Psychedelic Film Criticism for the Already Deranged

Friday, July 29, 2016

Repetition Convulsions: THE GIANT CLAW, TOUCH OF EVIL, THE HATEFUL EIGHT




As I was last night preparing to edit this I was flipping from TCM--THE LAST DETAIL with dimwit sailor Randy Quaid having premature issues with undead prostitute Carol Kane--to EPIX with a paunchy cowboy hatted Quaid in THE WRAITH (1986) noting "let's clean up this mess and get the hell out of here!" That kind of random coincidental irony is one of the reasons I flip indiscriminately in the first place so I had to share. But I always land eventually, here or there, and in the summer, my most reviled season, I stick to easy watching classics I've seen a zillion times, where the highest levels of government are represented not by big ominous war rooms glowing in the spacious Shepperton Studio darkness or unforgiving naval boards ready to throw away the key on first offense because it happened to be the admiral's wife's pet charity he robbed from--that's all too depressing, but two old character actors dressed like generals walking along a barren conference table in front of a big chart--or, if budget allows, a photo of the Washington Monument that's supposed to be a window, that is relaxation itself.

Take character actor Morris Ankrum, in an officer's uniform: put him in a scene like that and let the magic flow. Give him another higher up, head of the Navy or something, and get them bickering back and forth, as a scientist and his girlfriend or research assistant, each trying and failing and re-trying to whip a purse out of sow's ear scene, going from exploding "why don't you do something!?" to paternal reassurances, "we in the military know what we're doing, son, but you need to keep reminding us," and back around again, like a whirlwind - condescending disbelief-exasperation-apology-paternal consolation-American jingoism-squawking failure-condescending disbelief, around and around again in eccentric circles of blame-outrage-apology-pep talk seldom seen outside Eugene O'Neill plays.


Nothing is more reassuring to my fevered brain than THE GIANT CLAW which has this pair, to fold themselves in with the stock footage of planes and radar stations, and exposition about all that's going going on outside the door on all levels of government and military procedure throughout the world. No matter what atomic spitball they care to throw, in the end it's Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, and the two old generals piloting the "B-22" which is so obviously a model you can see some kid's glue thumbprints, and the finished gloss gone slightly dull from over handling, the final decals peeling on the side or turning yellow, as if Katzman borrowed it from his son along with a turkey marionette given a comically menacing head with googly eyes that's the monster. You can't make this shit up.


Of course it helps to have grown up with it being constantly on the air, but glad am I to be able to return to it, when needed, like days you come back from the doctor after waiting for the results of your first chest X-ray after 33 years of smoking. You need to see a monster you can sneer at and safely destroy with some atomic spitballs, something maybe you loved to laugh at as a child, when it was always on local TV alongside gems like Plan Nine From Outer Space, the Creeping Terror, and Invasion of the Saucer Men. If you follow this blog you know summer is not the time my Swedish blood is alive with artsy insight (that's fall) but feebly clinging to icicle familiarity in cinema like a snowman pining puddleward, missing every departed drop. Not that I'd ever drink water.

To enjoy a film endlessly over and over, through the years it must have--as Hawks famously said--a few good ones and no bad ones. And every year I find new bad ones in some old favorites and new good ones in others. The Big Sleep for example never falters, but take To Have and Have Not (1944). For a guy supposedly as sharp as old Bogart's Harry, to let a shady American tourist run up 16 days of rent on his boat with no deposit, $825 all together, that seems pretty stupid. It's enough where I'm stressed out so that I need to lower my angsty blood pressure --how can such a cool customer be so dumb? He's probably not helping his finances by "carrying" Eddie (Walter Brennan) the requisite Faulkner manchild or alcoholic, whose dead bee rants and sickly sweat glaze bespeak a terrible smell of alcohol seeping through unwashed pores that must hang fetid over the boat, drawing massive flies, when the ocean wind isn't blowing. I can chalk the moronic behavior of the Free French up to sly Warner Bros. satire on the Maginot Line and the French army's infamously inept high command (as seen Paths of Glory), the way half a dozen of conspicuous freedom fighters inconspicuously trundle upstairs in a busy hotel to beseech Bogart to help them, crowding into his room like there's no one else but him with a boat in all of Martinique) - or that this idiot manchild version of Victor Lazlo is eager to surrender at the first sign of trouble (getting shot as a result) and this is the guy they want to use to "get a guy off of Devil's Island."  

If not for the great dialogue and every second Bacall is onscreen in the most assured, startling debuts in all of cinema, and any other form, since the dawn of time, would it even be remembered today? What if Ann Sheridan or someone played her part, the way she almost did Ilsa Lund in Casablanca? Instead the first time I saw this film was back before the internet could chew it up for me, to me it was just another of my then hero Hawks' films, and so I got to soak up Bacall and her match 'fresh' and the result I was knocked out, kicking the air and howling like that wolf in "Bacall to Arms."

But there was never a time when I hadn't seen The Giant Claw. I was laughing at that bird since before I could crawl. I was born into it, materializing into being just as its imagery would materialize onto local TV or the bird would materialize out of space or an alternate dimension or some deranged puppeteer's back alley. To enjoy the film without that inherited lack of good judgment you would need to have a special yen to see Mara Corday in a redeye passenger (propellor-driven) plane delivering an uncalled-for and condescending rant against jet pilot Jeff Morrow, with whom she was just canoodling, for showing her his giant space bird orbiting patten spiral drawing. If you ask why Corday is shouting and picking a fight with him when her own non-intergalactic bird theories don't add up at all, then you're probably not ready for this level of high concept science. Sherlock Holmes said that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however implausible, is the truth. Corday would below that Holmes is a fictional character and therefore his theories are worthless. But Women are idiots when they're supposed to be skeptics, especially women in these kinds of films.

I object to the use of the phrase "kinds of films" your honor, impugning the character of women in more impressive entries like Them! wherein the woman in the same role is an astute and open-minded biologist. One can no sooner lump the CLAW in with THEM as compare a frosty Bergman to a Long Beach train station. And in this case Corday is right, because the truth is ridiculous, for not only is the thing that's been attacking so many aircraft and buildings a space bird but it's invisibility to radar is to due its an anti-matter shield. This plus an early scene of Jeff buzzing the American Air Force Arctic Radar Station in one of his jets maybe explains her and the military's preliminary incredulity. Test pilot Morrow's an example of the wolf crier, endangering the whole tribe because his valuable wolf intel is in general never believed, thanks to his cred-destroying pranks. How many more lives!?

Make him a sergeant and give him the booze (THEM)
Owlin Howlin playfully singing and throwing a sheet over his head, presuming --as anyone would--that the giant ants outside his window are just delirium tremens (THEM)... you can always believe the reports of a man who doubts his own eyes over the man who presumes himself above hallucinations. Yet I love THE GIANT CLAW and only like THEM! I love all scenes on sleepy red eye 40s-50s passenger planes, for they are giant slumber party in the sky, succinctly delineating the appeal such films hold for me, a fusion of nostalgia and late night repetition that would be lost on anyone who's never slept all night in a bus or on a train and woken up in some fat middle-aged black lady's lap, the usual distance between you dissolved as you both snore away; she having felt her way through Amtrak dark at a 4 AM and in the empty aisle seat, a few minutes later and she's your mom, cuddled up together in perfect trust of the all night coach. When you wake and leave you don't even say goodbye, and never said hello, or learned her name, but she was your mom and you were five, for a few hours neither of you remember. And watching films at four or five in the morning is the same dreamy poetic freedom from 9-5 adult reality whether you're a child getting up early on a Saturday to watch cartoons and it was too early for them to start so instead some weird giant space bird movie, or a drunk poet still up high on his own verses, relaxing with the same movie years later, after the advent of the VCR, in order to recapture that same childhood frame of mind, when the border between self and screen did not exist.

