Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Angels of Deathlist: 15 Split Subject Blonde Maenads; Lanky brunettes with wicked Jaws (Ed. V)


Magic sluts with intoxicating glances, trouncing doormat drudges dupable and dour: I pledge my eternal soul to you, badass brutal bitches of the cinema. In these 15 capsule review / character vivisections, I pen my praise unto thee. Be you sexy-voiced Morticia-esque Brits fogging the minds of idiot constables in Hammer-satires, wild-eyed Spanish brujas too cool for dubbing, a super bitch bizarro version of Emma Peel, or just a wild-eyed young mom replicating herself in an endless loop, you're welcome to have never arrived because you've been here all along. 

And for you, gentle reader, come along and see. These films are Halloween ready, and the women inside them more than merely players. They will FUCK you UP. Allow it.

1. Melissa George 
 TRIANGLE 
(2009) Dir. Christopher Smkith
***

Not to be confused with the 1970 'art' film starring Tiffany Bolling, this 2009 version is a weird mixture of elements from the 1980 classic Death Ship, any of the three dozen films called Ghost Ship, and Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom." A daytripping yachtload of himbos, beeyatches, and George, a slightly skittish blonde deer-in-the-headlights single mom of a weird kid (who she leaves "at school"), pass through a strange electrical storm inside the Bermuda Triangle (get it?). They capsize, and eventually drift aboard a seemingly abandoned but still functional luxury liner. It would be wrong to tell you anything more, except that it used to play nearly nonstop on Showtime, and it's the kind of film you can come in on anywhere, over and over, and not only does this strategy compliment the elliptical meta-ouroboros narrative, it creates a whole new meaning every time.  Embodying a complex web of sympathetic-to-unsympathetic roles at various overlapping segments of 'time', shading so seamlessly from light to dark it's like if Hyde became Jekyll so gradually we never notice until the change is complete, like the frog in the pot of boiling water, Melissa George shows that beneath those haunted Goldie Hawn-by-way-of-Heather-Graham eyes lurk stealth chops.

I'm not yet sure if Triangle's strange loop-de-loop logic rewards close scrutiny, so be safe and don't give it too much, just have done Salvia Divinorum inside a year of viewing and trust that this is how reality 'really' works (see also my Serpent and the Bartender analogy). Pair it with Frequency and Lost Highway for a triple bill of high-stepping Capgras delusional double feature full night of stepping off frequencies high nightfull Capgras high-edliniedonalishuntrinsiculotiousness, bud--dy...lusionalcapgras

PS - "high-edliniedonalishuntrinsiculotiousness" is a real word, read it out loud, slowly, and you'll see. Learn to pronounce it to the slow beat of a metronome and the sheer length of it as being all one word will set you free. We're so used to words starting and ending quickly, forming our thoughts and conception of reality around them, that when one starts and never ends our expectations for the end of the word are shattered. Our brain switches gears and we realize we've been stuck in language like a roach trap of time. Freed, our mind uncoils like it might after a six-hour chanting kundalini serpent session peeling out in one long unwinding hose of a word and the karmic chain which links a killer to his/her victim unspools like a celluloid strip of self. Whether the you running towards the me who wants to kill me, save me, or have me save him/her depends on when I come in on the unspooling. TRIANGLE gets that.... yeah it doesn't. Wait, who said that? END SPOILER

2. Kim Novak as Lylah Clare / Elsa Brinkman
(shout out to Valentina Cortez as Countess Bozo)
THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE
(1968) Dir Robert Aldrich
***

For badder or worsest, in sickness and in death, there are films you wind up married to, like it or not, because over the years you're able to see the latticework of doubling inside them. The parts where you, the viewer, make the double become quadruple, so wherever you look you see an obsessive Napoleon of Broadway jabbing his Mildred Plotka with hatpins until Lilly Garland screams forth like a rancid Coney Island low tide projectile vomiting a shucked oyster clear to midtown. Just having Kim VERTIGO Novak as a lead already implies she's two personae (ghost-anima baller maenad; shy dimwit virgin drudge), and that each in turn must be thrown up against a woozy James Stewart like a beach ball filled with pure oxygen and sloshing kerosine whipped at a spindly match. There's no Stewart here, thank god, but no Hitchcock to fuss over her hair and make-up and lighting, so in both incarnations she's an oily, unkempt mess. She also seems uncomfortable not only in her thrift store wigs but in her own skin. At least as the drudge wannabe actress who may have the ghost of the Svengali producer's beard /obsession sea wife inside her (see above picture), there's a context, but it's as if she's wondering if playing two opposing personas in each movie she makes counts as typecasting. At least here the ghost she embodies isn't a maudlin Spanish phantasm but a foul-mouthed Hollywood lesbian, who--truth be told--endured her smitten Svengali's regressive touch the way a tired prostitute endures a sweaty boy's first time spasms, never doing a dram more than needed to get him off --it taking all her energy not to burst out laughing in his face, coldly, mirthlessly!

