"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible" - Ram Dass

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. 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) - ***

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 of the zillion movies called Ghost Ship and Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom." A yachtload of himbos, beeyatches, and one 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. They capsize, and eventually drift their way onto a seemingly abandoned luxury liner--one of those boats like the Mary Celeste- where everyone aboard just vanished one day. 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, without knowing the plot, and it only fits the oomph of its meta-ouroboros.  Best of all is the way Melissa George so effectively plays a complex web of roles at various overlapping segments of 'time', and excellent trick hard to pull off without being a drag about it like Sharon Stone with a director other than Verhoeven. The slow descent into madness is deftly shaded so seamlessly from light to dark it's like if Hyde became Jekyll right in front of you in a single take one scene but so gradual and even-keeled that you're like hey he's Hyde now, when did that happen? you never noticed when he changed. The strange loop-de-loop logic of the film may or may not reward close scrutiny, so be safe and don't give it to much, just have done Salvia Divinorum inside the last year and trust me, this is how reality works (see also my Serpent and the Bartender analogy) and pair it with Frequency for a full night of high-stepping Capgras delusional double feature full night of stepping off frequencies high nightful Capgras high-edliniedlonalishuntrinsiculotiousness, bud--dy.

PS - that 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 and rather than just draws on long syllables, keeps adding suffixes and retroanalytical dimensional hightrombotiousstousooshusness and its variation, then our expectations for the end of the word are so shattered, so astounded that it becomes like a coiled up six-hour chanting session coiled up into one long unwinding hose of a word. And 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 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 does. 

2. Kim Novak as Lylah Clare / Elsa Brinkman
(shout out to Rosella Falk 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 Novak around implies she's two personae (ghost-anima slut maenad; shy dimwit virgin drudge) each in turn thrown up against a woozy James Stewart like a beach ball sloshing with kerosine whipped at a spindly match, she's ALSO the ghost of the Svengali producer's beard /obsession sea wife inside said drudge, who's being remade as said sea wife, a lesbian on her down time, 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 this case, that means going up against Peter Finch, mediating his Network fire and Georgie-Boy brimstone with unappealing (and unconvincing) spoiled brat insecure ego malice. For every grandiose Barrymore intellectual flourish there's a self-sabotaging tantrum of the sort that--let's face it--no real impresario could get away with snapping at so many proffered hands, except of course if you're only pretending, in which case, make it believable.

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 in in once again following some baroque Babel-style lighting playbook only believes that says actress's faces must look greasy and over-lit, the make-up and lighting at such odds the effect is genuine nausea, the women seem clownish and garish, sweat struggling to get out from blocked pores; frightening 'styled' blonde wigs ever shifting around so that 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 his 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 when necessary and step on his cock all the way up the ladder, without it meaning even less to her than it does to him. Countess Bozo's (Valentina Cortez) sexually open give-and-take in Borgnine's office etc., where 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 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 the entire life story, from Weimar cabaret wardrobe mistress and lover to 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. 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 called 'film.' In fact, the worst part of Clare just might be Finch who never seems to find a hook where even he 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 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 doppelgänger 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 there's no way 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 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 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.

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 lutte Polanski-esque stand-in Mattieu Amalric (the bad guy in QUANTUM OF SOLACE) to Polanski's (then?) real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner in VENUS at a late evening rainy audition for a Venus in Furs theatrical adaptation (terrible idea!) -- the pair alone in a drippy theater -with all the lights ready for scenes/ Her character starts by begging him for the lead role while dripping wet and disheveled for a last ditch audition as he's packing his script notes to go home--and 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. As a Woman who seems too educated on 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?) she's right. Clearly both Masoch and this character (and possibly Polanski) have had it too easy in life that they think this sordid infantile fantasy is something worth theatricalizing, no matter how cinematically they envision it while having their dominatrix call girls read it to them. and 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)

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, breeding 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. She steals every scene as the macabre and focused 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 affection to distract him from 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 character development --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 backwards and puritanical emerges. Britain got rid of the buzzkill censoring puritans back in the 1600s (guess where they sent 'em too?).