Stock footage to cool the blood in sweltering summer (DEADLY MANTIS) 
That said, the VHS dupe I made of TGC in the early 80s only started about halfway through (right as the big bird munches on a parachuting pilot) and now on DVD, in full, it's much too clear for such dearth of detail, forcing the poverty of the sets and mismatched emulsion damage of the stock footage to the fore and demanding I re-evaluate my hitherto unswerving loyalty. Considering about 1/4 of the film consists of military stock footage, with shots of running panicked populace seemingly lifted out of the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and It Came from Beneath the Sea ("bigger" Katzman productions) dailies, I realize it was better when uniformly streaked and blurred, occasionally disrupted by color bursts of "Crazy Eddie" TV commercials or "Creature Double Feature" tags. Now I'm forced to reckon with the widescreen poverty of the film, every wire and thumbprint on the model planes meant to indicate real aircraft are visible. The effect is not as cozy as this film used to make me feel, I preferred not to see the sheen of sweat underwriting the faces of participants in what should be cold climates and focus on Morrow's hungover ease with termite lines and moments where he's barely in bed after that flight before the brass is once again summoning him, he needs to argue in favor of his sleeping - a tireder actor there's never been

Now of course there are millions of films that are better than The Giant Claw, and dozens of them even telling more or less the same story, from the Arctic de-thawing / hatching on down that ole map.  But those have Harryhausen or Willis O'Brien animation and/or Jack Arnold direction and/or decent budgets, relative to this one, which is less Tarantula (Arnold directed, creepy plot and eerie use of desert, no stock footage) and more along The Deadly Mantis axis - i.e. take all the public domain stock of radar installations and military test firings you can find, tap into this B-movie obsession of the late 50s with the North Pole and Canadian air defensive radar shields: "the Pine Tree" and "Dew line" -- tapping into some conception of 'the Cold War' coming from "up there" as Russia would go over the pole down past Canada to nuke us, so Canada functions as a kind of go-between and the cold North calls us like a magnet.

The Deadly Mantis, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the six-armed giant octopus in It from Beneath the Sea, and our friend the Giant Space bird all start off way up there, and The Thing, the best and smallest, stayed up there, the rest marauded their way downwards, killing eskimos, pilots, trawler crews, and Canadian lumberjacks as they go. There's generally three things that mark this plot: the scientists always has a hot assistant, who--depending on the crap level of the writer--either sneers at the monster theory, promotes it, uses her hotness to suss truths out of harassed survivors or falls for the military guy assigned to the case. The best work on perfecting the formula, while the worse, like that hack like Nathan Juran, shoehorn in corny sentiment like the stuttering radar men asking the hot scientist/assistant to d-d-dance before the inevitable shot of the monster leering through the window trying to get at her. (Mara Corday is spared this indignity, having already endured it in 1955's TARANTULA).


Perhaps it's worth looking again at THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957) but-- unlike CLAW which is unforgettable even if the "wrong" kind--  is the most anonymous film in the world, siphoning the gas tanks of every film that came before, suturing together such a framework of stock footage and stock tropes it could be about any of the radioactively-awoken giant monsters and star anyone (its cast criminally void of any charisma or impression-making ability) making it ideal to fall asleep to or come down from a K-hole-- or interested in learning about the use of radar to detect Russian planes and ICBMs during the Cold War. You could watching 100 times in a row and remember nothing about it whatsoever. THE GIANT CLAW,, with its big googly eyes and dopey vulture hair tufts its the best menace since they just decided to use a nondescript giant block as the monster (KRONOS). While Mantis is also the most sexist film ("we're taking you home young lady," notes the military guy after she's singlehandedly coordinated the requisite 'map of weird 'accident' by which to chronicle the trajectory). In its disregarding of all that (Morrow would be the last person to stop Corday from doing anything), Claw earns its wings, no matter how goofy (or because of how goofy it is) the effects.

Naturally a few years back when Sarah Palin mentioned she could see Russia from her house I understood at once why all these films were set up there, and at the same time I had to add her to the list of Northern threats ever-ready over our heads raining down montages of panicked citizenry, radio speakers, mobilizing infantry, maps with dotted lines running across various parallels between the US and the North Pole, cornflake snow hurled in through open portals as people exit and enter the impoverished radar offices "Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) able to contact any part of the globe in three minutes! Three Minutes only! Eskimos pointing at the sky (Nanook strikes!) in Mantis, where its forelegs get caught up in the fisherman's kayak drying racks (we see a lot of the film from the prospective of the mantis himself,

And in the case of le Claw, there's a great catch-all representation of a French lumberjack loner named Pierre (Louis Merrill), and his dog who find Corday and Morrow in the wilderness after they alone survive another attack (six planes pecked out from under him and Corday's still sneering in between kisses or kisses between Sculdy-ish sneering). Naturalmente, he is named Pierre and gives Morrow and Corday his homemade applejack while recounting the tale of the a giant predatory bird many have seen in the parts and all died when they did. And before they were attacked the shadow of its giant turkey wings passed over the house.  Fascinatingly, Morrow, who's encountered this giant bird about 20 times already, shouts "you only saw an eagle, Pierre!" Never could the space bird and the old flying witch of his superstition be the same thing. Never!

But again Morrow saves the reel, singlehandedly etching some warmth out of the proceedings by guzzling a second glass of the Pierre's homebrewed jack and ending or beginning every sentence with the name, Pierre. "This is great stuff, Pierre" or "that's a superstition, Pierre!" He becomes almost a kind of mascot, the constant use of his first name serving to keep him separate from the college educated Corday and Morrow. Eventually, though they all agree the thing only chases you if you run, Pierre runs, thinking he can perhaps, what, outrace a bird the size of a small apartment building? It's the kind of moronic lack of logic that a kid would not notice. It all fits, to make CLAW the classic -- you see... kids in the 70s don't need special effects -  our fertile minds filled in all the blanks.

"my gun is gone!"
Jack Arnold's TARANTULA (1955) by contrast is good enough that the missteps irk, and the blank spots nowhere near blank enough, except between Agar's eyes. There's three eaten cattle, mysteriously drained of all meat and the only clue is a huge puddle of strange milky liquid. "Quit worryin' about that white stuff and find out who killed my cattle!" exclaims the rancher but the country doctor (John Agar) and the sheriff (Arnold regular Nestor Pavia) are too dimwitted to either calm him, take a sample of the venom, or anything else.  It takes a whole second massacre to get it going. It has to happen twice before Agar even smells it. "Print this as a straight accident," he notes to his reporter friend.  Anyone who notes the sudden flourishing of acromegalia (a disease well known to classic horror fans for its most famous victim adorns our most esteemed award, the "Rondo") amongst handlers radioactive growth serums and doesn't see a connection is not the right person to trust as far as a barometer of public opinion. Eventually Agar wises up, "we gotta keep our minds open and our mouths shut."

But TARANTULA stays off my summer list in general because it's set in the desert, too hot, and I like military stock footage, and hate to see any animal in a cage, even gerbils, man. When I'm in my isolation chambers, my feet in tissue boxes and my nails long and yellowed, gibbering to myself and pressing rewind over and over though tapes are long gone, anything that reminds me too much of my own wounded bull querencia, middlemen and union minutiae bickerers crawling all over the once great Last American Alcoholic Playboy Auteur. For the concretization of my frontier's sad closing, I need a hero bigger than any giant hair arachnid... I need Hank Quinlan.