Mediating his Network fire and Georgie-Boy brimstone with unappealing (and unconvincing) spoiled brat malice, Peter Finch's performance aims for grandiose Barrymore intellectual flourish, or at least a dash of Addison DeWitt, but his habit of falling into self-sabotaging, badly-written tantrums seems like Aldrich is getting even with some tantrum-throwing producer in his past rather than helping Finch embody any real, complex non-satirical-mouthpiece character. Such childish outbursts are the sort that--let's face it--no real impresario could get away with for long, snapping at so many proffered hands, he all but chips his teeth.

Call me crazy but as I get older I'm continually more delighted by Aldrich's jaundiced take on Hollywood and less and less taken with Billy Wilder's (Sunset Boulevard, Kiss Me Stupid). Even when homophobic and infantile  (Big Knife, Baby Jane, Killing of Sister George), Aldrich has a genuine streak of misanthropy about him, while Wilder is just lewd, the type to grab at your daughter in the elevator but not even give you the courtesy of eye contact while he does so. Aldrich feels up your grandmother instead and then slaps you in the face, like a real man!

His only misstep--which he regularly makes, and does so here--is in once again following some baroque Babel-style lighting playbook that says actress's faces must look greasy and over-lit, the make-up and lighting are at such odds the effect is suffocatingly clownish and garish; you can see the sweat straining to get out from blocked pores from the heat of the kliegs, acne blemishes erupting from the epidermal suffocation while you watch, horrified and browbeaten. Frighteningly "styled" blonde wigs aren't pinned on, so the bangs slowly revolve around the actors' heads as the scenes play on. Attractive young women suddenly look like Tourist Trap mannequins after a grease fire.

But from far away, behind the haze of VHS, I love Aldrich's badass babes, the awful daring of having the whole lesbian 'sewing circle' represented not with caricatures or lipstick hotties but middle-aged broads who got to their upper rung niches by a mix of youth, talent, and the ability to sleep with any man as needed, even Ernest Borgnine, and having it mean even less to her than it does to him and never presuming it's either a substitute for or a devaluation of her fashion designing talents but more as a way of quick bonding to create the creative intimacy required for future films ("being "in bed together" a literal as well as figurative definition of their creative relationship). Countess Bozo's (Valentina Cortez) sexually open give-and-take with Borgnine at his office etc., indicates they fooled around once or twice 20 years ago and she used it against him for as long as it took to prove to him she knew her shit around a dress dummy, and now she's a fixture in the scene, like the plumbing. Cortez acts her with such casual chainsmoking elegance you can all but hear her entire life story--from Weimar cabaret wardrobe mistress to the German exodus to Hollywood in the 30s, to a complete almost zen chill confidence at her job that puts producers at ease. If I was to ever cite an example of how a woman might use her loose sexuality in the office to earn respect--even into middle age--rather than fighting against it like a tide, Falk's Bozo is it. She even has a great Mutt and Jeff dynamic with her union mannequin shlepper (above left) --look at the three of 'em up there - don't it make a swell pitcher?

Best of all, Aldrich isn't convinced he's making art - like Borgnine says, he makes "movies, not films." And even when they're homophobic freak shows (as in Killing of Sister George, a film I hate as much as I love this one) they're more interesting than 98% of the shit in either camp. In fact, the worst part of Clare just might be Finch, who never seems to find a niche that might help us understand why anyone would put up with his Dick Steele-style infantile Hollywood self-sabotage for more than a drink or two. If it was someone with gravitas or charm you could figure it out, but Finch just seems like the kind of creep who hits on all your friends and you have to kick him out of your party at four AM because he's having a glass-smashing tantrum the moment any girl stops talking to him even for a second. He's Andy Dick, not Dick Burton

Oh yeah, and Lylah, when her ghost manifests through her doormat doppelgänger, speaks in a thick pitch shifted Euro accent (dubbed by a different actress?) and attacks everyone in earshot so relentlessly and tersely--knowing all the dirty secrets her mortal vessel (or even Finch) could know---she's like a breath of fresh air, a cookie full of arsenic, and a cyanide flame thrower (match her, Sidney) all aimed square at Hedda Hopper as a symbol of all the frustrated prudish dykes who lash out in their columns at the hotties who spurn their clawed and flustered come-ons (all while Lylah's frustrated, masochistic lesbian PA, Rosella Falk, smokes and looks sorrowfully on). Homophobic? Naturally, but also daring for the time, and--after all--America always ridicules and gapes as a prelude to acclimation. Is it hurtful and unjust? Yes, but as any new kid in school learns, you're only a target until an even newer kid show up, then suddenly you're 'in' and join the attackers. You can be ashamed of it later, but for now, you're one of the gang. "Congratulations," I guess? Who will the gays and straights rally against now that they're together? (PS - the answer: May-December couples)

