Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Angels of Death List V: Magic Slut Split/Subject Maenads Edition


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. 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. As for Melissa George, she shows her stealth chops in 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.

I'm not yet sure if Triangle's strange loop-de-loop logic may not reward close scrutiny, so be safe and don't give it too much scrut, 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-edliniedlonalishuntrinsiculotiousness, bud--dy...lusionalcapgras

PS - "high-edliniedlonalishuntrinsiculotiousness" 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, and forming our 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 in an up 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. Does I mean. 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 worse, 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--parts where you as the viewer make the double become quadruple as 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. So it's not enough that just having Kim VERTIGO Novak around implies she's two personae (ghost-anima baller maenad; shy dimwit virgin drudge), and 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 she's an oily unkempt mess. As the drudge wannabe actress who may have the ghost of the Svengali producer's beard /obsession sea wife inside her (see above picture), Novak seems very uncomfortable here, as if wondering if it's possible to be typecast as two different people in every movie. This time though, the ghost isn't a maudlin Spaniard but a lesbian, who--truth be told--endured her Svengali's regressive touch the way a tired prostitute endures a sweaty boy's first time, never doing a dram more than needed --it taking all her energy not to burst out laughing or cursing his father.

Mediating his Network fire and Georgie-Boy brimstone with unappealing (and unconvincing) spoiled brat insecure ego malice, Peter Finch's performance aims for grandiose Barrymore intellectual flourish, or at least a dash of Addison DeWitt, but his habit of falling int self-sabotaging tantrums seems like Aldrich is getting even with some producer in his past rather than helping Finch embody a real character. His 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 goose up your daughter in the elevator but not even give you eye contact. Aldrich feels up your grandmother instead and then slaps you in the face, like a 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 at such odds the effect is suffocatingly clownish and garish; you can see the sweat straining to get out from blocked pores, acne blemishes erupting from the epidermal suffocation while you watch. Frightening 'styled' blonde wigs are so unmoored the bangs slowly seem to revolve around the head as the scene plays on. Attractive young women suddenly look like Tourist Trap mannequins after a grease fire.

But from far away I love Aldrich's badass babes, the daring of having the whole lesbian 'sewing circle' represented not with caricatures or lipstick hotties but middle-aged broads who got to their middle 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. 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, 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 and lover of Sally Bowles and Dietrich, to the German exodus to Hollywood in between the wars, 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. 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. In other words, he's Andy Dick, not Dick Burton

Oh yeah, and Lylah herself, 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, who smokes and looks on). Homophobic? Naturally, but also daring for the time, and--after all--America always ridicules and gapes in horror at things it's been denying are part of it. It's our way of acclimating. Is it hurtful and unjust? Yes, but as any new kid in school learns, you're only a target until the 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?

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-esque Mattieu Amalric (the bad guy in QUANTUM OF SOLACE) to Polanski's (then?) real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner at a late evening rainy audition for a Venus in Furs theatrical adaptation. Alone in the drippy theater, he already packed and half out the door, she starting by begging him for the lead role while dripping wet and disheveled, within a few acts is barely tolerating  having him beg her to stay while she badmouths the infantile myopia at the heart of his beloved Sacher Masoch source text. From this beginning, Polanski proves once again he's the one true inheritor of the von Sternberg-Bunuel dog collar--this woman 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 --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?)

Clearly both Masoch and this character (and possibly Polanski) 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. They deserve, not some harmless spanking, but to have their flesh torn from their bodies by devouring birds, sirens, or maenads . Irregardless, as a real-life strong woman 3-D character in a story that remains an archetypally fluid but emotionally puerile exercise in Polanski head trip power play (a two-hander to go with the Repulsion one-hander, Blue Moon-four hander, and Knife in the Water-three hander), 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, as long as 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, Virginia Merrye, 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. Britain got rid of the buzzkill censoring puritans back in the 1600s (guess where they sent 'em to?).

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 drawing 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 sister and you find yourself wishing the camera just started following her instead of Tom Poston. Part Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, part Myrna Loy in Love Me Tonight, part Vampira, part Morticia, part Jill Banner in Spider Baby, she's so delectable you'll want to pull an Agent Smith move from The Matrix and take over Poston's pixel assemblage and reverse the romantic polarity.  Instead, Poston runs off with Janette Scott and Fielding barely has anything to do. Oh woe that I cannot travel back in time and smite Castle soundly sconce-wise with my bumbershoot!