My no summer-set sagas in summer isn't a hard fast rule of course, For example I've seen Touch of Evil a hundred times whatever the season. Another repeater, Psycho, which came out two years later and seems almost a remake, alike as two sister craft - on some level. What unites it is the damned cool of Janet Leigh.

"That Mirador is mighty hard to find, branching off the main highway like it does," notes a cop giving Leigh directions. Leigh driving off to a motel... off the main highway, all alone... did Hitchcock see this and feel cheated that the Grandy boys (and girls) didn't cut her up in the shower instead of lugging her back to the Mexican side of the border?

Any similarity between Heston, a skull, or John Gavin (in PSYCHO)
 is strictly clairvoyant
The main as in 'THE' murder that centers PSYCHO actually is the third act of TOUCH OF EVIL, the murder of Uncle Joe Grande by Quinlan, above a drugged unconscious Leigh's sleeping head. The PSYCHO murder was out of the blue, terrifyingly final, with an unseen killer. In TOUCH the killer is well known to us and we only begin to realize the extent of his drunk machinations when he starts closing drapes and so forth in the room while Uncle Joe is still alive, calling up Pete and having Grande hold the phone at gunpoint, to relay to the vice boys the dope on Leigh; in other words she's a victim here of a drugging / frame-up but the framer is then killed as Quinlan frames the framer, and as what's coming dawns on him, Grandy slowly seems to shrink, finding corners and Expressionist shadows as if trying get as far as the room will allow, but still mesmerized and trapped like a mouse in a terrarium with a hungry king snake.

But at its core, Welles shows his flaw, the same one that trips of his number one disciple, Peter Bogdanovich, insecurity masking itself as contempt for the he-man type, as in being forced to cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop with "practically cabinet status in the Mexican government" and making him a boob through and through, sexually panicked, trying desperately to avoid sleeping with new wife Janet Leigh while at the same time using her as an excuse for not focusing fully on his job, and/or trashing Rancho Grande like an amok bull instead of being alert to her yelling for him out the hotel window; of blaming everyone else for his sexual dysfunction and taking sincerity at face value. "Captain," he says of a shaking suspect about to get the third degree, "he swears on his mother's life," even though it turns out he did it. "I'm no cop now I'm a husband!" he shouts while trashing the bar. Yeah, Orson sly infers, but you're a terrible husband, and a lousy cop. You don't get to yell at Dennis Weaver for someone stealing your gun if you're dumb enough to leave it with your wife in a hotel room where she's too scared to frickin' use it and open fire on the Mexican gang bangers. "Who the hell does Quinlan think he is? Pinning a murder rap on my wife," he says but at least Quinlan keeps her entertained. Heston on the other hand constantly leaves her behind in the interest of protecting her (he can barely get her an ice cream) and if he's such a high-standing cabinet member why doesn't he find a nicer town for a honeymoon? Behavior this incompetent we wouldn't see again until Mel Gibson leaving his wife and kids to go protect them in the first MAD MAX.








It's junior varsity symbolism but it's fascinating the way Heston's Vargass appears, like a photo, in a corner of a mirror next to rows of faded toreador cigar cards, no doubt left like calling cards by Dietrich's old toreador 'visitors.' Quinlan lurching to his feet with one massive bull taxidermy above his head, ridiculously large, the barbs still hanging in him and ready for his final dangerous charge, like the ants crawling all over the scorpion at the start of THE WILD BUNCH. The spectacle of the bland literalization of 'the law' up against its unbearably odious other; bureaucracy vs. the monster."Vargas is one of those starry eyed idealists," notes Quinlan. "They're the one's making trouble in the world." Hank's famous intuition was right; the kid really did plant that bomb.

But Vargas, since he's so mercilessly rounded by Welles' black humor subtext, doesn't bother me. I can watch TOE any old time. Certain things on the other hand can keep a film out of my rotation of summer stock staples. My Hawks' repertoire doesn't include MONKEY BUSINESS, for example, purely because of Cary Grant's buzz-cut and Ginger Rogers' annoying overdoing it as a born-again teenage virgin. Mainly though it's the buzzcut. It hurts the back of my neck just to see it. What kind of guy associates a military grade crew cut with being young and feckless? So, I have to pass.


But hey - Tarantino films for the most part always hold up to repeat viewings, though DJANGO is so harsh it's hard to relax with. On the other hand, I've already seen HATEFUL EIGHT six times. It's perfect for hot summers since it occurs during a blizzard. There are things that don't work for me, like the high voiced fey narrator (Quentin himself, successfully masking a lot of his vocal tics) who ducks in the second part like Magnolia; and the anachronistic White Stripes song (though one anachronistic song is okay in the post-Butch Cassidy tradition, I'd say that job's filled well by the penultimate chapter's killer's hunting the last survivor of the massacre to David Hesse's "Now You're All Alone") it's usually during a flashback or happier time montage, not so early in a film --it feel unearned. 


But shit like the Mexican's "Silent Night" on off-key but effective rendition (his soft "goddamn it" after flubbing a note, or again, gamely counterpointing Samuel Jackson and Bruce Dern's antithetical veering from 'shared a battlefield' post-war bonding ("most of my ponies"), to bitter ("I did better than my damn good brothers") to Jackson's harsh sadistic tale of killing his son meant for goading him into drawing first: "It was coooolllld the day I killed your boy"



Morricone's score is almost a Tarantino homage to himself - with a theme mixing the tick tock watch chime motif from For a few Dollars More with the relentless low registered horn cacophony crescendos of a giallo and the loping bassoon notes of one of his action films; or earlier the thud-thud bass players. Each actor's speaking style seems intimately cared for. There are deft Hawks references and Anthony Mann, and above all the kind of careful diagramming of hostages and killers that makes good movies, like Rio Bravo, as far as logical structure ("We can't shoot you down in the street because you're holding our friend hostage in the jail"). In Fistful of Dollars (1966) there's that bit wherein the mean bastard whose been in a family war with the other decides to blow up their house and kill everyone - it's like why the hell didn't the other do that; it's one of those dumb games that show the disinterest Leone has with the logistics underneath the west. Why it is the way it is and why duels were even invented, in the hands of someone with western savvy the motivation is clear: lots of witnesses so you can't shoot an unarmed man, or someone not trying to shoot you first (so it's self defense). For example Rio Bravo and Red River are endlessly rewatchable, in part because Hawks knows the kind of prodding by which two gunfighters "paw at each other and see what they're up against." And he knows the way you need the guy you want to kill to be reaching for his gun before you can legally shoot him, hence the gunfighter code, and he doesn't get all "killing is wrong" Kramer revisionist. Leone doesn't really seem to understand either philosophy: the law and self defense and witnesses never enter into it and killing is never condemned except by labels like "The Bad" flashing onscreen. They're all doing it that way because that's the way it's done in movies, and Morricone's electric guitar makes any other gesture seem half-assed. But with Hawks everything is based on hostages, lines of fire, and having guys who are "real good" shots, who don't get all mushy over killing sex or seven guys in a five second gun battle, and telling the Chinaman he's got more fifty-dollar gold pieces coming his way, and if you have the boss in your gunsights it doesn't matter how many of them there are because he'll be the first person shot. We always know the rules in Hawks, so things always make sense, its the kind of logic that's so enticing it makes us loyal, wins us with ballsy courage, like Arthur getting his enemy to knight him mid-battle in EXCALIBUR, knowing with so many witnesses no other possible recourse is open to his former foe than future loyalty.