3. Emmanuelle Seigner -VENUS IN FUR
(2014) Dir. Roman Polanski
**1/2
Stand over there! Dominate me!" these two seemingly contradictory commands are given by wormy Polanski stand-in, Mattieu Amalric, to Polanski's (then?) real-life wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, at a late evening rainy audition for a Venus in Furs theatrical adaptation. Alone together in the mostly darkened theater, him with notes and script already packed and halfway out the door, she showing up drenched in rain, begging him for a chance to read; within an hour she's barely tolerating having him beg her to stay while she badmouths the infantile myopia at the heart of his beloved Sacher Masoch source text. To drive the Sternberg-Bunuel dog collar studs into the neck, at one point she even starts talking in fake German saying she's adding some Dietrich to her role. Too aware of the intricacies of Masoch's text to be just a part-time temp / call girl / actress threatening to call actor's equity one minute and taking his money and passport the next while he becomes more and more dependent on her brazen gleaming energy, Seigner runs with her part (she's also several inches taller than Amalric--something that never seems to faze the diminutive Polanski with his giant brides) and above all captures the fluid crucible of identity melting and genre at the heart of good audition-drama (i..e. when is the part, who is the real, why are they not themselves?)

Though I may have thought this pretty kinky thirty years ago, both Masoch and this character (and possibly Polanski and his) have had it too easy in life if they think this sordid infantile fantasy is something worth bringing to the stage, no matter how cinematically they envision it while having their dominatrix call girls read it to them. These bad little boys deserve, not some harmless spanking, but to have their flesh torn from their bodies by devouring birds, sirens, or maenads. To that end, Seigner is a true force of nature and makes the film worth seeing even though you'll really want to bitch slap Amalric yourself by the time it's all over (if only you could be sure he wouldn't secretly like it).

4. Fenella Fielding:
 Morganna Fem - The Old Dark House 
(1963) - **
Valeria Watt - Carry on Screaming (1966)
***
With her rich smoker's purr of a voice, upper crust airs and imperious carriage, Fielding is a real find for any American classic horror fan who's ever had a mad crush on Morticia Addams, Cat Woman, Vampira, or Emma Peel. In each of these two British ensemble comedies she has a fairly significant but still minor role and is so damned sexy she makes it hard to concentrate on all the trite puns and lame scares going on in the rest of the film. As Valeria Watt, sister of ghoulish Professor Watt in Carry on Screaming, her seduction of Harry H. Corbett's detective is so hot I fell off the couch; she rocks some sexy red velvet dresses, demonstrates great rapport with the other players and has such deft comedic timing you're liable to, as I did, go scrambling over to imdb to find out what else she's in.

In Carry On she's prime example of sexually mature British womanhood and it's inferred rather plainly that she shags the detective and then uses his desire to steer him away from noticing her and her brothers' racket of abducting girls and turning them into mannequins for shop windows. No American monster/horror comedy has anywhere near such an advanced (as in mature, adult) character development, at least not until ten years later in Young Frankenstein! Imagine Paulette shagging Bob on the boat to Cuba in Ghost Breakers or Sandra (Leonore Albert) sleeping with Wilbur in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein--and you get suddenly a clearer understanding of why American comic movie characters are so sexually arrested.

As for The Old Dark House, naturally if you're a fan of the original 1932 James Whale original, you're dismayed to find out the William Castle /Hammer remake throws 90% of it out the window--preferring instead to draw heavily on belabored 'traveling square salesman deals with eccentric family in kooky old house for the reading of the will' tropes, but then Fielding shows up as the super bored and sexually precocious cousin with the possessive bullying sailor father and you find yourself wishing the camera just started following her instead of super square Tom Poston. He's so terrified of her amok sexuality he all but flies back to the States on his own power. Say what you want abot Corbett, he at least wasn't afraid to pitch in... for the good of olde England!

5. Rita Morley as Laura Winters
FLESH EATERS (1964)
Directed by Jack Curtis
**1/2 
The monster may start out just a high bright reflection on some soapy surf, and the ensemble acting is as choppy as the tide, but there's two great reasons FLESH EATERS looms large in fans' hearts: one is Martin Kolseck as the amok Nazi ex-Paperclip scientist within whose experimental tent amidst the dunes shelters our castaway heroes; two is Rita Morley as Laura Winters, an alcoholic actress fresh from a near-win at the Tennessee Williams vodka pong invitational. She and her sultry assistant Jan (Barbara Wilkin) are marooned along with their granite-brained charter pilot Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanderson a remote island with Kolseck initially annoyed at their intrusion, then grateful to have three unwitting subjects for his experiments in creating the perfect maritime plankton-based bioweapon. You seem his samples are alive, loose and growing offshore, and zey are most hungry.

While the 'storm' blows outside, Kolseck schemes, and the pilot and Jan try to hide their feelings, Winters takes the direct approach, trying to seduce the pilot AND to convinced him to go back to where the plane is tied up to retrieve her satchel of booze (if it's going to be overnight stay, she'll need her 'things').

