Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception, for your aghast befuddlement

Friday, December 14, 2018

Isles of Löwensohn: THE WILD BOYS, LET THE CORPSES TAN


Funny that after decades of seeing her only hither or yon, I find Elina Löwensohn in two new movies (en français), which I happened to watch back to back, by daring auteurs that take wild surreal detours involving her as a semi-insane ruler of a remote location, watching over scenes of death and sex with a haughty glee and owning her masculine side, if you will, and ageless anima side, a psychopomp beyond gender for the next millennia. In THE WILD BOYS and LET THEIR CORPSES TAN--startling auteurial exercises that draw kinky sexual imagery from the darndest of places--we find this Romanian-American actress (just one year older than me, she's handling it way better) sure can swing a wild dick, if you'll pardon my French. Both from last year but just getting here now (via DVD and streaming rental, sigh), both films shot in super 16mm, both films ravishingly beautiful and auteur to the core.


What are the odds I'd see these movies back-to-back, not knowing Löwensohn was in either one, after not seeing hide nor hair of since her small role in The Forbidden Room (and before that, Nadja), where she looked, frankly, like a different person - she was still 'gamin'-esque in Room, but here she's surrendered even late inning Delpy/Huppert-style hotness in favor of a fat cigar and a laugh throaty enough to choke the communism out of Lionel Stander, wagging her sun-browned body around like a general bounding over piles of enemy corpses of the other side, breasts bared with the 'who cares?' haughtiness that marks European women as the superior to all other genders and continents. She's rocking punk rock bangs and a stare that could freeze the blood of a drowsy kitten basking in the sun. Those breasts are young and full-still, as if eternal. Shall you not try to swing the same?


8 THE WILD BOYS
(Les garçons sauvages)
Dir Bertrand Mandico
***1/2

Surreal and strange in ways that mixes Clockwork Orange-Captains Courageous bad boy rehab adventures into erotic gender-bent deconstructions like Batailles' Story of the Eye and Angela Carter's Passion of a New Eve, it's the hardy tale of of a youth rehabilitation program cure taken by five over-privileged punks after they brutalize their literature teacher. Trevor, a voodoo-like spirit of violent destruction that wears a glittery skull mask and likes to run around as a dog (!), overtook them during a masked drunken performance art piece (reciting the opening three witches scene of Macbeth) while wearing terrifying maskies. After a brutal period at sea, collared to the ship and regularly choked to within an inch of their lives at the salty captain's whim, the wild boys wind up on a  mysterious island with sexually active vegetation, the ever-present smell of oysters and a strange hormonal magic, including the ability to slowly turn boys into girls (their penises drop off and are swept away in the uncaring surf, suddenly no more relevant than land crabs). Trees and rocks become giant asses and mocking breasts.


Soon joining forces with a mysterious lady (formerly male) doctor (Löwensohn) they start sexually devouring and killing randy sailors, committing high seas mutiny, and surrendering to the intoxicating touch and taste of the local plant life. Touching Lord of the Flies meets The Pink Lagoon kind of castaway weirdness, our Les garçons sauvages is really off in a field by itself, chasing horny phallic dragonflies, drinking manna-jaculate from phallic tubers, screwing between leafy legs, sleeping deep in the shrubbery, evoking everything from Naked Lunch to Matango its hallucinatory amok Friday-Crusoe wandering (and even Valhalla Rising if you're keeping score), it may well and goodly be conjured.. (The great twist though is that these boys were played by girls to begin with, and the freedom accorded these already free French actresses allows them to swagger in ways that are good to see.)

What does it all mean? You know damned well what it means. Read Batailles and Angela Carter and learn something about just how precarious your own sexuality is, that words on a page can--by reading--reorganize the molecular structure of your private parts - you'll get aroused in places you didn't even know were there, and suddenly buried infant memories sweep up onto the rocks. Then you'll understand: When French women put on male drag look out, they swagger and wave their cocks around like they just strapped them on, and when they fall off, they behold their breasts like they just got their team colors. It's quite revealing when deconstructing the postures and posing of the Paris is Burning houses (with which it would make a wild double feature), all swivel-hipped sailors and grabby crotch-forward surrender --the way letting your unconscious anima/animus stretch out in drag brings all sorts of in-the-moment awareness and mojo. Shot in startling black and white with forays into surreal color, the spirit of experimental expressionism and psychosexual weirdness is alive and well with this new force of surreal grandeur Bertrand Mandico. Remember that name,  Bunuel, Jarman, Anger, my mamas, you can rest in peace at last (yes, Kenneth, I know you're still alive, but rest... there... there now).




--


LET THE CORPSES TAN
(Laissez bronzer les cadavres)
Dirs. Helene Cattet's and Bruno Forzani
***

My expectations ran mighty high for this, Belgian couple Helene Cattet's and Bruno Forzani's third feature being such a gigantic fan of their 2009 debut, Amer, and a cautious admirer of their sophomore effort, The Strange Color of Her Body's Tears.  Turns out, while still suffused with their signature style (gorgeous 35mm photography, tastefully-recycled Ennio Morricone, lots of feverish close-ups of eyes, hands, knives, guns, mouths, wild clothing, associative editing) there's no room in a traditional crime thriller (adopted from a potboiler French novel) for the kind of psychosexual or post-structuralist departures that made their earlier work so delectably artsy. On the other hand, they do capture every nook and cranny of the sun-drenched rocky locale with such energetic rigor that you want to pack up and move there, even if they don't have air conditioning. The story has a gang of gold hijackers laying low with the loot at a remote crumbling villa atop a mountain overlooking the sea, run by a crazy artist (Elina Löwensohn!) and her has-been writer, played by the indefatigable Marc Barbé (they were last paired together in the unrelentingly grim Sombre, so it's nice to see them all sun-baked and in cahoots). Stephane Ferrara is a guy named Rhino, but he's not the big bald bruiser you'd think was named Rhino --that guy's in the cold storage cave, screwing the roast lamb hanging there (that lamb gets pretty gross and shot up by the end of the film). At least I think that's true. Who can keep all these craggy faces straight?


Anyway, it's a perfect location. Who wouldn't want to shoot a movie there, or hide out after a crime, even without air conditioning, phone or electricity? Even the writer's wife comes there, uninvited, with her kid (stolen from her ex-husband who has sole custody) and a cute young maid. Complications! The crooks will have to kill everyone. And then two motorcycle cops show up. Oy, it's going to be a long afternoon. With its gradual existential dwindling and the idea of a remote location occupied solely by armed men and women angling after loot, comes visions of everything from Point Blank, For a Few Dollars More, and--a recent surreal discovery lurking nonchalantly in the ocean of Prime streaming Italian westerns, Matalo!), and as long as we focus on the gorgeous, well-thought out compositions and gorgeous cinematography, well why not? Let the sunshine and the night perpetrate and the cliche'd close-ups of ants representing the scattering crooks be minimal. Forzani and Cattet have such devotion to the startling composition and deep colors of the stark Spanish air that they may miss the big picture but they sure do get the little details: when one man is shot the gold he's carrying is hit and explodes as if liquid, splashing all over him and occasional extrapolations of the art on the scene makes us realize just how little art there is laying around, aside from a very cool skull-headed hobby horse, and a painting Elina makes in the beginning by shooting paint pellets at a canvas and burning holes in it with her cigar. As a result the filmmakers need to use people and guns, rock, and sky for their compositions, and though they find lots of weirdly sexual tableaux (below).


In what are either fantasies of flashbacks, a young silhouetted anima figure (presumably Löwensohn in her younger artist muse days), stands over a horde of men and pees on them, while Morricone guitar stings bray, jamming her heel into the mouth of one of the men in a later fantasy/memory which of course is intercut with a gun, but also clever deep cut references to similar 'dying primal scene reverie' images in Argento's Tenebrae. But, more and more the unique synergy that made Amer so magnificently Antonioni-meets-Argento-esque (dialoguing with Lucretia Martel's paranoid soundscapes and Claire Denis' shadowy sexuality as well as Argento's psychosexual post-modernism) is all missing, in place of more obvious references (pee = gold; paint = gold); the two voices--the feminine avant garde experimental non-narrative and the masculine/Apollonian narrative don't connect like one would hope and while we end up admiring the lovely location, the photography, the range of styles, the clever use of close-ups, style over substance and a who cares confusion overtakes us -it's impossible--at least at first viewing--to keep much of an idea of who's who, the writer, the lawyer, the criminals, the etc. I'll definitely see it again and hope my feelings change. But now I'm just confused. (Another weird connection - seeing this film the same year as the release of Other Side of the Wind, for the artsy film-within-the-film sure has a lot in common. Shhh)


That confusion worked in Amer, it was even intentional --the modernist frisson of not recognizing signifiers we find in the best of Antonioni, and in other great Darionioni works, like , perhaps since the story was so familiar - it was a clear line from fairy tales to sexual awakening romps--the endless sexy summer holiday movies (boys on scooters whisking nubile girls off to picnics with baskets of phallic bread and succulent fruits) to Argento/Antonioni pawing and old Italian macho leering making women paranoid and we viewers feeling post-modernly suspect in her mental disintegration. We didn't need a narrative in Amer because we saw the common thread through it all, as if all the movies made in Europe about woman's sexual maturity suddenly rearranged themselves into a completed puzzle with this central magnet of a film. It didn't have to make sense, it was sense, itself. Sophomore effort Strange Color was more like an exercise in bravura style, but with enough enticingly lovely symbols floating through it and such a gorgeous art nouveau hotel (set? Wherever that is, I want to live there) it didn't matter if the story got monotonous and incoherent. With Corpses though, what do we have? Bronzed Mediterranean forty-fifty-somethings lounging amidst the cloudless blazing blue sky and groovy ruins? One is tempted to recall Hitchcock's line about how some directors make slices of life, while he makes slices of cake. What is Corpses a slice of? Can one really slice a slice?

I imagine the archetypal mythic resonance Tennessee Williams could do with a location like this --this crumbling Mount Olympus, this Catholic Ozymandias, or art metatextual connection the way Suzuki, Godard or Petri would. Instead, what we come away with is a beautiful postcard that, if you stare at it long enough, starts to seem dirty.