But cop violence and stand your ground etc has been making it real clear why you always need to wait for the owlhoot to draw first, as its self defense that way, if he's black. That's what trips up John Ford, racism. He examines his trip cord in some films, not others. What makes HATEFUL EIGHT so much more a repeater film is it undoes mot just the injustices of MANDINGO, which DJANGO partly healed, but it's actually in the process the most hopeful film about the future of the country since TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL. And in the process it's also the most sharp-eyed about the reality of violence, and the thin blue line of law, as a shot about a Bas Reeves-style bounty hunter (a murdering cavalry officer who joined the war to "kill white folks") and a future sheriff ex-"Ni--er killer of Baton Rogue" - ex Confederate officer who end up allied against the Jody Domingray Gang.



This is the kind of salvo towards peace through an understanding of the importance of violent men that makes it so tragic the cops boycotted this film because of their uptight union where to question the behavior of even a few bad apples is to condemn all fruit, therefore to eat a single orange we must endure spoiled and corrupted, wormy apples --and it ain't Texan. Texan is to arrange picnics and volleyball games between cops and their neighborhoods, or to make and deliver cookies to precincts on holidays, or whatever.

Bottom line, DJANGO doesn't make the summer rotation, it is too harsh - all that whipping and mauling and howls of abuse. What makes EIGHT work for endless reviewings is that no one has dominion over nobody and shot on 70mm film it's probably the most gorgeous looking film in some time, the dark shadows glowing a whole spectrum of deep yellows and purples of the sort I hadn't seen since the Criterion clean-up of the RED DESERT smog. I could spend eternity looking at those fields of Wyoming snow, the carriage thundering along to Morricone's ominous twang and sing-song metronome, the bright yellow lining of Samuel Jackson's cavalry jacket. the way little details are visible clear across the room- the offhand way Kurt Russell assures Daisy he'll stop her cold with a bullet if she tries to escape and then casually wipes some stew from her chin with his napkin, or pours her a slug at the bar. The whole idea of being holed up in this cozy joint during a raging blizzard is a fine inverse mirror to the art of holing up in the AC with your stack of movies during a heat wave. And mostly, I love that Quentin sets up the victims of the Domingray gang massacre in such vivid detail, and makes most of them black without anyone calling attention to it, a kind of color-blind casting that works well because we've already heard much about them, and never pictured them black, only dead--and racist (Minnie hates Mexicans), or the cold dispassionate way the gang are all shown first sweet talking their victims, getting them up on ladders, buying candy, speaking French, etc, then shooting them point blank, and looking down at their still twitching bodies and scared eyes without a word, only clinical killer abstraction. So that in the next chapter, when most are dead or dying, we're totally happy - and the unseen massacring of Major Warren and Sheriff Chris Mannix is forgiven as stakes of war. After all that was then, and this is the Now, and none of that happened at Minnie's Haberdashery, nor that field of snow painted in Bruce Dern's fragile mind.

Ya mind seein' pictures yet?
Nor ours. All are equal going onto Minnie's, and if Major Warren steals the show and Jackson floats in the blood to the top, that's not unusual in a Quentin film - Jackson's the De Niro to his Scorsese, he swims in QT's rich language like a golden pool. In DJANGO he had but a few vicious scenes. Here it's almost a payback. It's about eight hateful characters but Jackson is the one who takes command, that Goggins' Confederate falls under his sway against a common foe makes them a kind of nice mirror to another future black cop/bounty hunter and white crook/sheriff against a lawless horde film, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. See them on a double feature and hey, you'll never spend a better four hours indoors, in the AC, and the shadow of the Hawks, in the dead of night, cuddled next to whomever crawls into your row. Of course you may find there's not many places to go afterwards, Carpenter, Hawks, that new show STRANGER THINGS on Netflix, and then.... where?

Damn it, you know where, Pierre. That giant space bird egg ain't gonna lay itself! That would answer too many damn questions, Pierre. We still have... a long way... to go...  but hand... in motherfuggin' hand... we'll get 1982 back from the Shadowlands...

your loving conqueror, Ro-Man

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Angels of Death Summer Viewing List: The Badass Brunette Edition


It's summer time man, and if you're a Nordic in genes and temperament it's not your favorite season (that would be autumn) so that means lots of time staying home (academia!) and watching old horror movies, for that special chill. And horror means women, and if you love dark long flowing hair then you want brunette beauties up in there. Sure blondes are great. But your (Swedish) mom is blonde, and you can't abide seeing a girl who looks like your mom when she was 29 and you were three years old, struggling to get her attention and then she comes at you like a wurdalak to drink your blood. You kneel at the base of her bed screaming and crying in terror, and she finally wakes fully up and you realize she was just moaning from having to deal with your nonsense.

In short, blondes have the power to paralyze their prey but also to earn our sympathy, loyalty, attraction. If you're me, in general (unless you're French), I'm more your friend rather than lover if you're blonde. From the late 80s to the end of the '10s my best buddy--my platonic true love--has been a blonde ice queen (four different ones) and my GF an 'accessible' brunette (don't ask how many). My therapist had reasons why this formula repeated itself so relentlessly (and still does more or less).

Knowing this you can imagine that I was sooo looking forward to Swedish director Nicholas Windig Refn's NEON DEMON; but then I read April Wolfe's review in the Voice. I can't even seem to think about that issue without starting to shake in rage. If you're like me, you'd like to know that shit's not gonna crop up in horror movies you're watching, especially if for no reason other than some belabored twist 'social message point.' I blame Law and Order: SVU, HBO, and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Directors use every trick to make their R-ratings earned until we leave the film feeling like we too have been violated, the kind of expert molestation done in crowds where it doesn't even dawn on us what happened until the perp is long gone.

Just thinking about my thinking about it starts to elevate my blood pressure in mounting fratricidal rage. So rather than get all high horsey I'm going to skip ahead and share films these with you, all of which have cool women who don't need to deal with these sorts of traumas in order to win my affection. Endangered? Sure, but not at a naked chained quivering character at the mercy of a misogynist cokehead rewrite by the rich kid Illuminati-pledge producer who has to let us know the scope of his decade-long atrocities and snuff operations, as if just ordinary brutalizing wouldn't get us fired up. 

Hence this list: For brunettes can take care of themselves. At least to me. Naturally these laws are all broken forthwith.


9.  Arly Jover, Natasha Gregson Wagner 
VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS 
Dir. Tommy Lee Wallce (2002)
***
More than just a name-only sequel, this is directed by JC's number one apostle, Tommy Lee Wallace and it carries more than a shard of the great man's style (which makes it Hawksian twice removed). The big change here is that the main villainous vamp is the super sexy (but in a sleek way not a softcore bimbo way), lightning fast super strong mentally unstoppable Una (Arly Jover) who dreams of one day being able to walk in daylight without catching fire. Slinking around so fast among the blood bags she is invisible to the naked eye, zipping through packed cafes like a breeze, giving playful licks to the neck of Natsha Gregson Wagner, seducing the claustrophobic on-loan black vampire slayer (Darius McCarey) and scaring James Wood's replacement in the Vatican vamp slaying business, Jon Bon Jovi (who's great), and his priest acolyte.



This semi-sequel to Carpenter's film is way less misogynist and a lot more fun, to me anyway, especially with the addition of Jovi as the lead baddie, and Jover's lithe dancer's body perfectly sheathed in a lovely wrap dress (high fashion meets the mummy, the perfect blend); she doesn't get many lines nor need them but the way, once slowed into view, she moves back and forth like a swaying cobra, turning herself on by tuning into the beating hearts of her impending victims, is a real turn-on, and not in a sleazy way. I was rooting for her every step, as well as digging the cute love story between shoot-first ask-questions-never Jovi and "I'm bit but I got pills"- HIV analogy-trundling Natasha Gregosn Wagner. And is that future Mexican film star Diego Luna (Et tu mama tambien) as the local kid who signs on with a note from his parents? It is, and even with his weird face and strange manner the kid has undeniable screen charisma; you don't know why but you can smell impending stardom all over him. Blood never lies.  Wagner is a perfect vampire here and in...

