This used to be one ugly, loud full frame downer, but thanks to Thrower's appreciation I realized I had to see it again, via Prime's gorgeous print in HD anamorphic widescreen, wherein the reds and oranges of its color gel-emblazoned mise-en-scene glow like the magnificent Louisiana swampland back alley cousin of Suspiria and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Trying to recapture Chainsaw magic, Hooper tells the tale of 24 hours or so of a deranged hotel owner (played here by a terrific, muttering, shaggy-wigged Neville Brand) who tends to feed disgruntled guests (and girls, if he finds out they're postitutes) to the giant crocodile that lives under the front veranda (his big tourist attraction). From the very beginning, Hooper creates elegant tension and a kind of surreal fairy tale ambience as Brand's entire two-story hotel is indoors on a set, with jungle swamps bathed in pink, red, and rose, the mist like some beguiling R-rated Disney haunted house ride. The opening finds a terribly-wigged first-time prostitute (Roberta Collins) fleeing the coarse come-ons of future-Freddy Robert Englund and winding up booted from her brothel, seeking a room at Brand's pink-light-bathed Starlite, then unwisely tipping him off that she's one of 'those' gals. Marilyn Burns (the heroine from Texas) arrives the next day with her super insane, twisted-up husband (William Phantom of the Paradise Finley!) and their young daughter who unwisely lets her puppy get too close to the crocodile pen. The husband decides to shoot the crocodile and that's not smart. The child ends up spending the bulk of the movie hiding in the crawlspace under the hotel, trying to dodge Brand's scythe and the crocodile while hoping someone hears her screams above the cacophony of swamp noises; meanwhile her mom screams the night away, tied to a bed up on the second floor. And more people arrive, including Mel Ferrer and his daughter Crystin (Hustler Squad) Sinclaire looking for daughter/sister Collins, and Englund with another prostitute.
"It's true that compared to its perfect sibling (Texas) it suffers from a limp and a stoop and a crooked gait, but in all its malformed glory it still commands respect for its unrelenting weirdness, its vicious hysteria, and Neville Brand's wonderful performance." (p. 441)
It's a gorgeous print of a fine, weird film that's filled with stunningly weird moments, including every moment the foxy Ellen Barber is onscreen. Acting crazy but looking irresistible in a red dress and black cameo choker and long stunning black hair (above), we totally get why a weird looking clown like Jude (Richard Lynch) her buddy from the sanitarium, would be so smitten with her he'd let her obsession (to kidnap the child taken from her and given up for adoption when she was first committed to the sanitarium) become his, to the point of losing his own mind even further than he had previously. There's a lot to admire in this unique and marvelous film, but it's Barber's beauty and Lynch's insanity that stand out. If you're not a fan of Lynch's burn-ravaged face and eerily calming voice, what's wrong with you? Here he adds a great touch of moaning insanely when driven to violence (if you've ever lost consciousness in a rage-based white-out you can really relate. As Thrower notes:
"Twice during the film, Jude loses control and Lynch's performance makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. He summons a pressurized, resonant tone from deep in his chest, one that sounds virtually electronic (think Tim Buckley circa Starsailor): it will haunt you long after the film is over. The cry ascends like a nuclear warning, from inhuman oscillation to frenzied shriek. Normally he'd be the villain, pure and simple. Instead, even he is shown with love; indeed, love is what motivates him. He adores Andrea so much that he donates his ever waking moment to her obsession. He only snaps when Andrea settles for less. Clutching a mere doll, she sinks into her own delusion and Jude, having staked all on their joint venture, is left high and dry: a psychotic who's bet his heart and lost. Richard Lynch is the sort of actor that David Lynch ought to seek out, and after seeing The Premonition I found it hard to watch him in less demanding roles (for instance Delta Fox or Deathsport): in their mundanity they seem disrespectful." (p.324)He also adds that "like Thom Eberhardt's Sole Survivor or Willard Hyuck's Messiah of Evil, it deserves a far greater genre profile. " That he goes to them, two lesser-known gems I personally love, as examples of undersung brilliance, lets me know I'd like this film, and I did, though not enough. It's marred by yet another squaresville husband (the adopted dad) who studies parapsychology with a smirk and almost lets his masculine logocentric pride keep him from trying all sorts of crazy shit in order to be reunited with his daughter, and there's no satisfaction of seeing him realize the truth. As a result, all the best stuff happens in the first half, when Lynch and Barber are closer to center stage, providing a dark mirror to the adopted parents in their little world bubble. Overall, a beautiful, unique film.
