my giallo more consistently dark and without the flights of comedy. It is good, but not great. Whilst it is pleasing to see the director experiment with an established style, his crowning achievement remains 1971's untouchable 'Strange Case of Mrs Wardh.'
Recommended. Director and writer Jonathan Holbrook's very slow, colour-drained, experiment in minimalism is probably an acquired taste. I really like it. At 2hrs and 13 minutes, chances are it goes on too long, but I don't find that a huge problem. It isn't an ordinary story and it doesn't feature ordinary people. Sometimes the relentless turnaround of eccentric characters gets a little much, but this approach eases us into a world seen through the eyes of main character, paranoid schizophrenic Terrence Mackleby (Dan Crisafulli).
The style is unmistakably 1950s in flavour and throughout the moments not graced by the soundtrack, there is a feint hollow sound, like a breeze or an echo, barely perceptible, but enough to add to the mysterious David Lynch-type atmosphere.
Other sound effects are used very effectively also. Floorboard creaks, footsteps are matched with very occasional images of the Tall Men of the title - blurred, reflected, half seen behind doors. There is a genuinely unnerving style of story-telling here. And things get progressively nasty and perverse - this, on top an already skewed canvas, becomes enthralling.
Terrance is difficult to get close to as a character. That's nothing to do with Crisafulli's acting, which is excellent. His condition causes him to get into monetary difficulties again and again. The latest credit card company seems to offer him a way out from his troubles but the price to pay for non-repayment is nightmarish, and naturally he soon finds himself in a deadly situation. Odd, slow-burning and very powerful, 233 minutes nevertheless goes by surprisingly quickly. Recommended.
Melancholy. Let's not mess about: a Jess Franco film concerning the titular 'Diary of a Nymphomaniac' is surely, purely an exercise in sleaze/eurotika/sexploitation cinema (take your pick). An excuse to show scenes of a young attractive woman (Linda, played by stunning Montserrat Prouse) trying to satiate her infinite appetite for sex.
Well, of course it is. But that's only part of the story. Filmed just after the death of Franco's muse Soledad Miranda (for whom the character Countess Anna de Monterey might have been written - here, the wonderful Anne Libert, an underrated Franco veteran, is given the role), there's a true air of melancholy about this. Subject to a series of sexual advances after running away from home (from another undisclosed trauma), she is far from the sexually confident, free spirited heroine we often meet in Franco's films. Her innocence is communicated to us in a heavy-handed, unsubtle way, but it convinces us enough to firmly find ourselves on her side. Meeting with the far more worldly-wise Anna, Linda slowly 'blossomed into a beautiful and sensuous young woman.' In other words, a bi-sexual nymphomaniac.
But her condition isn't used greatly as an excuse for gratuity. In fact, by Franco's standards, 'Sinner' is even somewhat restrained. Linda is a forlorn, moody figure, drug-addled and friendless. A victim of circumstances. I won't pretend this is a sensitive exploration into the psyche of an abuse victim, but it is nevertheless an interesting, seedy tale told with compassion.
Alongside Libert and Prouse, is Jacqueline Laurent who also features as an unappreciated wife in Franco's 'Lorna, The Exorcist' from the same year. Franco himself appears in a cameo as an uncredited Inspector Hernandez.
It is always good to see regular Howard Vernon. He isn't perhaps ideal to play a character sympathetic to Linda's plight, but here he plays an unnamed Doctor who vows to help the girl. Virtuously, he resists her natural advances and allows her to spend time at his hospital retreat. One night, he sees her liaison with a group of men and sees her as he feels she really is - a prostitute. As such, his bills are paid in kind and he rapes her. Linda's disconnection with the sex act is a mechanical acceptance. Interesting, just as his faith in her is broken, so she dismisses him as being 'just like the rest.'
Another essential character is provided by the music, here provided by Vladimir Cosma and Jean-Bernard Raiteux , which is excellent throughout. Tropical, haunting, heart-breaking and wistful, I wish it was a more widely available commercial release, not limited to an extra disc on the blu-ray.
Lots of Lina but not a lot else ... I'd suggest this is for Jess Franco completists only. Or perhaps I am simply not a fan of his 'comedy' films. This is a romp, really, a good excuse to show off Lina Romay in a state of undress with some wildly intimate, almost gynaecological shots that are in no way erotic, just invasive.
Director Jess Franco also stars in Al Pereira, a down-on-his-luck detective. He plays this rare starring role well; the character is often inebriated, and he certainly looks that way. He also indulges in some of the many sex romps that occur, often with real-life partner Romay, playing Cynthia, and also with Lola (Martine Stedil). These women are strippers and con artists, and their slender story is told us in rapid-fire fashion thanks to Christine Lembach's chatty script.
On the subject of Romay and Stedil: should I justify the fact that, despite the unflattering directorial obsessions with their genitalia, I think they look stunning throughout? This is one of the most exploitative of exploitation Franco I have seen, and as such, it is impossible not to comment on the players. Of other regulars, it is good to see Monica Swinn and Paul Muller albeit in subsidiary roles.
The relentless musical jazzy dirge accompanies most scenes. Like in most films from this director, it seems wholly inappropriate for the 'action', but unusually, Walter Baumgartner's contribution is entirely unmemorable. Sadly, this is the weakest of all Franco/Erwin C. Dietrich's collaborations. Al Pireira would return to Jess's stable at the very end of his career (and life), played by long term collaborator Antonio Mayans.