Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


(2015) Dir. Adam Brooks

 In the beginning there was just the poster... with a lot of strange fake names like Ally Gunning and Ahab Bricks and an image of a moviola running a reel of segmented human intestine or spine or something through the sprockets; it was a kind of EC Comics final twist panel for a movie as yet unwritten. Commissioned for a Canadian "Nonexistent Film" poster art show, it was intriguing enough to commission a trailer, and then, finally, a feature was commissioned from the trailer. That order may seem strange but the crazy horror genre is used to it. Val Lewton famously was given the titles for his films by RKO brass, then had to write a film to go with them. Exploitation auteurs would often use the poster to pre-sell the film to distributors for the money to make it.

And now, comes to DVD/Blu-ray, THE EDITOR.

A zippy, blood and nudity-primary color drenched satiric whirlwind that makes Rodriguez' PlANET TERROR seem pretentious and talky by contrast, its frenetic pace, along with inextricable layers of cinematic self-reflexivity and metatextual breakdown, can make for quite a blurry ride until repeat viewings bring it all into focus, (presumably), sussing out split personality nuance and allowing room to savor the Argento's INFERNO-esque colour palette, the 70s-80s bedroom racing stripes of a thousand Canadian-presents-merging with-Italian yesterdays, and the irresistibly old school analog synth score. Will you make those multiple trips to the Astron-6 quadrant? Will you take my hand... and return it to its rightful owner?

The weirdest thing about THE EDITOR (the final film) is that it's almost as much a satire of the "post-giallos" made today as the old/original ones made yesterday that have become classics and been largely forgiven and absolved from charges of misogyny.  DVD and HD widescreens have given visually and aurally psychedelic color-saturated Italian giallos from the 70s and slasher-horror from the 80s a second life (no more pan and scan, muddy colors, lack of audio options)--making their films demand re-evaluation by once-sneering critics (such as myself)--they seem newer than most 'new' stuff being churned out today. So it stands to reason there'd be an emerging slew of imitators, just as there were back then. And so, in our glorious Blu-ray age, great companies like Blue Underground, Code Red, Scorpion, Synapse, and Scream Factory make 70s-80s Euosleaze, giallo, and horror films seem like miracles that still carry a nostalgic jouissance-tingling currency for a generation too young to actually see the originals at the time, but too old to not remember, and be traumatized by, the TV spots and second-hand synopsizing from adventurous babysitters. Those brief glimpses into the fiery sex-death bowels of weird older adults-only horror movie frisson cut our soul deep, like initiatory tribal scarring. So now we watch our DVDs of them over and over, half out of a warped obsessive-compulsive disorder, half out of cargo cult-style reverie. Naturally now we want to make our own totemic effigies, just to feel that childhood thrill of terror again, or at least hear some colors and see sound.

So lo and behold, a whole new breed of horror film is erupting, the post-giallo thriller--either straight, artfully fragmented (Peter Strickland, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani - as seen in my curated Netflix festival entry, Post-Giallo Nightmare Logic ala Netflix) or--as for THE EDITOR--respectfully satiric. Canadian 80s-obsessed filmmaker collective Astron-6 give us fake mustaches, intentionally "off" macho dubbing, too-watery blood and a layered post-modern style that incorporates such eye-popping post-modern sights as a man climbing out through the screen of a moviola. The vibe is heavily misogynistic but no more so than BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and it has that show's Asia Argento-Jennifer Tilly hybrid of the moment, Paz de la Huerta (above), who does batshit crazy pretty well. She would make a grand Martha in a horror movie update of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF or SCORE! Here she plays the sexually supercharged and big-lipped wife of the star, the titular editor, Ray Ciso (director Adam Brooks) and she makes Edwige Fenech seem like Annette Funicello.