"Sorry," says the dickhead Murdoch, "the liquor stays on the plane. There will be no bottle parties on my watch." So brave of him, so sanctimonious! What a prick. He makes Zalman King seem like Hugh Herbert. There's a section in hell reserved for people who'd take the water of life from a drowning woman. Does that stop our Laura? Hell no. "Lord protect a lady lush in a place like this," she drily notes. A night like that can set your teeth on edge even without the onset of DTs! Laura's career is at a stage she can't afford to let an understudy ruin her big debut, which is why she paid the pilot so much to fly her through the storm. So she has to worry about her career AND her buzz. If she didn't stop trying to get to her gig despite a typhoon, do you think a dickhead's edict about bottle parties is going to stop an old hoofer like her from getting that satchel? 

I relate with sobering up while dealing with a rainstorm at a camp ground and needing to set out to score your booze from the van, plane, or store, at whatever the cost (true heroism comes in many packages). Kolseck might be unscrupulous sure, but to me Murdoch's the real villain, for not being an 'understanding soul,' as Cookie puts it in Forbidden Planet. 

Irregardless, the next morning she seems to have gotten over needing her satchel, but has she?? Uh uh - she went out to the bar, I mean plane. But now the plane's gone!  Don't blame 'hic' - her!

Then when all seems lost, enter Omar (Ray Tudor) as a travelin' arms dealer but he only sells the greatest weapon, love- and it's all free, baby. He's of course eager to be the first to try the crazy new herb Dr. Martel is dispensing. He dies. Sensing how hopeless it is, our existential Ms. Winters goes back to the tent noting Omar is lucky - it's all over for him. Hah! She has the kind of remorseless elan that makes a great drunk. As Oscar DeWitt would say, she's maudlin and full of self pity --she's magnificent.

Then she decides to make a pass at the Nazi scientist - and though Kolseck admits the smell of her is exciting (I bet!) - a handful of seconds later and for no apparent reason he stabs her and completely loses our sympathy. On the other hand he gets it back when he thrashes Grant. It's pretty hilarious watching Grant deliberately try not to grab Kolseck's gun arm while fighting him.

Gratuitous shot of the Flesh Eater's early victim

Carson Davidson's nice high contrast photography (the DVD looks great), the vivid score, and spirited acting by Kolseck and Morley and Tudor all help us forgive the ratty if ambitious special effects. I heard they did lots of pinpricks to make things sparkle but to me it looks like they just photographed some sunlight on water reflections on high contrast, but I give it all the passes it needs for the filmmakers really try to keep things pimping, er- pumping, and Morley's a great and unique character for a horror movie like this, a kind of Geraldine Paige in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH for the drive-in horror set but really in a glass ('hic!') all by herself.

6. Allison Mackie as Ms. Marlowe / Ashley Laurence as Cathryn Farrell
THE LURKING FEAR
(1994) Dir. C. Courtney Joyner
*1/2
Filmed in Romania by craftsman who use low lighting and high def video to create a unique kind of high class/cheap magic, LURKIING may be a few tentacles shy of the kind of low-res but satisfying Lovecraft affair Charles Band's best man Stuart Gordon might whip up (in films like RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND) but on the other hand, I've seen it three times, so it must have something on the ball. Wryly pulsing with tick-tock momentum, it's got what every Carpenter fan loves, cops and robbers working together against a mutant foe. Allison Mackie is the cool evil-version of Mrs. Peel to Jon Finch (Polanski's Macbeth!)'s Steed, here a snotty Bristol gangster named Bennett, whose casino was robbed years ago by the father (presumed dead or gone CHUD-or-Merrye cannibal) of recent parolee John Martense (Blake Adams). Finding out that the loot's buried in he Lefferts' Corners' cemetery, Bennett, Ms. Marlowe and their gang blow into town the same night the locals (led by Hellraiser's own Ashley Laurence and Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs) prepare to smash the cannibal mutants lurking in the same spot. 

It all goes down in a crumbling church where first the gangsters take over, and then locals gets the drop on 'em, then the mutants attack, and retreat, and while each side gets the drop on each other over the long night, the (sadly balding) Combs sets the broken bones and does the stitches, cigarette clamped in his mouth for maximum 'fallen from grace' effect.

Like I said, not great but pretty good. Put it this way, there's a funeral director named Skelton Knaggs -- if you get that reference, this is your movie. You may as well claim it. otherwise it's just going to sit there, waiting... forever

I get the Knaggs reference, and so I like this movie almost despite myself. I like how the script never quite fleshes out whether Ashley and Combs' characters are long time / sometime lovers --a pairing that seems strange, but wouldn't a few years earlier (when Combs had more hair and less paunch and more of the otherworldly handsomeness he exibited in past Band-Lovecraft joints like RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND). Laurence looks great--like if Winona Ryder was trying to be Linda Hamilton in T2. Hey, that buff femme GI JANE look was roaring back in the early 90s, so shove off if you're threatened! I like that she even starts out in 'several years earlier' prologue all normal the prologue nerdy and afraid of even holding a gun while her panicky sister--the Kyle Reese if you will--barricades the windows to protect her baby from the child-swiping Martenses. 

