Monday, June 29, 2015

Short Film: Violeta, la pescadora del mar negro (Spain, 2006)

We couldn't find all that much online about this little nightmare of a short film, at least not in a language we understand. The director, writer and production duo behind the film, Marc Riba & Anna Solanas, seem to be the CEOs of I+G Stop Motion in Barcelona, "an independent production company specialized in stop motion animation and puppet animation." This short is a dark, nightmarish example of their mastery.
The storyline commonly found online is "Violeta loves best fishing into the darkest depths," which is little more than a play on the film's title, which translates into something like "Violeta, the fisherwoman of the dark sea." In the end, Violeta, la pescadora del mar negro is somewhat plotless; more than anything else, it is simply an oneiric, disturbing tableaux of dank and disturbing scenes that play out consecutively and interlink, but there is no real beginning or end to the narrative. Nothing is resolved or revealed in this short: what went on before, and what will transpire afterwards is a mystery — the only thing for sure is that it wasn't, and won't be, pleasant.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Malevolence (USA, 2003)

(Spoilers.) Here's a flick that surprised us. The second flick on a two-movie DVD package, neither of which we knew anything about when the DVD fell into our hands, we ended up watching Malevolence years after the flick on the first side, Mustang Sally's Horror House (2006), primarily because Mustang Sally's sucked syphilic donkey dick to such a large extent that we figured this flick couldn't be much better. How wrong we were.
Not that Malevolence is a masterpiece, as it isn't: it suffers from some questionable acting, some odd and/or unbelievable behavior on the part of certain characters, and occasionally overly forced if not primitive narrative streamlining. But those are all common flaws found in many a film, including those with big budgets, which this film did not have. We're talking low budget independent horror here, and it is a sign of how good the movie truly is that Malevolence has such flaws but remains both a solid ride and also keeps the viewer interested.
Not that one expects it to do so when the flick starts: the pre-credit sequence doesn't promise much, and at the latest the slow, handheld, and over-lit "nighttime" travelling shot to the doorway of a house as loud, canned thunder peals in the background, one begins to feel that another truly bad film has been popped into the DVD player. But this intro, which comes almost across almost as an ironic (if unintentional) statement on the stereotypical tropes of horror movie opening scenes — "It was a dark and stormy night" — soon moves on to the quiet, well-framed, and at times aesthetically pleasing if almost sad landscapes of the opening credits, and they do wonders to build the viewer's hope. They reveal that the director obviously has a good eye — and, for the most part, he keeps it throughout the rest of the movie.
In its core, Malevolence is a generically simple slasher flick with crime-film embellishments, but along the way it becomes something more. Surprisingly engrossing for a crime cum horror movie, it becomes all the more noteworthy when one realizes that the low budget indie flick is also the feature film debut of its director/screenwriter Steven Mena, who has since gone on to make a prequel (Bereavement [2010 / trailer]) and is about to foist a sequel (Killer: Malevolence 3 [2015]).
The basic plot, once the stereotypical slasher intro is over, is that of a bank robbery gone wrong and the surviving robbers meeting at a predetermined, deserted house somewhere in the countryside of Pennsylvania. (Here, unlike in Dead Birds [2004], which despite its historical setting also begins with a robbery gone wrong before moving into supernatural horror, Mena actually manages to keep viewer sympathy with at least one character.) As fate would have it — and arbitrary fate plays a major role in much of what happens in this movie — a mysterious, seemingly unstoppable killer happens to be housing close by.
OK, let's bitch about the obvious: the killer never stays dead and, no matter how often he reappears, no one ever shoots or stabs or knocks him over the head with a baseball bat a second or third time, much less long enough to ensure that he really will never get up again. Are people really that stupid and lazy? Seriously: the film comes from a country where cops shoot black people for sport and citizens shoot foreigners for knocking on their doors or other foreign-looking citizens over parking-space disputes, and we're expected to believe that someone who's just barely survived hell won't/doesn't make sure a killer is dead when all it would take is two or three more seconds? (Isn't there a Zombieland [2009 / trailer] rule pertaining to this?)