Whoa, is that reference too inside? You don't know Fenech from Funicello? Then you may be the wrong audience for THE EDITOR. Best you go home and watch CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS and BEACH BLANKET BINGO in alternating DVD chapters until they bleed together as CASE OF THE BLOODY BLANKET or BLOOD IRIS BINGO. Go ahead... We'll wait.... 

We'll be right here, with our massive finger collections drenched under grueful kliegs.

Back? Good. Now you can love THE EDITOR, to a point. I forgot to tell you to see THE BEYOND while you're at it. But how can I tell you to see something I don't particularly like? I love about 1/2 that film but after the third minute of watching unconvincing gore close-ups of tarantulas pulling at skin-colored latex, well, I lose interest. And once gore loses its punch, its shock value, what the hell good is it? It's just abstraction, like watching a horror movie that's just people burning flags. But I do love those white eyes on that girl in the middle of the road with the dog, the overall oppressive vibe, the contrapuntal score, and the existential ending. I'm not surprised the Astrons know THE BEYOND by heart: its strengths and weaknesses are theirs as well: pure dream logic sensationalism at the loss of coherence; a gleeful reveling in ugly excess that eventually deadens audience interest; a mirror reflection whirl of gruesome splatter, unconsciously puritanical sex, overwrought abstraction and 80s aerobics. I do love EDITOR's Franco Nero mustaches, and the Negaverse' alternate shadow reality populated by ghosts of the slain, severed fingers, FROM BEYOND-esque air eels, and swirling black mists. Man have to be blind not to love that.

From top: The Beyond (1981); The Editor (2011)

There's only one real main flaw, for me, that undoes some of the good: the tawdry misogynistic strip club brazenness (and by misogyny I don't mean the great scene where the cop shows up at his quarry's table during an argument to slap his wife for him--that's hilarious) at odds with the more laid and repressed-but-sexier Italians of the era depicted. In other words, I feel fine showing SUSPIRIA and even TENEBRE to a hipster feminist, but wouldn't feel comfortable showing her THE EDITOR. Maybe I'm just a prude, but I can't help but feel all those layers being peeled here should produce a feeling of disoriented self-reflexive paranoia the way it did in THE STUNTMAN or MULHOLLAND DR. rather than leaving me feeling like the lack of a female member of Astron 6 (a Daria Nicolodi or Debra Hill, if you will), negatively affects their final product.

But hey, aside from that sticky wicket, good on ya, mates, cuzza Kier!!

The marvelous Udo

The gorgeous Jean-Louis Trintignant and gorgeous Ewa Aulin in Italian Guilo Questi's perverse qua giallo
1968- Dir. Guilio Questi

While sensitive souls wait for the day that factory farming is regarded as one of humanity's worst atrocities, for writer-director Giuliu Questi (Django Kill, If you Live... Shoot!) and co-writer Franco Arcalli that day came back in 1968, the same year as Argento's groundbreaking Bird with Crystal Plumage. With weird dialogue that sounds like some kind of enigmatic code --the way Belmondo and Karina sometimes talk in that half-recited way in Pierrot Le Fou ("Moi aussi, Marianne")--there's something kinda magic about DLAE. The underlaying weird horror subplot concerns the accidental production of a headless chicken, a hoped for mutation (ala 'Mike') that should guarantee the horrified coop owners a heftier profit margin (and the occasionally conscientious co-maestro de pollaio Marco [Jean Louis Trintignant] a nervous breakdown), is weird enough all by itself, but that's just the nadir of an already twisty morass of lofty scheming of the bed and boardroom and feathery factory floor. A glorified trophy husband (has he ever been more beautiful?), Trintignant's petulant Marco vents his frustrations at being kept by his older woman chicken magnate wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) by cutting up prostitutes in a secret hotel room and covering scarves with Zodiac-esque symbols. Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin, Candy herself) is Anna's hot secretary, and it's implied she might be having an affair with Anna as well as Marco, and whomever else wants to go for the seven minutes in heaven during one of their cocktail party games. During their regular cinq-a-septs Marco keeps pressuring Gabrielle to run away with him, filling her jaded ear with his sulky declarations. She worries--wisely--that without access to Anna's pockets he'd be too broke to keep her in unmarked scarves. "What different does that make?" he says. "We can always steal, can't we?" Ever the Lorelei Lee, our Gabrielle cautions him: "Love is a luxury." But Trintignant's playing an Italian, and they don't like to be put off their feed, so he takes it out on the prostitutes. What a catch he'd make! But even he draws the line at the idea of raising headless chickens, not realizing they were created by the accidental introduction of Anna's wrong-stepping dog into the seed grinder. "This is the beginning of those mutations I've been working for!" says the scientist, taking credit. "It will bring radical changes to production." Even if the chickens don't turn homicidal like the cats in The Corpse Grinders, the monstrosity of it all drives Marco into progressively more desperate, quasi-humane misogynist fury!