In short, it's examples like these that are the root of my 'Angels of Death' series, examples of how much better horror could be if it wasn't so damned sexist, conventional and misogynist. To hell with the patriarchally-enforced structure of 'normality.' Hail! Hail Fenella!

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 scientist within whose experimental tent our heroes crash and 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 assistant Jan (Barbara Wilkin) are marooned along with their granite-brained pilot on a remote island--really more like a huge sand jetty--with Kolseck initially annoyed at their intrusion, then grateful to fortune for three unwitting subjects for his 'hehheh' experiments. He plans to create the perfect maritime plankton-based bioweapon to sell to the highest bidder; his samples are alive, loose and growing offshore, and hungry.

While the 'storm' blows, Winters has plans of her own, namely seducing the pilot AND convincing him to go back to where the plane is tied up to retrieve her satchel of golden nectar. (if it's going to be overnight stay, she'll need her own 'equipment').

"Sorry," says the dickhead captain Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders). "The liquor stays on the plane. There will be no bottle parties on my watch." So brave, 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 notes. A night like that can set your teeth on edge! Laura's career can't afford to let an understudy ruin her first night (which is why she paid the pilot so much to fly her), and now... the booze!

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. Does he want his client to get the DTs? Douche bag!

Irregardless, the next morning she seems to have gotten over it, but has she?? Uh uh - she went out to the bar, I mean plane. But now the plane's gone!   

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 of course, after sampling it. 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 lost our sympathy. On the other hand he gets it back when he thrashes iron-jawed Grant. It's pretty hilarious watching Grant deliberately try not to grab Kolseck's gun arm while fighting him.


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 they try to keep things pimping, er- pumping, and Morley's a great and unique character for a horror movie like this -it's like she wandered down the wrong aisle of Blockbuster. A kind of Susan Hayward in I'LL CRY TOMORROW meets Joan Collins in THE STUD, she's in a glass ('hic') by herself.

6. Allison Mackie as Ms. Marlowe / Ashley Laurence as Cathryn Farrell
THE LURKING FEAR
(1994) Dir. C. Courtney Joyner
*1/2
They try pretty hard to capture the 'cops and robbers team up to fight a common foe' Hawks vibe so near and dear to my (and John Carpenter's) heart, but this little direct-to-video Charles Band opus--though filmed in Romania by craftsman who use low lighting and high def to create a unique kind of magic--is a few tentacles shy of the kind of low res but satisfying Lovecraft affair Band man Stuart Gordon might whip up. 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 Allison Mackie as 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 of John Martense (Blake Adams), now presumed dead or gone CHUD-or-Merrye cannibal. The loot's buried where the monsters are--the Lefferts' Corners' cemetery and/or under the crumbling church. Bennett, Ms. Marlowe and their gang blow into town to get the loot on the same night the locals are teaming up to smash the cannibal mutants below. Hellraiser's own Ashley Laurence is all militarized after a traumatic pre-credit sequence; she's booby-trapped the graveyard with the assistance of (who else?) Jeffrey Combs as an alcoholic chain-smoking doctor--so the entire graveyard to blow to high heaven once the first Martenses surface. Meanwhile the gangsters take over, and then don't, while each side gets the drop on each other over the long night, and Combs sets the broken bones and does the stitches, cigarette clamped in his mouth for maximum 'fallen' effect. 

There's a funeral director named Skelton Knaggs -- if you get that reference, this is your movie. 

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 (as opposed to his otherworldly handsomeness in past Band-Lovecraft joints like RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND) while Lauren 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 and 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' actor even in her best moments, and so she's easily outpaced by Mackie's outlaw moll. As the guns change hands more than once, each side losing the upper hand post-each cannibal strike, we get to see it's Laurence and her 'good' Lefferts Corner crew are the real dicks. Bennett's thugs might be dumb and mean, but Bennett and Ms. Marlowe are cool in a crisis and quickly ease up on the force once the gravity of the situation becomes apparent. Mackie's Marlowe has a soft spot when it comes to the young moms, offering to kill a pregnant local's absentee lover, even. 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's using 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 Romanian expat minds at the time--situating the two kick-ass girls in the zone between Sharon Stone in Total Recall and Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. 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 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... New England/old Romania.