And let's not forget about the momma, Samantha Harrison (Samantha Dark), who over the course of the film is kidnapped, along with her young softball-playing daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone) by a bank robber on the run (Richard Glover of Sightseers [2012 / trailer] and A Field in England [2013 / trailer]). Her pudgy daughter has managed to free herself from the same bonds she's tied with (gaffer tape), and is out on the run from an armed robber, and all momma does is fall asleep — not just once, but twice? Hallo? Steven Mena reveals a substantial lack of understanding for the maternal instinct here, if not a total disregard of reality. But then, more than once, as is normal for a slasher, the characters don't exactly react or act like the average Joe and, instead, suffer screenplay-convenience syndrome. (The most extreme example of which is when the good-guy robber Julian [R. Brandon Johnson of Fabled (2002 / trailer) and Little Erin Merryweather (2003 / trailer)], much like the Samuel L. Jackson character in The Long Kiss Goodnight [1996 / trailer], doesn't stay dead despite obviously being killed. Unlike the faceless killer, however, he doesn't do that more than once.)
But all the bitching aside, Malevolence does work. It intrigues, it enthrals, it scares, it thrills, and it makes your root for some and hate others — and best of all, it keeps you so involved that most of the flaws only come to mind after the movie is over. (Allah knows that there are enough professional filmmakers out there who have years of experience behind them and huge budgets at hand but can't do that.) So, even with the flaws, the film remains commendable: for all its echoes of the generic body counter, it manages to become more than just that. We can't help but feel that had Albert Camus been a low budget trash filmmaker instead of an intellectual and highly successful author, he probably would've made films like this one.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Curfew (USA, 1989)

Our significant other does not like to watch the same kind of movies that we do. When watching DVDs together, a compromise is usually achieved by watching "art" like Titus (1999 / trailer) or something from France (we both love Jean-Pierre Jeunet, for example, the director of Delicatessen [1991 / trailer], City of Lost Children [1995 / trailer], Amelie [2001 / trailer], and Micmacs [2009 / trailer] — as well as the mildly disappointing A Very Long Engagement [2004 / trailer] and the black comedy that is Alien 4: Resurrection [1997 / trailer]*), but in general we end up with Hollywood mainstream products like Men in Black I (1997 / trailer), II (2002 / trailer) and III (2012 / trailer) or the type of crap often referred to as "women's films", worthless fertilizer with gag-worthy titles like What Women Want (2000) or Dirty Dancing (1987).
* We have to say, though, that even his worst films are better and more enjoyable than most mainstream flicks coming out of Hollywood.
One "women's film" night, owed to her after a few tacky selections on our part, she pulled out some obscure DVD entitled Letter to Juliet (2010). And though it sounded bad, since its cast did include Fabio Testi (What Have You Done to Solange? [1972 / trailer], Four of the Apocalypse [1975 / trailer], Dead Men Ride [1971 / trailer] and much more), the great Franco Nero (Django [1966 / trailer] and much, much, much more), the occasionally interesting Vanessa Redgrave (Blow Up [1966 / trailer], Ken Russell's The Devils [1971 / trailer] and more), and the undeniably extremely hot Amanda Seyfried* (Jennifer's Body [2009] and Lovelace [2013 / trailer]), we said "OK."
* Whose presence and beauty is only matched (at 180 degrees reverse) by the quality of her projects — if she doesn't start choosing better scripts, she's going to disappear in the same way as "superstar" Thora Birch. 
Oh — The Pain! The Excruciating Pain! For months of Sundays thereafter, the mere thought of Amanda Seyfried did the exact opposite of before and rendered us a limp noodle. Yes, Letter to Juliet was crap, it was total shit, it was almost a reason to go single again. And it was also directed by Gary Winick (31 March 1961 — 27 February 2011), the man who made the movie we want to write about tonight, 1986's "horror thriller" entitled Curfew. In fact, Curfew is his directorial début. We would perhaps make some comment about Letter to Juliet and Curfew being as different as night and day, were it not that they do have something major in common: they both suck. And not mouse dick, but elephant dick.
The basic plot of Curfew is a regurgitation of William Wyler's home invasion film The Desperate Hours (1955 / trailer), which, based on novel and subsequent play by Joseph Hayes, has been remade officially (for TV by Ted Kotcheff in 1967 and by Michael Cimino in 1990 [trailer], for example) and unofficially (including at least one Bollywood version, 36 Ghante [1974 / a song]), and revised/rewritten any number of times. In Curfew, the original three desperate escaped convicts on the run have been changed to two murderously wacko escaped redneck convict brothers out for revenge, the violence vamped up a bit, the acting and direction seriously worsened, and any and all of the positive aspects of the original jettisoned. To put it bluntly: Curfew is pure santorum.