By then Löwensohn isn't even human anymore- she's replaced by a young silhouetted anima psychopomp, standing in front of the sun or hovering above cars, pissing on the devout in rivers of liquid manna fantasy flashbacks, or being flogged on the cross and roped til the milk comes gushing from her breasts like fountains. Is that anyway to treat a lady, even in flashback? Even if she was no lady, but some kind of a man?

----

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

All the Missed Mystics: Nicolas Roeg's GLASTONBURY FAYRE (1972) Farewell to Filmstruck


While Filmstruck is still with us, let's chance upon the few small good things we have before they leave forever (to become expensive DVDs or unavailable). The recently also departed Nicolas Roeg is featured in one of their mini-title collections, and for the intrepid explorer there be his 1972 concert film, Glastonbury Fayre. If you've e'er loved a Roeg (Performance, Track 29) then don't miss it. And if e'er loved thee the psychedelic music festival movies of the late 60s-early 70s, and wondered if the movement e'er survived its American Altamont apocalypse, seek this film and say to yourself, ah there it is! The mystics did not burn out or fade away, they just snuck back to England and just didn't tell their boorish American cousins. Thus, here in Glastonbury 1971, while the wreckage of the Age of Aquarius was still being picked over by Manson biographers across the pond, the cool kids quietly gathered, by a big pyramid stage, correctly situated along the Stonehenge ley line for maximum magnetic current, at the solstice, between two hills...

Shot by Roeg as one of his mystical odysseys, the focus is less on the packaging the hits (there's only one, at the end, via Traffic, at night, the climax of the movie, with a whole mass of dancers in the crowd, reveling, each with enough space to swing their arms if they choose, Roeg's camera straining to find them in the swirl of night) and more on the mystical currents of the landscape, the joining of locals and visitors, the ease and beauty with which it all comes together. There's little of the Pennebaker's Monterey Pop habit of framing the painted-faces of lovely birds in fringed sashay (there's naught but a few), or the acid-drenched face clawers and drunken bikers of Maysles' Speedway. But we feel the solstice, the moon, and mystical movements of planets past the pyramid; these things the camera of Roeg senses and captures, the way the builders of nearby Stonhenge did. Hardly surprising from the man behind Walkabout and Performance, there's a truly mystical power at work here - and the camerawork itself seems tied to the force of love and magnetic waves in electric union.

Roeg films the throngs arriving from low angle gliding shots, the legs of the comers are long, as if he's a child looking up at some kind of ethereal parents, a time when parents were cool, unworried and free, but not dippy - less hedonists wallowing in Roman orgy and more some mass impromptu tribal coven, the druidic roots of Stonehenge breathing through them, the Green Man coming out of a long sleep, shaking off the Roman occupying sloth like a flaky outer crust, and communicating--through the grass and sky and vibrations in the air. Festival goers form shapes like moving temporary crop circles in some ephemeral alphabet that transcends any one meaning. Similarly, the film offers no words onscreen or introductions to let us know who any of the musicians are; there are no signs and markers we associate with concert festival films--no indication of drugs or overdoses, no backstage chatter, no overloaded bathrooms and crowded freeway helicopter shots. If the guy with the stars in his eyes (upper left) and the world in his beard is the promoter, his talk of getting a vision of his partner, pulling the car over, calling him and hearing "We have the farm" is delightful, his giddy shrooms-and-lovelight laugh, manic yet rooted. We don't need the backstory. The Green Man was at work, sifting the clouds and conjuring images in minds as needed to get this revelry underfoot, putting glowing embers in the minds of initially reluctant farmer neighbors, and this wild eyed bearded guy is in the circuit. He could tell. We see young dudes all draped on ominous framework metal bars erecting a giant pyramid stage, wondering how roadies manage to do their dangerous intense work while high out of their minds, or how that all works. But work it does, the Green Man acts as a reverse gremlin, causing guys to look again after initially passing an un-tightened screw.

It's a perfect festival - the right number of people (7,000-ish), the right weather (for England), the right acts (including lots of insane howling and warbling and babble), the right time (solstice), alll humming with love and the power of abandonment - like druidic voodoo. The acts range from  Fairport Convention, to performance art madness of Gong (?), Hawkwind and the northern soul of Terry Reid or whatever, nothing terribly sticks out, one band or pale fiddler from another- there are no stage introductions aside from some concern about the corn fields - but the big moments come in the sense of group dynamics at sunset right before Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come (I looked 'em up).

This is where it all gels:
The place gets eerie quiet as the sun sets between two hills; the pyramid stands shadowed. A small procession of ominous robed figures are silhouetted against the sky.
They light three crosses on the side of the hill. We think of Jesus, I guess, and the Romans again - but whatever, like those crop circles that form in the area, it transcends any one meaning.
It just is, and Roeg is the right man for the job. As with his Walkabout and Don't Look Now we're so subsumed by the land and sky it's as if we disappear, our illusory ego and locus of perceptual identity within the film unraveled back to basic elements - fire, air, earth... water.



As the solstice light disappears behind the hills and the pyramid stage lights up. It's the climax of Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising, the cumulative gut punch of understanding initiatory mysticism via the Golden Bough or Henry James' Varieites of Religious Experience. The profound feeling you had while breaking (lambs)bread, sweeping away of the sticks and seeds, in the Houses of the Holy gatefold in high school suddenly makes sense. Shrooming in the graveyard in 1987 I/We felt the pull of the earth and moon in balance, and I/We feel it now. The band starts: Arthur Brown emerges: a tall strange figure in evil KISS make-up (1), a fusion of the dream cabaret performance rock madness of Alice Cooper, the rooted bluesy grip and star of Zappa, soul of Captain Beefheart, modulated ominousness of Nick Cave, paradoxically zany steeliness and falsetto of Foxy Shazam.

Who the hell? How'd I miss this guy? (I think I mixed him up in my mind with Arthur Lee). I looked him up: A frequent opener and collaborator with Hawkwind, The Who, Hendrix, etc., he seems to be one of Britain's best-kept secrets. I could swear he wasn't there before, I read loads about Hendrix and remember nothing of him). Is he me from the future, who went back in the past to save Jimi Hendrix, but then forgot, and wound up here? Tall, crazy, beautiful in a masculine deep sense, alive with light and lightning. His Spotify roster is sparse and inelegant, but hey- somehow stayed pure, maybe be avoiding America's obscene corrupting love (to borrow a phrase from the great Nanno Jelkes). I'd never heard of him before, but there he is, somehow seeming to conduct his band and the moon and the crowd and the fire at the same time, ranting and holding wild weird notes. He's what I strived to be in a younger man's dreams and open mics: semi-pretentious/theatrical but genuinely eccentric and fierce.
---
It's so fitting then, on a personal level (what else do any of us know, Jedediah, except love on our terms?) that I saw Roeg's Glastonbury Fayre  the night before Thanksgiving, while packing to leave on the early morning train, wondering if it would be the last film I saw on Filmstruck, wondering why the Time-Warner bigwigs in charge of so much of our cinematic heritage hate artistic film, the art house crowd, and anything small enough to only draw a small profit or debit, as if they're just dying to mow down the last museum in town, to undo the historic monument housing protection, to make room for yet another skyscraper housing development or Target - advertised as so close to museums and parks, but then the parks go away for more aprtments. Ugh! Ommm! Center myself... bring it back... to me; accept the things I cannot change, let go let God; and above all, realize my own part in the problem - For when totally free, and given nice drugs, I take too many, drink too much and become a roaring mess... eventually. But the moon and stars judge me not - why should I?. Ommmm 
--
A moment I marked down in my first viewing: Brown is sitting on the side of the stage while the band jams on, takes a pull of some can (can't see the label) and burps --he clearly doesn't know the camera is watching -but he looks calmly over at the drummer and burps suddenly, at firsts unconsciously--as burps are--but as it's about to come he transforms it to the art, he burps fiercely, full of 'walrus through the ice'-roaring joy (5), but not conspicuously, loudly, boorishly, but a man whose warrior soul is calm and in the moment, turning even the smallest, usually unconscious gestures (unseen by the audience) into fierce warrior accents. He's not worrying about if he felt enough in his singing or the is high enough or how he looks, he's not trying to get higher or to recover from a hangover or all the other things that hung up America at the time. He's just in the zone.


Another stand-out is the also-better-known-in-Britain folk singer Melanie (below), whose teary, raspy voice and urgent guitar deliver a strong, moving, dynamic tune ("Peace Will Come") that seems to encompass everything within the beauty of the oceanic moment tempered with the foreknowledge of its inevitable passing; and yet, with that anticipation of loss that infects the joy of the moment comes another certainty tempering the sadness with joy: after the perfect oceanic union passes, our sadness will be tempered by the foreknowledge that such perfect moments--having come once--will come again. I love how it all quiets to a standstill when Melanie starts to play - the way everyone seems to be in the same sleeping bag, hushed and reverent, all 7,000 like a single being. Even the sacked-out under blankets nod their heads and smile. America's folk singers come off as a bit too preachy or corny (aiming for  pop appeal), but Melanie cuts through it all, her hair flying in her pretty face, howling beautifully; as with Arthur Brown, she made me an instant fan realizing all the wild shit American AOR and mythmaking quietly kept out of reach. She made me long for a second chance, to go to Britain in 1971, or just 71 AD, for that matter, to find the people that carried the psychedelic torch far past Altamont and Manson (and personal level American demons like mine), and may have it burning somewhere still. Melanie, playing back in time, too, seemed to understand my longing, the rasp in her voice cutting through the decades, assuring me as beautifully and strangely as these peaceful moments came before, they'll come again. Trying to stop them only increases the force with which they inevitably erupt into the collective consciousness.
--
I've enough of a continental mind that I've been to one or two literally magical weekend parties, the best of which was held one autumn solstice (c. 1991) at my cool rich hippie friend's Vermont cabin for a weekend of tripping and drinking Jaeger shots after blustery hikes. My ugly Americanism yielded willingly to the older alchemical ways of a huge bearded Brit with huge hair and a pungency of patchouli, a weird girlfriend, and--most vitally--a vial of pure delicious liquid LSD around his neck, dispensing drops into the eyes of the willing (everyone, me included). It was 'the good stuff,' pure gorgeous chemical perfection sending us all into wild dances that became -- due to surrender to the movements--elaborate ceremonial snowflake Pollack morphings I could never duplicate (or probably even notice) their magic in a 'down' state. I left him, and his posse, after coffee on Sunday, the steam from the cups like Monument Valley smoke signals across the vast expanse of the wooden coffee table, as the music of Dennis Wilson's "Pacific Ocean Blue" played on his expensive perfectly modulated stereo system. I would have stayed forever, but the friends I came with had work Monday. I drove back home (to suburban NJ) without a whimper, realizing--as was my kick at the time--that sacrificing great things in the name of love was tragically beautiful. Leaving the best time of your life for another week at the Ortho mailroom was just part of the game. I kept my holy aura for weeks til it faded. I even started going to yoga, which was hard to find in suburban NJ in 1990. In short, I kept the flame... for weeks... but.... hey...