(for my other favorite Full Moon/Empire productions see: Dark Angel: The Ascent, Witchhouse, 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 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 and gorgeous, strange mist-enshrouded giant space pyramid are wondrous behold and as captain of the voyage (i.e. the Tom Skerritt role) is a woman. Grace Zabriskie's Captain Trantor is some bitchy perfectionist who needs a man, 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 her in those cool dashboard lights makes me feel grounded. Sure, she 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?

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 sci-fi fans as a sassy old broad doctor in the first R-rated movie I ever saw, OUTLAND. 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. For another, even at 14 or whatever I 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. 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! 

From this film I developed a lifelong dislike of Peter Hyams, the Brett Ratner of the 80s.  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 form of amphetamine that lets miners double productivity and double shifts 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 even remember this movie correctly? 

What I came away with was a 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 and win our devotion.  Like us, she stood outside all the adult doubletalk. She was the person at the party we could meet, look into each other's eyes, recognize an ally and immediately sneak out to the balcony to get high with and make fun of people. 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 then helps you build and blow up HO scale battleships in the backyard creek. 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 long gone not just from sci-fi, but all things? Is it because Sean was afraid someone would point out they were the same age, so why was she kind of his mother? 



10. Anne Carlisle - as Margaret / Jimmy
LIQUID SKY
(1982) Dir. Slava Tsukerman
***1/2
This is what the East Village NYC in the late 70s-early 80s was all about--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-- 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); she fights back, pulls a knife, but at the same time barely gives a fuck (not enough to get up off the bed at any rate)--she knows she'll get him back, whatever he tries to do, and she's patient as a cobra.

Behold a pale horse
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. 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 thing around, observing all the action through a color-twisted prism and killing those who dare reach anything so jejune as an orgasm in Anna's and Adrian's apartment. When Margaret's lovers come, a cigarette burn in the celluloid behind their head sucks them right out of the film, leaving her free to resume her Fassbinder-ish moping. Her own inability to have an orgasm (due to either drugs, ennui or some combination) saves her neck, and even allows her to notice her little alien guardian. 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! 

A genuinely great performance art science fiction hybrid experimental 16mm oddity from the downtown NYC heroin chic underground fashion scene, Liquid Sky is what Bowie probably hoped The Man who Fell to Earth would be. Its only weakness is a droning endless synth melody like Russian ex-pat Slava Tsukerman banged it out on a Casio as he was editing and meant to get a real score but then forgot. Tsukerman also co-wrote the script with Carlisle. If this was a biological guy playing both Anna and Jimmy 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 sophistication worthy of Dietrich and an androgynous punk sneer worthy of Tim Curry. When she announces she's from Connecticut in one of the film's key and classic scenes, 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, 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

Sure it's not a horror movie, per se, but I love it anyway, cuzza some weird broad I never even heard of before. Jean Benedict was only in a few very minor roles in a few very minor B-films at Warners before she disappeared from view, but she poured the come-on sexuality in a kind of Veronica Lake-meets-Ginger Lynn aura that 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 stone wall.  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. Such a girl is Jean Benedict... to me.

Now 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 do so by buying the 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 this, if they can even find it. John Howard is a tru-crime radio sleuth who taunts the cops and offers solutions to unsolved mysteries with the help of his writer wife Beth (Margaret Lindsay) but when he wakes up after a party to find a dead woman is in the bed next (cause husbands and wives can't sleep even in the same room in '42) he's got to work really fast to solve it all before his show that evening. Why it's a great little B movie is that he and his 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 (where the cops will surely nab him for the murder unless he finds the killer first). Through thick and thin, 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 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, never judging or complaining. No wonder, as so often happens in our sexist world, this movie got buried under rocks alongside STAR MAIDENS and ALL THAT GLITTERS. Fuck the bourgeois patriarchy and find this movie! It's only an hour long.


13. Carolina Bang as Eva
WITCHING AND BITCHING
Dir. Albert Di 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. 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 Seville. Hugo Silva stars as a struggling divorced dad, driven to desperation by his hyper-intense and bitter nurse ex-wife (Macarena Gómez). 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 American women will never be, alas, she's so badass 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 Silva 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 fucking bad, cuz it's awesome(more) 

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