Despite most of the violence in Curfew being of the inferred kind, the movie was once banned as a video nasty in England, a fact proudly plastered on the DVD cover. (Oddly enough, however, it never mentions that the story, being a riff of Desperate Hours, is ever-so-slightly based on actual events, as Joseph Hayes based his original novel and play on a home invasion that occurred in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, in 1952.) Today, and despite the movie's bodycount of about 13, that Curfew was ever banned anywhere is truly hard to believe, as neither the violence nor the little sex is all that extreme, even by the standards of the end of the last century. True, Curfew does in an ineffectual and unskilled manner offer a slight foreshadowing of the torture porn genre that arose with snoozers like Hostel (2005 / trailer), but almost everything that happens, happens off-screen, and neither the blood nor the nekkid flesh are copious — so what was the fuss?
That Curfew is gonna suck is already obvious in the first five minutes, when the viewer is treated to a unbelievably poorly staged, filmed and acted cake-eating scene that proves to be the dream of dumb-shit killer brother number one, Bob Perkins (John Putch of Skeeter [1993 / trailer] and Jaws 3-D [1983 / trailer]), who then awakens in the jail cell he shares with dumb-shit killer brother number two, Ray Perkins (Wendell Wellman, seen somewhere in Klansman [1974 / trailer] and Clint Eastwood's badly dated Sudden Impact [1983 / trailer]) — a jail cell twice the size of many an apartment we've lived in. (And since when are sibling killers put in the same cell, anyway? Death row or not, they'd be kept separate.) 
From here, the flick cuts to small town USA, where the staging and acting doesn't improve any,  and we get to watch the inane evening spent by the wooden* lead "teenager" in trouble, Stephanie Davenport (a 20-year-old, square-jawed Kyle Richards of The Car [1977 / trailer], Eaten Alive [1977 / trailer] and The Watcher of the Woods [1980 / trailer]), as she wastes her time with her "friends" — With friends like that, who needs enemies? — before rushing home because of her 10 PM curfew. The now-escaped killer siblings, however, whom the viewers have had the pleasure of watching kill their way across the state on a mission of revenge against all those who had a hand in sending them to death row, beat her there. Thus the yawner night of psychological and physical torture begins. Why the killer siblings, after revealing themselves multiple times as relatively quick and single-minded about murder, should suddenly decide at the Davenports' house to use the whole night to entertain themselves with their victims is never explained and rather unconvincing.
* To degrade her performance as wooden is perhaps unfair, as almost everyone in the movie is wooden, with the possible exception of the overacting killer siblings.
The early obnoxious teens having fun and incompetent sheriff stuff set at the diner is an insult to the viewers intelligence — neither in any way realistic nor truly "funny", like most of the scenes in the first half that don't involve the killer brothers, it all comes across less as furthering the story than as simple filler. Up until the sheriff brings Stephanie back home, Curfew is a total snoozer, despite the various incompetently staged murders the Perkins Brothers commit along the way after escaping prison (how they escaped is neither shown nor in any way explained — one minute, they're in jail; the next, they're not). That Stephanie even falls into the hands of the killer siblings relies on an act that totally negates the concept of maternal love and sort of makes the viewer think that Momma Davenport (the unknown Jean Brooks*) deserves to die. (Not very helpful in making the viewer identify with the "good guys".)
* Not to mistaken with the great but forgotten Jean Brooks (23 December 1915— 25 November 1963), of The Seventh Victim (1943 / trailer), The Leopard Man (1943) and The Crime of Doctor Crespi (1934 / scene), a talented and beautiful actress whose career went nowhere and who eventually died of malnutrition and alcoholism.
The last half of the movie, the night of torture, is a little better than the first half, if only because some of the scenes do sort of make the viewer flinch now and then — the dead breasts are an expected but effective shock, for example, and one does cringe when the daughter is pulling glass out of daddy's back and during the extended scenes with momma that infer rape and torture — but everything is so poorly staged, so badly acted, so terribly written, so dreadfully put together that Curfew never really effectively does anything that is expected of a suspense or horror film, like build viewer identification with the characters or keep the audience on the edge of the seat. Really, it almost defies believability that a movie with as many deaths as Curfew could be as boring as Curfew actually is.
The most amazing aspect of this movie is that anyone involved ever went further in the film business. Curfew's tagline was "In by ten. Dead by midnight"; it should've been "In by ten. Dead by midnight. Killed by boredom." The awkward last scene, when Stephanie turns Dirty Harry, is good for a belly laugh, at least, but really: no belly laugh is worth the movie that precedes that one.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Das Gasthaus an der Themse / The Inn on the River (Germany, 1962)

German Trailer:
(Spoilers!) The third Wallace film adaptation to be directed by director Alfred Vohrer for Rialto Films, Das Gasthaus an der Themse may have its flaws but it is not without reason that it is one of the more popular films of the series: it is both a worthy and enjoyable entry in the series — tacky, thrilling, funny, well-shot, fun.