And when the same solstice party was held again in the spring we were all excited - I went with such high expectations! Naturally, it turned on me and I had the terrible bad trip. I felt the sort of cursed emptiness, the 'unable to enjoy the party no matter how high and drunk I got' alcoholic depression Jack Kerouac describes so vividly in the second half of Big Sur. (6) The same people were there, same acid, same everything, but meh. Maybe I didn't bring enough whiskey, nor did I horde what I did bring. (For I was sure I wouldn't need it, so free would I feel). My bottle was all gone in minutes, and the stores all closed and far away and me too high to drive. The weather was vile. But more noticeably, no amount of whiskey, ecstasy, shrooms, acid, and hash brownies could alleviate that terrible want - the expectations of greatness dashed the moment. Instead of bringing the party down the hill to the Ortho mailroom, I'd brought the Ortho mailroom to the party. 

Isn't that what's happening to Filmstruck? The Mailroom --seeing the party as a distraction of its workers -- has squashed it due perhaps to not exceeding high expectations. 

Here goes my stress again - the rage against the --
Focus back to me, Erich - the Ommmmmm Let the I am become the Aum....change starts there.
--
The people here at Glastonbury are beyond wanting or expecting anything, as is--in most of his films (until the arrival of his beloved Theresa Russell)--Roeg himself.  We see some couples canoodling, but Roeg films them mainly for the the wine class shaped background behind their bobbing profiles. The men don't seem sex-starved or sex obsessed like they do in Psych-Out and The Trip (though there they had to bow to the drive-in's licentious demands). The "I Need" of American hippiedom becomes the "I am" of meditation becomes "Aummm" as even that is transcended for the oceanic experience of pure selflessness. Aummmm.

With an attendance of only 7,000, it's easy to see Glastonbury as one of those rare parties where just the right amount of folks showed up, all able to move into an eerie group mind perfection and not step on each other's towels, and so--they move beyond. Roeg captures it all, or some of it. It's okay if he misses important stuff. He notices the way a simple rhythm brought in to the camp site by a travelin' group of friends on a drum gradually, casually, builds (but not ostentatiously) into a little scene happening aways in the middle ground. Roeg's camera (6) feels no need to pick up his tripod and get closer - he's no amateur - not about to chase the willow the wisp, as opposed to find the next one, rewarding the patient with a lens flare or bead rattle that comes to him. That's the beauty. That's the difference. Soon a bottomless freak is dancing on stage wailing and screaming, but to a slowly increasing beat, looking out into the crowd their not gawking or video-phoning but clapping along- the rhythm and the spirit overtaking them like a gentle liberation, naked people roll around in the mud in strange childlike joy--as if the adult hang-ups stem from mom stopping us from wallowing in the mud naked as children, and now- we're finally doing it, and there's no mom to shame us, and all hang-ups are liberated. We crosscut to the black priest visitor who notes he didn't feel awkward at all, or sense anything pornographic or wrong about it "I was amazed at myself," he says. But he could tell, the naked writhing here is beyond the second chakra and all original sin. The flutter of recorders joins in to duplicate a flock of hysterical geese sitting in with Ornette Coleman and it's no longer possible to tell who is in the band, a performer in the crowd, or just a reveler caught up in the moment. People cover a rolling naked man in mud, and you feel him surrender to the moment, in his eyes you get the sense he's barely believing he's letting this happen and that it's all okay, and it's surrender to the Green Man's caress. It's not the kind of crazed desperate, froth-at-the-mouth zonked nudity of that big lady in Gimme Shelter or the preachy agrarian bathing of Woodstock, but a genuinely altered druidic madness clashing performance, freak-out and druid voodoo trance (10) audience and then reuniting them into muddy mass. The Green Man stirs in the moss. This ground, this mud, is sanctified and rich with history - the same mud of the ancients. Some weird American gets onstage with a chicken on his shoulder to babble about freaks and animals or something, and it's  a sore thumb, America: this need to elaborate and personify and annoy when all that's needed is, by gum, the chicken. He's just doing what an American SWM does by instinct - take credit.

Upper left is "the Maharishi," but it's not the Maharishi of the Beatles, but a different one- who with his white suit and entourage seems like a kind of Jim Jones but whose borderline incomprehensible English rant fills us not with light and love but suspicion. He seems the most uptight in the bunch - needing to show he's got a limo, his way paved forward, dressed like he's about to rescue Scarface from the gallows with a heavy bribe and a last-minute reprieve. Maybe he's holy, who can tell from this distance. If he had anything to do with inspiring this festival, though, he's all right with me. 
Shorn of the loud American throng, the ugly tourists, the consumerist mindset, the big swath of the pie, here are people who don't seem to be 'consuming' but being. Chickens are not killed but sung to. This is Burning Man before it became a scene, before seagulls on the charred remains of Police Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward). (3) This is Joni Mitchell's dream of getting back to the garden. And she's not there, and maybe that's why. It's British, it's a thing America (and maybe or maybe not Canada) would need to shucker loose from half its population to embrace. By the time we got there, it would be over, if it was lucky. When it comes to treading lightly, we're bad news. We bring liquor. We love it. We will destroy you with our boozy woozy love. The corn will be demolished.


And yet, maybe I'm just talking about me -I was part of that part that's left behind. I failed the America in the 60s class I took sophomore year. And why? Because my friends and I loved getting high and listening to the music of the 60s too much. We made a video for our final project but remember to list our sources. What we gave the teacher was just a video of our band playing "Purple Haze," "Evil Ways," and "Viola Lee Blues,: spiked with talking head inserts pondering "how the 60s will remember the 80s," (oh shit! I just noticed). And also, Dave's and my guitars were out of tune. And also... mainly we all just talked about how drugs don't make you stupid, and yet, we did not--I now realize--sound very smart... not at all.  It pains me to admit it now - to wonder about the shady character of drugs. If a drug is valuable when used correctly (as they seem to be here at Glastonbury) means any sensible American must immediately overuse them, for we seldom turn our back on the idea that if ten is great, taking twenty is twice as great.

But hey, you can't help being a middle class American white boy with enough alcoholism in your genes that you don't consider it a party unless you can't remember it. You blew it, Billy. Altamont is you (by which I mean me). That's why I found Fayre so reassuring. What's stressed here things that American filmmakers would shy away from: God, magic, pagan symbolism, the transpersonal energies that connect all things. It sees beyond this 'epic fail' Woodstock or bust bigger is better build a skull tower to the vaginal sky eye American urge. When you plummet to earth in pain, strapped to a gurney or shaking uncontrollably alone on your couch for days on end, these are the things that reassure one. Prayer aligns our thinking to higher powers, we may be little humans but with enough egoic surrender to the oceanic current, we can expand to planet-size.

That's why it makes holy sense that I'm seeing Glastonbury Fayre on now on the vanishing Filmstruck as part of the Nicolas Roeg package. How fitting. Bye Nicolas Roeg, RIP... RIP Filmstruck... bye bye. It's a hard world for little streaming services as Lillian Gish says in Night of the Hunter might say. Small profit margins are eradicated the way a giant bank-owned tractor eradicates a dustbowl Okie.

But hey, the art goes on and the past isn't going anywhere. No one is going to come take our DVDs away.... yet.  But we can't take 'em with us, after all. Why have the moon when we can have the stars?

The weirdest part: the inclusion a protestant minister holding a small service in a corner of the parking lot area, a sad-eyed gaggle of older folks (nurses, bakers) and some devoted youth, wearily but peacefully stand around him, which Roeg snarkily intercuts with ecstatic krishna dancing and chanting going on elsewhere in the festval. "The meaning of Christ is very simple isn't it?" notes the minister in his cloudiness / cut to the dancers basking in the sun./ back to the flatline priest: "If we want to live, we must die."


It's a cheap shot, which along with the cross burnings the night before seem to indicate some swirling dark current of Antichristian sediment stirring in the mind, which considering the eastern understanding of transcending duality, the rapture that lies beyond the separation of this and that, seems far too short-sighted a mind-set for anyone with any real enlightenment in their souls - and the promoters here are glowing like auric kliegs; and eventually the editor seems to relent a bit with the snarky crosscut; one can't rightly argue against the priest's prayer for "one whole community" even if it is waterlogged with  seminary tradition. Crosscut as you will, the man is there. He showed up, right into the lion's den, the fiery furnace, the dancing eastern weirdos being the flames. We--the hungover Americans (the ones, 'sigh' I came with, I apologize again for Jason's behavior)--just walked/staggered home, draped in our Glastonbury 71 bootleg shirts, declaring we did it. We "did" the festival scene. It's played. Time to curl up with a good book... on tape, and leave the --what is it called now--raves?--to other people's children. Stay hydrated, kids! Peace will come. As for us, Hendrix is dead, man. Altamont was a mess. It's done. "They" ruined any chance for real transformation. Not us, man We drink at home now with the TV on / and all the houselights left up bright, (9). We prefer our community now, perhaps rightly, through the safety of the screen. Click, and we're free again - lost in another wild dream. We only come up for air during the credits. And even now, we're forced off the Filmstruck reservation onto Hulu, Netflix, Prime, where episodes of our current binged series link up with a 'click to skip opening credits' link in the lower right corner. So... We do not come up, til the season is demolished.


But hey, that's later. Now, other things than us are going, one by one, a reverse ark, so... one more time. So glad you made it.