"(it) turns out to be one of the strangest and most perversely beautiful horror films of the seventies. (....) The movie changes the metabolism of its genre; the scares are oblique, the overall tone languid... The Witch Who Came from the Sea is in another league; a genre masterpiece deserving of a much higher profile..." (p. 514-515)
"It's a personal favourite of mine, one of an initial handful of titles that inspired me to embark on this book (Nightmare USA). Alright, so there's a lack of action, but the absence of a forward-driving narrative is an essential part of the fun: Pigs doesn't fly; it floats. There's a muted, psychedelic feel to the film ---you feel kind of stoned watching it, a sensation that's cued up by Charles Bernstein's wonderful 60s theme song (...) and his often startling score, which employs lots of Jew's harp (a neglected psychedelic instrument in my opinion)." (Thrower- p. 489)
"Death Bed deals in transcendental mysteries (the impossible geometry of the bed, bigger on the inside than the outside; the occult means by which it is created and destroyed), but Barry summons his demons from a fantasy world disconnected from religious tradition, telling a story of demonic seduction that has nothing to do with the Church..."Throughout the film, poetic images allow the slender narrative to take a back seat (...) We see blood blossom from the eye-socket of a skull in the bed's fluid interior; roses blooming from the same skull, now magically buried in the soil outside; a shattered mirror fragmenting into a kaleidoscopic collage; and the pages of a book turning into mirrors that capture the flames of a fire. Such imagery suggests the Romantic tradition, as befits the Artist behind the glass, like a fey whisper caught halfway between English Gothic and the Scandinavian Symbolists..." (375)
|Not exactly subtle, are you, Death Bed?|
"Phantasm mixes genres with such smart but unselfconscious verve that it's only later you realize you've been watching a sci-fi horror film about grave robbers from another world. That's right, the same plot as Plan Nine from Outer Space. Could this be the film Edward D. Wood was seeing in his mind's eyes? Certainly nothing could be further from Wood's ineptitude than this assured and constantly inventive movie." (487)
I don't agree with the 'ineptitude' part - Wood's Plan Nine is a favorite of mine, on par, perhaps with this minor key gem. For different reasons though. Nine is the quintessential outsider horror/sci-fi accidental Brecht masterpieces, while Phantasm may be sane, but it's got so many cool brotherly moments it's like some sacred 70s drive-in biblical text.
"Simon, King of the witches is an intelligent, warm and witty addition to the early 70s witchcraft subgenre, starring the ever-wonderful Andrew Prine... (the theme is not satanism and there's no dilly-dallying with the trappings of inverted Christianity)" (p. 503)
"Hyuck captures a sense of unease that you sometimes get in our mechanized society when the fever of daily traffic is subdued by nightfall. If you've ever hitch-hiked and found yourself stuck for hours beside motorway slip roads near industrial estates, with their giant arc-lit loading bays, you'll have some idea of the picture I'm trying to draw --inhuman, hostile places, emerging after dark from behind the facade of banality (...) that hard-edged frigidaire ambience in from the periphery and onto the city streets, turning unremarkable shopping areas into glittering consumerist cemeteries." (p. 238)
"... he looks like he'd have trouble fighting off a persistent moth, let alone the Vietcong. Blood Sabbath draws much of its amusement from such miscalculations" before confessing "If you simply have to watch an early 70s witchcraft tale, this one is probably the most fun." (424)
I shan't spoil it, but let's just say there is a very happy ending. In this day and age, that and the Moog alone are worth the slow crawl slog."Kiss of the Tarantula has a morbid setting (much of the action takes place around a marvelously Gothic funeral home, set in the wintry woods redolent of Fulci's House by the Cemetery); the-girl-and-her-spiders concept is so weirdly charming it can survive the glaring inconsistencies; and the death scenes, though slightly silly, are actually quite bizarre and memorable. (...) The naive electronic score by Phillian Bishop, who also did the score for Willard Hyuck's Messiah of Evil and Thomas Alderman's The Severed Arrm- ... is memorably cheesy and Moogalicious and there is one great sequence...."