Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Monday, October 31, 2016

ACIDEMIC HORROR / SCI-FI REVIEW INDEX/ROUND-UP

This is an index of past reviews and current updates, as the links so carefully curated are gone. May these stay forever. For handy reference, I've emboldened personal favorites I've seen at least three times of my own free will. That's no guarantee, except that it's gonna be cool and free of petty moral encumbrances. So if you're all partied out, either from the weekend or the 90s, and fixin' to kick it on the couch, dolin' out treats or whatever, and looking for good spooky movie recommendations, I'd say TCM's line-up is on point, mostly, especially DEVIL RIDES OUT at 8. Otherwise, a lot of these are very handy on Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc.


Also - be sure and check out Amazon Prime's vast selection of... what do you call them? Ambience videos? Whatever that old Yule Log video used to be to Xmas, these are to Halloween--flickering pumpkins, ghostly trees, jack-o-lanterns in ghostly trees, etc. names like HALLOWEEN FUN AMBIENCE and PUMPKINS IN TREES by outfits called Chill Dude and Mooney Vision Recommended, for... I'm not sure what? Ambient Background to some ghastly macabre event? Some quiet nightmare? Count me in.

But first, the movies...


PREVIOUS YEARS' WEIRD HALLOWEEN RECOMMENDATION ROUND-UPS:

Post-Giallo Nightmare Logic
Deadpan Comic Horror Initiative
(Curated Lists of films on Netflix - 2015)

13 Suggestions for an Uncommon Halloween Viewing Experience
(Bright Lights Film Journal - Oct. 2014)

13 Obscure Horror Films to watch this Halloween
 (Slant 2013)

And my long running unclaimed series celebrating strong confident crazy women in horror...

ANGELS OF DEATH Series
ANGELS OF DEATH - 1
ANGELS OF DEATH - II: Great Women of Horror
ANGELD OF DEATH III: Badass Brunette Edition
ANGELS OF DEATH IV: Lynn Lowry Special Edition 
ANGELS OF DEATH V: Magic Slut Split/Subject Maenad Edition
TOP TEN ACIDEMIC WOMEN
BABES OF WRATH: Women of the New Depression vs. American Dogma 

INDEX:
I've bolded my absolute favorites - your mileage may vary...

BEYOND, THE (1981)
BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971)
X- THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES (1963)

TELEKINETIC 70s:

ALTERED STATES (1977)
ANTICHRIST (1974)
SHINING (1980)

Post-Lounge 1990s
THE ADDICTION (1995)
THE ETERNAL (1998)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

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


Magic sluts vs. 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 brujas too cool for this country, the super bitch bizarro version of Emma Peel, or just a mom replicating 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.

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 mix of the super hilarious 1980 classic Death Ship, any film Ghost Ship, and Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom," with a sunny yachtload of himbos, beeyatches, and one slightly skittish blonde deer-in-the-headlights single mom of a weird kid (who she leaves "at school"), who 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 (during one of its free weekends), and it's the kind of film you can come in on anywhere, over and over, and it only fits the oomph of its meta-ouroboros (I can say no more). It's fairly good, especially with Melissa George embodying a complex web of sympathetic-to-unsympathetic roles at various overlapping segments of 'time', which is a hard thing to pull off without being a drag. George shades 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. Its strange loop-de-loop logic may not reward 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 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, learn to pronounce it and the sheer length of it as being all one word will set you free - all my big enlightenment breakthroughs have come through words like that. 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.  Like a coiled up six-hour chanting kundalini serpent session peeling out in one long unwinding hose of a word, we have to realize at last the karmic chain which links a killer to his/her victim is like a celluloid strip of self, whether the you running towards 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. 

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 worse and in sickness, there are films you wind up married to--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 slut maenad; shy dimwit virgin drudge), and each in turn must be thrown up against a woozy James Stewart like a beach ball sloshing with kerosine whipped at a spindly match. Here she's a drudge wannabe actress who may have the ghost of the Svengali producer's beard /obsession sea wife inside her. She's being remade as said sea wife for a biopic.  The wife was a lesbian on her down time and 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.  In other words instead of Stewart, Novak has to be two people for--mediating his Network fire and Georgie-Boy brimstone with unappealing (and unconvincing) spoiled brat insecure ego malice--Peter Finch. For every grandiose Barrymore intellectual flourish, this producer also has a self-sabotaging tantrum of 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 of movie that would goose up your daughter in the elevator but not even give you eye contact. Aldrich feels up your grandmother instead and then punches you in the face, like a man! His only misstep--which he regularly makes--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 suffocation while you watch, while frightening 'styled' blonde wigs are so unmoored the bangs slowly seem to revolve around the head. 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, then climb cocks all the way up the ladder and having it mean even less to her than it does to him. Countess Bozo's (Valentina Cortez) sexually open give-and-take in Borgnine's office etc., indicates they fooled around once or twice 20 years ago but she used it against him for as long as it took to prove to him she knew her wardrobe styling shit, and now she's a fixture in the scene like the  plumbing. Falk 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 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 like Richard Burton or Albert Finney 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.

Oh yeah, and Lylah herself, when her ghost manifests through her doormat doppelg√§nger she 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 doting masochistic doormat lesbian handmaiden Rosella Falk 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, hateful as it is.

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 at its heart is fluid from 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 a one-through.

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, any American who's ever had a mad crush on Morticia Addams  will feel how unfair life is that Fielding didn't make a whole series of films as her macabre sexually active mistress of the dark. It might be packed with bits, but she nontheless steals every scene 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, and there's a great rapport and impeccable timing that makes her more than a match for the assembled team of Carry On players.  A prime example of sexually mature British womanhood, 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 suddenly a clearer understanding of why Americans movie characters are so sexually arrested. Britain got rid of the buzzkill censoring puritans back in the 1600s (guess where they sent 'em to?).