Just watch the end again of Glastonbury Fayre if nothing else, before midnight this Thursday... - all that hair shaking through the night, thousands of people bopping up and down to Traffic jamming "Gimme Some Lovin'", all as happy as larks, beautiful, free. Room to swing a cat, and all cats hip. Steve Winwood tall and majestic with cigarette...drummers and keyboardist rapt with the groove-beatific focused smiles; I'd forgotten about that feeling I'm so glad it lasted as long as it did, if not forever (my joints!) and not everywhere (Giuliani saw to that). Somewhere, though, somewhere too ancient to be totally silenced, I'd wager the Green Man is planning something, but I'll wager it's not so wondrous.Ask not who stands within the wicker man... Next time, we're all burning.


1. We've ascribed that black and white devil clown make-up forever to KISS, which is very American of us, but there you are, it's KISS even if you don't really like KISS.
2. I can't judge man, for I too went this way, from that first glorious rush. They only today announced conclusive proof shrooms treat depression, man I could tell you the stories, that black and white Kansas misery finally opening up into Technicolor OZ in Cinerama. It was my freshman year of college, waking up to joy only to inevitably succumb to the shuddering bad trip misery of not being able to stay there; chasing hit after hit with whiskey after whiskey just trying to feel less like I was in self-conscious hell, never mind about good, while being pawed at by girlfriends and jonesers or, maybe,worse, left alone. Home and stranded, to be terrified by the TV showing Flatliners, tuning in halfway through while having a shroom anxiety attack, thinking death had overtaken me and this movie was like a gateway pamphlet announcing to me, gently, I was about to die. Or was dead.
3. ref. The Wicker Man 
5. That was my power animal mantra during some intense shroom trips in 1987 -the warrior roar, the lone bull walrus breaking through the ice mantle in the Arctic sea, the only living thing for miles in all directions of snowy wasteland, but roaring - wild and proud and free - I am alive! Without fear or loneliness or panic, the warrior roar that makes life your bitch no matter what may come. 
6. The biggest nightmare a drunk can have is when the 'click' never comes (as per Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) no matter how drunk you get - you could be so sloshed you feel it coming up into your eyeballs but are still sober as a judge, and beyond miserable. It's remembering those experiences that help keep up drunks sober through the tempting times. 
9. "The Last Time I saw Richard" - Joni Mitchell (of course)
10. voodoo is actually part Celtic, part African ritual - as Celts and African slaves were mixed together on Caribbean islands in ancient maritimes. (Hence the similarity too between Irish and Caribbean accents.) 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Miss Chthonic Temple: SUSPIRIA, SABRINA (Chilling Adventures of)


We're finally there, at the point in time wherein women have eclipsed men as their own worst enemy and the Apollonian phallus comes crashing into the sea like a blood-caked sandcastle to be replaced by a whole new protrusion, the blood-soaked erect tam-'ahem'-pon. Symbolizing birth, the shedding of the unfertilized eggs, the eclipse of the moon that recommences the menstrual cycle, it stand tall, proud. See it rise, Amphitrite! Kali! Asherah! The Paglian chthonic floods the coastal regions like a melting ice cap blood tide. Witches are in the theater via the SUSPIRIA remake by the guy (really?) who did Call Me by Your Name, and on Netflix is a show called THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, something that by far was America's Halloween post-trick-or-treating binge of 2018. Earlier this year there was Hereditary. What else do you need, sister? To write your own story yourself? Boil the cauldron double bubble yr trouble. Men wouldn't be so naive as to let a girl write the story of a woman's magic triumph -we'd have nothing left to be but drowned.


Bedknobs and broomsticks may--it seems--be associated with witchcraft because they are items a young girl may safely 'employ' towards her first orgasm. And her first orgasm never really stops once it starts, like a fire that may destroy the patriarchy with a single moan.



All my film geek friends love the new SUSPIRIA --and the Erich-targeted Alamo Drafthouse ads on my Facebook never shut up about how much their own geek contingent adores it. For my sins, I saw it there. What a joint.  And I like that it's (Suspiria, I mean) totally boy-free: there's no romance, no sex, no pregnancy or walks of shame, not even a throw-away glance from a pretty eyelashed young houseboy like in the original - and I love that this new version switches from a co-ed ballet academy to an acclaimed modern dance troupe. But... on the other hand, the sense of real evil--the lurid yet nightmarish color and sense of menace--has been replaced by a kind of vaguely connected but deeply uncomfortable body horror. The threat now is all of the ligaments and joints and not the heart and neck, and even then, it's never clear why it's so unclear (the unclarity was crystal in the original). Now it's set in a realistic gray rundown 1977 Berlin that already feels nostalgia for the gold grey misery of the Wall (it's right outside the Hene Markos Dance Academy, replete with tasteful graffiti). In order to convey it's import it feels the needs to cram in a whole extra hour, making it perhaps the longest horror film since The Shining. The parts played by Udo Kier (at his most devastatingly handsome) and Rudolf Schündler in the original (they laid out the local Black Forest witch history in a single scene) are now combined into one old duffer (played by Tilda Swinton in good old man make-up but an unconvincing falsetto voice), who spends great gabs of moments reading the diagram-packed diary of a missing dance student patient (Chloë Grace Moretz, whose insane babbling in his apartment is an early highlight) and wasting time puttering back and forth across the Berlin wall to his country house while the idiosyncratic Thom Yorke 90s-style alt rock balladry moans in the background. There's lots of TVs on in lobbies and apartments and bars with news reports streaming as German terrorists try to free the Baader-Meinhof via a plane hijacking and so forth (this wishes it would make a good lengthy double feature with Uli Edel's 2008's Baader-Meinhof Complex.)  Sinthoms and subtextual rivulets that could have been more profound, like the link between the aetheric consumption of Suzy Bannion's youthful vigor by the evil unseen Helena Markos and the crunching up of a generation by the Nazis are like afterthoughts as this old duffer putter around and read diaries full of arcane markings that, perhaps, director Luca Guadignino presumes we'll one day be pausing and reviewing up close to unscramble archaic clues the way those David Lynch pronoiacs do on Twin Peaks. In my case, good sir, he presumes in error. Not that I don't love great swathes of it, or swaths, and maybe another viewing, at home, with my too-high expectations lowered, like the bar. But in the meantime, I'll take what I can get. And I can get it all.


While there was much to savor, I confess felt it was very suspect in being written and directed by a man, even though I knew--thanks to the pre-show videos at the Alamo--screenwriter David Kajganich spent some time watching old female European modern dance choreographers and their worldly artistic views and goals, in and around Europe, before and after the war. A lot of the movement and sociological underpinnings to the performances seem imported wholesale from those videos, which, frankly is great. It makes you want to see the dances in person, where those no editor playing with all the multiple camera angles and close-ups he has to work with, enjoying himself a little too much.

And yet, though the dancing seems legit, like they worked at it, and Dakota Johnson especially really gives it 100%, and the excellent sound design captures her every sexy breath and the whoosh of air from her movements, the director and editor seldom trust a single arcing movement, jump, or spin, to play out on its own without adding thirty crosscuts to random things like faces of those watching, memories of past events, other movements of other people in other areas, giving it all the kind of overwrought Ashby-gone-Roeg ADD. In other words it tries too hard craft associative meanings in the editing room, and as a result lets itself get all carried away by the magic of crosscuts until you kind of wish DW Griffith had never been born!


That's not to say there aren't moments where this rapid-fire cutting works when, for example, during rehearsal, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) touches the shoulder blades, arms, and legs of Dakota Johnson, injecting some matriarchal chthonic oomph, the force of which --while invisible to the eye--is felt via clever sound design (where we feel air currents in our lower chakras) and editing that shows clued-in dancers and instructors all throughout the building sensing--if you will--a stirring in the (dark) force.  But then we can't just have a dance without seeing the linked puppet agony it causes some other girl trapped below in the fuzzily circumscribed secret sanctum, and those dancer and instructor's faces, and on and on until it's like beating a dead horse that's somehow still breathing, on and on, in a way far more in tune with modern torture porn than classic Argento. For the original Suspiria murders were grand terrifying erotic and disturbing, but he kept the camera on the action, and didn't feel the need to crosscut to five other people in different parts of the building.


For another interesting double feature, this made me think most of all of the recent Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron busting some intense fighting skills. The point of that film may have been that Berlin is a fucking mess, or that James MacAvoy is a drink best served on a short leash, but it was also about how intoxicating she and Sofia Boutella look under red and blue lights, in loose-knit sweaters, kissing in a neon-drenched club bathroom foyer (left). And this Suspiria is really about how sexy Dakota is when her breathing is given a nice swooshing circular sound design and she's squirming around in modern jazz gyrations on a rehearsal space floor, even if her skin is as grey as the Berlin wall yet still doesn't match her wan fake red hair. When she moves you feel like she's conducting great swaths of air in and around herself in some shamanic ecstatic trance. When she's writhing around on the floor, her pales skin curving in all sorts of gyrating on the floor directions, her grey-white-peach accented skin making a gorgeous counterpoint to her gray gym clothes.

Her skin! Ladies and gentlemen.. her pale peach-gray skin! I can hear the blood rushing right behind its lustrous surface.


What it seems to lack, in the end, besides a better choice of hair color, is a female voice to all their female voices. The key thing that made Suspiria so indelible and rewatchable, that made Halloween and Psycho so iconic, was the presence of a female voice behind the scenes, to correct, perhaps, countless irritants as to what women would or wouldn't say and how they say it in the script and vibe. Daria Nicolodi, Debra Hill, Paula Pell, Alma Reville, Gale Ann Hurd all helped make the films they worked on the classics they are. We see what happens to Argento when Daria isn't there (in his later work), he just goes in for gory murders without much style or interest in the rest. Daria supplied him with a counterbalance. In the documentary accompanying the film (on my DVD), it's clear she brought the Jungian fairy tale weirdness, the dreamy Alice in Wonderland haunted quality to Suspiria and when she's gone from his work, it begins to fade away like a dream. In the remake we have to wait for the big climactic reveal which--upon closer examination--makes little sense. For all it's length, a lot seems left out, things we'd have rather seen than all this 90s mope rock Mennonite funeral wandering and old man notebook reading, precinct-bothering and wall-traversing.