That said, butch and buff or no, Laurence has never been a 'strong' actress, even in her best moments, and so she's easily outpaced by Mackie as Marlowe, her opposite number in the gang of thugs, and I like that we're allowed gradually to realize it's Laurence and her 'good' Lefferts Corner 'good guys' crew who are the real dicks when they have the upper hand. Bennett's underlings might be dumb and mean, but at least Bennett and Ms. Marlowe are cool in a crisis and quickly ease up on the bullying once the gravity of the situation becomes apparent. Marlowe even has a soft spot when it comes to the young moms, at one point even offering to kill a pregnant local's absentee lover. She gets only surliness in response --not that it bothers her. As a matter of fact, she'll put away this gun and kick your ass anytime you say.  Right now? Sure. Where? A muddy graveyard, where mutant hands wait to drag us down and everything turns to mud wrestling that looks suspiciously like it involvs male stunt doubles (not that it needs them cuz the fighting has apparently been choreographed by a blind pacifist)? Why the fuck not!?

And if we have any doubts, the flatline 'who knows what the future holds down the road?' voiceover and the thundering T2-style thundering score at the end let us know at least what big genre hits Joyner and the Full Moon people had on their Romanian expat minds at the time (other than their own past Lovecraft hits), situating the two kick-ass girls in the zone between Sharon Stone in Total Recall (whom Mackie resembles if crossed with Gillian Anderson) and Linda Hamilton in The Terminator (if crossed with Winona Ryder). Hey, aim big, and accept small, that's the Charles Band credo! The action may be clumsy, the narrative confusing, the performances uneven, the monster hands reaching through the vents and floorboards straight-up Halloween store pre-fab latex, but the girls get the most depth, dialogue, and character development (the men are all stock types) and there's no place like home in Lefferts Corner... Romania. Love to love you Lovecraft...

(for reviews of my other favorite Full Moon/Empire productions see: Dark Angel: The Ascent, Witchhouse, Hell comes to Frogtown, The Time Guardian, America 3000 and of course Trancers and Trancers 2.

7. Dorothy Wilson
BEFORE DAWN 
(1933) Directed by Irving Pichel
**1/2
Seances were all the upper crust rage in the 20- 30s (the way Ouija was in the 70s) and while most of the mediums turned out to be phonies, there was a general consensus that ESP was scientifically proven and real mediums did exist, as even number one Honolulu detective admits in Charlie Chan on Treasure Island. Here the true psychic is mellow gamin Dorothy Wilson, who makes up in a naturalistic low-key sincerity what she lacks in dramatic range (she'd be right at home in a Val Lewton film). She goes into trances where spirits tell her nearly everything about the past, present, and future--but the cops don't believe her and consider it a favor not busting her as a phony just because her ruthless swindler of a father (Dudley Digges) refuses to refund three bucks to bunco squad undercover man Stu Erwin. Hey, don't blame the frail for that! Stu doesn't, and takes a shine to Wilson and while I dislike Erwin on principle, I can't deny the two have a cutely abashed chemistry, with Erwin's cop authority helping to offset his patented aww-shucks awkwardness. He might not have been able to stand the strain of Peggy Hopkins Joyce in International House, and he might make Red Skelton seem like Arthur Kennedy as far as assertive manliness, but he's at least adequate for the task of breaking down a wall and slugging it out on steep stairs above a harrowing abyss with the greedy murderer. It's a tight little affair with lots of surprises, not least of which is that we wind up genuinely rooting for this modest little couple to make it. 

8 Grace Zabriskie - Captain Trantor
GALAXY OF TERROR 
(1981) - Art direction by James Cameron
***
I read all the hostile reviews when this movie came out (in the local print newspaper, as was the style of the time) and, being caught up in my 14 year-old feminist phase, I blanched in horror (the slasher craze--that underwriter of my useless gallantry and indignant disillusionment--was going full bore at the time and the Courier News' cinema page looked like a frat boy's basement slaughterhouse), so I dismissed it outright, furious and appalled at the presence of Jonie from Happy Days in a movie that included giant worm rape. But then its production designer, some guy named James Cameron, did The Terminator, and turned the final girls' downward spiral around forever. And now, slug rape conjured out of your own fears or no, this film rocks! Especially on Blu-ray where the full scope of its technical effects and art design on a budget can be marveled at (it's from New World Pictures, aka Roger Corman). The space ship interiors are gorgeous; the strange mist-enshrouded giant space pyramid is wondrous to behold; the captain of the voyage (i.e. the Tom Skerritt role) is a woman! And not only is she a woman, but as played with genuine fierceness by Grace Zabriskie, Captain Trantor isn't some bitchy perfectionist who needs a man (like Charlize Theron in Prometheus), nor a paragon of saintly wisdom, but a tough old salt who manages to be wryly sexy while out-machoing Captain Kirk and calling everyone "boy," like "come get some chow, boy." And somehow seeing Zabriskie and her big haunted eyes above those cool dashboard lights makes me feel grounded. Sure, she goes down tough as a burnt steak, literally, but I don't think there's ever been a female space commander quite like her since. Or before. 