10. Natasha Gregson Wagner
MODERN VAMPIRES  (1998) 
Dir. Richard Elfman - ***1/2

From VAMPIRE'S KISS, THE ADDICTION and NADJA in the east, and NEAR DARK and VAMPIRES in the west, the 90s was a high time for hipster vampires working blood as an addiction/heroin/schizophrenia substitute and this little honey of a made-for-cable horror has a lot of that vibe. Following vamp Caper Van Diem (showing a real relish for this kind of morale-free bloodthirsty killer romantic) as he cruises back into LA, earning the ire of Dracula, who's held a grudge against him for reasons made clear later (he bit Van Helsing's sick son, and set the wheels of vampire hunting in motion). 

With the director's brother, the great Danny Elfman, delivering one of his better scores of vocalizing and vamping (ala his work on Burton's Ed Wood and Mars Attacks), fusing with wild panther noises when newbie vamp Natasha Gregson Wagner--strutting and looking hot as Hell even in tawdry leather shorts--strikes at her johns and bloodies their cars and nearby alleys. Hot but sufficiently ferocious not to seem chintzy, bruises that seem real - with her shock of (dyed - hence makes the list) blonde hair and disregard for wiping out, cartwheeling drunk into trash piles, Wagner's vamp is the hottest mess going; Natasha Lyonne plays a (human) friend she makes in a club bathroom and goes partying with, to the dismay of her vamp keepers, mainly the hot guy back in town who turned her, Casper Van Diem 

What's so great is that these vamps don't waste their time hunting deer for blood like the Twilight crowd, they go for the jugulars of human beings with cheerful disregard for their screaming and pleading. Seeing naked bound humans terrorized and bled at the local vamp club as mere background to the dialogue and typical club exposition is wondrously refreshing after so many films where newbie vamps are meant to recoil in horror from their impending thirst, the way someone might stop eating meat after visiting a slaughterhouse. 

And damn right you'll be IMDB-ing the name this movie's screenwriter Matthew Bright after this, and once you do and realize he also wrote FREEWAY  and DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT, then suddenly you're hooked. Who is this guy and why isn't he revered to this day as the blood slicked intersection of Jack Hill and Paul Schrader? Not sure. He fell off the map a little bit after this and devolved into druggy dysfunction biopics like BUNDY, which is a drag. As far as made-for-late-night-cable schlock goes, this film is a frickin quasi-gold nougat and yet I'd never have known about it if not for Quiet Cool puttin' me wise when I saw it reviewed alongside DARK ANGEL.  Bright has a yen for truly dangerous women, and I like that. You can smell the same anger at the relentless Kramer-ism and self-inflicted morality that dogs so many similar pics (and has ever since the censors made Hawks insert preachy diatribes at the precinct in SCARFACE). There's a bit too much Rod Steiger as a sociopathic Van Helsing (the film's one true bad guy, sort of) but there's thee always welcome Udo Kier, Craig Ferguson, Kim Cattrall, and Natalya Andreychenko adding oodles of zesty class as the upscale vampires. And there's three great black actor comics as Crips Van Helsing hires to help him raid nests: armed and extremely dangerous while rife with cool in-the-moment stoner comedy, i.e. Half-Baked and How High, but with a violent, stake-ramming edge that's so off kilter for the usual namby pamby second-wind morality (that says the 'good guys' can't be ruthless killers) that the film feels like it's really getting away with something. Even if the gang bang scene carries a nasty charge, its consensual and  either way, this is one bloody unapologetic mess around. When Van Diem preps to leave the final slaughter with Wagner and someone asks what to do he looks at the the dopehead crip vamps running riot in da club and notes that LA "is in good hands." Hahhaha. If this don't make you want to track down Full Moon's other Bright scripted / Richard Elfman-team-up, SHRUNKEN HEADS, then man are you lucky... it sucks but so what?

See also: Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida
KISS OF THE DAMNED
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes
***
Bearded screenwriter Paolo's (Milo Ventimiglio) smoldering eyes meet those of the alluring but stand-offish Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) at the local video store: movies, connection! But they can only hook up if he chains her to her bed, cuz turned on she grows fangs and glowing eyes. After an impressively short bout of initial disbelief, Paolo's just too turned-on to not unchain her, biting and incumbent vampirism be damned. Hey, it's like when you're so in love you don't bother with a condom. I dig it. This movie gets that, and if vampire heterosexual love seems played out, Paolo and Djuna are so good together, so model-perfect without being smug or arch about it, that it's hard not to swoon. With its impeccable color schemes, all the better to perfectly bring out La Baume's gorgeous red hair and pale skin, the occasional bouts of vivid sex, Steven Hufsteter's mellotron slink and electric Morricone score evoking the Franco-Rollin oeuvre better than either ever managed. this retro-lyrical vampire love story would be a hard thing to fuck up, and this impressive debut from the daughter of John Cassavetes is far from fucked-up.


I like it worlds better than the similarly stylized and better-reviewed Duke of Burgundy and I like that movie too. Backed up with beautiful art direction and cinematography, the delicately low-key romantic chemistry of La Baume and Ventimiglio intoxicates so much that when Djuna's wild child sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, needing a place to crash after laying waste to Amsterdam, we recoil in frustration like we're Gene Tierney cockblocked by apple-cheeked cherubs in Leave Her to HeavenKiss of the Damned isn't set in the past or anything but Cassavetes is clearly paying some homage to the sexy vampire films of swinging 60s-70s Europe, and she hooks us into loving them with her by filling us with the giddy high that comes from being welcomed into the in-crowd, and being cool enough that of course you fit right in and become ageless, never tired, super hot, and well-dressed at all times. I like that too what or who exactly they're hunting and drinking deep in the woods (and then burying in the back yard) is left quite vague. Paolo doesn't hem and haw about killing the way Brad Pitt does in Interview with a Vampire What kid of a famous filmmaker has ever made us feel that inclusive intoxication, aside from Sofia Coppola, once? 


12. Alison Elliott as the reincarnation spectra of Irish druid generations
THE ETERNAL 
(1998) Dir. Michael Almereyda
***1/2

If Eugene O'Neill adapted Bram Stoker's "Jewel of the Seven Stars" and set it in modern, swinging times with the help of Hemingway and Lew Landers, I think we'd have the ETERNAL. I found this gem by being into Almereyda's black and white vampire hipster film NADJA and learning he made this one afterwards...Starting in NYC and ending up on a windswept Irish shore, it's about reincarnation and a mummified druid priestess dug out of the peat moss by Christopher Walken and kept down in the basement of the ancestral homestead. Noting her body's been preserved by all the tannin in the peat, Walken's pretty enthralled by his discovery--an ancestor of his family... and therefore Alison's (Alison Eliot) who's been having migraine black-outs and drinking and goes to the homestead in Ireland almost as if called by some unseen force, her fun-loving husband (Jared Harris) and ginger son in tow.