That's not to say the sheer abundance of grand old German broads isn't a great thing, that the men who made this Suspiria don't love and appreciate strong women, but maybe that's the problem. A woman writer would know how and why women are both scared and scary, they'd go places a man wouldn't dare without a woman leading the way. Instead we see the coven carousing and swilling food and liquor at the local restaurant from afar as if small children left out by adult conversations yet unable to escape them as mom runs through her day of errands and visits with various gal pals. We don't get a load of female-empowered evil as an unknowable, strange otherworldly force, but as a kind of henhouse pyramid scheme, where young women sacrifice their youth so that their elders can act like five year-olds at a Kindersport Spielplatz geburtstag. In the original, the presence of evil was like an ice cold razor blade run down back of our neck. We could feel it. Every shard of rain in the opening scenes of Suzy's first night arrival in Germany cut deep. It was a fear that transcended misogyny or the body or any kind of normal Michael Myers brand of fear. It was the fear of a real abstract maternal threat. Here the pain is all dancing, twisting Red Shoes-kind of prolonged misery - so over the top and abstracted it becomes numbing. It's not evil. The rain doesn't sting. Thom Yorke does not howl and rattle metal sheets and whisper "witch!" in a pursed hiss through the echo chambre. There is nothing to fear, only to mourn. We mourn for fear.




On the other hand, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina now on Netflix, at least has the willingness to look under the dark rocks. The story of a young witch in a Salem-like town about to have the occult version of her blood-spattered bot-mitzvah, Sabrina builds up to her big signing of Satan's book during a deep woods midnight ceremony that involves--among other things--the sacrifice of a goat. The catch? Sabrina is only half a witch. Her mom was human. And she balks at the last minute, even though the goat's already been killed... and why? Because she has some pie-eyed faux-Wahlberg chump human boyfriend named, of fall things, Harvey Kinkel (grown-Disney kid Ross Lynch) and she doesn't want to have to give him up and go to a new school. Oy!

Women....

But, in a show that positions boys so far to the side they're as superfluous as wives in a war movie, we're put in a very unique place with the presence of this lump of proletariat Jungenfleisch, an interesting en verso of all the buzzkill fiancees in films like Gunga Din. The whole show seems to want this boy gone, only Sabrina clings to him. But the evil side of things is so seductive we can't help but be on Satan's side every step of the way.  We really don't need another show about a girl who turns her back on her own blossoming career/powers to support some half-written sensitive 'perfect' doormat of a comic book author stand-in. He doesn't even have a motorcycle! He spends his night in his bedroom drawing comic book characters. Hmmm - and this series is based on a comic book? Was the author's stand-in less of a chump in it? Wishful thinking for some dude afraid of working in the mines like his brewed-with-the-fighting-spirit older brothers? OR - are we supposed to like him?

There's an unwritten cardinal rule when writing female protagonists, something--alas--many showrunners and writers learn the hard way--no one likes the boyfriend. The only way we like him is if she meets him for the first time over the course of the show. If she starts out with a boyfriend we don't like him. This is always true, in life and in shows. Thus, this Harvey--while innocuous and sweet--is a burden, like the townie high school boyfriend who tries to hang on to a cute intelligent girl after she moves away to college, calling incessantly and coming up weekends, trying to pull her down from her limitless horizons into his same go-nowhere small town quicksand like a clinging vine, the chocolate diamond engagement ring (he went to Jared!) his last desperate tendril.

Either way, among things she will do other than sign the book is--as the series progresses--raise the Harvey's brother from the dead (just because her dear Harvey misses him) and slit a fellow witch's throat to do so. Why? Because she doesn't want Harvey to suffer so much. One thinks of Katniss running high and low like a nervous mom to protect her little Peeda in The Hunger Games. But while Lawrence invested Katniss with a kind of dour humorless resolve, Kiernan Shipka cocks her heads and purses her lips with a kind of false pride,  never doubting she's on the morally superior side.

It's a very wary weird line to tread, for this Sabrina is not always sympathetic and we're regularly put in the succulent position of the completely morally neutral observer, for unless we're prudes, what's not to celebrate in one of her rival's enjoying a luxurious orgy before her sacrifice at the hands of the Satanic coven for a horrifyingly literal combination thanksgiving and church sacramental wafer? Nada!



And that's what makes this show great, aside from the sprawling, beautiful art direction and framing which takes full use of HD's ability to clarify darker color schemes, it's unafraid to go pretty frickin' dark in its deeds (one woman slits her own throat and is devoured by her coven during a Thanksgiving celebration, for example) while never putting on the dour self-important face of something like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. There's plenty of dark, darker than dark comedy: The witches here make no bones about being aligned with the devil and it's not condemned overtly as morally wrong (since the humans are even worse - hanging witches and not suffering them to live, and so forth). In sum, this isn't Tabitha and Dick York! These bitches got a hotline to Hell, and every once in awhile in the caverns below the town, Satan himself appears to suck the soul right out of an unlucky miner. Hell is literally a place under their feet and the honesty and directness of that, evidenced in the Satanic statue adorning the foyer of the Witch school, and the way Sabrina doesn't want to turn her back on evil, totally, since it's 'her heritage' is the film's great strength. The Comics Code Authority would shit themselves, and should, for what they did to EC.



As with the pro-occult 'dying and heroin are cool'-subtext of Twilight, Sabrina's subversive delight in her dark prowess is almost invisible for being so pronounced. Maybe other viewers' opinions will differ but what we have is the typical story of a girl who could be such a badass except she keeps hanging around a drip of a boy instead of spreading her limitless wings. I can only hope the producers intended us to have a negative reaction towards him. (2) At my house over Halloween we were shouting at the screen "Sign the damn book already!" and "Dump that idiot!" For the powers of darkness seem formidable indeed here, and as with the paltry human company in Twilight, humanity is seen as rather anemic and dull. The idea that anyone would cherish it is pathetic. We already know what it's like not to sign Satan's book: life bubbles thick and sludgy, one 'blurp' at a time. The human side is so stalled out, not even getting the non-binary Lachlan Watson an Amelia Earhart-ish ghost ancestor save them from a unenviable torpor.


And most importantly, the evil witch adult cast is sublime: Michelle Gomez (above) as Satan's evil henchwoman (above) hangs back from the action in the guise of Sabrina's (human) school counsellor, to make sure Sabrina has enough rope to hang herself. BBC Dr. WHO fans of course know how awesome Gomez is at playing characters who inhabit her body rather than 'are' it --she was the female incarnation of Who's archetypal shadow, 'The Master' (and it's perhaps Gomez's brilliance in the role that led to the new Dr. Who himself being reconstituted as Jodi Whitaker)--and she's aces as the sexually alive deep-breathing agent of Satan on Earth. The Dark Lord is evidently keen to take the long way around to win Sabrina into signing the book, and it's this arc that constitutes the general thrust of the show. Gomez is such a kick, luxuriating in her own evil, that we root for her wild schemes every step of the way and find Sabrina's smirky hypocrisy and sense of busybody superiority more and more insufferable.


At the same time, we realize this is a topsy turvy realm where we can almost suspect some masonic secret message encoded in the tree bark, gearing us all towards a kind of Satanic fascist paganism. The rush of evil, in other words, transcends the screen, and just as Sabrina is being systematically corrupted and morally compromised, so are we being trained to see wrong as right, up as down, darkness as light, square as round... If Sabrina cannot survive corruption, what chance have we? And why indeed, would we want to? According to Suspiria's big climax, the best we can wish for, as human marooned outside the Satanic coven, is either blessed forgetfulness or peaceful death. And maybe there's no difference (we can't remember). With evil, at least, there's dancing.




Speaking of Witches (respectfully, for they are always listening), visit 
Erich K's HEREDITARY Witchcraft Conspiracy DSM-IV Reader (Sept. 18, 2018)
Bell, Book, and Hallucinogenic Tampon (Feb 23, 2017)

Erich Kuersten is still getting over the bitterness he feels towards Giuliani after the brutal re-implementation of NYC's Cabaret Law in 1998.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Fresh Picks: 13 Newly-Added Horror Movies on Prime (Halloween-curated Marathon Festival for Lost Causes and Autumnal Catalepsies)


Halloween is here! And out east things are autumnal like they never were last year - it feels like it actually is Halloween and I'm excited to... well, sit around and watch tons of horror films, because here in NYC there's too many screaming kids during the day and vomiting amateurs at night. But luckily Amazon's got our number. For horror films alone, Amazon Prime RULEZ.

Especially now that Filmstruck is going to be shut down (to either make bigger Xmases bonuses for their top execs or because they hate art, because art reminds them too much of how swinish and short-sighted they are), Amazon Prime is more essential than ever. Prime doesn't have Criterion or a lot of of older bigger studio films but they have some (like THE AWFUL TRUTH and WIZARD OF OZ) and if they don't have something now, they'll have it tomorrow. The other day I was reading about INITIATION OF SARAH, the CARRIE-inspired 1971 TV movie starring Kay Lenz. I was thinking hmmm - I'd like to check it out, but it wasn't on Prime and I don't dig watching films on youtube (too blurry). I debated options and then literally the next day there, viola! There it is in a brand new beautiful restoration on Prime, just for me, like Prime heard I was interested via some Siri interconnected listening device (or noting I did a search for it). More and more crazy great stuff keeps coming like that, every week more and more and more. Prime hears me! It hears us all! Praise Prime!

"bad weird, like Trenton" (from Return of the Living Dead)
As I always preface, though traipsing down Prime's vast alleyways can be addictive, beware! The amount of new independent shot-on-video horror film nowheresville nonsense is almost incomprehensible. If it was a video store, Amazon Prime's streaming horror collection alone would be the size of Trenton, and, like Trenton itself, mostly the wrong kind if scary. Trust your guide and don't make eye contact with anything shot on video unless you're actually in the film, or I tell you different. Stick with me, man, and hold on tight. Things is gonna get weird. But not bad weird, not like Trenton. Or misogynist, like Camden. Good weird, like Scarfolk.