Naturally if you're a fan of the original 1932 James Whale Old Dark House (right), you're dismayed to find out the William Castle /Hammer remake throws 90% of the original out the window--preferring instead drawing heavily on that mid-60s labored 'traveling square salesman deals with eccentric family in kooky old house, but then Fielding shows up as the super bored and sexually precocious sister. 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 Tom 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!

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, the acting as choppy as the tide but there's two great reasons FLESH EATERS stays frosty and dry: one is Martin Kolseck as the amok Nazi scientist within whose tent the castaways 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 who's first annoyed at their intrusion, then grateful to be delivered with three unwitting subjects for his 'hehheh' experiments. The war is over but out Paperclip Kolseck plans to create the perfect maritime bioweapon to sell to the highest bidder; his samples are growing offshore. While the 'storm' blows, Winters plans to nab the three pointer of 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 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 at whatever the cost. True heroism comes in many packages. Kolseck might be unscrupulous sure, but to me Murdoch's the real villain. 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's stabbed her and completely lost our sympathy. On the other hand, the pilot is born to be killed by a wussy German character actor on his way down to the indie abyss. Little ectomorphic Kolseck (one of those German Jew actors who fled the Nazis to Hollywood only to spend the next few decades playing them). All but 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 monster movie character, a kind of Susan Hayward in I'LL CRY TOMORROW meets Joan Collins in THE STUD. The dialogue is intelligence, wry, and gets that wit and horror compliment rather than undo one another.  

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 way nicer than the usual--is a few tentacles shy of a satisfying Lovecraft affair, but how seldom is there such a thing? I've seen it three times, so it must have something on the ball. Wryly pulsing with 'single night' 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. The loots buried where the monsters are--the Lefferts' Corners' cemetery and/or under the 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 living under the church. Hellraiser's own Ashley Laurence is all militarized; 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 CHUDs surface. Meanwhile 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. 

One thing might implied better were the film better put together is that Ashley and Combs' characters are long time / sometime lovers, which is only strange when you forget there's only a 12 year age difference between them. Trouble is, he looks like shit, balding and paunchy (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 doing a Linda Hamilton in T2. That buff femme GI JANE look's gone out of style a bit now but it was roaring at the time, so back off. 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, so to speak--barricades the windows to protect her baby from the child-swiping Martenses. 

That said, her acting is terrible throughout, and her lines could use a dose of Hawksian cool humor, like Mackie's. 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 who 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, and 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's 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 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 Full Moon manner! The action may be clumsy, the narrative confusing, the performances uneven, the monster hands reaching through the vents and floorboards straight-up Halloween store latexAnd the girls get the most depth, dialogue, and character development but there's a refreshing feminist slant (the men are all stock types, the women are the three-dimensional characters) 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 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 wafting around in a Val Lewton film. She goes into trances tell her nearly everything about the past, present, and future--but even when evidence comes fast and furious 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. Old Stu takes a shine to Wilson, though, and call me crazy (I dislike Erwin on principle) but 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 with the murderer. And we come away 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 newspaper, of course); 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 theater ads section looked like a frat boy's basement slaughterhouse) at the mention of breasts, Jonie from Happy Days, and slug rape. I had seen too many late-night cable soft-focus endless showers, plastic and demoralizing breasts and dispiriting gorefests for me not to judge the film a priori. 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), Zabriskie is as fine and unusual a captain as you'll ever see. Not some bitchy perfectionist who needs a man, nor a paragon of saintly wisdom (as we'd assume based on years of hackneyed conditioning) but a tough old salt who manages to be wryly sexy while out-machoing Captain Kirk at the same time, she calls 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. 

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 as a sassy old broad doctor and more or less stole the film from Sean Connery in this, 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 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? 

Thus 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 moon speed 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 like him! 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 and make fun of everyone else. 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 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?



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 as I did, if they can find it. John Howard is a radio crime solver who taunts the cops and offers solutions to unsolved mysteries - but then a dead woman is in the bed next to his in the morning (cause husbands and wives can't sleep even in the same room in '42). His wife Beth (Margaret Lindsay) is his show's writer and theirs is 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 uncle's laundry truck. 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, espec. in later films... 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. Sometimes it's on Amazon Prime.


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. If you've not been so fortunate as to have ever been married to a hot-blooded woman from Spain or Argentina, you nonetheless can enjoy the film 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 G√≥mez). Beginning with a gone-awry pawn shop robbery and culminating at a bizarre witches' sabbath, the action never lets up. Saughter 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. So badass she makes young 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 funnies and truest 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 but highly-intelligent, unimaginatively titled Brit sci fi film THE MACHINE has great gloomy electronic momentum (no daytime shots ever 'til the very end, which is great); a beautifully retro Vangelis-meets-Carpenter synth score from Tom Raybould and an overall aesthetic 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 it 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 (clearly just projected onto their skin, it works superbly), its 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) 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 of the Living Dead. 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). Both have scores of jarringly ominous synth notes that would be at home in either film. What's cool is that Skinner's Dee is always her own woman, in charge of the men at the work place, snatching handsome Doctor Brian who treats her at the hospital (he can cook), confidently answering his call like a cat playing with a flightless canary, later arming herself, escaping trouble, quoting Bacall in To Have and Have Not and even managing a final surrendering smile. She's never 'terrorized' in that sadistic sense, either by any one monster, nor does she deal with 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. Maybe it helped that Skinner got her start in feminist oriented female-directed Canadian indie Girlfriends (dir. Claudia Weill) which has recently been playing on TCM, and Survivor's director gave us the similarly girl powered cult classic Night of the Comet the following year. Alas, neither director 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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