One of the unique subtexts at work here is an undercurrent of pro-drunken anger --as still sick and suffering from episodes of passing out on stairs, Nora regularly has drinks taken out of her hands by fellow drunk husband Jim who says "none for us, we're quitting" and makes a big show of enjoying life without it all while nipping from a flask unseen. That kind of balderdash makes me want to wretch! The way the drinks pass her wide eyes by, or the way she works hard to seem deadpan when getting offered some whiskey down in the basement once Jim's upstairs with the ginger kid --it's the kind of stuff only drunks like myself probably feel so keenly, and non-drunk directors don't even seem to notice as keenly as others when adapting O'Neill's works. Very few playwrights capture the way every offered drink, every vulnerable liquor bottle, warms the alcoholic's blood like a siren call, and every 'no thanks' on their behalf freezes the blood like a gut punch they're not allowed to wince from, lest they prove just how valid their family's concerns are.  (more)

FURTHER BRANCHING:
See also: Michael Almereyda's previous hipster/30s horror deconstruct, NADJA (Elina Löwensohn)
See also: Hammer's adaptation of Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB  (Valerie Leon, above) 
See also: Virginia Christine in: CURSE OF THE MUMMY (1942) 


 2-3. Lili Taylor + Catherine Zeta Jones
THE HAUNTING
(2001) - Dir Jan de Bont
 **1/2

Whenever I feel a close sisterly affinity with an actress I check when and where she was born - sure enough, like me Lili Taylor is a Pisces born in 1967 Illinois. And she's a born mirrorer - meaning she can reflect, distort, match and amplify other people when in close one on one encounters, but we start to lose ourselves the larger the group - we can't reflect everyone after all - and so we begin to vanish. Give us time alone with cool chick like Catherine Zeta Jones, though, and it's like an awesome sexy feedback machine.

An Aires born 1969 in Wales, Jones has a twin sign reflector skill herself - she's never been outshone in any film - always able to at least match her co-star/s, as if a radiance reflector herself. Put two reflectors together like Jones and Taylor in the first chunk of Haunting- and there's instant lesbian heat that overwhelms Taylor (in the mousy caretaker role) which delights Jones, who's fascinated by Taylor's instant crush on her, but quickly moves on once the rest of the guests arrive. Most hilariously is the way, for example, Taylor echoes the ominous words of the uptight housekeeper ("we lock the gates after dark") while giving Jones a sly grin. If only it was just the two of them, running through the house in all its giddy overdressed splendor (funhouse rooms with mirrors and revolving floors, etc), secret panels, living griffins, imprisoned souls, et al. it would be a total classic. But then comes the boys--Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson--in career lows apiece, as if realizing the film's already been stolen by these two raven-haired demonesses, they decide to just wreck it with their smarmy banality.

Jones toys with Owen, bemusedly, partially to get under Taylor's skin, partially out of habit, but always good-naturedly (girls who want guys to stop hitting on them without losing them as friends should study her deflector skill), and eventually Owen drops the "my smile is so disarming" confident smugness and starts to accept his position as a little brother figure. Neeson on the other hand is totally at sea, his grasp off how to act in green screen CGI Whoville is as off as it was in the same year's PHANTOM MENACE.

For example there's the dialogue, clunky, in their initial meeting- Jones bragging about her Prada Milan boots and so forth but she delivers the lines with a cheeky delight in the place "this is so twisted, Susan Foster Kane meets the Addams Family," And the evil-eyed housekeeper delivering the lines "No one will come here / in the dark" about her strict habit of leaving after dinner, but this time Taylor stands next to her, echoing the creepy words and giving an enigmatic semi-feigned macabre delight - it's dialogue that could have sunk to the floor in weaker hands (certainty the housekeepers cast more for severity than chutzpah), but between Taylor's cool/warm Piscean deadpan and Jones' dusky Welsh relish for red, it works - they know how to match the dark twisted tone of the place.

The men by comparison are just dumb and smarmy. When she's talking about Three AM making her feel like a genius, she's bringing about a general discussion of thoughts and inspiration, while all --- can do is rant about the infomercials he watches. ("That's why god created barbiturates, honey" she tells him). But god also created the VCR, dumbass. Watch goddamn WC Fields and learn how to drink like a man; but the script and acting is fascinating as you get the idea these people really are meeting for the first time and all trying to impress each other, lying and inflating their egos (he tries to win her over by patronizingly third person talking to Liam, "I see a little Jackie Susann in Theo" - i.e. he only has comparison with TV and movies, offering none of his own experience by contrast, and it's very patronizing, and she gives him a "sarcastic chuckle."


All Liam can do on contrast is feeble exposition ("a sleep study - that's why we're here.") No shit.

As I've written, I prefer this film to the original Haunting - I know its' heresy but I'm sorry - Russ Tamblyn's little Bronx gremlin face and one-track greed dialogue is wearying and Julie Harris' spinster shit was old as far back as East of Eden. Compare her act in the Haunting to say, Deborah Kerr's 'unhinged Poppins' in The Innocents and you're reminded that while some Brit actresses lend oomph, warmth and gusto to even their spinster roles, others just drain the life out of everything but their own androgynous Emily Dickinson on Lithium depth, mistaking bland tedium as something that--being true to the character--will wow an audience rather than make them want to punch a hole in the wall.


Also check Taylor in THE ADDICTION (1991) my favorite of hers and of Abel Ferrara's- with perfect fusion between her off-the-cuff whispery thrilled aliveness, Ferrara's druggy downtown cool, and screenwriter Nicholas St. John's doctoral thesis in philosophy while on heroin stream-of-consciousness and the Village at the height of its rock sticker-layered post-punk decadence even as NYU was working like methadone. I was living on 15th and 7th and used to walk past all these spots, hungover or drunk out of my mind, and lemmie tell ya, it was really like that - all the black tailgate partying on the weekends, and so froth - Rastas sellin' ganja (maybe), used record and clothing stores every half-step, awesome. All gone now... god damn it all.



4. Rose McGowan
PLANET TERROR
(2007) - Dir. Robert Rodriguez
****

Now that I've had the chance to see the Hateful Eight three or four times, it's become apparent to me just how much that film belongs to Samuel Jackson--how he 'owns' it and centers it and gets the bulk of dialogue. Similarly, seeing PLANET TERROR seven or more times it becomes apparent just how much Rose McGowan's movie this is - how even surrounded by heavy hitters (Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Freddy Rodriguez)  she OWNS it, gets the most lines and screen time and range, changes the most, and most goes for broke, delivering a wide-ranging tough as nails 'it's go-go not cry-cry' moxy, becoming a comedian, dealing with losing her leg and becoming all she can be all over one long crazy night, spilling gallons of infected blood while running (with one leg and no crutches) a gamut of regular loss of hope (her crying one-legged striptease for a repugnant Quentin) and onwards. 

Part of what makes the film work is its moral twilight where none are good or evil without some part of the other (for example, Marley Shelton plays a terrible mother and wife, but one of the intrepid hero survivors; Brolin is at least a 'great 70s dad' and good doctor ["we're gonna have to take the arm, Joe"] while also being Shelton's murderously jealous husband), Biehn for example focuses on arresting El Wray ("are you a 'wrecker,' Wray?") rather than focusing on the town going to shit all around him, etc. Only Wray himself and Cherry (McGowan), the least respectable on paper (rap sheet on one; go-go dancer the other) are truly the knight-errants. Repeat viewings reveal McGowan's journey is one shared by every college graduate with no prospects - how to make use of your list of seemingly useless talents to find a life purpose, all while the clock is ticking and opportunity windows are close closing. Sometime the less options there are the bigger the yet uncreated role you were meant to fill, and that is what real heroism is all about. Funny that her and Wray's motto is 'two against the world,' when they're the most unselfish ones of their group, and therefore truly their sisters' keeper and the finders of los gringos. 