Naturally if you're a fan of the original 1932 James Whale Old Dark House (right), the William Castle /Hammer remake-- which thows 90% of the original out the window, instead doting heavily on that mid-60s labored 'traveling square salesman deals with eccentric family in kooky old house and romances good girl and is chased by the bad, and explores secret passages -leading to miscommunicationzzz' tip-- will annoy you. 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 Jill Banner in Spider Baby--and all so delectable you want to pull an Agent Smith move from The Matrix and take over Tom Poston's pixel assemblage and reverse the romantic polarity -- even unto the wall with it. As it is he runs of with Janette Scott and Fielding barely has anything to do. Oh woe that I could not travel back in time and smite Castle soundly on the sconce 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 for FLESH EATERS stays frosty and dry: one is Martin Kolseck as a the ex-pat Nazi scientist whose tent the castaways crash; and two is Rita Morley as Laura Winters, alcoholic actress fresh from a near-win at the Tennessee Williams State vodka pong invitational. She and her assistant Jan (Barbara Wilkin) are marooned on a remote island--really more like a huge sand jetty with Kolseck--grateful for to be delivered with three unwitting subjects for his 'hehheh' experiment.  create the perfect maritime bioweapon and nab the three pointer of seducing the doofus bohunk your young hot personal assistant has eyes for AND convincing him to go back to where the plane is tied up and retrieve your satchel of golden nectar respectively.

"Sorry," says the dick 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, then gamely tries to horn in on her sultry secretary's action with the dumb hunk pilot (sanctimonious he makes Zalman King seem like Hugh Herbert) makes me lose some faith in her judgment.Martin's anxious to get rid of them and continue with whatever he's experimenting on there in his remote tent, way back over the dune where they should be safe from the incoming tide. But the plane, boss, the plane! Jan chartered Grant's plane get them to New York on time for a big opening and to idiot pilot who had to either take the job or lose his plane, can't even stay aloft in the face of these hurricane winds. A night like that can set your teeth on edge; Laura's career can't afford to let an understudy ruin her first night, and now... the booze!

I relate with sobering up while dealing with a rainstorm at a camp ground and needing to--and finding the miraculous strength to-set out to score your booze at whatever the cost. True heroism comes in many packages. The evil German professor Bartell (Kolseck) is unscrupulous sure, but 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.  

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. Sensing how hopeless it is, Winters goes back to the tent noting Omar is lucky - it's all over for him. It's that kind of remorseless elan that makes a great drunk. As Oscar DeWitt would say, she's maudlin and full of self pity. She's malignificent.

Then she decides to come onto the Nazi scientist - and though Kolseck admits the smell of her is exciting (I bet) - a handful of seconds later and for little apparent reason he's stabbed her and completely lost our sympathy. On the other hand, Grant is born to be killed by a wussy German character actor on his way down to the indie abyss; even as a scientist he all but thrashes iron jawed Grant, who for his part misses one chance after the other to take him; Kolsek's gun is grabbable for whole scenes and then when he makes his move he socks him but doesn't even try for the gun arm! It's absurd - the kind of thing that would wake John Milius from the grave and make him loud is .45 in rage, were he dead.


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 - like the better Bert I Gordon films such as Tormented and Amazing Colossal Man, (where is THAT film?) makes one forgive the double exposure look of the effects because the story's engaging but neither boring with jargon nor braindead with teens - it finds a nice balance. It also has a favorite line of mine: "Where there is no witness, there is no crime."

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 film --filmed in Romania with the Charles Band east-west unification front--which does miracles with low lighting and high def to create a unique kind of magic way nicer than the usual for direct-to-video--is a few tentacles shy of a satisfying Lovecraft affair. Still, it's never less than watchable-- wry, and pulsing with 'all in a single night' momentum. Mackie is the cool Mrs. Peel to Jon Finch (Polanski's Macbeth)'s snotty Bristol Steed, Bennett, the gangster whose casino was robbed years ago by John Martense (Blake Adams)'s pops now presumed dead or gone CHUD-or-Merrye. The loots buried where the monsters are--the Lefferts' Corners' cemetery and church. Bennett, Ms. Marlowe and their gang blow into town to get the loot, holding a church and the few people there as hostage., unaware both the militant surviving locals and mysterious cannibals have picked that very night to squabble. Hellraiser's own Ashley Laurence has booby-trapped the graveyard with the assistance of Jeffrey Combs--an alky chain-smoking doctor--so the entire graveyard to blow to high heaven once a Martense surfaces. Meanwhile Combs sets the bones and does the stitches, cigarette clamped in his mouth for maximum effect. And there's a funeral director named Skelton Knaggs -- if you get that reference this might be worth even a star more on the ratings scale. 