Speaking of which... remember Frances Sternhagen? I sure do! 

9. Frances Sternhagen - Dr. Lazarus
OUTLAND
(1981) Dir. Peter Hyams
**
You might not remember her in this now, but Sternhagen made quite an impression on us sci-fi fans as the sassy old broad physician who helps outgunned space sheriff Connery in  OUTLAND. It's not exactly a classic today, but this was the first R-rated movie I ever saw, back when that really meant something, when R was a rite of passage. I remember the dread I was feeling going into it --knowing its big selling point: they showed people exploding from space vacuum pressure. But for one thing, it was all too dark and confusing to even know when to look away in horror. For another, even at 14 or whatever, my buddy Alan and I (his older brother Mark took us), big war buffs, knew sheriff Sean Connery's HIGH NOON strategy was moronic. Why not just blast the guys sent to kill you as soon as they get off the elevator? Instead he lures them to a remote corner of the outpost, blows a hole in the protective shield, and destroys half the compound just to take out one guy? What a lame-ass. And if you're gonna make a multi-million sci-fi movie, why bother remaking an overrated shitshow like HIGH NOON?  Fuckin' get some aliens in there for god's sake - how hard is it? Remake RIO BRAVO with aliens instead of Burdetts! Hawks made that movie as a response to NOON anyway which he thought was a moronic as Alan and I thought OUTLAND. 

Luckily Sternhagen's Dr. Lazarus was there. Like everyone else on that moon mining colony, she's a screw-up trying to make good, braving the top brass' displeasure by exposing what's at the core of the mining murder problem--a crazy new form of synthetic amphetamine that lets miners double productivity but also makes them insane and misogynistic (there's a brothel and bar up here). In other words she's a goddamned narc! Still, gotta love a movie where the narcs are the bad guys even if they're not -wait do I? Am I even remembering this movie correctly? 

What I came away with after seeing this wasn't awe or horror but a newfound respect for the ability of older broads to find a unique form of wizened sexual allure. Sean was trapped in a cookie cutter Gary Cooper burr but Sternhagen was free to roll her eyes, rub back her stringy hair, and win our devotion. She was the character who calls out the bullshit on the dull adult doubletalk. She was the person at the party where we don't know anyone, but then we look into her eyes, we recognize an ally and immediately sneak out to the balcony to get high with and make fun of people with her like we've been friends for decades though we just met. In the same way, STAR WARS plays as just a lot of alienating robot sales and boring farm chores until Han Solo shows up, like the cool older brother of your best friend, who takes you to see your first R-rated movie (thanks, Mark!). And Frances here was like --well, the cool nurse who lets you skip the rest of school when you only skinned your knee so you can get out of your unprepared-for math quiz. She's old enough to be your mom's cool aunt, so why are you attracted to her?

And more importantly, why are these cool older bitches so far gone-- not just from sci-fi, but from all things? Is it because Sean was afraid someone would point out he and Frances were same age, so why was she kind of playing his mother?  Don't hate the game, Sean m'boy - hate the player. 



10. Anne Carlisle - as Margaret / Jimmy
LIQUID SKY
(1982) Dir. Slava Tsukerman
***1/2
This is what the East Village scene in the late 70s-early 80s was all about (I "hear"): speed, smack, art + low rents + narcissistic nymphomania = tiny black box combo art gallery / fashion studio storefronts open all night in a series of spontaneous poetry readings, weird performance art, fights, drug deals and never-ending private fashion shows, all vain attempts by effete men and manly women to stand out from a stable of similarly face-painted and cheap speed-and-opiate-withdrawal-driven clotheshorses. Enter Margaret, a mix of Edie S. 'pilgrim stock' and Nico 'sexual disinterest' --brilliantly played by Anna Carlisle in focused shades of ambient cool. Initially hoping to do some coke, she instead gets raped by a sleazy goombah who force feeds her goofballs (i.e. roofies) and though she fights back, is so coo,l she doesn't even deign to get out of bed after she pulls a knife on him). Even if he gets away, she knows she'll get him back, whatever he tries to do, and she's patient as a cobra, who's heading back to sleep.