Questi's seemingly benign tale is rife with weird flashbacks, twists, and ragged editing of an almost Bill Gunn-style sideways termite-Eisenstein off-the-cuff brilliance. Bruno Madera's patchwork soundtrack plunges down in the atonal piano key palm-mash abyss one scene and sashays up in bossa nova and Anton Karras zither the next. Strange voices shout in German over Brazilian violins during the lovemaking; Bruno skulks around the all white henhouse, the office, the boudoir. There are egg-related objets d'art-decorated offices and plenty of real eggs in rows. Gabrielle and Anna start dressing up like whores and frequenting Bruno's secret haunts to try to get to the bottom of his mysterious tomcatting. Or do they? And why did they cross the road, anyway?

Made before--or concurrently with--Argento 'animal trilogy', Egg follows its own little breadcrumb or chicken seed trail across the road away from Antonioni's Blow-Up blast radius. It's neither Louis Malle or Chabrol style nouvelle vague noir nor Argento/Bava candy-colored killer roundelay, nor early Polanski power-trip sexual head game triangulating or Sirk-x-Fassbinder bitch-in-the-boardroom in a Dolce Vita shell-gaming. That said it's never not those things either - there's even a sexy parlor game for the decadent bourgeois revelers at Anna's party, a perfect metaphor for our Marco-like frustration trying to anticipate what will happen next as glistening honey traps keep throwing us off the scent. 

And then it... kind of just stops, albeit on a gotcha. The Streaming on Amazon Prime cut is reasonably decent quality for non-HD (I took the above the screenshots therefrom), which makes it worth seeking out if you've high on an early pre-giallo kick and already re-watched all your Argentos and Fulcis like so many reps on your quads. 

(PS - another good 1968 Blow-Up blast radius qua-giallo: Elio Petri's A Quiet Place in the Country). 

Once upon a time there was much variety in action movies and then.... there was Beverly Hills Cop, which made so many dump trucks full of money it became the only kind of movie Hollywood would ever make again. That's why in every post I've ever written I talk about the post-BHC and the pre-BHC era. And in the post BHC era, i.e. the 80s. There was also The Terminator, and Robocop, and there was Lethal Weapon... and of course, Flashdance. And so, it was natural to come along and quadrangulate the four--the cool fast-talking black guy, the buddy cops who hate each other at first, the killer automaton, the Jennifer Beals getting wet in spandex and fuzzy legging while hoping to be a real dancer--together they made more money than Hollywood ever knew existed. So they heeded what Raul Julia says in The Gumball Rally is the first rule of Italian driving: "what's behind me," he says ripping out the rearview mirror, "is-a not important."

Once again from the top: Murphy, Beals, Gibson, Schwarzenegger. And if you want to get technical, Jamie Lee Curtis in the willfully forgotten misfire Perfect (1985 - above left), the unofficial sequel to Saturday Night Fever (or was that Staying Alive (1983)? If those involved with it have their way, you will never see Perfect or Staying Alive or even Moment by Moment (1978) or Two of a Kind (1983) in your lifetime.