I think that's the plot -- and I've seen it twice, so it's a bit muddled maybe, very uneven with some parts that clearly weren't entirely edited correctly; one thing might be in there is that Ashley and Combs' characters are long time sometime lovers, which is only strange when you don't remember that there's only a 12 year age difference between. He looks like shit, she looks great--like if Winona Ryder was trying to look a bit muscular (but still sexy) like Linda Hamilton in T2--that look's gone out of style a bit now (with me anyway)--but it was roaring at the time, I do remember (she even starts out in the 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). Laurence's acting is terrible and her lines could use a dose of Hawksian cool humor, like Mackie's gets (I guess because Sharon Stone had them and her part was clearly meant to evoke a bit of Stone in Total Recall). As the guns change hands more than once, each side having the upper hand, etc. we get to see who really acts like a dick when on top--Bennett's thugs might be dumb and mean, but he and Ms. Marlowe are cool somewhat--at least they have two shades, whereas the rest have only one--the idiot priest super eager to die so someone else can be spared, but then he lays back and says shit like when we offer no resistance we invite evil in. They say they'll kill hostages but at least they sometimes lighten up, and overall they keep their heads level. Ms. Marlowe has a soft spot when it comes to the young moms, offering to kill the absentee father of one of the locals' incoming children 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 their minds at the time (the way Alien was on New World's until Road Warrior and Conan came along). Though its action may be clumsy, the narrative confusing, the performances uneven, the monster hands ridiculous Halloween store latex, there's no denying the photography is good, and theres no place like home... unless that home is Lefferts' Corner, Romania. 

(for my other favorite Full Moon/Empire productions see: Dark Angel: The Ascent and of course Trancers and Trancers 2 which have great wpr

7 Dorothy Wilson as
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. Her 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, who's on the up-and-up 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 everyman 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) event though I knew I would never be admitted without parent (and who would bring a parent?). It was a rampant excuse for misogyny, sleaze and ALIEN ripping and rape they said. 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).  Aland and 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 once more 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 above all the gorgeous, strange mist-enshrouded giant space pyramid is 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. 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 kind of asexual sexiness. 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 and 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 dense narrative of 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? 



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 his 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 high fashion 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 fashion poseur scene, Liquid Sky is what Bowie probably hoped The Man who Fell to Earth would be. It's only weakness is a droning endless synth melody like Russian ex-pat Slava Tsukerman banged it out on a Casio as he was editing. Tsukerman also co-wrote it with the star, Anna Carlisle, who plays both Margaret, a disaffected model in Day-Glo face paint and a surly junky male model named Jimmy. If this was a biological guy playing both roles 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, but then, like all the big stars when you see them in their early early work before they got huge, 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 90% 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 hot shot producer wanted her all to himself? Not sure, but somehow she's all the sweeter for her rarity. Maybe it's because her birthday is the day before mine, I don't know if that's right as 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. 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. Even Nick was always sending Nora off to avoid 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 is. 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. 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 Gómez). 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. Way. (In Spanish with English subtitles(more)



14. Caity Lotz as Ava/THE MACHINE
2010 - 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) and 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. Their hard drive is our Akashic Records. They are the past and future, reaching back and forward along your every gesture, like karma's own sweet engine.


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 as two sister craft. 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 whose grown up with neighbor Skinner as a friend, confidante, presumable babysitter once, etc. 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.  Both have scores of jarringly ominous synth notes play 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, sure--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 career first and does it damned well. Maybe it helped that Skinner got her start in feminist oriented female-directed Canadian indie Girlfriends (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 or state did much after this, which might account for the film's relatively minor mention in horor film history. Too fucking bad, cuz it's awesome. (more) 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...