Behold a pale clotheshorse
Carlisle's other role, Jimmy, meanwhile, is withdrawing from heroin but has no money to score and Adrian (his dealer and Anna's roommate) won't front him another sniff. A fashion designer promises 'him' some lines if he shows up to model the next night at a shoot on Margaret's roof. Meanwhile a tiny alien is floating its giant solarized color style eye around Anna's pad, observing all the sexy opiated action through a color-twisted prism and killing those who dare reach anything so jejune as an orgasm (cigarette burn in the celluloid behind their head sucks them right out of the film, leaving Margaret free to resume her Fassbinder-ish moping). Her own inability to have an orgasm (due to either drugs, ennui or some combination) allows her to notice her little alien guardian and though she never sees it (them?) directly, they form a bond as touching as that between the disembodied Virginia Leith and her similarly unseen closet monster in The Brain that Wouldn't Die! 

If this was a biological guy playing Jimmy and/or Anna it might just be the usual camp drag theatricality but Carlisle brings a depth of wry deadpan wit and existential sad resolve that's Weimar Cabaret-level decadent without ever descending to camp, belying her tender age of 26 with a dry sophistication worthy of Dietrich coupled to an androgynous punk sneer worthy of Tim Curry. When she announces she's from Connecticut in one of the film's key and classic monologues, we realize Connecticut is America's Valhalla-gone-Gomorrah and Carlisle is the persona we all hoped Edie Sedgwick would be in Ciao! Manhattan. She takes both her male and female roles over the edge, but always sans camp, even going down on herself while fashionistas (before there was such a phrase) jeer jadedly.  (more)

11. Jean Benedict - Carol
PATIENT IN ROOM 18
(1938) - **1/2

Jean Benedict was only in a few very minor roles in a few very minor mysteries at Warners before she disappeared from view, but in them she pours on such B-movie Veronica Lake x Carmen Rutledge sexual hunger she might get you weak in the knees as you scramble for your imdb bookmark in pleased disbelief. Good thing you're sitting down, probably, and stoned out of your gourd or you'd end up trying to find more about her and coming up against a brick wall. That's whay happened to me watching PATIENT IN ROOM 118.

It's always kind of bitter-sweet when you unearth some weird cool actress you really like in some old movie--someone who seems cast and hired to be the 'fake' someone else due to a passing resemblance--and they seem so modern, so next generation, compared to the film around them, like Bugs Bunny crashing Ivan the Terrible's coronation, then when you can't find any thing about them you feel crushed. Such a girl is Jean Benedict... to me.

I can only find this picture above, which, frankly, I'm only 97% sure is actually her. Did Warners decide she was just too sexually open--too uninhibited--too much like Veronica Lake with the throttle down--for 1944? Or was it the opposite and some hotshot producer wanted her all to himself? Not sure, but somehow she's all the sweeter for her rarity. Imdb says she was born 1877 which makes her 61 in Patient in Room 18 and there's no way she's that old unless she's a vampire... but see it anyway and decide, though in order to do so you may have to buy the whole Warner B-Mystery DVR set. I did, and I'm glad, but I'm screwy that way, see?

12. Margaret Lindsay as Beth Sherman
TRAGEDY AT MIDNIGHT (1942)
***
Fans of mysteries with a strong female lead will love TRAGEDY, if they can find it. John Howard plays a true-crime radio sleuth who taunts the cops and offers solutions to unsolved mysteries with the help of his writer-producer wife Beth (Margaret Lindsay) but when he wakes up after a party to find a dead woman is in the bed next to his (cause husbands and wives can't sleep even in the same room, as you know), he's got to work really fast to solve it all before his show that evening. So far so familiar, but what makes this stand out from other hour-long B-mysteries is that he and Beth are a rare example of a truly equal partnership. Howard never says 'wait here' or 'honey it's too dangerous' as he races from clue to clue and the hour of the evening's show looms (with the cops waiting offstage), Beth's right alongside him every step of the way, figuring out clues even faster than he does, eluding the cops and bouncing around NYC in the back of friend Keye Luke's laundry truck.

By contrast, Nick Charles was, if you remember, always sending Nora off on wild goose chases to keep her out of real danger, and then she'd sleuth around on her own and get kind of made fun of for being gullible, MGM being the shitheel counter-feminist status quo-bourgeois suckup that it was. But Lindsay's Beth is in the thick of it and always staying snappy and adroit, never judging or complaining even when doing schtick in a wig shop. No wonder, as so often happens in our sexist world, this movie got buried under rocks alongside other movies showing truly liberated women. Fuck the bourgeois patriarchy, man - and find this movie!


13. Carolina Bang as Eva
WITCHING AND BITCHING
Dir. Albert de la Iglesia 
***1/2

Alex de la Iglesia's ballsy 'comedy of the sexes' film bursts with original ideas, carnal energy, wit, acumen, and Jungian archetypal initiation ritual mysticism, all in service of a battle of the sexes run riot through a crazy sabbath even. I laughed and loved it all the way through, twice! It's like a gender-reversed The Magic Flute if Mozart smoked meth and was married to a hot-tempered harridan from Madrid.  Beginning with a gone-awry pawn shop robbery and culminating at a bizarre witches' sabbath, the action never lets up. 