See also:Rose McGowan in
 PHANTOMS
(1991)  **1/2

I suppose most people would think of Charmed or Scream or something when they think of Rose McGowan (1), but me, I think of this, I don't love it but I sure can watch it a lot. It's got several things I like and nothing I don't. Besides strong, cute women in the lead, snowy isolation, guns, the idea of a collapsing Hawksian deputized governmental other (i.e. civilians, military, cops, crooks, drunks etc. working together without shadiness, class distinction, or judgment) working against a common foe and that it starts right in with the slow mounting weirdness, doesn't waste time with tedious small town Americana details (the way a Stephen King miniseries would), and has a cool ancient aliens-style monster, something to root against (I don't jibe with the feel-bad Kramer-esque liberalism of the 'we're the evil aliens' sci fi - ala Day the Earth Stood Still, Man from Planet X, etc.) I love its shades of Carpenter's Thing, and Prince of Darkness  (and that its set over one long night), I relate to being all freaked out when a sibling or bestie lures one to their bohunk town for the holidays, finding out it's full of weird evil creatures and errant electricity. I like the ominous pipe groans, the readiness of the girls to gun up at the sheriff's office. And that Liev Schreiber's full creepiness is utilized (rather than trying to pass himself off a good guy which never works --his eyes are too close together). 

My mom used to have a whole stack of Koontz novels she read on the basement steps in case I wanted to read them, which I never did. They always struck me as Readers Digest versions of Stephen King, stripped--I imagined--of New England townie detail and about thickness. Was it the dull covers or that my mom liked him so I couldn't? Either way, when this movie came around to Syfy I watched it and wondered. Now, strangely enough, Peter O'Toole's elderly face here reminds me a lot of how my mom looked the last time I saw her. Coincidence - am I reading too much into it?? Who's to say what's real.


The cast is pretty badass - Acidemic favorite Rose McGowan, some cute chick named Joanna Going as the tough sisters, Ben Affleck is pleasingly nondescript as the sheriff; with Nicky Katt and Schreiber as the deputies the town takes on a pleasing Actors' Studio patina. like the only person in the whole cast who seems believably from the Rocky Mountain area is Bo Hopkins, stealing a scene with O'Toole in a private plane (when he thinks he's being arrested rather than recruited). Affleck's too young and his hair's to slick and short to be believable as a sheriff, and he and his deputies' vibe mirrors that reflecting in the dissolving military cohesion in Romero's The Crazies in half the time. Schreiber with his serial killer glasses and Michael Keaton-style gum chewing is pretty terrifying as the weirdness of the situation throws him into a manic tailspin, but it would have helped to see him in the beginning as somewhat sane, as it is it seems very improbable anyone but a deranged moron would give him a gun.  So sure, it's not perfect. Sometimes being "not bad" is good enough.



4. Melanie Scorfano
WYNONNA EARP
(SyFy - NOW)
***

Sharknado is the kind of movie Syfy premieres, but they also import cool sci fi TV from Canada, where strong female leads come smuggled from across the 49th Parallel. Here's one that's winning fans for its star Melanie Scorfano, an accursed direct descendent of Wyatt Earp, with an ornate demon killing gun to help her finally undo the curse that's been dogging her lineage since the OK Corral. Wynonna's sister Waverly tends bar at the local watering hole so there's lots of drinking, casual sex, occasionally on-point Black Hills-ish South Dakota country accents, and the kickass Scrofano ("crazy chick with a gun!!" she screams over the music at da'club, and for once that claim is believable). She's could be the cooler little sister of Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. Some of the menfolk don't have a full grasp on their twangs, but the main bad guy (Bobo) is at least cool in a Hitchcockian sort of way, even forging a strange bond with Waverly, etc. and there's females in traditionally male roles (like the blacksmith) and both sides have negatives and positives at play making it all very nice and wry (Wynonna shoots unarmed men/demons with nary a qualm - and I like that). That said, it's not quite in the zone yet but for a first season, it's damned good Canadian, without an ounce of cloying sedimentary sweetness, but plenty of sisterhood, drinking, and weird curses, hellfire, and... Scrofano playing Wynonna with a two-fisted but very womanly gusto (rather than girly softness) that's way beyond most American actresses (if any place is stuck in the past, it's surely Hollywood not Calgary).


6. Famke Janssen - WITCH!
HANSEL+GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
(2012) - Dir Tommy Wirkola 
**1/2
Since I have distant ancestors hung as witches in Salem I'm still sensitive on this issue (that's a joke, how could I possibly remember them - 300 years is a long time, even the ancestral curses have worn off) but you can't call a film misogynist for using the words 'witch' and 'hunters' back to back, though when this first came out I certainly did try, and if there's any unsettling aura of gynocide (as there surely was in the depicted Middle Ages) it's not really apparent in the film, except as concerns the lone dickweed Peter Stormare and his good ole boy constabulary, who try to get rapey with our Gemma Arterton (sister witch hunter) and get smashed up real troll-wise instead. Still we learn not to budge jooks by the clubbers (and I just forward through his yucky parts). I would have liked to see her save herself: there's a good witch (Phila Vitala) and the bad ones are super cool and are led by the great Famke Janssen, fast proving herself to be such a welcome beauty that perhaps the entire world is as smitten with her as poor Logan in X-Men (and me, and anyone who every loved the John Byrne/Chris Claremont era of 70s-80s X-Men comics). We'd follow her off a cliff and director Wirkola (who gave us Dead Sno 2 after this) pulls no punches; it's got so many strong females that if it is misogynist it's also a tribute to the inner resilience of womankind. Repress her and you just repress yourself, Stormare, you dickweed. See also Famke's great work in Lord of Illusions, The Faculty, and fuckin' love you, Famke.

See also by Wirkola:

9. DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD
"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola
***
The Bride of Frankenstein of Nazi zombie pictures, it starts in the climax of the last one: Martin (Vegar Hoel), the final boy of the last film now has the the dreaded Colonel Herzog's (Ørjan Gamst) arm sewed onto him, and can raise the dead with it. So he resurrects a bunch of Russian POWs executed by the Nazis and buried in a mass grave 70 years ago (but frozen in the Norwegian mountains), to go up against Herzog's crew, who liberate an old Panzer tank from a nearby museum, a tank! A Nazi zombie first!




Marin is aided by three American nerds, 'the Zombie Squad' --Martin Starr (Party Down, Burning Love), Ingrid Haas, and the lovely Jocelyn DeBoer (above center) as a Star Wars nerd, the type who can have her pick of any man at the San Diego comic-con but probably doesn't even realize it, which makes her just the hotter. And everyone plays it dead straight, as nature, science and Nordic tradition demands. Miss it at your own risk. It's in English (not dubbed): the actors speak it, very well, creating an odd juxtaposition if you watch this back-to-back with the Norwegian language first film).

See also with Famke
11. THE FACULTY 
(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez
***
This movie came and went in theaters and is easy to overlook, awash as Netflix is in dumped-to-video teen horror films. But I saw this in the theater, and dug the romance between Famke Janssen and the drug-dealing high school brooder Josh Hartnett; there's also a new girl in school (Laura Harris), a mysterious outbreak of body-snatcher's style teacher takeover, and the best use of getting called into the principal's office as a cause for terror ever, and a keenly-felt amount of dread and frustration with parents that just tear apart your room looking for drugs when you make strange claims about alien takeovers. The all-star cast includes John Stewart as the science teacher, Terminator 2's Robert Patrick as the gym coach, Selma Hayek as the nurse, Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as vice principals, all jumping at the chance to work with Roberto Rodriguez and Scream writer Kevin Williamson (this time he keeps the film references in check, focusing instead on sci fi novel sources (Duvall explains that Finney's Body Snatchers was a rip-off of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, and Wood theorizes aliens promoted these themes so that no one would believe it when they happened for real, ala Bruce Rux, etc.)