(PS - As always, all images are screenshots taken from Prime for quality assurance.) Many Halloween favorites that are listed as seeable on Prime--City of the Dead, Horror Express, The Terror, Messiah of Evil--are actually in awful formats, taken from blurry video source material; others, like Seven Deaths in a Cat's Eye and Phenomena are from fine sources but the transfer is jumpy. The ones listed here are all bonny to the quick so fear not in that. Fear not... in that.

 1. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES
(1984) Dir. Neil Jordan 
*** / Amazon Image - A

A weird hybrid of "Red Riding" variations and Freudian-feminist horror, written by Angela Carter (author of the classic feminist Bluebeard revision, "The Bloody Chamber"), with the basic original fairy tale plot being meta-abstracted through more consciously menstrual filters into a series of stories-within-stories, dreamed by Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) about a wolf beset village a long time ago, in which a series of Red Riding variations are experienced or told as fairy tales by her, her older sister (Georgia Slowe), her father (David Warner) and her kindly grandmother (Angela Lansbury). Wolf girls come out of wells, severed paws turn into human hands, and through it all Rosaleen comes to power by using her womanly warmth and wiles to get the better of predatory male sexuality. All the exteriors are shot on a vast indoor soundstage and hauntingly lit and filmed, for maximum ethereal/earthy fairy tale mystique. Huge gnarled old growth tree roots rap around jagged rocks and twisted paths lead through all sorts of hazards where wolves and handsome foreign dandies with long teeth may be lie in wait to charm poor Rosaleen as she travels to and from grandma's remote but cozy cabin.  Stephen Rea cameos in a rather lumbering story-within-the-story involving a pregnant spurned gypsy girl crashing the wedding of her upper class lover and turning everyone into wolves (its feminist vengeance angle is soon subsumed in transformation make-up overkill) and--though I don't remember him it at all--Terence Stamp has a cameo as 'the devil.'

The real Halloween selling point for my money isn't the wolf transformations, which go on far too long, and then end with a bunch of actual dogs running around, but the brilliant sun-dappled old growth atmosphere of the sets, all giant gnarled tree roots, jagged rocks and other strange little impasses that make travel a matter of a kind of Jungian deep penetration into the unknown of the self, where every trip beyond the borders of the village means you may or may not find your way back, either in one piece, or ever. And the Amazon streaming quality is first rate, capturing a cozy amount of film grain in the image that makes it all feel alive on a movie screen midnight show full of strange little beings and forest mist.

Cons: The curly-haired local boy (Shane Johnstone) who follows Rosaleen around is never far away, like stalker bad penny. I confess I have an irrational loathing for curly-haired boys, especially those who pester the young hottie girl they grew up with--who's so clearly destined for things way beyond him--into early marriage (before she grows up enough to get away from him). I get that skeevy hometown males who try and take advantage of romantic promises you made together in grade school are a part of a woman's maturation, unfortunately we spend way too much screen time with this one like we're somehow supposed to root for his dopey stalker 'sincerity.'

2. TWINS OF EVIL
(1971) Directed by John Hough
**1/2 / Amazon Image - A

Very recently Prime has added some of Hammer films, though the heavy hitters like Dracula and Frankenstein aren't around. There are however some beautifully transferred early 70s side dishes, sex and violence-streaked non-Drac vamp films like Twins of Evil. In past versions, all the outdoor sequences looked wan and depressing but with the deep colors of HD remastering, right beautiful they are. Here lots of old growth forest is dappled with thin rays of light through the mist betwixt the old growth and tombs and girls in nightshirts scampering hither and yon. And the HD deep blacks of the cobwebbed crypt recesses are what Halloween is all about. Here Peter Cushing is a very repressive Puritan-style church leader in the bad habit of burning girls at the stake rather than risk the king's displeasure by doing the same to the real evil in the village, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who always has an eye out for the local lovelies to join his coven. Cushing's borderline-perverse over-protectiveness towards his sexy twin nieces (Playboy playmates Madeline and Mary Collinson) drives one to run away and join Karnstein's kinky vampire club. The other daughter is 'good' which means she obeys the patriarchy and clutches crosses (naturally the wrong one is almost burnt at the stake). Kathleen (Sister Ruth!) Byron is the twins' devoted nanny; David Warbeck is the music teacher at the local girls' school fighting to keep the 'Brotherhood' from burning up all his students.

The real star though is the lavish Satanic atmosphere at and below the castle (some very impressive Gothic sets, well lit and cobwebbed) and the twins are sexy in a fresh, American kind of way with the usual flawless dubbing that makes every Hammer heroine seem so capable, sultry, imperiously intellectual and swaggericious. If you've a yen to get into the era when Hammer was taking advantage of looser censorship but hadn't yet given up on lavish period detail, solid writing and character development and vivid Gothic atmosphere, 1971 is the magic year, and Twins is one of the two best. May it compel you to seek out the other of the year's entrants in Hammer's Karnstein/Carmilla trilogy, The Vampire Lovers. And then, backtracking to 1960, the best of all the Hammers (even though Dracula does not appear), The Brides of Dracula (1960). (Neither is on Prime streaming, but Vampire Circus is, and recommended though the transfer quality is very uneven).


THE WOMAN IN BLACK
(2012) Dir. James Watkins 
*** (Amazon Image- A)

My one main caveat with Corman's Poe films is that the sets were never dark enough to be scary, and the same with Hammer, sometimes, sort of, but here's a new Hammer, offering interesting proof how truly important pitch blacknesss is in making old semi-deserted candle-lit mansions truly chilling. Though heavily indebted to The Ring as far as the old "unravel the mystery and give her missing corpse a burial and maybe the killings will stop before they get to your doorstep" storyline, what counts here is that--despite the immense attention to Edwardian period detail--enough to suffocate any ordinary picture--is that Woman in Black is never stuffy and really rather ripping in its moody, familiar way (making excellent use of that modern advancement, the motor car, as a key plot hinge). A surprisingly solid Daniel Radcliffe is a junior solicitor sent off to inventory to a dark decaying mansion perched in the midst of a thick mucky tarn, in a remote, fearful hamlet where kids suddenly get called to wander off to their deaths at the hands of vindictive woman in black. There's a great metaphysical shocker ending involving a speeding train, and the woman in black turns out to be a vindictive wraith like Eva Graps and her ghost daughter. She's a genuine fright, albeit one with the bad habit of opening her mouth far too wide too fast at the last minute and screaming, as if that was somehow scarier than her just quietly smiling or very... slowly.. creeping forward... or slowly beckoning one out into the tarn to be sucked under, or a dozen other thing than the old sudden jaw drop scream trick which is by now so played out it's a bummer Watkins didn't trust the already strong sense of Lewtonian less-is-more genuine creepiness he was getting from the darkness alone. That said, it's easy to forgive, because the darkness is so all-consuming.


This is especially due to a ripping extended sequence wherein Radcliffe is alone in the house trying to sort through the estate papers, ever distracted by strange noises, never sure if he's imagining it, if its the wind (in one broken window, a crow got in and started a nest on the bed). You get the eerie feeling in this stretch that you usually only get when you're alone for a long time in a very empty quiet house and suddenly you realize night has fallen and all the lights are off, and its gotten very dark and oppressive, and all of a sudden you can't wait to get out of there, turn on all the lights, or turn on the TV, very loudly. When this happens in the era before electric current, when light means candles or oil lamps, and in a big dark house like this, single light sources barely illuminate a two foot radius (the darkness seems to gulp it up). It's a hard feeling to convey properly (after all, the camera is always there, and unless the cinematographer is very good and the director very patient, he will need a lot of light to get an image, and that means when a character lights a candle the whole room magically fills with a golden glow). Here Radcliffe feels totally alone, we don't even feel like we are there, the darkness never lifts beyond a thin gray, and Watkins wisely refrains from using any music in this whole stretch, so that the silence and the little noises in it gradually swell in our brains and we see faces in the dim reflections of the wallpaper and shadows; we feel Radcliffe's mounting fear ourselves as he runs from one weird noise to the next. And when he finally gets an ally in the darkness-shrouded town (Ciarán Hinds) with whom to have glass of whiskey, it's only then that the darkness begins, ever so slightly, to lift. Screenplay is by Jane Goldman, based on a novel by Susan Hill! And though most of the face time goes to Radcliffe, he never tries to win an award or call attention to himself with a lot of banal 'shy / nice guy' mannerism (there's no romance, a few offhand gazes at the innkeeper's daughter aside), and seems all pale and pasty like he's never seen the sun. And like all the best horror films, it's not long (95 minutes). In other words, Hammer should be proper proud.

4. THE EVIL 
(1978) Dir. Gus Trikonis
*1/2 (bad movie rating: ***1/2) - Amazon Image - B

An undersung New World bad movie gem from 1978, The Evil is clearly meant to ride the late-70d obsession with Jay Anson's 1977 runaway bestseller The Amityville Horror (beating the movie version into theaters by a year). A tale of a big Civil War-era mansion sitting on the trapdoor to Hell, this has an off-center youth center therapist (Richard Crenna) bringing in some of his counsellors to help get this old building into shape to use as a halfway house for troubled youth. Things go wrong early on as the boiler incinerates the drunk caretaker (Ed Bakey). Soon the cast roll around pretending to be rocked by malevolent house quakes, pin scratches on the celluloid stand in for electric shocks, and--because it's New World--there's an attempted ghost rape of a girl (Lynne Moody) trying to take a nap on the upstairs cot.


As the Crenna's girlfriend and fellow counsellor, who's open enough to the spirit realm that she bothers to read the ancient journal that spells out what's going on (and has an accompanying 'good' ghost to guide her), Joanna Petit masterfully hides her Brit accent and rocks some of the grooviest clothes, hair and two-shaded lipstick of the entire 70s decade. She tries to wake materialist douchebag (you know he's 'hip' because of his beard and weathered army jacket) Crenna up to the evil but he's too busy mansplaining reality and, eventually, opening the locked door in the basement floor, of course. The wind rushes up, the Satanic laughter echoes, all the doors and windows lock shut, and Crenna has to think fast to explain it all aways as wind gusts. Fan favorite Andrew Pine--that quintessentially 70s laid-back lanky hipster (Grizzly)--is one of the more pro-active counsellors who tries to facilitate an escape over the side of the third floor balcony once it's clear that their fearless head shrink guidance counsellor (for at-risk youth?) has led them all into a locked box of doom and still can't quite accept who's actually behind it (prefix a the letter 'D' if you're at all confused what 'the evil' is).