Based on Wallace's book The India Rubber Men, from 1929, it is the second movie to use that book as its basis: Maurice Elvey's 1938 film, The Return of the Frog, also took its plot from that book, although Elvey's movie itself was made as a sequel to the 1937 film The Frog, an adaptation of Wallace's novel The Fellowship of the Frog (a novel filmed three times under various titles — including as the first Rialto Wallace movie, Der Frosch mit der Maske [1959]).
But enough history, let's get to the Rialto flick. One true pleasure of Das Gasthaus an der Themse, like so many of the Rialto adaptations, is the music: scored by Martin Bottcher, the opening song, complete with sounds of a cuckoo clock, dogs barking, and yells is undoubtedly one of the more entertaining soundtracks to come out of Germany/Europe during a generation specializing in incredibly strange (soundtrack) music. With this film, Bottcher easily holds his own alongside even the best that Peter Thomas ever had to offer. Bottcher, who still works today scoring for television from his homes in Sardinia and Lugano, is also the man behind one of Germany's most familiar and loved melodies: the theme song to the Winnetou films.
First scene, credits sequence & title track to
Das Gasthaus an der Themse:
The first scene of Das Gasthaus an der Themse (above) is wonderfully typical of an Edgar Wallace film of the 1960s. It is a dark and foggy night, and lone man paddles his boat down the river Thames. From the viewpoint of someone standing on a bridge, we see the boat glide underneath one side and then out the other, the seated man suddenly looking rather like a dressed window puppet. Flllitzzsch!! The puppet gets a harpoon in its back, the puppet is suddenly a man again who lets out a scream of pain before collapsing, the music blares, and the credits roll. A film can hardly begin any better...
A killer called the Shark is not only loose on the Thames, but when he isn't busy harpooning people, he also masterminds a series of spectacular jewel robberies. Inspector Wade (Joachim Fuchsberger) is sure that the Shark has something to do with a riverside dive named Mekka, run by the whiskey-smuggling, smoothly corrupt Nelly Oaks (Elisabeth Flickenschildt), who likes to entertain her guests by singing songs about how everything fun and nasty happens at night. (When she isn't singing to them, the noticeably interracial group likes to drink whiskey, start knife fights, and do the twist.) Is she the Shark? Or is it the sleazy Russian guest Gregor Gubanow (Klaus Kinski), who seems to spy on everyone. And how does Nelly's young and oddly uncorrupted ward Leila Smith (Brigitte Grothum of Die seltsame Gräfin [1961 / trailer] and Der rote Rausch [1962 / trailer]) fit in the picture? 
A number of implausible and unexpected plot twists later — after various double identities get sorted out, a few red herrings get smoked out, and the proper number of people have died — not only is the Shark finally revealed, the damsel in distress rescued and all crimes solved, but one of the biggest inheritances of England also gets saved at the same time.
Oh, yeah: and Joachim Fuchsberger gets the girl.
From the movie — Elisabeth Flickenschild sings
Was in der Welt passiert:
Jan Hendricks, whose career didn't die with the hilarious Flitterwochen in der Hölle (1960) and atrocious Der Insel der Amazonen (1960), makes his third appearance in a Wallace film as a partner of Nelly who eventually also gets a harpoon in his back. (Hendricks died much more slowly in real life of AIDS in 1991.) As always, Eddie Arent (as Barnaby) is there to supply both some out-of-place humor and a valuable clue, while Siegfried Schürenberg (as Sir John) pops into the picture occasionally to lend his undivided support to his man Wade. Less common to a Wallace film, however, is the unexpected revelation at the death of Gregor that Klaus Kinski was actually playing a good guy.
As with many a Wallace film, the acting in Das Gasthaus an der Themse is uneven, spanning from great to truly abysmal. Still, director Vohrer keeps the film paced nicely, and even manages to convincingly make the Hamburg harbor, standing in as London's river Themse, look like an eerie and dangerous waterfront. His occasional fantastically moody black and white cinematography as well as the excellent location shooting and set design definitely all go a long way towards making it easy to overlook the film's thespian flaws. The sound quality could be better, however. Some scenes sound as if they were recorded in a tin can, while in others the actors seem to be screaming at each other for no reason.
All in all, however, despite some small flaws Das Gasthaus an der Themse is definitely a worthy entry in the series and a good way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon with the kids or by yourself, with or without a doob.
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