Of the wild-eyed cast, the evil witch daughter Eva (Carolina Bang electric with wild Kate McKinnon-style eyes and punk haircut) is a true stand-out. Super sexy and carnal in ways few American women will never be, alas, she makes allegedly badass witches like Sherri Moon Zombie in Lords of Salem seem like Samantha in Bewitched... Her burgeoning on-the-fly romance with Hugo Silva (as a bankrobbing divorced dad chased by his rabidly bitter nurse ex-wife [Macarena Gómez]) is a true original of push-pull whirlwind passion and in-constant-flux emotion that stands out as the funniest and truest example of what it's like to date a hot-blooded woman since The Taming of the Shrew. See it with your weekend custody son to get even with his mother. Too bad about the tacky American title and the poster art that makes it seem like a Disney movie. It ain't. The CGI is nowhere near as good, but it's way way way more subversive. (In Spanish with English subtitles(more)



14. Caity Lotz as Ava
THE MACHINE
2014 - Dir. Caradog W. James
***
Sneaky cool little low-budget (BLACK MIRROR-ish) but highly-intelligent Brit sci-fi film THE MACHINE has great gloomy all-night momentum, a beautifully retro Vangelis-meets-Carpenter synth score from Tom Raybould, produciton design that splices BLADE RUNNER's Tyrell Corporation to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK's sub basement; and a script that mixes some TERMINATOR touches with CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS (1962) post-humanist philosophy. The captivating Caity Lotz is great in a double role (evoking Elsa Lanchester in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), her robot incarnation for example, never deigns towards existential crises, always turning the big uestions back on her creator, "how do you know you're more conscious than I am?" etc. And she kills with satisfying speed and ruthlessness. Thanks to thrifty use of one giant empty soundstage and lots of Val Lewton darkness, and great artistic (and ingeniously simple) touches like the way the bodies of the artificial beings light up in strange patterns (all clearly just projected onto their skin, but it works superbly) marks it as a near-masterpiece of B-movie Val Lewton econo mood. There's no filler, no apparent budget yet no corners are cut. What could be some douche chill sentimental TV movie nonsense in non-British hands (such as Guillermo del Toro's) is merely a means to a genuinely strange but optimistic Twilight Zone-style end. Slick and dark, but with some genuine AI insight and vintage analog originality to back it up (See also CinemArchetype #13 - The Automaton / Replicant / Ariel), The Machine stands as a good lesson in how you too can survive the coming robot revolution. Hint: treat the machines with compassion or at least tact, because they'll remember (and be able to play back for the jury of their peers) every last kind or derogatory word forever, no matter how far out of earshot you think they are when you say it. (full review)


15. Anita Skinner as Dee-Dee
(1983) - Dir. Thom Eberhardt
****

It was weird seeing this by total 'chance' the same week as It Follows as the two are as alike in structure and mood, and both so good they make you forget how crappy most horror movies truly are. Anita Skinner is a TV commercial producer who is the sole survivor of a major plane crash--which from the start seems 'off' as she's not even knocked out of her seat. Once released from the hospital she's followed by the recent dead, reanimating and standing around or lurching toward her, i.e. Final Destination meets Romero. The alikeness with It Follows comes down to the same late 70s suburban decor (even the same clock radio, which I also had as a kid) and a cute neighbor girl who's grown up with Dee-Dee as a friend and former babysitter. Dee-Dee comes over when stressed to drink wine and fall asleep on the couch because she feels unsafe in her big empty dark house, etc. (and clearly the neighbor's mom is never home) while the kids play strip poker and gossip but in a cool, low-key way. Both have scores of jarringly ominous synth notes that would be at home in either film. But what's especially cool is that Skinner's Dee is always her own woman, in charge, capably leading the men at the work place, snatching handsome Doctor Brian who treats her at the hospital (he can cook), confidently answering his initial first date-asking call like a cat playing with a flightless canary, quoting Bacall in To Have and Have Not during their first kiss and even managing a final surrendering smile at the end. She's never 'terrorized' in that sadistic sense, nor nor does she deal with or become defined by, children, a husband, a jealous ex, etc. She's chased around a parking garage here and there, but she's her own damn woman and gets the cute doctor on her own terms, does all the seducing, and-- best of all--puts her job first and does it damned well, all without needing to brag about it or act strident. Maybe it helped that Skinner got her start in feminist oriented female-directed Canadian indie Girlfriends (dir. Claudia Weill) and Survivor's director (Robert Thom) gave us the similarly girl powered cult classic Night of the Comet the following year. Alas, neither director nor star did much after this, which might account for the film's relatively minor mention in horror film history. Too bad, cuz it's awesome(more) 

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