To crunch the above triptych tomcat tomboy bull roster, consider this as an alternative... even if it is made ten years too late:

(1991) Dir. Duncan Gibbins

There's an 'out-of-sync with its era'-vibe to this 'cool black cop and MILF engineer vs. amok lady android' genre entry.' Can it be explained by knowing that its director died two years after it came out while trying to rescue his cat during the 1993 California wildfires? Not that such tragedy should affect our affection (or lack of) for such a flatly filmed--but fascinatingly proto-Carol Cloverian-- thriller about an amok female robot, who--as in all terribly written Robocop clones-- finds street crime running rampant wherever she steps, forcing her to kill and/or get a robotic concussion which disrupts her neural network and sends her on a one woman vendetta against all the men who wronged her sexy maker (since said maker uploaded her own memories to said robot just as Tyrell gave Rachel his niece's memories in Blade Runner), so just imagine this is Rachel gunning for the spider who scared her as a kid, or the boy who showed her his but she chickened and ran.

On the other hand, no mere Blade Runner comparison can explain the presence of Gregory Hines, whose 80s tap dance career somehow qualifies him for leading a thick-necked hulking SWAT team against irrational chick robots. An actor not about to stick his neck into the wildfire by embracing any dumb action movie cardboard cat of a character, Gregory seems to have forgotten there are no small roles, only small actors. And man, that size really fits. Which begs another question: why was Hines even cast, aside from: he's black, has done comedy, dances, people know his name and that's at least two checks on the holy quadrangle checklist above (the Beverly Hills Cop black cop comic; the Flashdance movement coach)? If this film's about a tall Germanic white chick, the producers seem to think, naturally it demands a teensy-weensy black male star counterpoint. With his trim little line of a beard, comically oversize 90s suit, and face that looked like someone pulled his nose way way out and then snapped it back until it drooped down below his chin, Hines gives the impression he's a little elf wearing the skin of a larger man, which makes his berating a bunch big-armed mesomorph SWAT guys after they underperform in a hostage rescue exercise the highlight of the film. Shouting at the top of his lungs, voice barely cutting through the thick testosterone and sound of approaching helicopters, Hines sounds more like a fussy choreographer rather than a tough hostage rescue instructor. Is "not cracking up" part of his team's SWAT training? Amok Eve VIII (Renée Soutendijk) should be easy to find and wrangle after that near-impossible challenge.

So all Hines has to do is tell his SWAT guys where to shoot and follow this crazy 'bot down the traumatic memory lane of her 'image and likeness'-style designer, also played by Soutendijk who shares his helicopter. Too bad that--even after all that fussy beration--his men can't shoot (or duck) for shit, so EVE VIII ends up decimating entire ambush parties with a single Mac 10 clip. Next time you want to train some inept SWAT guys, America, call R. Lee Emery!

Soutendijk, a Dutch actress, was in a bunch of Dutch language Paul Verhoeven films neither you or I have probably seen, but have long wanted to (they're OOP in R1 or on youtube without subtitles).  She's the girl holding the scissors in that Fourth Man poster (left) and does a good job believably decimating an array of supposedly competent armed men and sleazy studs as the Eve VIII. It's pretty cathartic when she blasts them all to hell! Verhoeven should be proud.

I admit I recently bought the Blu-ray of EVE, mostly out of loyalty to a drunken half-remembered night when my brother and I caught it on cable and laughed and cheered ourselves senseless. It's not quite as good sober, but what is? Still, if you're craving a witless 'so-cliche-it's-classic' Terminator-Robocop-clone pre-CGI 80s flick from the early 90s, look no further... than Dark Angel (1990).

If you're still hungry after that, pour on the Hines. And PS: driving into a raging inferno to rescue your cat? One hundred percent badass. Even if you didn't make it out alive, or make a very good movie, you, Duncan Gibbons, are a man for me.

Hines, with tired eyes that convey 'how did I get into this shit?'

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