Sure, it's not a good film and it take a few beats too long to get started (old Bakey seems to wander around that old building, taking a gallon of slugs from his half-pint hip flask), but once that trapdoor opens, the action just keeps getting faster, wilder and weirder until you're shrieking with delight (I refuse to give away the totally out-there ending, so you'll just have to trust me). In other words, it's the best kind of bad there is, and so 70s you can set your watch by it. The Amazon print is just fine, a little faded but hey, aren't we all? (If you want to find more of the 'possessed mansion killing guests one-by-one' movies that were all the rage in 1978, might I be so bold as to recommend The Legacy).

5. INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN
(1957) Dir. Edward L. Cahn
** / Amazon Image - C-

In case you don't know, this was once a TV perennial much liked by we kids (it even had our beloved Riddler, Frank Gorshin), then it disappeared into the legal twilight never to be heard from on VHS or DVD ever. Not unlike Corman's The Undead and Bert I. Gordon's Amazing Colossal Man it appeared only occasionally on AMC back in the 90s, when they still showed older movies. And Now - viola! Here it is, on Prime. You may not know it, but baby, it's a miracle!

The bad news: it turns out that, unlike Night of TerrorSaucer Men isn't very good after all. Most of it is spent with not terribly charismatic "teenagers" trying to convince the adults of their hick town that little green men are running amok in the cow pastures they trespass on for use as a lover's lane (must smell so romantic). While the military tries to cover it up (and to break into the saucer using blowtorches), these genius aliens kill teenagers by injecting them with alcohol through retractible hypodermic fingernails and are adept at hiding the evidence of their crimes to make it look like the work of drunk teens. Also, their hands detach and crawl around on their own, (with eyeballs on the top).  A bull has a blast though when he runs into one, but for the audience it gets old pretty quick watching as they try and explain all this to the cops (we spend way too much with a charismatically-challenged young couple who take it on themselves to good samaritan their way into official military business, and not nearly enough time with the aliens.)

It's too bad, since the aliens are actually pretty effective, especially from a distance as they bobble around in the dark (filmed at night rather than day-for-night, which makes a huge difference). Looking not unlike what the real greys have been described as (child-size, with bulbous heads -above right), seeing them all bobbing around in a group in the middle of the field lit only be headlights is pretty creepy, like if you've been abducted and had your memory wiped, maybe it would trigger total recall. The whole angle of the military covering it all up is on point too. Was this movie made with government assistance as disinformation, to make anyone who sees little green men seem crazy? Officer, why won't you believe me?

Seen through my adult eyes now that "why won't you believe me??" nagging at cops and parents gets really old and tired, but as a kid who loved this film I remember I really related to their frustration and desperation. Now I see more from the adult point of view. I never understood why people who see aliens and UFOs call the cops. What are the cops gonna do, arrest a gaggle of hyper-advanced aliens with detachable crawling hands and retracting hypodermic needle fingernails? They probably don't have finger prints. Either way, terrible or not, I'm glad it's finally back from the void.

6. JEEPERS CREEPERS
(2001) Dir. Victor Salva
*** / Amazon Image - A

I know this one's pretty well-known, but I wanted to give it a little shout anyway, as it doesn't quite get the respect it should as modern pastiche classic that offers one of the more pleasantly scary slow-burn opening stretches in recent horror movie memory. It all starts innocently during a long car ride down a single lane highway through the South to (or from college), a brother and sister (Gina Phillips and Justin Long) bicker like any normal pair of siblings who've practiced the same time-killing license plate-naming games over and over on shared long car rides since they were kids, casually running razzing and nerve-grating gags on each other while obliquely discussing personal events like mom's depression and big sister's break-up (his made-up on-the-spot country song about her boyfriend is hilarious). The writing and acting is so good, the real-time tick-tockality so well-orchestrated, we feel like we're kickin' it in the backseat, staring out the window, half-listening, half-guessing what hick stretch of almost totally-deserted one lane highway they happen to be on. Then... they drive past a Hitchcockian sight --someone grabbing what looks like a human body wrapped in a bloody sheet out the back of his truck. From then on.... the tension and weirdness starts accruing, but so well-measured over what feels like real-time that we're never not 'in' it with these two kids.

So many memorable moments and details: the grinding of the car gears; the tied-down trunk; the sudden wing erupting from the roadkill demon; the head landing on the hood; Justin beholding the vast amount of missing persons notices on the police bulletin board; the termite attention paid to the precinct's cops and denizens, and the eccentric locals: the people at the diner; a surprise cameo from Eileen Brennan as the shotgun-toting cat lady; the sad-eyed psychic with her strangely calming terror; the tracking shot along the jail where they do the head count "show me some skin" (the bird being flipped just gets a fine "Thank you, I love you too" from the good-natured cop); the way enough shit happens in front of them that the cops can't dismiss the siblings' wild claims (thus avoiding that tiresome 'the adults won't believe us!' plot point).

The ultimate link in the chain between the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Terminator, this also benefits from one of the great stealth talents of his generation, Justing Long. You can taste his fear after being run off the road by the crazy killer's car, his glaze of sweat and frenzied yelling, the metallic tang of it. Sssshssshiss. There's a vividness to his plight made all made the weirder when considering the personal history of its director, whose proclivities perhaps find the perfect artistic sublimation subject in the saga of a monster obsessed with certain bits of a young man's anatomy (the sister as she just assumes any self-respecting demon would prefer her royal hotness to her yucky brother). Yikes. Whatever, Salvo did his time; maybe he's still a monster at least now it's all sublimated nice and proper onscreen, making this a blast from start to shortly before the finish (for it ends on quite the downer note - be warned!)

7. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
(1985) Dir. Dan O'Bannon
***1/2 (Amazon Image - A)

The realm of post-Romero zombie movies is vast - thankfully it's now dying out, so to speak, but in the midst of them all stands this, directed by Romero's co-writer on the original 1968 classic, Dan O'Bannon (who also wrote Lifeforce, below). The recently-departed and much beloved James Karen has one of his best roles as a medical supply company clerk who, on the first day of training amiable punk rocker Freddy (Thom Mathews), tries to freak him out by telling him Night of the Living Dead was based on a real event, then showing him the military grade containers containing the dead and the toxic substance that revived them, which--"in a typical military fuck-up"-- were accidentally mailed to their very company back in the 1969. In demonstrating how solid the canister is constructed, Karen kicks it, knocking a bolt loose and releasing the toxins and setting the wheels in motion. Meanwhile, Freddy's punk rock friends wait for him to get off work in the nearby cemetery, partying on the gravestones, with Linnea Quigley's death obsessed party-naked punk chick the highlight who dances on a gravestone while her friends dance around her waving flares (by then its dark out) and fantasizes about being ripped apart my a bunch of old, dirty men (which happens, as you may imagine, not too long afterward).

As if this couldn't get any better, there's also ace comic turns between Clu Gallagher as the supply company owner and Don Calfa as the funeral parlor owner next door. These adults somehow manage to be more punk than the kids without even trying, and I remember my punk friends and I who saw this in the theater at the time, all agreed on that point. The intergenerational ensemble comedy work is beyond compare. And it's scary too - these dead don't die from a blow to the head, dismembered hands and feet still wiggle, and this is the one where they talk and shout "more brains!" In other words, there's no escape. If you haven't seen it, you've been wasting your life. And if you haven't seen it again, lately, now's the chance - it holds up like glue and looks damned great.

(For more Groovy Punk Rock 80s horror comedy on Prime - see TERRORVISION and LIQUID SKY)


(1985) Dir. Tobe Hooper
*** / Amazon Image - A

Make it a Dan O'Bannon double feature! Thanks to Cannon Films and Tobe Hooper, his script for this stupid-brilliant film gets full gonzo wings to fly fly fly. A full roster of capable British male thespians like Peter Firth, Michael Gothard, Patrick Stewart, Frank Finlay, and Aubrey Morris scream, scream and scream in terror at the presence of gorgeous, naked Mathilda May, a soul energy-vampire whose ship travels in the tail of Halley's comet (it was passing around this time, and sci-fi films like this and Night of the Comet were making the most of it). Raiding planets as they pass, storing up souls for the winter, the lead vampire girl uses Jung's concept of the archetypal unconscious anima (the female ego of the masculine unconscious) to take her luscious form. Steve Railsback is the Yank astronaut from whose mind she takes her idealized shape (though really, she could be taken from the unconscious desires of any straight male in the audience). Without her hot Mathilda May make-up comes off, so to speak, she's a giant Basil Woolverton-style bat monster, but what are ya gonna do? Just stay drunk, Steve! It's a pretty intriguing idea (the vampire myth originates from the past visits of Halley's comet) from a novel by Colin Wilson and featuring knowing nods to an array of movies like SHE and THE BLACK CAT (as per her blue ray aura above). It's easily the best film in Cannon's short-lived but memorably crass and entertaining oeuvre, and the Amazon print is sublime, though I'm not sure if it's the longer, better British cut or not. Either way, it's a hilarious three AM must. (See Ten Reasons)

(for more cult sci-fi horror so recommended it's great if not good, on Prime - Galaxy of Horror)

9. THE RAVEN
(1965) Dir. Roger Corman
**** / Amazon Image - A+

You'd be a fool not to make this a Halloween perennial, for Vincent Price alone --when he's clearly having a blast making a movie, it's impossible not to have one too. Add Peter Lorre, Karloff and Jack Nicholson, plus Hazel Court as the buxom Lenore--they all vibe together tremendously well-- and some beautiful massive art direction, with sprawling atmospheric Gothic sets, and there you are, the best AIP Gothic horror comedy of all time. I was trying to just focus on lesser-known works for this list, but who's to say who's seen what anymore? The canon is too sprawled out, and no one watches the same thing at the same time like we did back in the 70s, man, when this was on afternoon TV with some regularity, to every kid's flipper-flapping couch somersault delight. The Mickey Mouse-ing score by Les Baxter may get a little too pleased with itself in spots, but it does certainly cast a mood when it wants to and Lorre, Nicholson and Price especially invent all sorts of funny weird little bits of business as they go. Watch it again and feel yourself at the delightful center of Halloween ground zero, the ultimate in cool spooky parties. (See: Mephisto from Missouri)