The younger cast includes Clea Duvall is the Aly Sheedy-style outcast (in case you didn't make the Breakfast Club connection), and Jordana Brewster is spritely as a bitchy school newspaper reporter cheerleader bemused by photographer Elija Wood's infatuation with her.

The attempts of the new student (a touching Laura Harris) to connect are pretty sweet. She's almost the only human there, her existential loneliness the closest thing to a genuine high school emotion. Aside from stoner crank dealer Josh Hartnett, hottie nerd teacher Famke Janssen, nerdo Baggins, there's Usher! A memorable Marilyn Manson "We Don't Need No Education" runs under the uber-violent football game, connecting the cosmic dread of death with the fascist-pagan ceremonial barbarism of small town high school football. Best of all is how fast the heroes fall prey to the take-over, romances flare up and fade, and it all moves inexorably onwards. Roberto Rodriguez's direction is tight, as it often is when he's not trying to make an auteur statement. This baby came and went in the Kevin Williamson post-Scream gold rush (i.e. I know What You Did Last Summer), by 1999, Blair Witch Project and Sixth Sense had taken over.

See also w/ Gemma Arterton:

8. Gemma Arterton
BYZANTIUM
(2013)  ***1/2
Dir Neil Jordan

Speaking of crazy Gemma - Irish director Neil Jordan loves cinema, beautiful girls, cinematic violence and the tawdry vice-ridden tourist traps of the UK seaside, in that order, and here delivers 'em all swirled like frosting on the existential women's picture (ala Suzuki not Cukor) yoked sublimely to the Anne Rice-readymade tale of a 200+ year old vampire and her equally ageless daughter (Saoirse Ronan) . The film has a rare style, so sure and gorgeous it seems--like the daughter unfixed to any one century, out to ensnare the hearts of the real life Edgar Allen Poe, his child wife/cousin, the Bronte sisters, and 15 year-old Twilight fans all in the same razor-studded wire net. Ferocious Gemma Arterton is Carmilla (!), we see her tossed by an uncaring officer into a brothel back in the 1700s, later following him off to the remote Irish coast island (Hy-Brasil?) where anyone who enters a certain cave and bathes in bats or whatever is imbued with immortal vampirism - a secret kept by an all-male Illuminati-style brotherhood who don't want any girls mucking it up, to the point they've had hit teams on her trail since the day she was turned. By 2013 she's still making her way by turning tricks, drinking her johns, as it were, if they get too bold. Saoirse on the other hand plays angel of mercy by only drinking-killing old folks who are 'ready' to go and who all seem to recognize her as come at last. She's kind of a drip, a bit like Edwina's daughter in Absolutely Fabulous, while Arterton is a force of nature. Though hundreds of years old, she's still just as daft as the day she was bit, and it's odd hearing a working class Brit accent on such a creature but it fits the way her voracious brio for her work, the affection for the gentle, lonely clients of her ancient trade and her rabid relish in tearing the bad ones apart, especially if they impugn her mothering skill or threaten her daughter. If it somehow doesn't ultimately seem to add up, say anything new, and you can see the events and resolutions a mile off, that doesn't mean Jordan's as sure of foot as few others, drawing on his experience with merging vivid working class grunginess, historical costume bodice ripping, fairy tale dream poetics, and poetry with sexual tolerance and forgiveness.


Anitra Ford and Joy Bang
MESSIAH OF EVIL
(1973) ****
You can argue the rest of the film is merely a very cool quiet Lovecraft of the Living Dead style melt down with some very cool wall paintings but you'd miss one unique thing - the strange bond between the two girlfriend's of the sleepy-eyed aesthete (Michael Greer) who joins bewildered daughter of missing artist Royal Dano, Arletty (Marianna Hill) in her quest to unravel the weird Shadow over Innsmouth-style events of the small seaside town. Though they all apparently are lovers (as if he's a stand-in for, say, PERFORMANCE co-director Donald Cammell) there's never much sexual chemistry betwixt them, but there's something much more special: a drowsy affection and almost wordless connection. You get the sense these three people have done quite a bit of driving together, seen some crazy shit, and, maybe a month or so ago were deeply enthralled with each other, vibing on a communal three-way artistic road trip odyssey groove, an odyssey that's now coming to its end as organically as it started. Tired from a lot of sex and drugs and monkey grooming, caught up in the rhythm of the sea, they're still close but Anitra Ford, for one (never hotter or cooler dressed with that gorgeous contrast of long, willowy trunk and crazy hot mess of hair) and her associate, little punk Nikki Charmer Joy Bang (whom you can imagine they picked up hitch hiking or something initially but has been way more than a third wheel on their aimless odyssey), are restless and ready to disappear into the night. I like that there's no boring lipstick lesbian smut (or sex at all), and instead, as I say, this languid shared vibe. Ford gets mildly perturbed when Greer loses all interest in her as Arletty rolls into his sights, and so leaves her man and woman behind to go wander into the night. Her confident slow vanishing into the quiet abyss of night is chillingly poetic.... Bang follows awhile later to go to the movies, and is more the unconscious popcorn smacker, but she's young, hey, and I'm guessing the perfect snack before the main feature. In short, though I only got this disc a few years ago, I've already seen it at least six times. It's one of the great horror rediscoveries of my decade.



Anna D'Annunzio as Barbara
 STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS
(2013) Dir Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
***1/2

Hélène Cattet et Bruno Forlani, the first couple of the Darionioni Nuovo take Argento and smash him into a thousand mirror shards for this hyper-surreal Freudian mind-meld. Granted their unique looping style will no doubt prove irritating after about twenty minutes to people who don't know SUSPIRIA and INFERNO like the black of their gloves, and who don't swoon at gorgeous mazes of art nouveau architecture and Jungian psychosexual mythic color-coded resonance.  The plot concerns Dan (Klaus Tange), one of those nondescript middle-aged vaguely ex-porn starry executive types French film is full of, returning home to his apartment after a business trip to find his wife gone and only a series of bizarre clues as to where she disappeared to; apparently it's somewhere inside the massive byzantine, super strange building they live in. As we gawk in awe and wonder what parts of this amazing edifice are sets and which actual building interiors, we long to move in, irregardless of the sensual dangers behind every wall. Strange clues whispered through vents; elderly neighbors with haunting stories of peering through ceiling holes into the apartment above; a gendarme detective drops by now and again to help him knock on doors but no one is the same person who answers and more and more suspicion falls on Dan; going up to the roof for a cigarette to he first meets Barbara (Anna D'Annunzio) and we just know he's found some dark dangerous magnetized void where death and desire, agony and ecstasy orbit and merge as time stands whirlpool maelstrom still. The way Forlani/ Cattet and D'Annunzio manage to imply this by little more than a black satin shirt, open collar and long dark hair, dark red lipstick, is beyond me, but just meeting her causes a blood chilling sensation like a razor blade dipped in ice water before being run down our backs. A sublime and terrifying anima, we get the feeling that he'll never find her again or escape her bedroom vortex except on her own transfigurative terms, and going to bed with her will be a fatal mistake he'd be a fool not to make.

How all this is conveyed by little more than a glance and a cigarette on a roof at night I'm I don't pretend to know but it's a testament to the filmmakers' understanding of the psyche and psychosis underlying all the better giallos and  D'Annunzio's raven haired/pale skin beauty offset by blazing red lips and unearthly confidence, added to the relative rareness of her appearances, conditioning us to shiver with dread at the first sign of her beauty, a harbinger of more inside-out slashing, glass-eating, and multicolored gem fingernail gashing to come. Unbearable pleasure, intoxicating agony, nonexistent time. Rewind forever and learn nothing.