(1974) Dir. Paul Maslansky
***1/2 (Amazon Image - A)

This dusty AIP gem from 1974 is a wry, clever blaxploitation New Orleans zombie urban revenge film that knows how to take it easy and enjoy itself, arranging voodoo deaths for deserving honkie mobsters with a refreshing lack of scruples. Marki Bey stars as a sweet, sexy, witty fashion photographer Sugar Hill. When her voodoo-themed nightclub-owning boyfriend won't sell out to a bunch of syndicate thugs (led by Count Yorga-star, Robert Quarry), he's beaten to death in his own parking lot, so Sugar has probable cause and motive to return to her ancestral swamp homestead and see about getting some old-school voodoo revenge. Sugar's grandmother is Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully), and her demon familiar is the laughing Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), who shows up in different stereotype-satirizing disguises during the elaborate juju sting operations. Great touches, like the zombies being the dead slaves dumped by slave ships in the 1840s before they got into harbor. Their silver ping-pong ball eyes, a dusting of gold glitter and cobwebs, wearing slave shackles, and brandishing machetes and big evil grins, these monsters aren't necessarily convincing or 'realistic' or whatever that means, but who the fuck cares: they seem to be having a good time mugging for the camera as they reach forward with their ratty fingernails. More than most, it's just great to see black on white violence so freely and joyously celebrated. The deeper they go into their cake walk style display of how genteel black folks ought behave, the more relish they seem to feel when they laugh at whitey's inevitable display of raw terror, and the deeper our sense of macabre catharsis.

I love any movie where a smart take-charge woman trusts us to not be narcs or prudes and just to ride with our heroine into the moral abyss, especially if she's smart and badass enough that I don't have to worry about her getting beat up, sexually assaulted, imprisoned, outsmarted, or turning soft at the last minute, etc. (i.e. "there's been enough killing, today!" throwing down of guns, et al.) None of that for Sugar Hill, a stone fox who puts on an endearing Morticia Adams-style thrill in her voice, as if having a blast making fun of how white people talk almost to the point she's cracking herself up. Yes, it's great to be able to root for a murderous voodoo priestess and not have to worry she's going to develop a conscience thanks to burgeoning love for a dashing black homicide cop who's so clueless he genuinely believes locals will want to help him find whoever's doing the killing, even though the victims are the mobsters who plague their community and the killer is one of their own, and all-seeing. But don't worry about that cop, or how crude the production values may be, but Mama, Sugar and the Baron don't need fancy props and sets to work their dark miracles and no handsome cop's going to foil Sugar's game. So take Blacula back with ya; I'm ridin' Sugar's shotgun 'til the doll becomes enflamed! (full)



(1933) Dir. Ben Stoloff
*** / Amazon Prime Image - B-

A long-unavailable old dark house swirl of a thriller with proto-slasher movie signatures, Night of Terror is violent pre-code melodrama highlighted not only by an unusually florid Bela Lugosi performance but by an unusually lurid string of murders by a knife-wielding madman, who grins impishly from the bushes with knife raised, in and around a rolling, fog-enshrouded estate. From the opening double murder of a necking couple in a convertible down in Lover's Lane, it plays more like a 70s-80s slasher movie collided with a hoary old 30s mystery. Weirder even than the a dotty scientist (George Meeker) planing to uses test his new 'suspended animation' death-duplicating drug by burying himself alive, is his inexplicable fiancee (Sally Blaine) the rich heiress endangered by a tontine-style will. She's so passive she even lets herself be pawed by Wallace Ford as--what else?--a nosy reporter. The mysterious Hindu servant Degar (Lugosi) and his spirit medium-housekeeper wife (Mary Frey) --who sees death in the future!--are also in for a share, so they're either in danger too, or the murderers. The black chauffeur (Oscar Smith) alone is smart enough to want to skedaddle.

This rare Columbia B-movie gem was one that, as a dyed-in-the-purple Bela Lugosi fan, I'd been looking for since forever. Oh, ever so long I waited. Suddenly it's on Prime in a decent if fuzzy SD print after never being on VHS, DVD or shown on TV. That I'm actually not disappointed after all that expectation (35+ years of waiting) says a lot. What sets this apart from so many other old dark houses is the wild pace and the abundance of little macabre touches and the way the killings just tumble along one after the other, the killer mugging to the audience like some insane off-Broadway ham. (Full review here)

13. THE GHOUL
(1933) Dir. T. Hayes Hunter
*** / Amazon Image - B


To be a classic horror fan is to get excited at any movie that features both Karloff and Ernest Thesiger (they co-starred in two James Whale classics: Old Dark House and Bride of Frankenstein). Here they're back England, at Gaumont, but with Universal horror in the wind. Karloff stars and gets almost no lines as an eccentric, dying Egyptologist living in the eerie English countryside. A rich, affirmed heathen, who spent most of his remaining fortune on a huge emerald he thinks will bring him back from the dead if its buried bandaged in his hand. Since he's not exactly bedecked in friends, the vultures circle the tomb within minutes of his burial (an eerie Egyptian-style procession to the strains of Wagner's immortal "Siegfried's Funeral March") the first person to break in finds it already missing, thanks to nervous but well-meaning butler (Thesiger). But there's also Ralph Richardson as an overly-friendly parson, Cedrick Hardwicke as a grumpy Dickensian lawyer; the great Harold Huth is Aga Ben Dragore, who sold Karloff the jewel (after stealing it from somewhere else) and now wants to steal it back to sell to the original owner. Dorothy Hyson and Anthony Bushell are legal inheritors of the estate, cousins who bicker but then stand "shoulder to shoulder" against the spooky goings on. Naturally Karloff come back from the dead and in search of his expensive emerald. Kathleen Harrison provides the comic relief as Hyson's pal who comes along for moral support and ends up swooning over Dragore's tales of whipping slave girls for miles across the desert on his camel. 

Long just a streaky duped blur of a thing never seen on TV, available only on second-hand dupes, it's since been spiffed up and now is a personal favorite that's just oozing with delicious spooky Universal does Edgar Wallace atmosphere (with dabs of The Mummy). As with all the best horror movies, there are no daytime exteriors. It mostly takes place over a single long foggy night. Pure 30s horror / old dark house mood it is, with enough fog to carry it through. And if you lose track of who has the jewel, or where it's hid, or where everyone else is relative to everyone else on the grounds, don't worry, just vibe on the old dark house glory of it all and watch it again later. It gets better, and easier to understand, with every viewing, now that you can see what's going on, kind of, in the fog.


11. THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER
(1957) Dir. Ronnie Ashcroft
**1/2 (Amazon Image - B-)

One of my new Ed Wood-school favorites, this kidnappers-vs.-alien in the deep woods saga was never on UHF late night/early morning TV in the 70s the way its confederates like Plan Nine and Bride of the Monster were, but it still feels like I've seen it a plethora of times, lord knows I've tried in recent years to fill the gap. I would have loved this, also, when I was drinking in the 90s. Why didn't I rent it and tape it back in Seattle? It would have fit perfectly between Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and Cat Women of the Moon. So many wasted hours wasted! Oh well, it's here now, on Prime. So are the Woods, Cat Women of the Moon and Mesa of the Lost Women. They don't tumble one after the other like a 6-hour tape might, so you have to choose them of your own free will. But there they are, waiting, a click away.

In the words of the divine Kiedis: "There's never been a better time / than right now."

The story riffs along the old crooks on the lam meet monster gag. With her extreme eye make-up on a face that's like a slightly fuller version of Anne Francis, Shirley Kilpatrick is the astounding  she in question: rocking arched drag queen eyebrows and a glittery body stocking adorned with big beatnik medallion, her aura glowing in the dark as if the lens is wet from her awesomeness, she's like Divine (when she's on the rampage at the end of Multiple Maniacs), Shirley Stoler (The Honeymoon Killers) and Tura Satana (Pussycat) rolled into one glowing babe on walkabout. Her whole attack style is to just slowly advance towards people to try and kill them with a radioactive touch. (She also polishes off various wildlife stock footage). The cigarette-voiced kidnapper (Ed Wood favorite Kenne Night of the Ghouls Duncan), his alcoholic moll (Jeanne Tatum) who polishes off one whole bottle and is eager for the next (my kinda gal), his buddy (an early victim) are the bad guys. Their hostage, a blonde heiress (Marilyn Harvey) sports the sexiest blonde hair / black eyebrow combination since Jean Harlow in Hell's Angels. Like Harlow you can somehow detect the almost invisible white hairs on the back of her neck and the small black holes left by her eyebrow tweezers, giving her foxlike appeal that's hard to pinpointRobert Clarke is the stalwart geologist hero whose cabin they hide out in and whose jeep they try to escape in (the lights don't work) as the same library music from Ed Wood's Plan Nine soars ominously and repetitively. Clarke's cute collie (Egan) deserves better than to, as always, get zapped early. Don't all dogs suffer cruelly in horror movies? Aren't they the real heroes? Even kidnapper Kenne is nice to Egan because he "likes dogs as much as the next guy." So why, Ronnie? Why?

The Amazon image is just OK but then again, you should really see this with bleary eyes to get the full effect anyway. And then, since you're now obsessed, find Mesa of Lost Women, Cat Women of the Moon, and Plan Nine from Outer Space (not the colorized one), all now on Prime, and two of them at least lookin' pretty good.

That's all for now, kids. Don't watch these all at once, or you may lose your mind, or at any rate be ruined for other films. Cuz I can picks 'em. If you don't agree, maybe you're just not drunk enough? Cheers!
Sugar Hill, with her zombie
More Weird and Spooky PRIME Picks:

These might not all still be on there, but honey, you're bound to find something... or some... thing waiting just for you to open its dusty case and set it free to lope... and slither...

More of EK's Obscure/Cool Halloween Recommendations:

New and Old Favorite Horrors:
Bitches' Sabbath: Alex di la Iglesia's WITCHING AND BITCHING (2011)

+ Audio, Books, TV etc:
HAUNTOLOGY for a De-New America (2015)


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